Sex, scandals and strange family dynamics: Secrets of Penthouse magazine mogul Bob Guccione revealed

New "Secrets of" series takes a deep dive into the bizarre world of the publishing mogul.

At its height, Bob Guccione's Penthouse magazine made him one of the world's wealthiest people. (A&E)
At its height, Bob Guccione's Penthouse magazine made him one of the world's wealthiest people. (A&E)

The new A&E docuseries Secrets of Penthouse wrapped up on Tuesday, revealing a bevy of information about the rise and fall of the magazine's founder, Bob Guccione, along the way.

The four-part project broke down things like how Guccione treated his family and others, how he liked to spend his money and why he was such a villain in the eyes of so many. So here is a breakdown of all the biggest “secrets” from Secrets of Penthouse.

His money

“He starts one of the dirtiest magazines in America,” said Rolling Stone journalist John Colapinto, “and becomes one of the richest men in the world.”

And he wasn’t afraid to spend that money. Guccione lived in what was considered to be New York City’s largest and most luxurious mansion, featuring, according to The Arlene Herson Show, 28,000 square feet, 42 rooms, nine levels, imported marble and $100 million worth of art including original paintings by Picasso, Chagall and Matisse.

His bathtub was lined with gold, and it cost a quarter million dollars, with 22 karat gold fixtures, including faucets and toilet paper holders.

And beyond how well he lived in this life, Guccione had big plans for the next one too, according to his daughter Nina.

“Dad and Kathy [Keeton, Penthouse president and, later, Guccione's wife] were obsessed with getting old. He used to talk about him and Kathy being shot off into space, being frozen. Cryogenics was not panning out and they said, ‘OK well, if we can’t do our whole body, well we’ll just sever our heads and that’ll do it. They can clone us when we get back,’” she said, adding, “I have no idea how much he ended up spending on it.”

Steve Belanger, who worked in the Penthouse Finance Department for a while, broke down some of the more odd things Guccione was spending money on during his height. “Bob and Kathy had two big Rhodesian ridgebacks, and it turns out that we were paying for the monthly storage of their sperm," he revealed.

Belanger would later say that when Guccione was intensely confronted about just how dire the financial situation was getting, the publisher turned the conversation to the “obvious” existence of UFOs and how the company should “exploit” them.

His children

Guccione had five kids in his lifetime and two of them were interviewed for the documentary, along with other nieces and nephews.

His youngest son, Nick, had a very up-and-down experience with his father and the lifestyle that went along with him. He moved into his father’s mansion at the age of 13 and things were crazy from the get-go.

“We weren’t allowed to fraternize with the Pets. And [Bob] told the Pets, ‘Don’t fraternize with the kids,'” Nick said. “But when I was 15, I had the opportunity to have my first girlfriend, and she just happened to be a Pet. She was 23, I was 15. Most guys could only wish they could have sex with any one of them. I was having sex with every one of them.”

But as Nick would struggle with drugs and alcohol starting in his teen years and beyond, his relationship with his father was strained.

“He says he was a family man," said Nick, "but he really wasn’t. He was terrible about giving attention to his own kids, to get involved with their life. My dad never took me seriously, he looked at me like a loser, you know. But hey, maybe he had a right to.”

Instead, Nick turned to someone else to play the dad role.

“My father figure is Guy Bonano. He was the chauffeur, the guy who drove the limousine. I told Guy everything and he and I were very close,” Nick said. “And he told my dad, ‘Hey Mr. Guccione, I spoke to your son. He wants to blow his brains out on the Picasso.’ You know what my dad said? ‘Why the Picasso?’”

Later in life Nick was working as videographer for Penthouse and went to his dad with a great deal for a Penthouse TV channel, but the idea was shut down. “If it wasn’t his baby, if he didn’t bring that deal to the table, it was automatically out,” Nick said.

His sister Nina said that when Nick tried to push back on that deal, things got even worse for father and son.

“If you pushed it, he felt betrayed. And if he felt betrayed, you were dead to him,” she said. “Poor Nick. What a family, my God.”

When it came to daughter Nina, her life was always a little bit different too because of who her dad was.

“I was 8 years old, and I went to a Catholic school, so it was all nuns. I wrote, ‘My father takes pictures of naked women.’ I got slapped on the spot. I was slapped. And then they called my mother in and she said, ‘Yes, it was true.’”

