Penthouse Magazine History
Penthouse is a men's magazine that was founded by Bob Guccione in 1965. It combines urban lifestyle articles and soft-core pornographic pictorials, that eventually, in the 1990s evolved into hardcore. Although Guccione was American, the magazine was founded in 1965 in the United Kingdom, and started selling Penthouse in the United States in September 1969. At the height of its success, Guccione was considered to be one of the richest men in the United States.
For many years Penthouse fell somewhere in between Playboy and Hustler in terms of explicitness (and respectability). Almost from the start the pictorials showed female genitalia and pubic hair when this was still considered by many to be obscene. Simulated sex, but not penetration or male genitalia, followed, then, several years later, male genitalia, including erections, could be seen. In addition, Penthouse attempted to maintain some level of reading content, although usually of a more sexually oriented nature than Playboy.
Probably the most famous issue of Penthouse was its September 1984 issue, which was the largest selling issue of any magazine in history. This issue featured photos of Vanessa Williams, who was the current Miss America, from early in her modeling career. Williams posed for the series of black and white photos with another female model, engaging in simulated lesbian acts. While Williams' pictures created the most publicity at the time, the issue would later become even more controversial because of its centerfold, Traci Lords. Lords posed nude for this issue at the beginning of her career as an adult film star. It would later be revealed that Lords was underage throughout most of her career in pornography and was only fifteen when she posed for Penthouse. As a result, the issue is illegal to own if the centerfold is intact, falling under the laws against child pornography. The September 1984 issue also featured an interview with John Travolta, a feature on Boy George, and a pictorial on a pornographic actress, Hyapatia Lee.
In 1992, an issue between the magazine and United States Navy surfaced. The United States Navy reacted negatively on the issues of circulation and distribution around the military base. Distribution and sale of adult titles is said to be inconsistent with the rules and regulations concerning sexual harassment and human dignity.
The Military Honor and Decency Act signed by President Clinton in 1996 stated that the Secretary of Defense may not permit the sale or rental of sexually explicit material on property under the jurisdiction of the Defense Department. Also, a 1998 Supreme Court ruling held that a military base is not a public forum.
In 1998, caught between the widespread availability of pornography on the Internet and the growing popularity of non-explicit "men's magazines" like Maxim, Penthouse decided to change its format and began featuring sexually explicit pictures (ie: actual oral and vaginal penetration). It also began to regularly feature pictorials of female models urinating, which up until then had been considered a defining limit of illegal obscenity as distinguished from legal pornography. The new format ended up losing subscriptions and newsstand circulation for the magazine.
Videocassettes gained popularity and the steady rise of the Internet are some reasons that caused the steady decline of Penthouse Magazine circulation and other pornographic magazines like Playboy Magazine and Hustler Magazine. The Internet provided a cheaper and multiple avenues of satisfaction for customers who sought privacy. After struggleing for years, in April 2002, Guccione announced that Penthouse Magazine was going out of business.
On July 2003, Bob Guccione lost his famous Penthouse Mansion. The mansion was composed of two townhouses built in 1879. Rebuilt in 1920s by Jeremiah Milbank, it was one of the largest private residences in Manhattan. At the height of prestige, Guccione bought the mansion in 1975.
On August 12, 2003, General Media, the parent company of the magazine, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. In October 2003, it was announced that Penthouse magazine was being put up for sale as part of a deal with its creditors. In October 2003, an announcement of the sale of Penthouse Magazine circulated.
On October 4, 2004, General Media emerged from bankruptcy and was renamed the Penthouse Media Group. It is now owned by Marc Bell, a south Florida real-estate developer, who intends to soften the content of the magazine.
Starting with the January 2005 issue, Penthouse Magazine no longer showed pictures of an explicit nature, being touted as an alternative to FHM Magazine. Penthouse Magazine nixed explicitly nude photos of male and female genitalia. The change improved the declining sales. However, sales still did not reach the same circulation numbers of Penthouse Magazine at the peak of the magazine
In 2005, Penthouse Media Group had a total circulation of 326,358 copies. Penthouse Magazine continues to increase sales as it works to become a competitor of the adult entertainment genre.
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