They're calling it the "nude feud," but it's more like the navel battle of the century.
Who launched the first strike at newsstands yesterday with skin pix of rock star Madonna?
Playboy claimed victory. So did Penthouse. But the New York Post may have scooped them both when it hit the Manhattan sidewalks yesterday morning with a grainy, topless photo of the 26-year-old singing sensation, courtesy of Playboy.
"We beat 'em," Playboy spokesman Elizabeth Norris said yesterday from the magazine's Chicago headquarters. Playboy, according to Norris, hit newsstands at La Guardia, JFK International Airport and all of Long Island "early this morning. 6 a.m."
"The evidence is that the magazine is on the newsstands," Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione claimed yesterday, declining to give the specific jump-off time.
The feud ignited last Sunday when Guccione announced that Penthouse had obtained sexually explicit photos of Madonna, taken in 1979 by photographer Bill Stone, when the rock star was a figure model in New York. Guccione said the 17-page color and black-and-white layout would be published in an unspecified issue.
Two days later, Playboy announced it also had purchased nude photographs of Madonna, who earlier this year rocketed to stardom with her album "Like a Virgin." A spokesman for the magazine said it planned to publish the 14-page black-and-white layout in its September issue, scheduled to go on sale July 29.
Guccione counterattacked, saying Penthouse's pictures would be published in its September issue, which would be on the stands before its rival. Playboy skirmished, moving its publication date up to July 16. Penthouse upped the ante, saying it would be on the stands July 11. Playboy scrambled and called its distributors, telling them to get the 5 million copies of the $3.50 magazine -- 1 million copies over its usual run -- on the stands yesterday. They did and so did Penthouse, beginning to distribute its five million copies for $4 each (an increase of 50 cents over the usual price) in and around Chicago and New York as fast as they came from the binderies. The magazines are expected to be available in Washington by tomorrow.
Just when things were threatening to die down, a new feud erupted. Which magazine was the first to obtain the photos?
"We did. They came to us first," said Guccione, saying he was offered two sets of nude Madonna pictures "three or four weeks ago."
"Obviously, we got the pictures first," countered Playboy's Norris. "We followed our normal procedures for publishing. It's Penthouse who's scrambling. He [Guccione] knew we had them. We laid low and waited. He's out there rattling his chains. We scooped them."
Guccione would not disclose how much Stone received for the photographs.
"I'll tell you this, we paid more for them than we paid for Vanessa," he said, referring to the magazine's nude layout of former Miss America Vanessa Williams, which forced her to relinquish her crown just about this time a year ago. "We paid more for them than we have ever paid for anything."
Not surprisingly, both publications claim to have the best shots.
"When you see the pictures, you'll see ours are far superior," said Playboy's Norris.
But Guccione said Penthouse turned up its nose at the Playboy photographs, taken by two New York photographers, Lee Friedlander and Martin Schreiber. "They were turned down because it was like scraping the bottom of the barrel," sniffed Guccione.
Playboy would not reveal what it paid for the pictures, which both magazines said were explicit, but tasteful.
"They're not gynecological," said Playboy's Norris. "I think they're very European. She has hair under her arms."
The Penthouse pictures, according to Guccione, are "of Madonna alone, fully nude, very explicit . . . with everything in full view."
Madonna issued a statement yesterday saying, "I'm not ashamed of anything."
If only the magazines could claim the same.
In fact, the only thing they seem to agree on is that all this hoopla will only increase sales.
"I think there is sufficient interest to absorb the copies that both magazines have put out," said Guccione.
"We certainly expect to be sold out in a matter of days," said Playboy's Norris.
Late yesterday, independent publisher Jeffrey Goodman told United Press International he beat Playboy and Penthouse with a special fan magazine called "Madonna," featuring 10 nude photos that came from a low-budget film the rock star did five years ago. Goodman said he had sold 250,000 copies at $2.50 each.
[High Society Magazine also announced it had secured "exclusive rights" to nude photos of Madonna excerpted from an X-rated film. The magazine said it would publish the photos in the October issue, to be released Aug. 22. The magazine said it paid $100,000 for the photos.]
With so many nude pictures of Madonna floating around, it might be easier to list the publications that haven't been offered the shots.
So far, Field and Stream is not in the bidding.
"But you never know," said Guccione