VARIETY, the entertainment industry news site, recently announced that a production company composed of Jerrick Media and Maven Pictures are producing a new TV series about the life of Bob Guccione, the publisher of Penthouse Magazine. The announcement had me reminiscing about a press event in 1992 were I met Bob and Kathy at the Penthouse Mansion which was located at 14-16 East 67th Street. A historic, pricey neighborhood near New York City’s Central Park.
I was invited to attend the Omni Magazine press party at the Penthouse Mansion by a good friend, Jan Altman, who freelanced for Omni, a techie mag run by Kathy which was a “little” less controversial than the flagship Penthouse Magazine. While most of the others were eating caviar and hors d’oeuvres and talking tech in a large entertainment reception area, my friend and I wandered off toward the front central staircase.
The double staircase looked like something leading to the grand ballroom of the Titanic. It was heavily guarded by four (maybe it was two) very tough looking security personnel in black Armani suits –on each side of the staircase (likely armed) all with earphones and twisted wires embedded behind their ears.
Shortly, Bob Guccione wandered over to us. I guess he was wondering why we were so interested in the security around the staircase. He asked us about our backgrounds and my friend Jan started to talk about her interest in art. Jan was the real art maven and she and he got into a meaty discussion about art. He asked us if we wanted to see his art collection. We realized then what the security detail was needed for. We figured they might be there just to protect the Gucciones’s considerable personal valuables upstairs. Suddenly, the guards posted on each side no longer looked like overkill. We hesitated for about a second each probably thinking is this really happening? Then in unison said: “We’d love too.” With a wave from Bob, they let us pass the [stanchions/pole barriers] guarding the stairway to the upper double staircase and took us to the private elevator on the second floor. From there, we went straight to the fourth floor where his office was located.
So, off we go with Bob, wearing a dark shirt opened to his chest with his signature gold pendant and leather pants on a private tour which ended up in his office on the 4th floor of the Penthouse Mansion reachable only by private elevator. I didn’t see him use a key or combination. Maybe he had an IR blaster. These are the kind of elevators old mansions usually have that have been working for a hundred years. But this was the Penthouse Mansion so I’m sure it was refurbished to exact replicas of inside some castle and extremely safe. It opened to a hallway that was rather dark until he opened the door to his huge dark office. There, propped up against every available wall space, where at least a hundred paintings bathing in the red glow coming from a lamp that hung from the ceiling above Guccione’s’ huge antique hand-carved wooden desk. Maybe the red light was good for paintings. That never occurred to me. I associated it with the Penthouse lifestyle. Wrong! It was an unusual office but something not unexpected for a man like Bob or the “Knights of the Round Table.” The huge old wooden panels that surrounded the entire office were breathtaking.
The big red light over his desk provided faint illumination of the paintings against the wall so he switched on the main light. Gasp. Jaws dropped. There, packed tightly into every available space on each handcrafted ancient dark wooden wall we were surrounded by what seemed to be a collection of all the world’s masters. Neither of us had ever seen a collection like this up close other than in the major art museums.
In one corner of the room was his desk with a subdued red light above. When our eyes adjusted we were stunned! Degas, Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani and a Pablo Picasso portrait of the artist’s son, Paulo. Paintings by Sandro Botticelli, Albrecht Dürer, El Greco, Marc Chagall, Salvador Dalí, Giorgio de Chirico, Edgar Degas, Fernand Léger, Gilbert Stone, Henri Matisse, Jules Pascin, Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Georges Henri Rouault, Chaïm Soutine, and Vincent van Gogh all lined up around the walls of the entire 40+ foot office. We walked slowly around the room taking in this once in a lifetime experience savoring over every brush mark as we continued to stop, look, mouths agape, and slowly working our way around the square of the office. Bob said they were going to be shipped to an art exhibit in crates in the next few days. It took a few minutes to recover.
Still, in shock, Bob said to us, “The wood from the walls were imported from a castle in Scotland”. He really took great pride in having them disassembled from the castle and reworked into his office decor.We didn’t realize it but the value of his art collection at that time was valued at 49 million dollars USD and Bob was having financial troubles so he may have been selling the artwork at auction in batches. The Penthouse Mansion on Central Park cost over 26 million USD to build. This was before his financial troubles. After his death, it was eventually sold to a hedge fund owner. See history below.
After the tour of the room, Bob graciously took my Windows User Group business card we quickly traded pleasantries and a few ideas of how we might work together in the future. I didn’t realize that his empire was starting to crumble and that his wife and best friend Kathy would eventually be diagnosed with terminal breast cancer.
He took us downstairs where I left Bob and Jan and was met his beautiful and lovely wife Kathy Keaton the COO of Omni Media. I was chatting away and told Kathy an hour earlier about my passion for cooking so she took me on the elevator tour stopping at the dumb waiter and on to the kitchen level. After a brief view of the kitchen, we went down to the pool floor to see the Penthouse pool. I was still too much in awe to let my imagination run wild about the stories the pool room could have told but didn’t talk about it at all other to rave about how cool it was. Then back to the main floor exit and back to the party because she was the host and brains behind Omni and boss of the Magazine. It’s a night I’ll never forget. Sometimes, the public sold Bob short.
The public perception of Guccione was of a “Porn mogul” but many didn’t get to see the intellectual side or the humility of Guccione unless you met him and had a chance to discuss art or a variety of other subjects. You also would not know that he was a humble guy who grew up hard. Reminded me in a way of my dad. I had the feeling that he put on no airs and would feel comfortable with anyone anywhere. As I thought about the chance meeting I knew Bob Guccione had the gift of humility. It’s fascinating that I came away from maybe 45 minutes in his presence and felt I knew the guy for a few years. If there is a new show coming out it will be vastly more interesting then the bomb about Hugh Hefner. Bob’s character was more humble, his thoughts deeply intellectual, and his love heartfelt. All in all, a plot with so much more depth and interest than what was served up with Hefner. I hope it comes out it’s a successful series!
Me. Sometimes I feel a little like Forest Gump. I’ve met a wide swatch of the rich and famous in my life: Famous actors and actresses, tech billionaires, politicians of and of course the Three Stooges in their dressing room. I have been really oddly fortunate. “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” My dad read me the poem The Poem”If—” by Rudyard Kipling when I was an infant. I stuck with me my whole life. I know some folks think that Kipling glorified war. For me, it later was about being humble yet striving to try to grab the brass ring. Making it wasn’t as important as trying. My dad said “always treat everyone the same because you will meet them on the way down. I have never forgotten those words.
—Howard Sobel (©) 2017
*Bob and Kathy Keeton Guccione – Wikipedia Fair Use with attribution
Penthouse Founder Bob Guccione’s Life Being Turned Into TV Series
Penthouse Founder Bob Guccione’s Life Being Turned Into TV Series (EXCLUSIVE)
*Bob and Kathy Keeton Guccione history
Image fair use Wikipedia Commons
*Kathy Keaton Guccione
President/Chief Operating Officer of General Media Communications, Inc. She founded the magazines Viva (1973), Omni (1978), and Longevity (1989). She also wrote two non-fiction books, Woman of Tomorrow (1986) and Longevity: The Science of Staying Young (1992
Bob Guccione Obituary