Tuesday, July 23, 2024

The Buried Treasures of “Hustler” Founder Larry Flynt

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The most ridiculous part is that it worked. Not the aesthetics. No, they don’t work at all.

But Larry Flynt’s fight to be taken seriously—that totally worked.

When the porn titan died last February, his New York Times obit called him a “free-speech hero.” And now, in an even greater sign of respectability, the Hustler founder’s furniture was peddled off at an online auction in December by Abell Auction Company, the 107-year-old house that once sold the items of Hollywood royalty like Cecil B. De Mille, Jack Warner, and Barbara Stanwyck.

I am shocked at everything I see during my presale peek in November at the Flyntorabilia stored in the auction house’s 100,000-square-foot warehouse. It isn’t the 1980s Patrick Nagel cocaine-inspired sex-dungeon decor I idiotically expected.

Flynt was born to a sharecropper in rural Kentucky. He wanted respectability. So he went full dictator chic. The stuff here is VIP room at the Bellagio. It’s all oversized and Versailles-inspired. And it’s almost all replicas.

I wonder who will possibly buy any of this. Todd Schireson, the vice president of Abell, is not worried.

People aren’t like, ‘Ew, gross, it was Larry’s.’

“Is there a value-added because it’s his?” he asks, then answers his own question. “I think a lot of people are fans.”

This was not always true. If you went over to someone’s house 25 years ago and the host said, “Guess who owned that couch you’re sitting on? Larry Flynt!” you’d run straight to a dry cleaner. Flynt, after all, was a guy who, when accused of objectifying women like sides of beef, put an image of a naked woman being fed into a meat grinder on Hustler’s cover.

But Flynt’s image started being rehabilitated in 1996 when Miloš Forman made The People vs. Larry Flynt, and suddenly the man in a golden wheelchair became a First Amendment icon. Since then, Hustler went from a brown paper-covered magazine to a licensed brand name. There’s a Hustler Casino and nearly 60 Hustler Hollywood stores. “Yeah, he made porno, but porno is free on the internet now,” says Schireson. “That’s no big deal. I don’t think people are like, ‘Ew, gross, it was Larry’s.’ ”

In fact, Schireson initially guessed Flynt’s bric-a-brac could get close to the 20 percent celebrity markup he got on the items in Carol Channing’s estate. In actuality, he got way more than that. One of Flynt’s items—a 100-year-old dragon vase—fetched 25 times its estimated value, selling for an astonishing $37,500.

Schireson thinks he would have snagged an even bigger celebrity markup for the 14-karat gold-plated wheelchair Flynt used after being shot and paralyzed in 1978. Or the placard that sat on Flynt’s desk that reads, “EVERYDAY I’M HUSTLIN.” But those more personal items remain in his house in the Hollywood Hills, where his widow still lives.

Instead, Abell got everything from Flynt’s office in the 10-story William Pereira-designed tower at Wilshire and La Cienega (before LFP Publishing Group leaves to relocate to Century City). Which, looking around this warehouse, is more than enough. Flynt was an avid antiques collector, and a good chunk of his collection ended up in his workspace. Now, after Abell’s auction, all of it—Tiffany-style lamps, knockoffs of Victorian everything, urns with figurines of captives, marble statues, jade statues, bronze statues, replicas of baroque paintings likely dashed off in China—is part of someone else’s home decor. Exactly whose isn’t known, but I got a sense from my pre-auction tour of the warehouse.

Five others were browsing Flynt’s goods while I was there, including a Chinese couple looking at the jade carvings. I also met Martin Folb, perhaps the country’s foremost collector of toy trains and a dabbler in Tiffany-style lamps. Years ago, Folb met Flynt in his Hustler office, not to talk about business or porn, but to dish about cut-glass lighting. Folb liked the guy. Apparently, everyone in the collecting racket did. He was a great buyer.

“I think if he had better advisers, he would have had more of the real McCoy,” Folb says, gazing at the cabinets. “This is the Norma Desmond version. He liked things that emulated the lifestyle of the Gilded Age.”

Apparently, Flynt wasn’t the only one: Abell is planning a second sale of Flynt’s wares by early February.

 Class with a Capital K…..

Collectors snapped up a slew of Flynt’s old bric-a-brac at prices far exceeding what Abell Auction Company predicted, proving once again that there’s no accounting for taste.

Tiffany-style table lamp. Estimated price: $800 to $1,200. Sold for: $2,200.

Jade cabbage. Estimated price: $600 to $800. Sold for: $1,750.

Deco table lamp. Estimated price: $1,500 to $2,000. Sold for: $2,000.

Gilt bronze table lamps. Estimated price: $300 to $500. Sold for: $1,000.

Stone sculpture. Estimated price: $400 to $600. Sold for: $2,000.

Boulle-style commode. Estimated price: $1,000 to $1,500. Sold for: $1,175.

Ceramic dragon vase. Estimated price: $1,000 to $1,500. Sold for: $37,500.

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