Larry Flynt is celebrating dual milestones. Now 70, he heads a business empire that’s larger and more profitable than ever. He’s also celebrating the 25-year anniversary of an unlikely Supreme Court victory. HUSTLER Magazine v. Falwell, Flynt’s epic legal battle against evangelist Jerry Falwell, started out as a tasteless joke about the preacher losing his virginity with his own mother and ended up as a historical landmark that significantly bolstered our First Amendment right to free speech.
Flynt sat down with longtime friend Robert Scheer, one of the country’s foremost progressive voices, for an honest conversation about the lofty principles of Constitutional rights and the gutter realities of being a multimillionaire smut peddler.
ROBERT SCHEER: You once told me HUSTLER is the best magazine you could read with one hand. In your office you have a book of Helmut Newton’s photographs: classy, beautiful erotica. In the magazine you’ve got cum-shots.
LARRY FLYNT: You know something? Helmut Newton loved HUSTLER; it was his favorite magazine. People that love smut like it hard, and they like it unapologetic. If you’re a connoisseur of pornography, you really don’t like it camouflaged with a lot of aesthetics; you like it in your face. You’re one of the few people I know who define pornography very objectively when it’s really very subjective. It exists in various forms.
We all know that the old masters, Picasso or Rembrandt, had a penchant for doing nudes—for doing porn basically. When writers like James Joyce came along, they were in a league of their own. They made the desire for pornography more acceptable. Eventually there came a time when it was available to the masses. The genie was out of the bottle, and there was no way of putting it back in. It got very unfiltered and very unsophisticated. So, many of the people who appreciated very good pornography were extremely critical of the crudeness in a lot of it. But that’s the marketplace.
When you started out, you just wanted to make a buck, right?