I’ve been besieged daily with E-mails and letters asking me one simple question: what did I think of “The People Versus Larry Flynt”? As many of you know, Larry Flynt Publications published and distributed Film Threat magazine before I recently took back ownership. For five years I worked under his roof getting Film Threat out “on time and on budget.” This was the mantra at LFP Inc., or as we used to call it affectionately, “Low F’in Pay.” Their priority was a steady flow of product at the lowest possible cost, quality be damned. I met that challenge as best I could.
Many who have seen the film have witnessed the touching Horatio Alger-esque story of a man’s courageous fight for the First Amendment. Let me assure you from personal experience, that story is absolutely true. Much of the dialogue from the courtroom scenes was taken from actual court transcripts. In fact, the real-life courtroom events are perhaps more wild than the film portrayed. What is missing is a full portrait of the man. Flynt was married several times before he met Althea and he had five children. He ran his company with an unorthodox, backwards, if not arbitrary management style. Though many of Flynt’s adult (or “men’s sophisticates” as we called them) magazines featured people portrayed fully nude, he insisted employees wear dress clothes, putting even the lowly copy editor making a mere 18 grand a year in a suit and tie. Flynt insisted there be absolutely nothing hung up on the office walls. No calendars, no schedules, no personal photos pinned on corkboards, in fact, no corkboards. Employees offices were adorned with garish antiques from his collection. Soon the offices’ white trash, Beverly Hillbillies-style was dubbed vintage “Larry the 14th.” Flynt once had a “designer” rearrange each employees office to appear “more æsthetically pleasing.” When I protested, I argued that “employees arranged their personal space to be productive, not to look good.” I lost that argument. Flynt still insists that employees pay for their own parking even though he owns the building in which they work. And while the company profits in the tens of millions, Christmas bonuses are non-existent. This constant adversarial relationship fostered by upper management toward the people who actually produced the magazines resulted in not only a constant low morale but much of the sick humor which helped diffuse this demoralizing atmosphere. The joke around the offices was that the sequel would be called, “The Employees Versus Larry Flynt.” (The retort was normally, “Hey, Larry won’t stand for that.”)
I met with Mr. Flynt all of about five times in my 1800 some-odd days of employment. During those meetings he would garble out some weird advice about “paying attention to your employees.” Too bad he never took his own advice. Then he would pick my brain about what really goes on. (He seemed to have a deep mistrust of the executives who worked for him.) The reason Woody Harrelson’s performance near the end is so great is that he does a dead-on Flynt impersonation, duplicating his drug-induced drawl.
Larry Flynt Publications has become something like the Roger Corman school of publishing. You’d be hard-pressed to find a publishing company in Los Angeles that didn’t have at least one Flynt school graduate. Personally, I’m thankful for what he has done to help Film Threat in its 12 year history. He gave this college dropout an opportunity to publish a wide variety of magazines including Film Threat for five years and for that I am grateful. Flynt never messed with the book much, only hammering in that mantra, “on time, on budget.” That’s not so bad, is it?
So what did I think of the movie? I loved it. I’m glad it was made. It even makes publishing look like an admirable profession. The public had only ever saw the evil Flynt, the demon, the satanic pornographer, his surface level. Few men are made up of only a dark side. The film focused on his benevolent side. All of the employees, myself included, already knew about the other Larry, the good man, the freedom fighter, the man who slaughtered sacred cows. (Yes, sometimes those cows were shot down in flames with sick poop jokes and unapologetic racist humor.) Film Threat’s association with Flynt would sometimes bring gasps of outrage or phones slammed down in disgust. Now, it brings curiosity and even admiration. Kinda weird, huh?
I sincerely hope “The People Versus Larry Flynt” goes all the way and wins the Academy Award. Go get ’em Larry.