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Penthouse, a men's magazine founded by Bob Guccione, combines urban lifestyle articles and soft-core pornographic pictorials that, in the 1990s, evolved into hardcore. Although Guccione was American, the magazine was founded in 1965 in the United Kingdom, but was soon sold in the United States as well. At the height of its success, Guccione was considered to be one of the richest men in the United States..


For many years, Penthouse fell between Playboy and Hustler in terms of its explicitness. Almost from the start, pictorials showed female genitalia and pubic hair when this was considered by many to be obscene. Simulated sex, but not penetration or male genitalia, followed; then, several years later, male genitalia, including erections, could be seen. In addition, Penthouse attempted to maintain some level of reading content, although usually of a more sexually oriented nature than Playboy..

Vanessa Williams controversy.

The September 1984 issue of Penthouse was the second largest selling issue of any magazine in history (5.3 million copies), outdone only by the November 1972 of Playboy, with 7.1 Million copies. This issue featured photos of Vanessa Williams, who was the current Miss America, from early in her modeling career. Williams posed for the series of black and white photos with another female model, engaging in simulated lesbian acts.

Traci Lords controversy.

While Williams' pictures created the most publicity at the time, the issue would later become even more controversial because of its centerfold, Traci Lords. Lords posed nude for this issue at the beginning of her career as an adult film star. It was later revealed that Lords was underage throughout most of her career in pornography and was only fifteen when she posed for Penthouse. As a result, the issue is illegal to own with centerfold intact, falling under the laws against child pornography. The September 1984 issue also featured an interview with John Travolta, a feature on Boy George, and a pictorial on a pornographic actress, Hyapatia Lee.

Move from softcore to hardcore pictorials.

In 1998, caught between the widespread availability of pornography on the Internet and the growing popularity of non-explicit "men's magazines" such as Maxim, Penthouse decided to change its format and began featuring sexually explicit pictures (i. e, actual oral and vaginal penetration). It also began to regularly feature pictorials of female models urinating, which, until then, had been considered a defining limit of illegal obscenity as distinguished from legal pornography. The new format lost subscriptions and newsstand circulation for the magazine..

A different approach to restoring sales was attempted by the UK version of the magazine in 1997. Under the editorship of Tom Hilditch, the magazine was rebranded as PH.UK and relaunched as middle-shelf "adult magazine for grown-ups". Fashion photographers (such as Corinne Day of The Face magazine) were hired to produce imagery that merged sex and fashion. The magazine's editorial included celebrity interviews and tackled issues of sexual politics. The experiment attracted a great deal of press interest but failed to generate a significant increase in sales. PH.UK closed in late 1998.

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