After the larger-than-life owner of the Moonlite Bunny Ranch died, his whores asked, “What would Dennis want us to do?” Alice Little, America’s highest-earning legal prostitute, concluded he would want her to charge a john to be her funeral date. When I wondered what Dennis would want me to do, I concluded he would want me to write. Dennis loved free press as much as pussy.
I first met him in 2015. To promote his memoir, The Art of The Pimp, Dennis had invited me to live at the Bunny Ranch for a week. When I arrived, the night madam led me to a room that had three fireplaces, vertical blinds, and a view of a wooden porch shaped like Ron Jeremy’s penis. I woke up to the sound of a hooker blasting Lana Del Rey’s “Born to Die.” Dennis’s first words to me that morning: “Heigh ho, heigh ho, it’s off to work we go!” His fantasyland seemed like a parody of a parody of a brothel.
I was skeptical of Dennis—press releases like “PROSTITUTES FOR RON PAUL” prepared me for a man who spoke in sound-bites—but over Heidi Fleiss Veggie Burgers at the Bunny Ranch restaurant, Dennis confessed his public image was a facade. For instance, he always held a cigar in photos, but actually never smoked. Larry Flynt had told him, “Never let them take your picture without a cigar.” When Dennis lied, he winked. He told the truth even when he fibbed. He was not a Hugh Hefner, who claimed Playboy’s nude pictorials were art, superior to pornography. Dennis learned radical honesty reading Flynt’s Hustler, Al Goldstein’s Screw, and Bob Guccione’s Penthouse, the canon of smut.
As a working-class boy in Arizona, Dennis loved dirty magazines and idolized big-breasted blondes with nasty attitudes. The legend goes Marilyn Monroe kissed an eight-year-old Dennis on the cheek at the Arizona State Fair, inciting his first erection. In his memoir, Dennis writes, “Marilyn Monroe has just sealed my fate. To this day, I can’t resist a glammed-up blonde, especially if she’s got red lips.” Marilyn was a kind creature, whereas Dennis’s mother scared him. She dominated his weak father; masturbation was Dennis’s respite. When he grew up, Dennis swore he would control his own fate. He was thinking he’d own gas stations.
The public only met Dennis when the 52-year-old brought his brothels into American homes via the HBO reality show Cathouse. Dennis bought the Bunny Ranch in 1993, at age 47. This purchase marked the start of his fourth career.
Throughout his teen years, Dennis worked at a gas station. After he knocked up Shirley, his high school sweetheart, and first wife, he began managing the pump, saving every paycheck. He leased a decaying gas station in the late sixties, and by 1971, he was the owner of five filling stations. During the seventies and eighties, Dennis reinvested in three different businesses: a towing company, a parking garage, and a time-share sales operation.
He was miserable. According to The Art of the Pimp, Dennis craved more sex. He paged through porn rags like a law student studying for the bar exam, claiming his wife could not keep up with his sex drive. Driving to and from his companies, he passed the Moonlite Ranch. Listening to his gut one day, Dennis swerved into the parking lot.