Veteran porn editor and novelist looks at the history of American girlie mags.
Edison (I Have Fun Wherever I Go, 2008, etc.)—former High Times publisher, Hustler and Penthouse correspondent and editor in chief of Screw magazine—takes readers on an enthusiastic romp through the rise and fall of the major porno magazines of the 20th century, while profiling the self-imploding personalities who innovated effective ways of selling sexual fantasies to the average sexually dissatisfied male. Edison credibly insists that it’s these pornographers who have done all the important free-expression dirty work. His loudmouthed prose voice mixes punk attitude with a self-conscious literary style, giving a racy but otherwise conventional biographical account of high-rolling porn peddlers like Hugh Hefner, Bob Guccione, Al Goldstein and Larry Flynt. It’s an interesting study of the ways influence can snowball: Using Esquire as a springboard, Hefner’s Playboy became the innovator of men’s pin-up magazines, with incrementally raunchier improvements made to this publishing model over the years by big guns like Penthouse, Hustler, and Screw. Predictably, Edison trashes Hefner as a woman hater and increasingly clueless antiquarian. Penthouse honcho Guccione and Screw founder Goldstein have the most extreme rags-to-riches-to-rags stories. Guccione made a fortune with his Vaseline-lensed nudie shots but lost it all in a predictable maelstrom of stupidity and greed. Goldstein went on to million-dollar success in New York with his hotheaded porno-political humor but was eventually felled by the Internet and (surprise!) arrogance and greed. Lawsuit-addled wheelchair warrior Flynt comes across as heroic in comparison: two bullets in the back and he’s still running a diversified, expanding porn empire. However, the brunt of the biographical facts on Flynt and Hefner seems more like common knowledge for most readers interested in Edison’s subject. More intriguing are the author’s findings on lesser players in the porn game, such as the extraordinarily hapless Ralph Ginzburg, among others.
Brash and fun, but the biographical research yields few titillating surprises—not as consistently entertaining as the electric I Have Fun Everywhere I Go.