It was the year of the Summer of Love in America, with the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love” as its anthem. But unlike the Beatles, who were as popular in the U.S. as in their home country of England, Penthouse was still confined to the U.K. (with extended circulation in some parts of Europe). The upside of this was that, by not being published in America, Penthouse was able to begin showing the pubic area of its models, breaking new ground and getting the magazine more free publicity.
Beyond this, and in an attempt to compete with Playboy in the English marketplace, Guccione offered editorial content that was more sensational and the magazine’s writing was far more investigative than other men’s magazines, with stories about government cover-ups and scandals. Writers such as Craig S. Karpel, James Dale Davidson and Ernest Volkman, as well as the critically acclaimed Seymour Hersh, exposed numerous scandals and corruption at the highest levels of government.
While American youth, including those of “the Hippy Nation,” came together for a weekend of music and free love near the town of Woodstock, New York, Guccione was engaged in his own sexual revolution. Penthouse launched in the U.S. with full-page newspaper ads featuring artwork depicting the crosshairs of a rifle gun sight centered on the Playboy bunny logo, and the caption:
“We’re going rabbit hunting.”
In April 1970, Penthouse introduced its first full frontal nude and achieved its highest ever sales figures to date. Now the “Pubic Wars” were on in America. Although Hugh Hefner stated he would never sink to showing pubic areas:
“Nine months later,” Guccione says, chuckling, “there was pubic hair in Playboy, because we were killing him on the newsstand.”
During the Pubic Wars Guccione and Hefner had their only face-to-face encounter. It was at a screening of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange
“He snubbed me,” Guccione says. “He shook my hand, said, ‘Nice to meet you’ and disappeared. I never had any bad feelings toward him. He did toward me — with some justification, because we were making serious inroads into his territory.”
More than just a magazine with gorgeous, hot naked women, Penthouse publishes articles by talented and popular writers, like Alan Dershowitz, Stephen King, Philip Roth, Joyce Carol Oates, and JP Donleavy, and interviews with Germaine Greer, Gore Vidal and Isaac Asimov among others. This allowed Guccione to make the claim that he was not merely “selling sex.” He also explained that his Roman Catholic upbringing made him acutely aware that:
“every older woman is somebody’s mother and every young woman somebody’s sister.” In his magazine, therefore, the women “were not just blatant sex objects,” Men, he claimed, “really don’t want to see women vulgarized.”
In August 1971 Guccione introduced the world to the centrefold.Playboy did so the following year. He boasted,
“Everything was started by us. We were the first to show full-frontal nudity; the first to expose the clitoris completely. I think we made a very serious contribution to the liberalization of laws and attitudes.”
Guccione stayed ahead of Playboy by taking more risks – introducing the “split-beaver” and girl-on girl photo sets which became a staple in his magazine. Guccione said,
“Lesbianism was something that was of interest to me, and I recognized that I wasn’t alone.”