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By Lainie Speiser

In October of last year, I was saddened to hear of the sudden passing of Dennis Hof, the infamous, proud pimp of Las Vegas and Reno’s Bunny Ranch. You may have seen his long-running HBO show, “Cathouse,” heard his many interviews on big shows like “The Howard Stern Show,” or heard his own show on SiriusXM, or you may have read his best-seller, “The Art of the Pimp: One Man’s Search for Love, Sex, and Money.” I knew Dennis. I’ve been hosted at his many ranches in Reno, emailed with him and hung out with him. He was a great guy and I had a little crush on him. He reminded me of Santa Claus, all joy, giving and good will toward man. He knew how to talk to women. He could be with gorgeous ladies dripping off him, but when he talked to me, he looked right into my eyes and gave me his full attention, sometimes while cupping one of my ass cheeks, and I liked it. We talked about working together in the future, but us both being the busy beavers we are, it never quite happened.

I get asked all the time, “What’s your favorite part of your job as a porn publicist, Miss Lainie?” That’s easy—it’s the people! Specifically meeting some really amazing people I would never have met if I didn’t get the calling into the smut trade. Dennis Hof is most definitely one of them.

I met Dennis during my first few months working as a freelance publicist at Penthouse Magazine. I was hired to be there two or three days a week, booking media and minding the publicity store while my boss at the time, Michael Moi, a handsome and hilarious but more conservative promotion head, was taking meetings, going on business trips and so on. I got a call from reception that Penthouse Pet Sunset Thomas, porn star Ron Jeremy and super-pimp Dennis Hof had just showed up and was asked if I could assist them. At the time the only person I had met in this trio was Ron Jeremy at a raucous Atlantic City party thrown by Fox Magazine personality, the late, great Anna Malle. It was one of the best parties to this day that I’ve ever been to, and towards the end of the evening, Anna, always a class act, was passing around an empty champagne bucket asking for tips to our sweet and understanding bartenders, (I say understanding because it was a pretty wild party filled with people who drank non-stop.) As Anna went from guest to guest wearing a gorgeous gauzy Victoria Secrets scarlet gown with matching flimsy robe and furry mules, she yelled, “Take a photo of this, somebody! RON JEREMY IS LEAVING A TIP! IF RON JEREMY CAN LEAVE A TIP YOU CAN LEAVE A TIP!!” Yes, he was always known for being a tight wad.

But when I met with this well-known tricking trio, Ron did not remember me at all, but told me I had beautiful red hair and Sunset and Dennis agreed. Sunset and Dennis were dating I knew this from watching “Cathouse” on HBO, and admittedly at the time I called The Bunny Ranch, the place where porn stars go to die, like an old person going to an old age home. But Sunset didn’t look old and washed up. She looked beautiful and fresh with a gorgeous, big pearly smile. She explained to me she was a Penthouse Pet, which I already knew, and that she lost her Penthouse Pet key necklace in her move from California to Nevada and asked if I had another one in the office. “I can pay for a new one right now,” Dennis offered.

I brought them back to my office, well my boss Michael’s office, and looked through his drawers to see if we had an extra. Then I went to the office next door to ask the head of Pet Promotions and Pet of the Year 1980 Dottie Meyer, if she had an extra one herself. I loved Dottie, she had legs up to her neck, always wore wonderful mini suits to work and was always quick with a smile or some motherly advice. But when I asked her about this, she made a sour face and said no she didn’t have one and we don’t hand over necklaces just like that anyway. “Dennis said he’ll pay for a new one right now,” I said, to which she narrowed her eyes and said, “I’m sure he will.” But still, she was persuaded to come to Michael’s office and say hello to Sunset and company, was very cordial and diplomatic as always. She gave Sunset her email information and said she could order one. As I walked them out (laden with Penthouse plastic bags of swag and magazines), Dennis asked me if I was a natural redhead, and when I said yes, he nodded and said, “I don’t have many of those.”

