The Self-Made Man: Larry Flynt
Since we profiled Hugh Hefner’s career as a self made man a couple of weeks ago, it would be downright ungallant of TSB to ignore his counterpart, Hustler founder Larry Flynt. Flynt is a very controversial figure, and thrives on that, and his outlook on sexuality is much different (at least on the surface) than Hef’s, but Flynt is absolutely a self made man whose success came in spite of poverty and carried tremendous professional and personal risk.
Flynt was born in Lakeville, Kentucky, but moved to Indiana with his mother after his parents divorced. Flynt joined the Army when he was 15, thanks to a forged birth certificate, but was honorably discharged and ended up joining the Navy a few years later. After his honorable discharge from the Navy, Flynt had enough money to buy a bar his mother owned—the Keewee, in Dayton, Ohio—and fix it up. It was a success (due in no small part to Flynt’s amphetamine-fueled, 20-hour work days), and Flynt bought more bars, eventually deciding to open a high-class strip club called the Hustler Club.
Because it was the first fully-nude strip club in its area, the Hustler Club was a success, and Flynt opened more locations in Ohio. Other business ventures of his flopped (most notably a vending-machine business), but his biggest and most scandalous claim to fame was yet to come.
Flynt started a newsletter about his clubs, titled the Hustler Newsletter, in 1973, which was a bigger hit with his customers than he’d expected; the newsletter went from four pages to 16, and then to 32 pages as demand grew. When the oil crisis and subsequent recession drove down revenues from his clubs, Flynt decided to turn his newsletter into a magazine with national distribution. Two years later, he published paparazzi photos of Jackie Kennedy sunbathing nude and made himself a millionaire.
While that was admittedly a sleazeball move, Flynt was already in trouble with distributors and censors for featuring “pink shots” (I think we can all guess what those are) in Hustler, so I guess he figured why not go for broke. It’s not a choice I would have made, but that’s why he’s richer than blood pudding and I’m not.
Not that Flynt’s business instincts didn’t get him in trouble; quite the opposite. For a time, Flynt was always in trouble. He was a convenient target for anti-pornography activists, and was sentenced to 25 years for obscenity and organized crime (now there’s an odd pairing) in 1976. The sentence was overturned due to a procedure technicality, but that wasn’t the end of his problems. Two years later, Flynt was shot by serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin in an assassination attempt – the shot didn’t kill Flynt, but it did paralyze him, and he’s suffered periodic health problems and painkiller addictions since then.
Despite this, he went on to be an unlikely champion of free speech, and was the center of a 1988 Supreme Court case that ultimately prevented public figures from recovering damages for “intentional infliction of emotional distress” based on parodies. This case, and others, are the centerpiece of numerous documentaries and the 1996 film The People v. Larry Flynt.
I don’t read Hustler (I’m more of a Club Confidential guy), but Flynt’s efforts to keep porn blue-collar and counteract Hugh Hefner’s bourgie white stranglehold on the skin mag industry fall into line with TSB’s conception of a self made man. Plus, if he could get his business model off the ground and eventually triumph over the challenges he faced, then you certainly can.
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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.