From the Archives: Larry Flynt Goes to Bexley

Robert Tenenbaum
Columbus Monthly

Editor’s note: Don’t be fooled by the incorrect origin story in the movie “The People vs. Larry Flynt.” The Hustler magazine publisher launched his media empire right here in Columbus before moving it to California in the late 1970s. Flynt died on Feb. 10, 2021 at the age of 78. Here's our 1976 cover story on his decision to buy a mansion in family-friendly Bexley.

What might have developed into a moral skirmish in Bexley is turning into a truce, at least temporarily.

The community eyebrows of the exclusive eastern suburb tilted quickly upward late in January when the word went out that Larry Flynt, the flamboyant and controversial publisher of Columbus-based Hustler magazine, had agreed to purchase for $375,000 a mansion that sits on South Columbia Avenue directly across the street from the Columbus School for Girls (CSG). 

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No one in an official capacity in Bexley is saying much—at least not on the record—but the early response by a number of residents to the news of Flynt's purchase was one of shock and dismay. One CSG mother reportedly muttered, not entirely in jest, that "Flynt will be out in front of the school handing out lollipops."

Deserved or undeserved, Flynt's reputation—who he is and what he does— has clearly preceded him.

Flynt may become Bexley's most celebrated resident the moment he moves in. His burgeoning Hustler porn empire made national headlines when the magazine published a series of nude photographs of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis last summer, and since then Flynt has been featured in New Times and Newsweek, among other publications.

Flynt started Hustler less than two years ago as a newsletter to go along with his chain of Hustler go-go clubs, and then moved to the slick magazine format when he sensed he had tapped a market of staggering potential. From an initial circulation of 160,000 in July, 1974, Flynt now claims to have monthly sales of 1.5 million, which ranks Hustler third on the skin mag list, behind Playboy and Penthouse.

But Hustler is behind very few in terms of its raunchiness. As Newsweek said of the magazine: "Hustler is one of the gamiest slick paper publications ever to hit the newsstands."

Flynt happily agrees with such assessments of the magazine, adding his now widely-quoted line: “We sell to the Archie Bunkers of America. We'd rather have 10 truck drivers reading us than one college professor."

Of course all this success means that Flynt suddenly is experiencing a lot of cash flow. As Newsweek said: "... to put it plainer, the magazine has made a mountain of money out of pure muck.” Newsweek went on to describeHustler's editorial content like this:

“The contents of an average issue read like something Krafft Ebing might have whispered to the Marquis de Sade. Where other skin slicks are merely kinky, Hustler can be downright frightful. Aside from a standard, if crudely rendered, gallery of nudes,Hustler is into erotic fantasies involving excrement, dismemberment and the sexual longings of rodents. Some of its pictures and cartoons routinely dwell on bestiality and bondage,"Newsweeksaid.

Of course all this conjured up immediate visions of Playboy Mansion-type goings on in the minds of Bexley residents and CSG parents, who visualized CSG students filing into the school in their prim uniforms while across the street Flynt and his cronies carried on in a fashion not even whispered about in polite company.

But not so, according to word from the Hustler headquarters on West Gay Street, which houses the magazine offices as well as a bar and night club.

Reporters don't get through to Flynt himself on such mundane matters, but Hustler PR director Carole Trimble says her publisher's sole purpose in buying the house is to provide a residence for himself, his live-in fiancee (and associate publisher) Althea Leasure and Flynt's four daughters by a marriage since ended in divorce.

A local businessman who deals with Flynt regularly says, “Larry just wants to upgrade his image I don't see anything wrong with that."

There has been no direct communication between Flynt and the Bexley moguls, but Flynt's assurances that the house would indeed be just a home apparently put a lid on any overt protest.

Even so, Columbus developer Frank Benson Jr., the man who sold the home to Flynt, reportedly has taken a lot of ribbing fromfriends in Bexley and at Rocky Fork Country Club, an exclusive private club in Gahanna. Benson's secretary at the Don M. Casto Organization said Benson was “out of the country, and could not be reached for comment," adding that “I know Mr. Benson doesn't want much publicity on this."

The two men who would be expected to take most of the flak, CSG headmaster John Chapman and Bexley Mayor David Madison, are carefully following an "anyone has a right to buy a home here" line.

Chapman says “everyone had a reaction” to the announcement of the sale, but he says he's heard "not a whisper" of organized protest.

"As far as I'm concerned,” he says, “they're across the street. They're going to be there, and so what? It's been very quiet in this quiet corner of Bexley."

Chapman will have to deal with the Flynt question again—on a professional basis. Hustler's PR director confirms the rumors that Flynt will apply for admission to CSG for his four daughters, ages 5 through 12.

That will no doubt be a great surprise to the local wag who telephoned Chapman shortly after the story broke pretending to be Larry Flynt's attorney and requesting information regarding admission requirements at CSG. The practical joke turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Chapman wasn't familiar with Hustler magazine before Flynt became his neighbor-to-be, although he says he is "more familiar with it now than at first."

Mayor Madison also says he isn't familiar with Hustler, but that he has heard a lot about it, particularly the weekend the sale was announced. “That day, and the next, I had a half-dozen phone calls each day," he recalls, “and that night I went to a party and everybody was talking about it."

But Madison says since then, "it's not really a big thing any more."

Madison's position is clear. “A man has a right to buy a house in Bexley," he says. "That's my feeling. It's his home. He wants to move in. He's putting $1 million in here, and it's not going to be a bunny club or anything."

In fact, Bexley's zoning regulations preclude the use of the house for anything except a residence, and Madison says that “if there are any disturbances out there, we'll treat him no different than anyone else; we'll be out there."

Chapman says that "if there are problems, we'll take them as they come. There will be co-existence here."

Economically, Flynt obviously is having no difficulty co-existing in Bexley. Beyond the $375,000 purchase price, he is planning to spend $1 million in renovating the house, including installation of a courtyard and an indoor-outdoor swimming pool. The house already has a projection room, a library, a wine cellar, six bedrooms and nearly as many bathrooms. The renovation is being designed by architect Coburn Morgan of Functional Planning, Inc., and will begin once the sale is finalized.

Is Flynt getting a kick out of the mini furor?

"Oh, obviously," says Trimble. "He's getting a kick out of it. But you know Larry. He gets a kick out of anything."

This story originally appeared in the April 1976 issue of Columbus Monthly.


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Larry Flynt with his wife, Althea, and an unidentified man at Hustler's Columbus headquarters in 1976