When Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione died on October 10, 2010, the obituaries dwelled on him as pornographer. That got the attention of filmmaker, Barry Avrich, a documentarian who specializes in the dramatic arc of moguls who peak and fall as a result of their own hubris: his Show Stopper told the story of theatrical producer Garth Drabinsky, for example of one larger than life figure. He also made Unauthorized: The Harvey Weinstein Project in 2011. Bob Guccione, relegated to the dust heap of porn magnate didn't cut it, and Avrich set out to find out more. The result, Filthy Gorgeous, an illuminating documentary portrait, airs on EPIX this Friday. The big reveal: Bob Guccione, whose interests also went to math and science (he created Omni Magazine), wanted to be remembered as a fine arts painter. And guess what: he could paint.
Featuring interviews with his son, Bob Guccione, Jr., who going into the family business so to speak founded Spin and Gear magazines, Jane Homlish, his personal assistant for 35 years, Victoria Johnson, 1978 Penthouse Pet who became a lover, and others, the film portrays an American original: his vision for Penthouse rivaled Hugh Hefner's Playboy, but always according to Jane Homlish, with a view toward making each nude picture a work of art. As to scandal, the decision to publish photos of Vanessa Williams felt like no big deal at the time. Of course that derailed her reign as Miss America, and according to Homlish, actually gave her a career. Do you remember the names of any Miss America, asked Homlish in a recent interview.
Unlike Hefner whose mansion was part of the public consciousness, Guccione's palazzo in an upper East Side townhouse was a private pleasure dome, filled with splendid décor and modernist artworks. Says Guccione Jr., by all rights there would have been a museum of his collection after his death, but the works were auctioned off as the empire declined. Jane Homlish tells a story, practically in tears she was so devoted to her boss, she remembers how she hung Guccione's paintings on the walls as the art was removed, thinking this act would cheer him up. That may have been temporary. As his son pointed out, he died in small town Piano, Texas, remote from family and the elegant world he loved.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.