From the Editor: Our Man Flynt
Remembering the notorious Hustler publisher's time in Ohio
During the 1970s, Larry Flynt was probably the most interesting man in Columbus. He grew up in Kentucky, started his first bar in Dayton and faced his first obscenity charges in Cincinnati. But Columbus was the Hustler publisher’s home base during this pivotal time, when he turned a black-and-white promotional newsletter for his string of nightclubs into a graphic, vulgar skin magazine—“one of the gamiest slick-paper publications ever to hit the newsstands,” as Newsweek called it.
This extraordinary chapter is recalled in a first-person piece in this issue (“Lessons from Larry Flynt”). After Flynt died in February, Sheldon Zoldan, a former editorial employee of Flynt, decided to revisit his time in Larry Land, and he sent me an unsolicited first-person essay. “I thought this would be the right magazine for such a story,” he wrote in an email.
He got that right. In the 1970s, Flynt was a regular in the pages of Columbus Monthly—a vain, crude, smart, ambitious and fearless personality in what was then a sleepy town. The magazine—a brash, new journalistic voice in Columbus, too (though without sexually explicit photo spreads, of course)—couldn’t resist Flynt’s charms. We wrote about his wedding, his move to Bexley, a censorship battle with The Washington Post, his bid to join the Press Club of Ohio and a failed plot to commit him to a mental health facility. There was even a hilarious piece about Gov. James Rhodes buying a copy of the infamous 1975 issue of Hustler featuring nude paparazzi photos of Jackie Kennedy Onassis. “When you look back, there were certain people who were just made for our style, and Larry was one of those guys,” Columbus Monthly co-founder Max Brown told me recently.
In fact, the magazine couldn’t quit Flynt even after he left town for California. There was a 1983 cover story about his recovery from the shooting that left him paralyzed from the waist down, and a 1996 look back at his Columbus years that coincided with the release of “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” the Hollywood biopic about his life. I even got in on the action in 2011, helping Roger “Ollie” Brooke, Flynt’s former bodyguard and personal aide, recount his days with the most notorious publisher in America.
A review of all these stories reveals a theme from Flynt’s time in Columbus: a quest for respect. It’s why he wanted to be part of the Press Club of Ohio and live in a classy suburb like Bexley, and it’s why he started Ohio Magazine, where Zoldan worked, which Flynt modeled after serious regional publications like Texas Monthly. “He truly wanted legitimacy and not to just be seen as a publisher of pornography,” Brown says.
Some legitimacy arrived years later, courtesy of Flynt’s First Amendment crusades. And Zoldan’s story unearths a side few saw: a desire—admittedly fleeting—to be good to those who worked for him.
Even in death, Flynt continues to intrigue and surprise us.