Penthouse magazine founder Bob Guccione's larger-than-life persona was exemplified by his jet-setting lifestyle, decadent love life and 30-room Italianate mansion decorated with paintings by El Greco, Degas, Matisse and Picasso.
With a distinctly European flair, the porn potentate came a long way from his native Brooklyn. But there was a darker side to Guccione's fame involving potential links to the mob and possible exploitation of underage women, as outlined in his FBI file obtained by The Huffington Post -- which also reveal the Italian beauty who transformed him from a painter into an erotica publisher.
Guccione, who died of cancer last October, was tracked by the FBI for alleged ties to organized crime during the early 1980s. A private investigator, who claims he was paid $1 million by Penthouse, told the bureau that he tried to introduce Guccione to an "individual __ believed to be an organized crime figure," according to the file. "The purpose of this meeting between Guccione and ___ was that ___ wished to help finance Guccione's attempt to complete a casino in Atlantic City."
Yet the widely-reported suspicions about Guccione's possible ties to the mob, which ended up killing his dreams of a gambling mecca in New Jersey, made up only a small portion of his file. And the files released by the bureau seem to vindicate Guccione, indicating that others tried to get the publisher involved with organized crime members but that he never went that far. Guccione unsuccessfully sued the feds in 1988, alleging that the FBI negligently failed to prevent a paid operative from defaming him to potential lenders for the Atlantic City project.
More disturbing were letters from families around the country, alleging that Penthouse lured underage runaways into making pornographic films. One worried mother from Casper, Wyo. claimed that her daughter ran away from home to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. where a t-shirt shop owner induced her to pose for nude pictures. From there, her mother claimed, the girl flew with a porn producer to New Jersey, where she met Penthouse reps who considered her as a potential "Pet of the Month."
The file also reveals the early days of Guccione's career, including the Italian beauty who first inspired him to get into porn. At the time, he was an artist who lived and worked in London and Italy, where he took nude photographs of dozens of young women, including an artist's model in Rome whom he describes as "one of the most perfect girls I have ever known." Upon his return to the United States, where he lived on Carmine Street in New York City's Greenwich Village, Guccione -- who used the last name Gucci -- tried selling the photos.
"Actually, it was through my association with ---- that I decided to turn from painting to the more exciting art of photography. It occurred to me during one of those dull, humid afternoons when the heat had thoroughly deflated my spirits and I stood looking, first at my canvas and the weak impressions I had scribbled of ---- and then at ---- herself. I began to compare the effort that my hands had made with the living image of the girl before me. I saw the pink, fleshy tones, the bronze and the umber with which nature had burnished her skin; I saw the full, ripened breast, the eloquent face, the proud sculptured turn of the hip; I saw the eyes and the mouth and the vivid expression of youth; I saw the complete and perfect form of life and I knew that here was the original and the real masterpiece and that my own was but the poorest copy."
Here is the full, creepy letter: