Penthouse Retrospective

by Penthouse Staff Originally Published: April, 1993

Vanessa Williams

For the next eight months, the legal machinery ground on. Vanessa was deposed, as were the photographers. When Penthouse produced the model release for the plaintiff’s inspection, Vanessa’s lawyer stormed off, charging that the document had to be a forgery, a fake.

In the summer of 1986, Penthouse attorneys received a call from Vanessa’s lawyer. He wanted to drop the lawsuits. 

That was fine with Penthouse, but there was one condition. Guccione’s legal team would help draft Vanessa’s press statement, ensuring that the public would hear the full story behind the model release. Vanessa’s team agreed, asking if Penthouse would mind if she delivered her statement over the Fourth of July holiday, when the media would be preoccupied with New York City’s enormous “Operation Sail” salute to the Statue of Liberty extravaganza. Guccione had no objections.

Vanessa’s agent Ramon Hervey (who would marry his charge in 1987) read the following statement: “All parties have agreed to permit the cases to be discontinued, and no damages of any kind are being paid.” He also said that Vanessa did “not recall ever signing a model release for the nude photographs. However, during the course of the lawsuit, she has seen the release obtained by Penthouse from photographer Tom Chiapel, and she now acknowledges that it bears her true signature. Moreover, several handwriting experts on both sides have confirmed that the signature on the release is genuine. Therefore, Williams concludes that she did sign the release[!]”.

It was further concluded that Vanessa “recognizes Penthouse had an absolute right” to publish the pictures. On that note, she decided it was time to concentrate her energies on her burgeoning entertainment career.

She was not lacking offers, and made her film debut in 1987 in a Molly Ringwald vehicle called The Pick-Up Artist. During the eight years since the scandal, Vanessa has appeared in literally dozens of television productions. She hosted “The Soul of VH-1” for over a year, and she has lent her formidable talents to a number of grateful organizations, including Rock the Vote and Amnesty International.

In 1992 Vanessa told the Chicago Tribune that she considers herself to be easygoing, focused, and in control. She also said that she’s learned to believe in the silver lining.

In Vanessa’s case, the clouds must be lined with sheet music. Her first album, The Right Stuff, sold over 800,000 copies and earned her several Grammy nominations (as did The Comfort Zone, her platinum-plus follow-up LP). In addition, Vanessa was given an N.A.A.C.P Image Award for Best New Female Artist, a kudo that literally moved her to tears.

During the years that followed, Vanessa’s achievements have been honored by the Billboard Video Awards, the MTV Music Video Awards, the New York Music Awards, the Soul Train Music Awards, and the American Music Awards.

In June 1992, then president George Bush invited Vanessa to perform at the Ford’s Theatre presidential gala, an annual fund-raising event attended by the president, the first lady, members of the cabinet, legislators, and other distinguished guests.

And as we go to press in January 1993, her No. 1 smash single “Save the Best for Last” has just been nominated for a Grammy. It’s safe to say, however, that given her talent and determination, we’ve yet to hear the best or the last of this extraordinary woman.

It isn't difficult to imagine a world in which Vanessa Williams created a successful and diverse career without having artistic nudes of her published against her wishes. But that isn't our world.