Larry Flynt, publisher of Hustler, Chic, a newspaper in Plains, Ga., and owner of a mail-order house specializing in sexual devices, is sitting in his wheelchair, in his offices which are 35 stories above all of Los Angeles- mountains to the east and ocean to the west. There are two armed guards outside the door, guns slung under their arms, and a nurse and a public relations lady and a secreatry who comes into the room silent as a fog and says that Harold Robbins in calling from Acapulco-soft core on the phone to hard core.
Flynt takes the phone. It is white. He presses the appropriate button and says, in a voice higher than you might expect, "Hello, Harold?" He is sitting behind an over-size desk in an office in a building in Century City where he has rented the entire 35th floor. Music drops from the ceiling like mist and down below are the sets of the 20th Century Fox studios built in a different era by men with tastes only silghtly more exalted that Flynt's.
Outside, the empire of Larry Flynt hums. In the reception area, a woman dressed in a short, polkadot dress, sits on a couch to fill out a form. She has hair as blonde as straw and hands with large knuckles and she has come to model. The form prohibits her from posing nude for 30 days after she has posed for Hustler and it asks for her sexual fantasies. From the looks of her , it is a miracle if she still has any.
I have come here on a mission of curiosity. I have come here because Larry Flynt is no longer a mere smutt peddler but a one-man crusader for the First Amendment. Wherever there is a District Attorney out on a smut hunt, Larry Flynt gives him the finger. He puts himself on the line, personally selling his magazine, doing what few people do in corporate America-taking personal responsibility for his product. He was doing this the day he got shot in Georgia, an incident that put him in the wheelchair, in pain all of the time-a pain not relieved any by sitting in courtrooms as the self-appointed defender of the First Amendment. Larry Flynt is not easy to figure out.
At the moment, he is still on the phone. The subject under discussion is the birthday party Harold Robbins is throwing for his wife. The conversation drags on and I take notes. Flynt is wearing a light blue dnit shirt with the word "Hustler" printed over the pocket. He has pasty, white skin, light, reddish hair and what was once a chunky body. He looks like the guy at the bar or at the wheel of a truck-one of his reader, actually-except for his eyes. His eyes are soft, blue and soft, the eyes of a lover. Not that he is a lover anymore. He is, instead, a born-again Christain.
"I stopped playing around even before I was hurt," he has said. Larry Flynt hangs up the phone and starts to talk anout the law, the First Amendment and the courts. He talks nonstop for six, maybe seven minutes. The court decisions flowing from his lips, the names of Supreme Court justices cited with abandon. I find myself nodding yes, and then yes, and then yes some more. The subject, after all, is censorship and we are both against it
"The new Supreme Court scares me to death," Flynt says. "Nixon-he appointed more people to the Supreme Court than anyone but Washington and Roosevelt."
'I am going to devote my life to fighting for the Constitution," Flynt says. He is going to fight censorship wherever he finds it, even battling laws that restrict display of adult magazines with covers that some people might find offensive. He leaves no doubt that he considers this his most important work.
In the end, everything becomes uncertain and it is difficult to know what to do with Flynt- whether you judge him by the work he does or the cause he fights for. It's a problem with others as well, and the older I get the less clear things become.Do you talk to a lawyer who threads some crook through the law and do you shake hands with a slumlord, or do you forgive a journalist who lies but is also entertaining? It is somewhat the same thing with Hustler and Flynt and what you feel like saying after a while is: "What's a nice guy like you doing in a place like this?"
Soon the PR person comes into the office and soon the interview is over. Nice Larry Flynt offers his hospitality and his home telephone number and a warm handshake on the way out. The RV lady offers a press packet and then a copy of Hustler magazine and I'm still trying to figure out what I think of Flynt when suddenly I take the magazine and hide it in the press packet. After all, I know what I think of people who read Hustler.
How can I think more of the people who publish it?