Originally Published Anniversary 2014
HUSTLER’s early days are the stuff of legend, documented by reporters and acted out by Hollywood stars. A former top editor confirms that the real story is even crazier. He swears everything that follows is true and unadorned.
I’m in Columbus, fucking Ohio, for God’s sake! How the hell did that happen? I asked myself. Of course, I knew the answer. I had accepted a job offer from Larry Flynt. He’d hired me to be managing editor of HUSTLER Magazine. But what the devil had I gotten myself into?! I was surrounded by hillbillies—at least that was how they referred to themselves. Larry himself, I learned, was an eighth-grade dropout.
It had all started back in New York City, where I was working as a columnist for Screw, Al Goldstein’s notorious sex magazine. (For some reason The New York Times wasn’t impressed with my degree from Paterson State Teachers College.) When the first issue of HUSTLER hit the stands in 1974, I’d reviewed it in Screw, saying HUSTLER had “just nudged out Refrigerator Monthly as the most boring publication in America.” Flynt, as it turned out, agreed. The next thing I knew, I was in Columbus, a city with either a go-go bar or a storefront church on every corner.
I’d seen HUSTLER’s potential even while still in New York. My friend, local radio personality Alex Bennett, told me he thought Gallery, a recent arrival on the publishing scene, would be the next magazine to rival Playboy and Penthouse. But I said no, it would be HUSTLER. Shortly after my Screw review came out, Larry began showing “pink”—a woman’s exposed and open vagina. It was clear to me that the heartland publisher was willing to challenge the status quo in much the same way Al Goldstein had in 1969, when he first put Screw on the newsstands of New York City. Sure, Al had gotten busted for his efforts, but with the help of lawyers—and the protections of the First Amendment—he’d won the day. Larry, it seemed, was willing to go the same route nationally—a more risky proposition.
Upgrading HUSTLER would not be an easy task. Finding good editors in Columbus who were willing to work for a porn magazine was proving difficult, and the editors I knew from New York, being smarter than me, didn’t want to relocate to Columbus fucking Ohio. The two editors I had, local guys, would leave every evening at 5:30 on the dot, regardless of how much work still had to be done. Neither one understood we were making publishing history. Or if they did understand, they didn’t give a shit.
My immediate supervisor was Althea Leasure, Larry’s fiancée (and later wife). Like Larry, her education was spotty at best. But it would have been a mistake to dismiss her. Smart and strong-willed, she was fiercely dedicated to Larry. And, oh yeah, one more thing: She hated me. Althea saw me as a wiseass New York hipster who thought he was smarter than everyone else. (My high school guidance counselor had assured me years earlier that I wasn’t.) But Althea knew what was good for the magazine, and she supported most of my requests, however grudgingly.