Over the years I would run into Dennis here and there when he was in New York City, usually at SiriusXM, and unlike Ron Jeremy he always remembered me and was always proud to introduce the latest slim, blonde beauty on his arm. I’d be there with the latest Penthouse Pet. There was a mutual understanding between us; perhaps it was a mutual pimp respect thing. Eventually Dennis and his beauties were a monthly part of Penthouse Magazine, and we would introduce his latest gorgeous ranch worker in a two or three-page spread. It was nice. And being able to bring my client Ralph Sutton owner of GaS Digital Network and his partner, comedian Luis J. Gomez to Dennis’ birthday bash at The Love Ranch in Reno for the weekend, made me feel like a super-pimp. They gave us the royal treatment along with freebie tickets. They looked like drink tickets you’d get at a club, but instead of a vodka tonic you’d get laid. I gave my ticket away because I’m strictly dickly and now know what my Ralph’s face looks like after he’s busted a nut. So happy and so peaceful, like he came out of a day spa. On the last day, after Luis and Ralph were on their flights home, I spent most of the day with Dennis, hanging at his BBQ, talking about the industry and such. He definitely wanted some of my girls to work there. He had more porn stars working in the ranches on and off, and they liked it, especially Sunny Lane who I loved reuniting with that weekend, but it never happened, and I’m not surprised. The ranches were in the middle of nowhere and the house took half of your earnings—not fot my ladies. I no longer say it’s where porn stars go to die, (though ironically it was where Dennis actually did die and found by his BFF Ron Jeremy.) I think it’s the way he would have wanted it.

I feel lucky to have no only met and known him. But his passing didn’t hurt more than the passing of other great men I have met.

Such as the case of Al Goldstein, the founder, editor and publisher of Screw Magazine. Al Goldstein, though probably not as known by this generation as Hugh Hefner or Larry Flynt, holds the record for getting arrested the most for obscenity than any other free speech fighter. Al Goldstein was the king of sleazy New York City and he reveled in that title. Screw wasn’t so much like Playboy or Penthouse or even Hustler, but more like the Mad Magazine of sex with hysterical writing, hysterical parodies and in between he had a strong political point of view. He also had a great TV show, “Midnight Blue,” where he got spouted off his agenda, interviewed famous people and talked about how much he loved eating pussy. He was a big guy with a bigger voice, loud and Jewish and whip-smart. Once you met him, he stayed with you like a fungus. So, when I heard there was an opening for an associate editor at Screw, I threw my hat into the ring.

I was working at Gallery and Fox Magazine for some time as a promotion assistant, and then associate. I loved working there, very much, but I wanted to get back into writing and editorial, which was my reason for even getting into the stroke mag business to begin with. I wanted to work in magazines, any magazine, just like my fellow journalism majors of School of Visual Arts, and while they were working for Vanity Fair and The New York Times, I was writing press releases about the Girl Next Door of the Year contest. I wanted more, so I thought a lateral move to Screw would put me back on my original path. I loved reading Screw and I thought I would love spending my days writing irreverent copy for the industry’s biggest rebel.

Screw offices looked very unorderly, dark and cavernous. It had a weird vibe of more of a sex dungeon than a publishing house, and the staff a bit like The Munsters. I was given a copy-editing test that an eighth grader could pass and then I was asked to write some parodies of what was going in pop culture today, movies, television, things that could translate into something fun for the art department to create and for the readers to laugh at. Totally up my alley, I thought. I took home my assignments and was thrilled to be called back soon for interview number two with King Goldstein. I was nervous as hell but so very excited to meet him after all I’ve seen and read about Al.

I sat in his American Eagle custom made chair, I heard about this chair, and patiently waited for him to get off the phone with Larry Flynt. He was having a big birthday bash for Screw, and he was friends with both Bob Guccione and Larry Flynt, but from what I gathered from the phone call, these two hated each other’s guts and he promised the publisher of Hustler that if he came to his party, he would not invite the publisher of Penthouse. Wow, what a moment to be privy to! Of course, as a publicist, I had my own ideas and suggestions for this predicament, but I held my tongue. After all I was there as a writer, the only thing I really wanted to be. He got off the phone and said, “so who are you?”

I hardly got the chance to say much, Al talked a hundred miles a minute and basically it was this: “I don’t know you Lainie. I don’t know what Gallery Magazine is, I never heard of Fox Magazine either, but Ivan, he says you’ve got talent and you write some hot stuff, some really hot stuff and I think we should have more women on staff. Now this is the most creative job you will ever have, you will be able to grow as a writer, the best of the best has worked here. There’s zero censorship here. You can write whatever you want as long as it’s funny and it’s hot, and I heard your writing is funny and hot. But you’re not going to make any money here, I’m sorry but you won’t. I have so many lawsuits to fight, a bunch of alimony to pay, my son is going to Harvard and I got a lot of bills to pay. So, if you want to grow as a writer and have the most fun you’ve ever had at work, I welcome you here, if you want to make money, this job is not for you. Thank you for your time and good bye, nice talking to you.”

