Larry Flynt at Home
By Jean SteinJune 10, 2011
Illustration © Corey Cooley
Good morning, I am your worst nightmare come true: a fabulously wealthy pornographer with the courage and willingness to spend my last dime to expose how you are perverting the Constitution of this great land. Now let's get down to business.
— "Larry Flynt for President" campaign ad, Nov. 1983
I DECIDED I WAS GOING to blow myself up at the Big H Speedway — something I saw at the rodeo when I was a kid. They called it "the human stick of dynamite." I was convinced that somebody was trying to make a hit on me, and it would be easier to kill me if I was doing this. If I lived through it, then I was destined to live for a while. The stunt man who helped me put the thing together said, "You'll be disoriented for a few weeks." Little did he fucking know. A week later I was in Mexico and I really flipped out. I was on location for a film. They'd asked me to play the head of the DEA. I thought it was just a plot and they were going to get me. Next thing I knew I was walking through the jungle naked. I was convinced everybody understood everything I was thinking.
I ended up in Studio 12, where they took me to recover from the alcohol and drugs and so on. I got an offer from Larry Flynt to do the first celebrity shoot for Hustler. I was so out of it, I thought it was some sort of code. It sounded really interesting to me. So Flynt moved me into his house and I became like his top advisor. And here I was, just out of a fucking mental institution. I'd agree with anything he said. "Oh yeah, run for President, sure, why not? Wish I'd thought of it, Larry." In the beginning, I thought he was kidding about running for President. Then he suddenly wasn't kidding. All these '60s radicals started showing up: Stokely Carmichael and what's his name, Rap Brown would come in. And Russell Means would be downstairs. He was Larry's Vice Presidential candidate. And Terry and Leary and myself, just the most radical people.
Den Hopper called me from Larry Flynt's: "I've sent you a first-class round-trip ticket, and I want you to come out. I have a proposition for you. Take my word, it's a good thing. I'll meet the plane." And so I went out without knowing anything except that Den had recommended it.
Den did meet me at the airport and he said, "Man, you're going to dig this scene. This is fantastic!"
When we arrive, the iron gate swings open and they wave Den in. Here I am in this gigantic place, three blocks up from the Bel Air Hotel. I'm trying to think whose house it used to be — Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis, or Sonny and Cher, or somebody. Many generations of mismatched celebrities. There were tennis courts and pools on each side of the house with waterfalls and things like that. Well secured —it's patrolled by guys carrying Uzi machine guns. Three uniformed guards outside the fence, and then on the inside three huge bodybuilder types, dressed in white short-sleeves to show off their gigantic biceps. The guards say, '"Larry and Althea are resting," which meant that they were just nodded out. So Den and l go up to these fantastic adjoining suites, like something out of the Bel Air Hotel.
Den had become friendly with Althea, who was Larry Flynt's wife. A very curious girl from Georgia, extremely provincial, but with what you might call "keen native intelligence"-sort of a poor-white-trash Whoopi Goldberg. She was heavily into pleasure - obsessed with doing all kinds of things for pleasure — especially all kinds of dope. She had a voracious appetite, but she was an innocent — a babe in the woods without a conscience. In an effort to cool her out, Larry had asked her, "What would you like to do, baby? You name it." She said, "I want to make a movie about Jim Morrison." "All right, you've got it." She consults Dennis Hopper, and he says: "Well, the person you want to get to write the script is my friend Terry Southern." She said, Oh, right, good idea." So Den tells me, "We'll write the script together. I already asked them for twenty-five thousand dollars apiece up front." And he hands me this envelope of hundred-dollar bills that thick: "Here, here's yours. I'll show you mine - see, they're the same." "Where should we keep it?" I asked. "I don't know, I'm keeping mine behind this book. The other day I got so stoned I couldn't remember which book it was. I tore the place apart."
Then we met this one particular guard who, it turns out, is also the chief drug procurer. He says, "Larry's trying to get Althea to clean up, so it's very important not to give her any dope." Then he tells Dennis, "Larry wants to see you in his study." And Den says to me, "I'll see you later. Why don't you just wander around?"
