Penthouse was once one of the top adult magazines in the world, rivaling Playboy. Its founder, photographer Bob Guccione, made a vast fortune showing scantily-clad and nude women within its pages, but his empire fell almost as quickly as it grew, thanks to a number of factors. A&E’s 2023 docuseries, Secrets of Penthouse, provides a glimpse into Guccione’s life and pulls back the curtain on Penthouse magazine.
While it followed a similar style to Playboy, in terms of the models featured within its pages, Penthouse‘s editorial covered much more scandalous content, such as high-level government cover-ups. It also featured early photos of celebrities like Madonna and Vanessa Williams, both with and without the consent of the world-famous stars.
The magazine, published monthly, was successful in the first few decades of its existence, with Bob Guccione being listed on the 1982 Forbes 400 list as having a net worth of $400 million. However, poor strategic and business decisions led Penthouse to struggle toward the end of the 1990s, and while attempts were made to return it to its former glory, it was never the same, and it wasn’t long before advertisers began pulling their support.
While Penthouse has somehow kept trucking along, it’s since changed its publication cadence to bi-monthly.
Bob Guccione began his career as a photographer, before launching Penthouse. The adult magazine became an almost immediate hit, with Guccione soon living a life of lavish, thanks to the funds it brought in. His 28,000-square-foot mansion in New York City featured 42 rooms across nine levels, and was decorated with $100 million worth of famous paintings.
Along with spending his wealth on himself, Guccione used his money to finance business deals and projects of interest, such as the controversial 1979 film Caligula. It was the former, in particular, that led to the downfall of his empire. This, paired with a decline in sales of Penthouse due to the advent of the Internet, led him to resign as chairman of the board and CEO of Penthouse International, Inc.
Guccione was diagnosed with throat cancer in his later years, and while he underwent surgery to treat the condition, he was later diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. He passed on October 20, 2010, at the age of 79.
Secrets of Penthouse (2023)
Airing on A&E, Secrets of Penthouse presents the rise and fall of Bob Guccione. Along with providing an overview of his founding of Penthouse, the four-episode docuseries delves into the dark parts of Guccione’s life, including his relationships with powerful individuals, his children and the models he featured in the magazine, whom he called “pets.”
The miniseries follows the network’s popular Secrets of Playboy (2022-23), which also spawned the Secrets of Miss America, which aired in July 2023 and discusses the behind-the-scenes and public scandals that rocked the famous beauty pageant.
Bob Guccione and his ‘pets’
According to Yahoo! Entertainment, Secrets of Penthouse features several interviews with models who’ve appeared within the magazine’s pages. One was Cheryl Rixon, who revealed that Bob Guccione “gave” her to an 82-year-old man as a birthday present, which “horrified” her.
“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,” she recalled in the docuseries. “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.”
By “common,” Rixon means Guccione coercing his “pets” to have intimate relations with his business associates and other individuals. Anneka DiLorenzo filed a $10 million lawsuit for just that – and when she won, Guccione was reportedly “irate” because “he hated losing.”
While some recall negative experiences, others say nothing terrible happened and that Penthouse was the catalyst for shooting them into stardom, including Janine Lindemulder, who appears on the album cover of Blink-182’s Enema of the State.
Rubbing shoulders with influential individuals
Some could say Bob Guccione tried to mirror the extravagant life and friendships of Hugh Hefner, but he lived a relatively quiet personal life, opting to rarely hold parties at his residence. That’s not to say, however, that he didn’t have events at his New York City mansion – in fact, he welcomed some of society’s most elite.
Similar to Hefner and his Playboy Mansion, Guccione let Penthouse models reside at his residence, meaning they were often present when his associates came over. As Secrets of Penthouse reveals, one particular guest was “like a kid in the candy store” upon stepping into the mansion and seeing the women walking around.
While he may have struggled financially in the later years of his life, Guccione’s wealth at the height of his popularity allowed him to build various relationships. As he preferred to invest and develop brands, rather than hold steady, he had a vast portfolio that connected him to some of America’s most influential businessmen.
Bob Guccione’s relationship with his children
Only two of Bob Guccione’s five children were interviewed for Secrets of Penthouse. One of them, Nicholas, reveals that his life was difficult from the beginning, due to his father’s business.
“He says he was a family man, but he really wasn’t,” Nicholas, who went on to work alongside his father, says in the docuseries. “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.”
Guccione’s daughter, Nina, also had difficulties, saying, “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.'”
While Nicholas was able to work alongside his father, Nina was viewed differently by Guccione, who felt she was trying to steal from and betray him when she offered to help when Penthouse began to struggle financially. She also had to contend with her feelings about the magazine, which she felt was “demeaning.”
It wasn’t until Guccione was on his deathbed that he looked to reconcile with Nina. “He hugged me, the first time he ever hugged me,” she recalls. “He had become this loving, empathetic, sympathetic individual. It was like having the father I never had for the last year of his life.”
There’s no animosity between Penthouse and Playboy
Speaking to Fox News in a promotional interview for Secrets of Penthouse, Nicholas Guccione answered the question that’s been on everyone’s minds: was there any animosity between his father and Hugh Hefner? As it turns out, the answer’s no. “There was no animosity whatsoever,” he shares. “We wanted to showcase the beauty of the female form through beautiful photography. And we were both part of the sexual revolution [in America].”
Nicholas also recalls the time he came face-to-face with the Playboy founder, saying, “I met Hugh Hefner purely by chance when I lived in Los Angeles in the ’90s. He was very cordial, had no entourage. We were in a little hole in the wall on Sunset Boulevard, a strip club… He was on his own, just like me. We were both on the same team and we knew it. And we wanted to break new ground.”