I thought about it and thought about it, all weekend long. Being broke wasn’t new to me, but they were offering less than what I already made, which was not much. So, I asked for my salary to be matched to my current salary and I got an I’m sorry, but no. Then they waved an invite to the big Screw Birthday Bash and said, why don’t you come and check it out and then make your final decision. Of course, I went, and there I met Larry Flynt and saw Al run up to him onstage and kiss his forehead. I also saw Al Goldstein, Ron Jeremy and Randy West strip naked on stage to the tune of “You Can Keep Your Hat On,” doing The Full Monty, a popular movie of that summer. The booze was flowing, I met all kinds of fun people, but upon getting home and receiving my American Express bill, I just couldn’t do it, I couldn’t afford to do it. And when I eventually worked with former employees from Screw, they all told me I dodged a bullet. Working for Al was not as fun as he made it out to be and they were barely able to stay afloat.

The week after I turned down the job, I picked up the latest copy of Screw and found my parody published, a full page of “How Stella Got Her Cooze Back,” a play aon the other popular movie of the summer. I didn’t make a dime off that. I wasn’t even told they were going to use it. I thought of calling Ivan, the editor who initially interviewed me and gave me the parody writing test, but I knew nothing was going to come of it. That’s how they did business and I suppose I did dodge a bullet.

But that wasn’t the end of my seeing the great Al Goldstein. He became friendly with the owner of Gallery and Fox Magazine, Russell Orenstein, and at a porn convention in New York City called The Erotic Expo, the Screw booth was opposite of the Penthouse booth, where Al used a bullhorn to say, “Gallery Magazine is a gay magazine! The owner of Gallery loves to suck on his cock cigar!” And I sat stood at our booth, laughing my ass off. “You like that, Cookie?” Al said to me into the bullhorn. I nodded wiping my tears of laughter. I’m glad I didn’t work for him, but I was equally glad to know him.

The last time I saw Al Goldstein I was working my first Penthouse Pet of the Year party at a very trendy club in Manhattan. The Penthouse parties were one of those events of the season that everyone wanted to get invited to and since I was a newbie in the PR department, I was relegated to working the door with a clip board, which I enjoyed, and still love to do to this day. Al Goldstein still wrote the porn movie reviews for Penthouse Magazine, so he was invited and showed up with a few ladies, now using a cane to walk and dressed like a total slob in old, baggy cargo shorts and a sloppy, old Screw tee shirt with some khaki jacket

over it. The line was a block long, but Al hobbled up to the front of the line, totally recognized me, leaned it and said, “Cookie, can you let a broken-down old man cut the line?” I kissed him on his cheek and said, of course, and opened the ropes for Al. He passed away five or six years later, slim and broke, living in an old age home, but still doing interviews and writing a blog. He had burned almost every bridge he ever had and a former employee who also ghost wrote everything I thought Al had written told me the only way he would go to his funeral would be to piss on his grave.

But probably the greatest man I ever met in my career was the man who changed my life, Bob Guccione, the creator and publisher of Penthouse Magazine, an amazing photographer, a wonderful painter who wore expensive jogging suits and chains before any rap star ever did. He changed my life as he didn’t hire me himself, but in time he got to know who I was and while people were being laid off right and left, he fired the man who hired me and gave me his job, and truly he changed my life.

We never saw Bob at the office, but there was not one word or one photo that he didn’t look at and give his approval, all done from “The House” as we called it, his upper east side mansion across the street from Central Park. Twice a day our mail room manager did runs to The House to deliver story boards, photos shoots and everything else that needed his approval. Around the office were huge portraits of him over the years, one with him and Bill Clinton, and I suggested during harder times that he address the staff via speaker phone through one of the portraits. Nobody was amused. But I was one of the only employees who not only met Bob, but also hung out at his house, and once I trimmed his Christmas tree with him and his family. This was not due to me being such a great publicist, but because I was friendly with his last wife, April.