So I'm wandering the halls and I turn the corner and there's this waiflike girl with wild eyes. She said, "Are you Terry?" I said yes. "Hi, baby, I'm Althea," and while we were still having a hug she said, "Are you holding any dope?" When I said no, she said, "I'm surprised there's any friend of Dennis Hopper who isn't holding dope." I said, "Well, I'm not. I just got here and I haven't had a chance. Besides, a guy has already told me you're not to have any." She said, "Yes, they may tell you that, but they don't know what they are talking about. My doctor said I should have dope or I'm going to stress out."
She said, "I'm so glad that you're going to do the Jim Morrison thing. I'm in love with him. I think he's still alive, don't you?" "I don't know about that," I said, "but his spirit certainly lives on." "Nah," she said, "I mean, he's been seen by a lot of people. He was seen in Venice not long ago" - Venice, California, which is where he used to hang out. "Come downstairs, I want you to meet a friend of mine who's just got here." It was Tim Leary. He very surreptitiously passed her some dope. "Sunshine from the East," he said. "A CARE package from the East." I said, "What are you doing here?" He said, "I'm meeting Liddy. Liddy and I have been rehearsing here." G. Gordon Liddy and Leary were doing this "debating tour," and they rehearsed their debate at Flynt's. "I don't want to meet him," I said, "he represents everything bad." And Leary just beamed. "Oh, you'll like him," he said.
You can hate Liddy, but you've got to admire him. When they asked him if he swore "to tell the truth, the whole truth, so help me God," you know what Liddy said? "No." Liddy's political attitudes are Paleolithic — he's a cold warrior — but he's got a sense of humor. He has that spunky, cocky, little-guy attitude that Larry Flynt liked. Liddy was having a little trouble with his taxes, so Larry flew him out to be a consultant on security. It was just an excuse on Larry's part to help Gordon out.
The next guy to arrive was Marjoe — you know, that guy who used to be a child evangelist. And the other person who was a permanent guest for the moment was Madalyn Murray. Madalyn Murray has devoted her entire life to trying to get the Bible outlawed in school. She's a professional atheist, very courageous. For some reason Larry Flynt was interested in her cause. I think he wanted to fuck her ... mind-fuck her I mean.
Many of you have said, "I can agree with a great deal of Larry Flynt's philosophy, but not burning the American flag, or desecrating the American flag." More people have died over that rag than any other rag since the beginning of time.
— Larry Flynt, publisher's statement, Rebel, Dec. 1983
About 4:00 P.M. Larry Flynt comes in and says, "Sundowner time. Time for a sundowner." He's in a wheelchair. His wheelchair is motorized and gold-plated, and it has little American flags like on an ambassador's car. He's wearing this big diaper he had made up from an American flag. "They treat me like a baby," he said, "so I'm going to behave like one. And if I poo-poo in my diaper, I'll be poo-pooing on the American flag." He's trying to explain this to this huge Indian — what the hell is his name? He's a great Indian guy who's about seven feet tall ... Means, Russell Means. He's there, and meanwhile I hear this shouting, and it sounds like a big argument, but it's just Liddy and Tim Leary rehearsing their act, I mean their "debate." About time for dinner, Frank Zappa arrives, you know him. Quite a grand zany. So there's this very long table of odd people.
After dinner Larry said, "Come into my study, Terry, you're going to need some money for the weekend." We went into his office and he said, "There's a briefcase by the couch where you're sitting. Put it on your lap and open it." So I did. It was full of packs of hundred-dollar bills. Larry said, "It's a million dollars. I have this on hand to give validity to the offer." And he showed me this circular: A standing offer from Larry Flynt to the following women who are prepared to show gyno-pink. One million cash to Barbara Bach, Cathy Bach, Barbi Benton, Cheryl Tiegs ... They were mostly kind of obscure, but there were one or two that were totally out of place, like Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda. He was offering them a million dollars if they'd pose and do a gyno spread, what he called "flashing pink." And so he said, "Take whatever you think you'll need for the weekend," and he made a point of turning around to use the phone so I could take what I wanted. When he finished his call, he asked, "How much did you take?"
"Two hundred dollars."
"You must be a fool — you could have taken more."
I said, "I don't think I need any more than that."
"Well, I like an honest man," he said. "Do you think Dennis Hopper's honest?"
