He had a brand and that brand was excess, power, cruelty, megalomania, and sex. Lots and lots of sex. When Morrissey, frontman for the Smiths, sang “Caligula would have blushed” in his song “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now,” he knew everybody would get the line. To make that perv in a toga blush, something’s gotta be nasty!
A life that crazy, glitzy, and nookie-packed cried out for cinematic treatment, and Penthouse agreed. In the late seventies, our founder Bob Guccione produced Caligula with A-list talent (Malcolm McDowell, Sir John Gielgud, Helen Mirren, and Lawrence of Arabia himself, Peter O’Toole), top production values, historical sweep, and tons of nudity.
“An irresistible mix of art and genitals,” Mirren called it.
With Emperor Horny in our history, we were all over a story this fall concerning an NYC coffee table that had a Caligula connection. Turns out a Park Avenue couple had long been setting glasses down on a table whose mosaic top was once part of a floor inside a huge floating pleasure palace Caligula built to bring the party to Lake Nemi outside Rome.
Almost ninety years ago, Mussolini dredged the lake and found two of the three love boats Caligula commissioned. The dictator had a museum constructed to house what was salvaged. The four-by-four mosaic section was later stolen, authorities believe, changed hands a few times, and finally was sold to the couple in the sixties.
The seller was an “Italian aristocrat,” the husband and wife told investigators.
How was it traced to them? Pure chance. A guy was giving a New York talk on Roman mosaics. He showed a 50-year-old photo of the relic. Someone in the audience was more or less like, Whoa, that looks a lot like the coffee table I set my wine glass down on during a party in that Park Avenue apartment. Phone calls were made. Badda bing.
In October, authorities returned the mosaic to the Italian government. Our view? It should have gone to Arizona’s Lake Havasu. It’s already got the actual London Bridge. And at spring break that place gets almost as wild as Lake Nemi during Caligula’s time.