April Warren is only a few years older than me and was not just Bob’s wife but also his best friend and his nurse. People thought she was just hanging out and spending his money, but nothing could have been farther from the truth. April was a young woman who spent her thirties taking care of a 70-something year old man. Bob’s tongue was cut due to cancer and could not eat solid food because of this, and April put in his IV every single morning, gave him cans of Ensure and rarely left his side. It’s not the glamorous life of a trophy wife; she loved this man, and anyone could see that. When Bob lost everything, his art collection, his beloved Penthouse Magazine, his mansion, it was April who took him back to her home in Texas, and that’s where he passed away, being loved and cared for by a pretty woman. I’ve told her so many times over the years to write a tell-all book, but she never has.

It was April who would invite me over to The House, and in turn we would drink wine and smoke cigarettes and shoot the shit. I let her know everything that was going on in the magazine, and the few times I had any kind of issue, she always tried to help me through it. When I was invited over to The House for Bob’s 70th birthday party, I had no words, except what the hell do you buy a man like Bob fucking Guccione for his birthday that doesn’t cost a grand or more? The guy owns Picassos, Rembrandts, Chagall paintings, Judy Garland’s piano and a gold toilet! My friend Chris suggested nose and ear hair clippers because old Italian men can always use them, but I assumed April took care of his grooming as she took care of everything else, that, and it was a dumbass idea. My friend Rachel who used to work at Penthouse as an editor for their website, but was one of the layoff casualties said when I have to pee at the party I should invite him to come with me to watch and take photos, because this was the tail end of Bob’s love of golden shower photo shoots, and the other men’s magazines were cattily calling us, Peehouse. Well that wouldn’t be respectful to April and besides, I was no Penthouse model. Have you ever seen an old issue of Penthouse Magazine? Those women looked like supermodels who belonged more in Vogue than a nudie mag. Bob had exquisite taste and although I could tell he approved of my love of DKNY fishnet stockings, I don’t think he found me up to his standards.

But I knew one thing that Bob and I had in common: Art. I went to art school and I appreciate a lot of Bob’s paintings in the Sotheby catalogs, and his portraits of women’s faces, particularly touched me. They looked both sad and serene at the same time, very Modigliani, if I had to compare him to another famous painter. So, I bought him a “Zen Art Board” that I found in an art store in New York. A Zen Art Board is kinda like an Etch-A-Sketch for artists. It’s a blank canvas, sometimes it’s black, sometimes it’s white, that comes with a painter brush. You dip the brush in water and paint whatever you want on the canvas, then watch it slowly evaporate. I wrapped it in aluminum foil, with a birthday card and hoped for the best, or that he at least wouldn’t open the gifts in front of everyone.

We had a delicious dinner of lasagna and a big salad with lots of wine, although Bob could not eat solid food, he always sat at the head of the table with an empty plate and a glass of water in front of him. He once told me he now realized how much more important and enjoyable food was than sex and would trade it off in a heartbeat if he could. It was a small affair of close friends and family, not more than 10 or 12 of us. He wasn’t speaking with most of his children at that time except for his youngest, Nick, but he wasn’t there either for some reason. I was there with Grace, a dynamic British woman who was besties with April and worked in the advertising department of Penthouse, and Fran, who worked both in the Penthouse office and at The House for Bob. It was a lovely evening, and Italians and Jews are almost the same kind of person. I always felt at home at The House and during these dinners, despite the fact that I was sitting in front of the man who changed the way we look at sex and whom I admired since I was 10 years old. Gifts were indeed opened and when Bob opened my gift, he looked perplexed. I hastily explained what it was, and he took his water glass, dipped the paint brush in, and as he started painting and I saw him smile. I thought, “This is the greatest moments of my whole life.”

I don’t remember exactly the very last time I saw Bob Guccione. I’m going to guess it was when we had the Penthouse Pet of the Year Play Offs and I brought the top five of Penthouse Pets to The House, not only to meet Bob but to do a New York Magazine photo shoot that I arranged. His dogs, Rhodesian Ridgebacks that were as almost as big as horses, came bounding out at me. April laughed because I never quite stopped being scared as hell of them. I said hello to Mr. G, as I only called him, and introduced him to the ladies. It wasn’t so easy to understand him because of the issue with his tongue, and although I prepped the Penthouse Pets about it, one blonde after a bit said, “I’m sorry I can’t understand a word you’re saying to me, but thank you for having me here,” and I wanted to die of embarrassment. Bob didn’t seem to care, and in fact she was in his top three of choices. I saw him later that night at The Penthouse Club that had just opened in Manhattan. He was surrounded by Pets and April and was regal and sat like the Greek emperors he admired, saying nothing but noticing everything.


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