Savings and loan swindler Charles Keating, who died Monday in Phoenix at age 90, hated pornography. Or so he claimed.
The devout Roman Catholic made a name for himself in his hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, and beyond, as a scourge of smut, founding an influential anti-porn organization that eventually became known as Citizens for Decency through Law.
But Keating also reputedly possessed a massive porn collection.
In the 1993 book Trust Me: Charles Keating and the Missing Billions, authors Michael Binstein and Charles Bowden tell a story of a reporter who went to interview Keating about his preoccupation with porn.
For the edification of the unnamed journalist, Keating whipped "some color photographs out of his desk of women having sex with pigs," referring to them as "the latest imports from Denmark."
Those who have seen the 1996 Milos Forman film The People vs. Larry Flynt, know that Keating's hypocrisy focused for a time on the publisher of Hustler magazine, who started off in Ohio, just next door to Flynt's home state of Kentucky.
Keating (played by James Cromwell in the film) led an effort to run Flynt out of town on a rail. Local prosecutor and Keating ally Simon Leis succeeded in getting Flynt convicted on obscenity charges in 1977, though Flynt only spent about a week in jail and the conviction was overturned on appeal.
Keating eventually moved to Phoenix and began a financial and real-estate empire that ended with the collapse of Lincoln Savings and Loan, the Keating Five scandal, and Keating's conviction on state and federal charges of fraud and racketeering.
For Flynt, 71, the best revenge seems to be survival and success. Though the publishing industry has been in decline for several years, Flynt's privately held portfolio of businesses includes casinos, gentlemen's clubs, adult broadcasting, retail outlets, and x-rated video-on-demand, among other lucrative ventures.
CBS Sunday Morning reported in January that Flynt told them he was worth a half-billion dollars.
Flynt spoke with me today via phone from his home in Los Angeles to discuss Keating's recent demise.
What were your thoughts on hearing that Charles Keating had died?
Well, I never say anything bad about anybody who's passed on, but no one deserved it more than him. All those years in the '70s when he was having me prosecuted for having published obscenity, he was stealing money from those little ol' people in Lincoln Savings and Loan. He's the scum of the earth.
He spearheaded the prosecution of me [in Cincinnati]. Unbelievable. An old story you might appreciate -- I talked to an attorney who attended a party at Keating's house....He was showing the movie Deep Throat at his home.
And the reason why [Keating] was showing it to them was, he wanted the community to be aware of the kind of garbage that was out there. So he put them through a full-length (chuckles) screening of Deep Throat and would say things like, "Look at that. See what they're doing? This is what's happening to our culture."
I honestly cannot say what his motivation was. But I do know he was a paradoxical creature in a sense, because when he was stealing all that money from one of his savings and loans, he was flying abroad and giving large sums of cash to Mother Teresa. I don't know if he believed in Mother Teresa's work, or maybe he thought she could help buy him a seat at the pearly gates, I have no idea.
This attorney in Nevada told me that [Keating] took a copy of Hustler up and put it in this elderly woman's face. He opens up the pages and says, "Look at that. Look what they publish."
He said he actually thought Keating was doing this because he got off on shocking people with what was in the magazine or what might be in the movie. Really a strange guy.
Did you ever meet Keating face to face?
Yeah, I met him a couple of times. I never had any conversations with him.
So unlike the Reverend Jerry Falwell, whom you reconciled with, you never came to terms with Keating.
At least Falwell conceded we were both in the same business. You know, making money. (Chuckles.)
You've outlived a lot of your enemies, haven't you?
The judge in the [Cincinnati obscenity] case, [William] Morrissey, he's passed on. The prosecutor is retired. Keating's dead. Falwell's dead. Yeah.
Is there any satisfaction in that?
Well, like I said when I started the interview, I don't say things bad about people who've moved on. But I had such contempt for Keating. I don't think the guy had a soul.
I was reading that he had quite the porn collection. All in the name of opposing it.
Probably the only people who have a larger porn collection than Keating is the Vatican. (Chuckles.)
It seems like you always find in people who are really moral arbiters, in a sense, that they want to be able to tell you what you can and can't do or where you can and can't do it....I think Keating was very much of a moralist.
But at the same time, I always had trouble reconciling that with the fact that he stole all that money from Lincoln Savings and Loan. And those were basically old people's savings in that bank. So he was having me prosecuted for a crime, at the same time that many people were considering it a crime that he was committing at Lincoln Savings and Loan, a greater crime than what he was having me persecuted for.
In the book Trust Me: Charles Keating and the Missing Billions, authors Michael Binstein and Charles Bowden mention a rumor that Keating may have had something to do with the assassination attempt on your life by Joseph Paul Franklin.
I have heard that. But there were several wealthy, right-wing people that financed Joseph Paul Franklin and his activities. I don't know if they were ever able to connect it to Keating or not, but it wouldn't surprise me.
Are you convinced that serial-killer Joseph Paul Franklin was the man that shot you, paralyzing you from the waist down?
Yes. He shot [and wounded] Vernon Jordan, the civil rights activist. He was a real rabid racist. He supposedly shot me because of [an interracial] photo feature that I had in Hustler...He bombed a lot of synagogues in the South during the '70s and '80s, too. He was a pretty sick puppy.
And yet, you opposed his execution last year, why?
I've always been opposed to the death penalty. When you snuff those guys' lives out in a matter of seconds, suffering is gone. But if you put them in a four-by-six cell for their rest of their lives, they've got a lot of suffering to do. And I just don't think the government should be in the business of killing. And, besides, we have no evidence that indicates that the death penalty is a deterrent.
Is there any irony in the fact that the porn industry that Keating was crusading against is dying, but because of market forces, not censorship?
Oh, yeah, that's true, because the Internet has virtually killed pornography as far as publishing is concerned. But that's the rest of the media as well, because most people are getting their information off the Internet.
We have a large presence in broadcast television, where we do a lot of programming worldwide. We're still very much in the business, but publishing is just a fraction of our revenue now.
What's Hustler's circulation now, 100,000?
Yeah, that's right. It was at a peak of 3 million at one time.
Do you miss the days when the magazine itself had a lot of influence?
Hustler was a lot of fun. We were as much an entertainment magazine as we were a sex publication. We were always pushing the envelope.
What's your prescription for outliving your enemies?
That's a great question. (Chuckles.) I would say have a lot of sex. You know, when you're too old to cut the mustard, you can always lick the jar.
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For the latest on all things Flynt, check out his website larryflynt.com.
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