"Paul Krassner's Six Months in Hustler-Land"
A former Hustler publisher remembers Christian porn, Larry Flynt's born-again phase and the time a pigeon determined the fate of the magazine.
Q&A With Dan Kapelovitz
Besides Larry C. Flynt and Jesus H. Christ, Paul Krassner is the only person to ever hold the title of Hustler Publisher. Krassner came to that elevated position in 1978 with an established record of shit-stirring. In 1958, the professional antagonist founded The Realist, a magazine that ran satirical news stories as if they were real. In the late '60s, the self-proclaimed "investigative satirist" cofounded, along with Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, the Yippie movement, and testified at the infamous Chicago 7 trial while high on LSD.
After his short-lived Hustler stint, Krassner wrote numerous books, including Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut and his latest offering, Magic Mushrooms and Other Highs: From Toad Slime to Ecstasy. Among his many other accomplishments, Krassner is probably the only person on Earth to have dropped acid with both Groucho Marx and Squeaky Fromme. Krassner reminisced about the six strange months he spent at Hustler's helm.
HUSTLER: How did you become the publisher of Hustler Magazine?
KRASSNER: Larry had undergone his spiritual transformation and had asked me to do an article on the spiritual side of Lenny Bruce. This was in late 1977. Then I got a call to come to the Christmas party in Columbus [Ohio]. I thought they wanted to discuss the piece I was working on and other possible assignments. [Comedian and civil-rights activist] Dick Gregory came up to me and said, "Larry's giving it all to you." I thought it was just one of his jokes. In the epiphany of his religious conversion, Larry had just read Lenny Bruce's autobiography, How to Talk Dirty and Influence People, which I edited. He knew that Lenny and I were friends and took that as some kind of an omen; so that was the background of it, but I didn't know any of this [at the time].
HUSTLER: How did you learn you were the new publisher?
KRASSNER: Larry was making a series of announcements at the Christmas party—"The first Publisher's Statement that I do under my born-again theory—I will dress up as a baby with a diaper on and put a pacifier in my mouth and get in the crib, and let a photographer take my picture. And I'm gonna write about what happens when you become born again." He was still in the afterglow of his conversion. "I am getting to write my last Publisher's Statement, and the new publisher of Hustler is gonna be a fellow by the name of Paul Krassner." That was the first I knew about it.
HUSTLER: Why do you think Larry wanted someone else to be the publisher?
KRASSNER: He wanted to go on the road evangelizing in his newfound role.
HUSTLER: What particular stories stand out from your Hustler days?
KRASSNER: For the first issue that I was in charge of, I edited out of Larry's Publisher's Statement every male pronoun referring to God. Larry called me into his office. I thought he was gonna say, "You haven't the right to change a word of my Publisher's Statement." But he agreed that God is genderless and said, "I've always been of a philosophical bent like that." Then he gestured toward the walls of his office and said, "You see these walls? I could make them come tumbling down by sheer will power, but I don't want to misuse my power." There were things like that all of the time.
HUSTLER: What was it like being the publisher when Larry was shot?
KRASSNER: Althea [Flynt] called from the hospital in Atlanta and wanted to fly me down there. Larry was in bed. He had one tube feeding him and another tube breathing for him, and [he was] overflowing with painkillers. Althea lifted the sheet, and there were these gaping wounds—a really grotesque sight. I said, "Oh, God, Althea, he's showing pink." That kind of broke the tension. I sat next to Larry's bed. I didn't know what to say. It was around Easter time, and I said, "Larry, tomorrow's Good Friday, so you don't have to go to work." I looked at Althea, because I thought, Oh, God, I've gone too far this time. But she said, "Oh, Paul, look," gesturing toward Larry. "He wants to show you something." He had an oxygen mask on, but he was blinking his eyes over and over rapidly. Althea said, "He's laughing." It was an incredible moment of intimacy.
HUSTLER: What exactly was the plan to make a Christian porn magazine?
KRASSNER: Larry wanted to have picture stories taken literally from the Bible. There would be Lot, who had just fucked his daughters. Larry would have researchers making sure it was an accurate biblical story, but with porn illustrations. There was one which would have been the centerfold and would have shown Jesus and the adulteress, who had just been stoned—the story where Jesus says, "He who is without sin cast the first stone." The Bible described him covering her up; so there was this photograph with a barber-shop-calendar Jesus and the adulteress laying on the ground. Jesus is very reverently covering her up, but not quite finished; so she's showing pink.
HUSTLER: Why wasn't that ever published?
KRASSNER: We were in the Coca-Cola suite of Emory University Hospital, trying to decide whether or not to publish that thing. Dick Gregory, [Editorial Director] Bruce David and I were there in the room with Althea. Bruce was arguing against publishing this because it was already bad enough that circulation was going down, and the cash-flow problem was increasing. He said, "This will kill us in the Bible Belt." Dick Gregory, who's very courageous, said, "It scares me." I was floored because I thought it was so absurd, and it was hysterical, and it would also, of course, get people mad. But what were they doing reading it anyway? So Althea and I were for it, but she wasn't sure, because of the pressure from the family, from Bruce and Gregory. Althea saw a pigeon on the windowsill. There were two of them at either end of it. She didn't call it a pigeon though; she called it a dove, and she said, "If that dove goes over to the other dove and pecks it, we'll publish it. If it doesn't, then we won't." So the four of us were watching this pigeon walking over to this other pigeon. Althea and I were saying, "Come on, come on," like a horse race. Bruce and Dick Gregory were trying to will the pigeon off the ledge so that it would fly away, which it did; so it was never published. I think that was the highlight of my experience there.
HUSTLER: How did it come about that you posed nude for the magazine?
KRASSNER: Bruce did an interview with me; so I went for a photo-shoot. The photographer suggested I take off my clothes for it. That was the moment of truth for me; forget about a bull charging at you. I asked myself, Well, why not? I couldn't think of a reason not to.
HUSTLER: How did you end up leaving the magazine?
KRASSNER: Althea called me into her office. I would always hear good ideas; so I'm in there with my pen and pad, ready to take down notes. She says a couple of things, and I'm writing them. She says, "Paul, I have to fire you." I wrote down fired on my pad. We had become good friends, and she was crying, but it was more an accounting thing than anything else; they had to trim down the staff. Even though I was making more than I had ever made in my life, I went to my office feeling relieved because there was a lot of tension there. I started calling my friends and family to let them know, so they didn't hear it through the media. When I called Ken Kesey, he said, "Oh, great!" I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "Well, now you can come to Egypt with us, with the [Grateful] Dead. They're gonna play at the pyramids." I just put my radio on, locked my door and started dancing around the room, saying, "Thank you, Althea, for firing me."
(This article first appeared in the July 2004 30th Anniversary issue of Hustler Magazine)
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