Lisa vs. Larry Flynt

The other night I went to see a preview of the new Milos Forman film The People vs. Larry Flynt. It's a good movie. It's got God and sex and romance and tragedy and struggle. You know--I laughed, I cried, it was better than Cats. But I'm no critic, and this is no film review.

I am, however, familiar with Mr. Flynt. I remember when he got shot, when his courtroom escapades made headlines. And I've seen copies of Hustler over the years. I didn't laugh or cry, but they, too, were always better than Cats. I walked away from the movie about Flynt feeling that this obese Ohio porn pioneer was really a piece of work. Obnoxious, silly, crass, funny, offensive, a mutant visionary with balls of brass.

In short, a Classic American Hero.
Which is pretty much what the movie wants you to think. My friend Lisa Jenio is not so wild about Larry. She worked for him from 1994 up until a few months ago. ("I started on Valentine's Day," she told me. "It was very romantic.") Lisa was an associate editor and editor for four Flynt sex rags:

Pure--"It was a big scam. It was supposed to be by women for men, but there were no women working on it, which was one of the reasons they hired me."

Barely Legal--"I'd study Sassy and write in the voice of an 18-year-old girl, but about sex."

Chic--"It was supposed to be a classier version of Hustler."
And the dirty old granddaddy of them all, Hustler, where, among other duties, she wrote the "Hot Letters" column. (Sorry to burst any bubbles, boys.)

Awhile back, I visited Lisa at the Larry Flynt Publications headquarters in Beverly Hills. 90210, actually. She showed me the massive wall display of Flynt publications, ranging from Modern Gun to Shaved Orientals. I saw her nondescript office, which looked out upon a stucco apartment building and a yellow fire hydrant. Then we went out to lunch.

I didn't get to see Larry gliding through the halls in his gold-plated wheelchair, and I glimpsed only one woman wearing a skirt that terminated above the knee. Not exactly the halcyon Hustler glory days of loud polyester suits, hot tubs lighted by crystal chandeliers and skin, skin, skin depicted in the film. Lisa came aboard a little late in the game to taste any of that. But still, she worked for Larry Flynt.

New Times: Why'd you take the job?
Lisa Jenio: I only took it because I wasn't getting enough freelance copy-editing jobs, and I needed the money, though it paid absolutely nothing. Which is one of the reasons I think Larry Flynt is kind of a crumb, because he doesn't pay industry-standard salaries. He mostly gets kids fresh out of school to copy edit who have no experience, so they don't complain about the tiny salary [$22,000]. But I always thought it'd be temporary, and I thought it'd be kind of interesting and kind of funny to work on a porn magazine. It was, but by the end of six months I was completely bored out of my skull. But then I got promoted.

NT: What was so boring about it?
LJ: I don't think Hustler's that interesting to read even once, but when you're a copy editor there, you have to proofread, and check it in the final stages. So I'd be reading the articles and the girl copy [the supposedly autobiographical text accompanying "model" layouts] and the video reviews like five or six times.

NT: Was it a professionally run place?
LJ: Yeah, it's just like any big business. But I think they make a lot of poor decisions there, especially in terms of employee morale. Larry instituted a dress code that really pissed off a lot of people, because Larry Flynt is supposed to be not like corporate America, having arbitrary rules. It was no jeans, sneakers, tee shirts, combat boots or open-toed sandals, and men had to wear jackets and ties. This was right around the time that IBM and other huge companies started to relax their dress codes, and that's also when we started to hear about the movie; he was bringing Milos Forman and Woody Harrelson around. I think he really wanted to impress people.

Also, you weren't allowed to hang up anything personal on the walls of your office. We weren't allowed to hang up bulletin boards because they were ugly; then we had to move our desks so no electrical cords were showing. And when we moved into this building in Beverly Hills, he bought the building and the parking garage, but we weren't allowed to park there. We had to pay $70 a month.

NT: Ouch.
LJ: These things aren't really that big a deal, and some of it's kind of funny. Like last year there was no Christmas bonus. Not that a company is obligated to give you a Christmas bonus, but it's kind of depressing to be told that you're not getting one because there's no money, when your boss is going around in his private plane and buying all these antiques.

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