Viva magazine was launched, focusing on nude men and stories geared toward women. Advertisers were reluctant to buy space because of male nudity.
This was the same year U.S. President Richard M. Nixon was “exposed” in Watergate!
As the Vietnam War came to an end, a Reason magazine interviewer asked Guccione whether the government ought to be able to place restrictions on the cover price of Penthouse. Guccione replied:
“I don’t think that Dick Nixon or Gerald Ford have the right, the intelligence, the know-how, or the talent to control anything other than their own bowel movements, and even that is somewhat in doubt.”
Beautiful naked women were not all that interested Guccione. The naked truth was titillating as well. The magazine covers announced investigative pieces on topics ranging from CIA corruption to the mob, to the sleaziness of the medical establishment. Guccione was named Publisher of the Year by Brandeis University for:
“his editorial attention on such critical issues of our day as the welfare of the Vietnam veteran and problems of criminality in modern society.”
Penthouse painter Ori Hofmekler said,
“Bob has this anti-Establishment desire, almost a desire to hurt fat cats.”
In the courts, Guccione had to fight off claims brought by televangelist Jerry Falwell; a former Miss Wyoming; and a Penthouse Pet who accused him of forcing her to perform sexual favors for business colleagues.
Despite allegations, Guccione and his trusted colleague and future wife Keeton surrounded themselves with smart, and savvy women, including Penthouse ad saleswoman Dawn Steel, who became head of Paramount Pictures, and Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, who was hired by Guccione in the late Seventies as fashion editor of Viva.
During the mid-1970s, Guccione broadened his interest in media to include motion pictures. He helped finance major motion pictures such as 1974’s The Longest Yard, starring Burt Reynolds, and, Chinatown, starring Jack Nicholson, and 1975’s Day of the Locust, starring Donald Sutherland. With these box office successes, and money continuing to pour in from Penthouse magazine, Guccione embarked on his most controversial film project to date with Caligula, chronicling the rise and fall of the notorious Roman Emperor, showing the violent methods he employs to gain the throne, and the subsequent insanity of his reign.
England’s top-male film star at that period, Malcolm McDowell, as well as acclaimed actors Peter O’Toole, Helen Mirren and John Gielgud were included in the cast. Famed author Gore Vidal was hired to write the script.
Malcolm McDowell said,
“Gore called and asked me to meet him in the Penthouse club. I thought it was a rather extraordinary place to meet this famed man of letters. It was well known that he was gay, so I wondered why he’d be meeting me in this club with all these big titted girls. It soon became evident because he told me that the financer was Bob Guccione. He said, ‘Malcolm, don’t worry, this will be Gore Vidal’s Caligula. Just think of Bob Guccione as one of the Warner Brothers.’ Well, if you’re offered the title part of Caligula, written by Gore Vidal, you’d have to be an idiot to say no.”
Helen Mirren later said,
“The offer came, and absolutely it scared me, because at that time it was scandalous and shocking stuff. But it was Gore Vidal’s script. It was beautifully written, but it was also extreme and it went where angels feared to tread. It had scenes that were horrific, but it also was wonderful.”
By December 1975, the budget was $7,000,000 ($31,000,000 in today’s currency).
Guccione scouted locations in Italy, Romania and Yugoslavia. He told the press,
“In terms of audience perception of film, Gore Vidal’s Caligula will rank as a cinematic landmark a la Citizen Kane.” Another promise: “This picture will be solidly-based on history; the Vidal script derived from Robert Graves’ translation of second century historians Seutonius and Tacitus.”
Gore Vidal said,
“Many of the terrible things that we are going to show in this movie are indeed from history, from the only two sources that we have – Seutonius and Tacitus. And they may be true or they may not be true. Whatever they are, they are representative of something that those who are interested in history have known about for two thousand years, but, until now, have never been – how shall I say? – divulged to the general public.”
Italian filmmaker Giovanni Tinto Brass was selected to direct. Throughout the 1960s and ’70s, Brass had created many avant-garde films, including the controversial erotic epics Salon Kitty and Senso ’45. He had recently gained notoriety for his court battles to get Salon Kitty cleared of obscenity charges and released in Italy. He also filed a lawsuit against– and was sued by — the makers of that film over the issue of “final cut.” His first demand of Guccione was that he would have the right to “final cut” over Gore Vidal’s Caligula. Guccione, sitting in the producers’ chair for the first time and not knowing better, agreed. He said,
“I’m not a businessman. I’m an artist. To this very day, I can’t read a, um, what do they call it? – your financial results, you know? – the accountant thing.”
Kathy Keeton was at Guccione’s side as he put the deal together for Gore Vidal’s Caligula. A Penthouse associate said of the two:
“They feed off each other, and they are not impacted by reality. I always say that the Guccione theory of economics is, “Expenses should exceed income by 100 percent.”
Helen Mirren said,
“Before we started filming, I went to New York for a dinner Guccione was throwing for us on the top floor of the Penthouse building – the penthouse of the Penthouse – and the whole cast was there, and Tinto Brass, the director, and the designer and the producer. Bob Guccione had a certain innocence about him; an American naivety and decency about him. I rather liked him. He was completely up front about who he was. And he was very proud about all this talent he had pulled together. I was sitting at the table next to Tinto when Bob made a toast, raising his glass, saying, ‘We have the best actors in the world in this movie; we have the best designer; we have the best composer; we have the best writer in the history of literature …’, and, at that moment, Tinto Brass leans over and says quietly to me, ‘To make the worst movie.’”