Penthouse, a men's magazine founded by Bob Guccione, combines urban lifestyle articles and soft-core pornographic pictorials that, in the 1990s, evolved into hardcore pornography. Although Guccione is American, the magazine was founded in 1965 in the United Kingdom, but was soon sold in the United States as well. At the height of his success, Guccione was considered to be one of the richest men in the United States.
For many years, Penthouse fell between Playboy magazine and Hustler in terms of its explicitness and general attitude toward sexual depictions, with Playboy being visually softer and less focused on female genitals and with Hustler going for a raunchier look and content often consisting of toilet humor. Almost from the start, Penthouse pictorials showed female genitalia and pubic hair when this was considered by many to be obscene. Simulated sex, but not penetration or male genitalia, followed; then, several years later, male genitalia, including erections, could be seen. In addition, Penthouse attempted to maintain some level of reading content, although usually of a more sexually oriented nature than Playboy.
Vanessa Lynn Williams
The September 1984 issue of Penthouse was the second largest selling issue of any magazine in history (5.3 million copies), outdone only by the November 1972 of Playboy, which sold 7.1 million copies. This issue featured photos of Vanessa Lynn Williams, who was the previous Miss America, from early in her modeling career. Williams posed for the series of black and white photos with another female model, engaged in simulated lesbian acts, and appeared on the cover with legendary movie actor/comedian George Burns.
Although Williams' pictures generated the most publicity at the time, the issue would later become even more controversial because of its centerfold, Traci Lords. Lords posed nude for this issue at the beginning of her career as an adult film star. It was later revealed that Lords was underage throughout most of her career in pornography and was only fifteen when she posed for Penthouse. As a result, the issue is illegal to own with centerfold intact because it fell under the laws against child pornography.
Move from softcore to hardcore pictorials
In 1998, caught between the widespread availability of pornography on the Internet and the growing popularity of non-explicit "men's magazines" such as Maxim, Penthouse decided to change its format and began featuring sexually explicit pictures (i.e., actual oral, vaginal and anal penetration). It also began to regularly feature pictorials of female models urinating, which, until then, had been considered a defining limit of illegal obscenity as distinguished from legal pornography. The new format lost subscriptions and newsstand circulation for the magazine.
A different approach to restoring sales was attempted by the UK version of the magazine in 1997. Under the editorship of Tom Hilditch, the magazine was rebranded as PH.UK and relaunched as middle-shelf "adult magazine for grown-ups". Fashion photographers (such as Corinne Day of The Face magazine) were hired to produce imagery that merged sex and fashion. The magazine's editorial included celebrity interviews and tackled issues of sexual politics. The experiment attracted a great deal of press interest but failed to generate a significant increase in sales. PH.UK closed in late 1998.
On August 12, 2003, General Media, the parent company of the magazine, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. In October 2003, it was announced that Penthouse magazine was being put up for sale as part of a deal with its creditors.
On October 4, 2004, General Media emerged from bankruptcy and was renamed the Penthouse Media Group. It is now owned by two investors, Marc H. Bell, a south Florida real-estate developer and founder of the Globix corporation, and Daniel Staton, a south Florida investor with diverse investment properties ranging from Broadway shows to Build-a-Bear stores.
Bell and Staton significantly softened the content of the magazine effective with its January 2005 issue. Penthouse no longer shows female genitalia, simulated sex scenes, or male genitalia. While this change allowed the return of a limited number of mainstream advertisers to the magazine, it has not significantly raised the number of suscribers; total circulation is still below 350,000 . Industry pundits have opined that the new direction and content of the magazine have blurred its distinctiveness from other men's titles. Others have suggested that the influx of former Playboy executives, e.g. Diane Silberstein and Mark Rudolph, respectively now President of Publishing and President of Licensing for Penthouse, have led the magazine to become too similar to Playboy, but with more generic, lower-profile models.
Current as of April 2006
- Australian edition
- Dutch edition
- German edition
- Greek edition
- Hungarian edition
- New Zealand edition
- Russian Edition
- Spanish edition
- Thai edition
- Ukrainian Edition
- United Kingdom edition
See also (on Wikipedia)
- Official Penthouse web site
- Penthouse Pets Tribute site and complete listing
- Penthouse Pets Free Pictures Galleries
- Latest figures from the Audited Bureau of Circulation