"I know him well," I said. "He's very honest."
"Well, he claimed he lost the twenty-five thousand dollars," Larry said. "Do you believe that?"
"I think he found it again," I said. "Didn't he tell you?"
"Oh, that's right," he said, "he told me."
It must have been that night, I got a call about 3:00 A.M. "Terry? Althea. What are you holding?"
"I'm not holding anything."
"Dennis told me you were holding. I've got to have something, baby, I'm stressing out."
I said, "Well, let me speak with Dennis."
"I just spoke to him and he claims he doesn't have anything, but I don't believe him."
So I went to Dennis and I said, "Why did you pass her on to me?"
"Well, I don't know what to do about this," he said. "Here, I've got one joint, give her this."
"Why don't you give it to her?" I said.
"I'm not dressed."
"Well, if you think it's all right ... ." So I went out in the hall, and sure enough, there she was, in a weird white lady-of-the-lake nightgown, and she rushes up, and I'm just about to give her the joint when I see this huge security guard, Hans is his name. Monstro-Kraut. She said, "Drop it down the front of my gown and he won't see it." I did, but it fell right through. She was a bit on the frail knocker side. "It fell on the floor," I said. So she put her foot on it, she's standing on it.
Meanwhile, Hans says, "Is there any touble?"
"Oh no, just having a little stroll here, and bumped into Althea here." Meanwhile she's trying to pick up the joint with her toes, you know. I mean absurd.
He looks down and says, "Wait a minute, I'll help you."
"No, no," Althea said, "I don't need your help. When I need your help, I'll ask for it."
"All right, all right. Have it your way. But I know, I know." And so he turned and left.
The next day Larry Flynt sent for me. "Althea is in no condition to talk about her projects because somebody's been giving her drugs. Do you know anything about it?" "No," I said, "I don't know anything about it." "Hans said that he saw you passing her dope in the hall, passing it from your foot to her foot. He says you keep your dope in your shoe. He says your shoe is your stash." I said, "Well, Dennis Hopper's going to have to explain all of this." Meanwhile, as a joke, I had written on a piece of paper right above Dennis's bed: "Rise and shine, Hopper, we've got some tooting to do!"
Larry Flynt couldn't function from the waist down. As long as he kept certain nerves alive, he had a theoretical chance of regaining the use of his limbs. Finally the pain got so bad that he was advised to have this operation whereby they severed these nerves. But during this period the pain was terrific, so he actually had a prescription for morphine and had developed quite a little oil-burner of a habit. Althea was constantly plotting to steal it from him. So Flynt decided to put a permanent guard on his stash of M. He had tried to hide it every night, like Dennis hid his twenty-five thou, but he would forget where he'd hid it. He had periods of great lucidity and then periods where he wouldn't know what was going on.
To: All Employees
From: Larry Flynt
Date: September 29, 1983
Re: DRUG USE
I am aware that the use of drugs, especially cocaine, is widespread within the company.
I am giving each of you an opportunity to stop doing drugs. The company will cover the expense of treatment for anyone who wants to be helped.
If you don't seek help and I find out that you are using drugs, you will be terminated immediately, regardless of what your position is.
Meanwhile, the Jim Morrison project was in a shambles. Nobody had bothered to look into anything like rights. I told Althea, "Well, we're having a little problem with the rights. You have a few lawyers, I understand. Could we put one of them on trying to sort out the rights to the story? We're going to have to get an agreement from each of the Doors, or else we can't use the name 'Jim Morrison,' we can't use the music." She looked so despondent that I was obliged to come up with something. "Maybe we could do it in such a way that everyone would know it's really about Morrison," and she said, "Oh, yeah, I can dig it, I can dig it. It might be interesting to do it that way."
Althea was the producer and she wanted to meet some movie stars. She said, "Let's have a party and get some P.R. going for the Jim Morrison project. Now I want you and Dennis to make up a list of all the movie stars you can think of and invite them to the party." And Larry wanted to publicize his million-dollar offer for celeb-pink, so he wanted the attaché case full of cash there for the photographers and journalists to feel and photograph. At first Althea said, "I think that's going to cheapen the Jim Morrison Story aspect of it," but Larry said, "No, it won't. A million dollars cash don't cheapen nothin', baby."
