Penthouse Retrospective

by Ernest Volkman Originally Published: May, 1980

The Guccione Legacy | 40 Years Ago This Month

At the end of the production, according to industry tradition, he gave his dresser — an elderly woman who used to bathe and dress him every day — a cheap, second-hand silver pendant with her name misspelled. It couldn’t have cost five dollars, and when she pointed out the mistake and gave it back to him, he accepted it cheerfully. He then offered her his signet ring from the film. A worthless prop which she again graciously refused, saying that she couldn’t accept it, as it belonged to the company. “Never mind,” he said, “you keep it; I’ll take care of the company.” The poor woman was speechless. In all the years she had dressed stars like Robert Taylor, Kirk Douglas, Bob Mitchum, et cetera, et cetera, she had never seen anything to equal either his cheapness or the direct and unblushing way he carried it off.

Any more horror stories? How about the Pets and the “extra scenes ” attributed to you and Giancarlo Lui?

“Stingy! In my not inconsiderable experience with people, Malcolm McDowell holds the all-time record.”

Guccione: The Pets were the saving grace. Without them, I would have been lost. They were wonderful. They took everything Brass could throw at them, and they held their ground. The production was divided into two camps: the Penthouse people, including our girls, on one side, and Brass and his mob on the other. But we won… if you can imagine such a lunatic competition in the middle of a multi-million-dollar production.

We finished shooting on Christmas Eve, and everyone went home. Giancarlo and I slipped back to Rome a few weeks later, bringing 11 or 12 girls with us. We hired a skeleton crew, snuck back into the studios at night, raided the prop room and created out of the remaining odds and ends a few little sets. The boat was still intact, and we repropped that as well. During the day we cast about 30 more people, some of whom had already worked in the film. We wanted them for continuity purposes.

We lit, staged, directed, and photographed the scenes ourselves. I had never even touched a 35 mm motion picture camera before, but I took one over and started to shoot. I was on one camera and Giancarlo on the other. We filmed the famous lesbian scene between Anneka and Lori for two nights running. We worked for hours nonstop, and the crew never complained once. They were some of the same people who had worked for Brass, and they knew how we had been ripped off and welcomed this rather unusual opportunity to make amends.

The girls were marvelous. They worked under difficult conditions, and there, in the huge, semi darkened stages of Dear Studios, Anneka di Lorenzo and Lori Wagner contributed something beautiful and lasting to the history of motion pictures.

It sounds wacky. I’ve never heard of a producer sneaking back into the studio at night to reshoot scenes his director either failed to do or did improperly.

Guccione: We had to. We had no choice. We worked four or five nights in all and put together enough material to make the difference. We had to do it that way because of the peculiar laws governing a director’s rights in Europe. We even had to sneak the negative — all 120 miles of it — out of the country and into England. Don’t ask me how we did it; that’s another horror story. Had anything happened to it-the negative, I mean — all would have been lost. Imagine… the entire budget of the film, all 17.5 million dollars’ worth was wrapped up in those cans of celluloid. That’s all that was left of the money; it was all there … in those tin cans.

What happened when you got the negative to England?

“Tinto was suing us, we were suing Tinto, Tinto was suing Gore, and Gore was threatening to sue everybody else.”

Guccione: The first thing we did was to fire Brass. That’s when all the lawsuits started. Tinto was suing us, we were suing Tinto, Tinto was suing Gore, and Gore was threatening to sue everybody else.

The negative was hidden away in musty vaults in cans marked, “The Pecos Kid,” “My Son, My Son,” and other such names. Technicolor, which had been doing our printing, suddenly threatened to throw us out lock, stock, and barrel, and we had to make another midnight raid on the vaults, removing the negative once again (a thing you’re never supposed to do, because of the delicate and irreplaceable quality of the celluloid itself). This time we scattered it about in different places, fearing that Technicolor would tip off the police that under British law, we were making an illegal film. By day, of course, we were editing the work print at Twickenham Studios as if nothing had happened.

What next?

Guccione: The British unions got into the act. Word went out that no one was to touch the film; no one was to work on it. We were wrapping up the editing and began to worry about the negative again. But there was nowhere left to go. Since the unions started sniffing around, we really began to worry. They would know how to find it, and we knew the sanctimonious bastards were looking in earnest.

Another midnight raid, only this time we took it out of the country. We took it to Paris, made a few prints, and brought the whole thing (hopefully) to its final resting place in New York.

And you opened Caligula on February 1, at your own theater, the Penthouse East.

Guccione: Where, I’m happy to say, it’s broken every standing box-office record at the theater — we took over the former Trans-Lux East.

What next?

Guccione: Don’t know … But it’s bound to be interesting.

You can find other Bob Guccione topics in a January, 1985 interview and an Alan Dershowitz editorial right here on the Penthouse site.

Few of us can imagine a life and then build it to a point when the entire world recognizes, if not envies, it. The Bob Guccione Legacy reached that goal.

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