Larry Flynt left impact during short stay in Columbus

Dean Narciso
The Columbus Dispatch
Larry Flynt, the publisher of Hustler magazine, seen in 1983 in Los Angeles, had a local presence in Columbus due to his Hustler Club and publishing offices.

Larry Flynt's brief time in Columbus 40 years ago left lifelong memories with those who remember him.

His Hustler Club and later Downtown publishing offices on Gay Street just west of High Street may have later become the butt of jokes, but at the time, the club at 40 W. Gay St. was one of the only swanky after-hours haunts Downtown.

"After work, we'd stumble into the club. It kind of became an after-work hangout," recalled James Immke, then in his early 20s, whose father, Leonard, owned Len Immke Buick-Opel-Rolls Royce car dealership at Fifth and Broad streets.

The club, with stripper poles and gaudy decor, was one of several he opened in Ohio and other states. Each table had sets of small drum sticks, "made to play your glasses," recalled Immke, now 66 and living in Florida.

He said that Flynt, who died Wednesday at age 78, was "kind of a good ole boy with a radical attitude. I don't think he liked being told what to do."

At the club, Immke said "You knew he was in charge, that you shouldn't mess around. I would say he was very comfortable in what he did."

Immke was his father's used car salesman and he remembers Flynt — who he said bought a Rolls Royce and other cars from them — as a very friendly, flamboyant personality.

"He was a self-made man. He and my dad has that in common."

The success of Flynt's clubs inspired him to launch a Hustler newsletter for his clientele in the mid-1970s, which later became the infamous men's magazine.

In 1996, as "The People vs. Larry Flynt" starring Woody Harrelson was being filmed, then-Dispatch columnist Mike Harden recalled how decades earlier as an Ohio State student he answered an ad for a writer in The Lantern. It led to Harden's first published words: a satirical column about sexual self-help manuals for Flynt's newsletter that paid 4 cents a word, netting him $44.

A few years later, the raunchy Hustler magazine launched, Harden wrote, prompting Flynt to say he had ascended from "that hillbilly pretender to the crown of the prince of porn." Harden died in 2010.

With Hustler's success came First Amendment challenges, related lawsuits and outright scandal — including when, in 1976, he purchased a $375,000 mansion along South Columbia Avenue directly across the street from the Columbus School for Girls.

The cover of Columbus Monthly pictured a cartoon image of Flynt on the lawn of his new home, a scantily dressed woman at his feet. The headline: "THE HUSTLER GOES TO BEXLEY.". 

Gary Kiefer, 68, of Clintonville, got a job offer in 1977 to work at a new Flynt-owned publication, Ohio Magazine. He recalled Flynt as "pretty much a loud, over-the-top guy.

Before taking the job, he first needed to interview with Flynt. Kiefer recalled visiting the Gay Street offices, noticing a large nude picture of a woman in the lobby: Flynt's wife, Althea. 

Inside were offices for several of Flynt's magazines, photo studio and production rooms.

"The employees there used to tell of seeing half-naked women walking down the hall to the photo studio," Kiefer said. "They would be coming from the bathroom, fixing their makeup, while others at Ohio Magazine were going to the coffee machine."

He worked for the magazine briefly, writing the magazine's first-ever cover story.

After Flynt was shot in 1978 by a white supremacist who said he was upset by Hustler photographs of an interracial couple, his operations moved to California. Ohio Magazine was sold to the Dispatch Printing Company, where Kiefer later worked.

"I think he liked being a crusader for something," said Kiefer, a former Dispatch managing editor. "And the First Amendment gave him a noble cause when the magazine wasn't."