If elected, my primary goal will be to eliminate sexual ignorance and venereal disease. Every ounce of strength I can muster, both physically and psychologically, will be used courageously and endlessly to remove the massive repressive hand of the government, the ruling class, from the crotch of the American people.
— Larry Flynt, Presidential candidacy announcement, Oct. 16, 1983
Dennis and I were there about three weeks. He did his shoot for the Hustler series called "Celebrity Porn" where a movie actor is invited to set up an erotic storyboard. Den, being a poet of the lens, shot it himself. He created a gallerylike situation with some paintings he had done, and then he had these girls posing on a couple of settees. Two girls doing lez-type lovemaking, with some of his paintings in the background. So it served his sort of aesthetic purpose. And a big photograph of him. I was there for part of the shoot. Hot stuff at first, then it got too predictable.
I'd made a precedent: I established that this simulated sex was OK, but not in my pictures. It was going to be real. So if they were going to send me women who weren't really interested in doing it, I wasn't interested. They sent me in about ten women. I'd get them in the room, and they'd take off their clothes and they'd say, "But we only do simulated sex." Finally Flynt had them bring in the guy who'd been sending the girls over, and the security guard starts hitting him with a stick and pounding him. Then he takes out a .45 and says he's going to shoot him if he tries to run. And Flynt is yelling and screaming. Terry wouldn't look, he didn't want to see it. I was watching. "Nothing's happening," I said, "he's just yelling at him." But it was really weird, it was awful.
Then you start thinking, "How do I get out of here?" I'm living in this house like a monk. Sex must be going on everywhere, but none for me. And Terry and I were sitting there like angels. I swear to God, it's true. I guess we were just the weirdos upstairs. Every time we'd come down, we'd get bodyguards.
Fuck this court! You deprive me of the counsel of my choice! Goddamn motherfuckers! You're nothing but nine assholes and a cunt!
— Larry Flynt, to the US Supreme Court, Nov. 9, 1983
I got up one morning and turned on the television, and I swear to God they said, "The Flynt house is surrounded." It's all over the news media that we're surrounded by the Feds! There are helicopters everywhere. They were after the tapes. Flynt had gotten the DeLorean and Alfred Bloomingdale tapes, and Reagan tapes supposedly. He had made a statement that he was going to shoot the first Fed to enter the gates right through the throat, where they suck cock, or some bullshit.
I got dressed quickly. I went downstairs and found one of Flynt's bodyguards, a guy who'd been a Green Beret in Vietnam, a killer, a stone fucking killer. I said to him, "Is there anything I can do?" "Yeah. Put this grenade in your mouth and run the wall. Or go back to your room." I said, "Yeah, well I'm back in the room. Anything you need, I'll be up there."
I went to the room, tried to calm myself down, did some more cocaine. Terry was stoned or asleep. I finally got him half-awake. "Oh, it'll be lunch at the Beverly Hills Hotel," he says to me. "We may not be alive!" I screamed. He went back to sleep.
So move over motherfuckers! This is not the Last Supper. This is the morning after and I am the main man. I hope you don't think I have shown contempt for the Court. I have done my damnedest to conceal it.
— "Larry Flynt for President" campaign ad, Nov. 1983
At the time, Larry was being fined like ten thousand dollars a day for contempt of court — withholding the source of the DeLorean tapes. One day he hired a bus, and he had twenty street hustlers from the Sunset Strip, all the young ladies in high heels, pay back the fine in wheelbarrows filled with pennies. It was all being taped and filmed. And then Larry was dragged off to Terminal Island.
I got this part to play this CIA guy in Sweden, so I left. Larry went to prison. Althea came in and destroyed the metal detector at the Federal prison in Missouri. So she was put in prison. And then I never saw any of them again.
After all is said and done, who would you prefer as your next President? A Hollywood ham, an addle-brained astronaut, or a smut peddler who cares?
— Larry Flynt, presidential candidacy announcement, Oct. 16, 1983
Jean Stein is the author of American Journey: The Times of Robert Kennedy (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1970) and Edie: American Girl (Grove Press, 1982). She is the former editor of Grand Street and The Paris Review.
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