My Town Monday Cincinnati – Larry Flynt

He’s one of the city’s most infamous exports. On the one hand, he’s a crusader for free speech and civil liberty. On the other hand, he’s a sleaze peddler. He is Hustler publisher Larry Flynt.

Born in Kentucky in 1942, Flynt ran away from home in 1957 and joined the Army, lying about his age. He was discharged in a peace time downsizing of the military, but enlisted in the Navy in 1960 where he had his first brush with greatness: He was part of the deck crew of the USS Enterprise when it retrieved John Glenn’s capsule.

In 1965, Flynt bought a bar in Dayton, then used the profits to open several more bars. He remade them into Hustler Clubs, which featured naked hostesses. Classy guy, Larry was.

So where did his most controversial creation Hustler come from? In the later 1960’s, Flynt needed a cheap way to promote the Hustler clubs. So he created the Hustler Newsletter. The newsletter grew in popularity, and by 1973, it was up to 32 pages. Then the energy crisis and subsequent recession hit. With the recession, the Hustler Clubs’ revenue dropped. Flynt needed a way to avoid bankruptcy and transformed his newsletter into Hustler. He soon became a millionaire.

And a felon. Flynt soon found himself on the receiving end of obscenity charges in several states, starting in Ohio. Amusingly, Oliver Stone cast Flynt as the judge in his own case in Cincinnati in The People Vs. Larry Flynt. In 1976, one man took major exception to Flynt’s work. During a trial in Georgia, he shot Flynt and his lawyer. The lawyer came away with minor injuries. Flynt ended up in a wheel chair.

One of Flynt’s highest profile legal battles went all the way to the Supreme Court when he was sued by evangelist Jerry Falwell over a parody Campari ad that ran in Hustler. Flynt won, but the argument was so compelling that Falwell forgave him. They became friends and remained so until Falwell’s death a few years ago.

Over the years, Flynt has become a complex character. On the one hand, he’s an unrepentant sleaze peddler. On the other hand, he has been an outspoken proponent of free speech and has befriended some of his most powerful rivals. It’s hard to really form a coherent opinion about him.

That’s probably the way he wants it.

More at the My Town Monday blog.