Guccione seemed to revel in being a lightning rod for controversy. (A&E)
Guccione seemed to revel in being a lightning rod for controversy. (A&E)

Later, Guccione insisted that a teenaged Nina go to the premiere of Caligula, his $17-million feature film that starred Malcolm McDowell, Peter O'Toole and John Gielgud and that Guccione boasted would revolutionize moviemaking through its mix of sensuality and historical accuracy but which was ultimately panned as pure raunchy porn. "I’m sitting next to my father, watching this on the big screen," she said. "It was horrifying. Absolutely horrifying. I had never seen a sex film. I was speechless. And I was very upset about it, because no good parent should expose their child or allow them to be exposed to that. But being a narcissist, he had no empathy. He couldn’t associate what it would it be like for a teenage girl.”

Much like her brothers, Nina worked for her dad’s company but always felt it was a different experience for her, finding the whole thing “demeaning.”

“Dad loved women, so he was not — in his mind — objectifying them, he was glorifying them,” she said.

At one point later in life when Guccione and his company were struggling financially, Nina was trying to help fix things but her father thought she was trying to steal from him and betray him, and he “went berserk.”

“I left the company, I left the house, I left him. I think my passing words to him were just, ‘You’re gonna lose everything. You’re gonna go bankrupt within six months.’ And I think I was pretty much on target.”

When Guccione was near death — he died of lung cancer in October 2010 — he wanted to reconcile with Nina who obliged, calling him a “completely different person.”

“I walked in the house and I saw him and he hugged me. He was 72 years old and he hugged me, the first time he ever hugged me,” she said. “He had become this loving, empathetic, sympathetic individual. It was like having the father I never had for the last year of his life.”

His Pets

The Penthouse Pets (models from the magazine) who spoke in the docuseries had varying experiences with Guccione and the magazine, with one of them having moved into his mansion out of convenience and necessity. And from there, Guccione would “put them to the test,” according to 1979 Pet of the Year Cheryl Rixon. Not long after she moved into the mansion, Guccione asked her to go to an 82-year-old man’s birthday party.

“At the end of the evening, I was told that I would be staying with the 82-year-old man because I was his gift. I was horrified. I politely declined and I called Bob the next morning and he asked me, ’How did the dinner go?’ And I told him, and he laughed. It wasn’t a shock at all. This was an arrangement and it was common.”

Then there was Penthouse Pet Anneka DiLorenzo who filed a $10 million sexual harassment lawsuit against Guccione, alleging that he coerced her to have sex with his business associates. She was ultimately awarded $4 million, and according to Guccione’s daughter Nina, “He was irate. He hated losing. They believed her and they should have, because it was the truth.”

Jenna Jameson had nothing but great things to say about Guccione, crediting the magazine for being a launching pad for her to become the biggest adult film star in the world in the late '90s. She was around during a time when the magazine was going through what she called “a big urination period,” featuring its models urinating for the camera.

“I remember doing it and just being like, ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this.’ It was shocking and beautiful and groundbreaking,” she said.

Former Pet Janine Lindemulder, who became mainstream famous after appearing on a Blink-182 album cover and in their video for “What’s My Age Again?,” also credits Penthouse for her path to stardom and said there was never any inappropriate behavior towards her.

When Guccione started to get attacked by evangelicals, he aimed at doing more controversial pictorials. A photographer had nude pictures of Vanessa Williams, the first black Miss America, with another woman. Guccione jumped at publishing them.

“The Vanessa Williams issue was probably the most successful single-issue magazine in American history,” said Penthouse editor Peter Bloch. “Bob Guccione opened up another brave new world when he realized that people want to see naked celebrities. Paris Hilton’s career: based on a sex tape. The Kardashians: based on a sex tape. Bob invented that whole thing with Vanessa Williams.”

His (one-time) friend Donald Trump

In addition to Guccione’s live-in Pets, the mansion hosted celebrity guests and all manner of famous people, including astronauts and New Yorker Donald Trump who used to come to the house often and he would “check out the Penthouse Pets,” according to Nick. “He was like a kid in the candy store.”

Later, Guccione lost $145 million on a casino project in Atlantic City because he couldn’t get a license, and eventually had to sell to Trump — who had previously warned him that Atlantic City was going to be tough for him. And Guccione was outraged, especially because they were friends. His daughter Nina said Guccione made his partner Kathy call and cancel an upcoming trip with Trump and his then-wife Ivana.

Despite his stratospheric financial success, eventually, just like the life of the print magazines that fueled that rise, Guccione's reign came to an end, and he lived out his last days essentially broke at his ex-wife's small New Jersey home.

Secrets of Penthouse can be streamed on A&E.

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