Phallus in Wonderland | Crooked Media
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April 13, 2023
Phallus in Wonderland

In This Episode

The Viva staff have hit their stride and are finally publishing smart, progressive, feminist content alongside the magazine’s male nudes, and their latest issue is about to be their most revolutionary – and controversial – one to date.





Jennifer Romolini: In 2017, author Patricia Bosworth was interviewed by Alec Baldwin on his old WNYC show called Here’s the Thing. 


[clip of Alec Baldwin]: What’s the first book you attempt? 


[clip of Patricia Bosworth]: Oh, I didn’t start writing a book for ten years. I had a long apprenticeship at various magazines, including a place called Magazine Management, a schlock house—


[clip of Alec Baldwin]: Right. 


[clip of Patricia Bosworth]: Where Mario Puzo was writing The Godfather. 


[clip of Alec Baldwin]: No. 


[clip of Patricia Bosworth]: Yeah. 


[clip of Alec Baldwin]: He was writing The Godfather while he was on staff at a magazine? 


[clip of Patricia Bosworth]: Yes, he, he—


[clip of Alec Baldwin]: What kind of pieces did he write? 


[clip of Patricia Bosworth]: He wrote sex action pieces and—


[clip of Alec Baldwin]: Sex action. 


[clip of Patricia Bosworth]: But that’s what they were called sex action ma— [laughter]


[clip of Alec Baldwin]: I want you and I to start an online site. 


[clip of Patricia Bosworth]: We are? 


[clip of Alec Baldwin]: Okay. We’re going to call it Sex Action. 


Jennifer Romolini: Alec and Patti, talk about a ton of stuff in this interview. Patti had just released a book about coming of age in the fifties and the men in her life at that time. And then something super interesting comes up right during the last minute or so of the broadcast. 


[clip of Alec Baldwin]: What’s the next memoir for you? 


[clip of Patricia Bosworth]: Actually, I’d like to write about the next ten years, meaning the six, the sixties and the seventies, where I get into feminism and I work in pornography, which I did for a while with Bob Guccione. And— 


[clip of Alec Baldwin]: What did you do in pornography? 


[clip of Patricia Bosworth]: I edited a female porn magazine called Viva for two years. 


[clip of Alec Baldwin]: I remember Viva. 


Jennifer Romolini: At the time of this interview. Patti’s a famous author, though she’d worked at several magazines and written a few memoirs. She eventually became best known as a Hollywood biographer, writing the definitive tomes on stars like Montgomery Clift and Marlon Brando. Patti met a lot of famous, powerful men in her life, including Bob Guccione. 


[clip of Alec Baldwin]: What was he like? Guccione? 


[clip of Patricia Bosworth]: He was a complicated man. 


[clip of Alec Baldwin]: Right. 


[clip of Patricia Bosworth]: I mean, he you know, he wanted to be a painter. He felt he was doing good. 


[clip of Alec Baldwin]: He was an accidental pornographer wasn’t he? 


[clip of Patricia Bosworth]: He was. He was.


Jennifer Romolini: See, Patti liked Bob, or at least she was intrigued by him. She was smart, open minded and progressive. And she’s good at reading people. Sees past the gold chains. The sleazy veneer. 


[clip of Patricia Bosworth]: He was very smart. And he actually published some wonderful articles in Penthouse—


[clip of Alec Baldwin]: Oh Penthouse, some great writing. 


[clip of Patricia Bosworth]: He did, he did. 


[clip of Alec Baldwin]: Oh God, I remember. I remember reading that Barry Seal—


[clip of Patricia Bosworth]: That’s right. 


[clip of Alec Baldwin]: And the whole Mena, Arkansas conspiracy—


[clip of Patricia Bosworth]: That’s right. No he did a lot of political writing. 


[clip of Alec Baldwin]: Great writing in that mag. 


[clip of Patricia Bosworth]: And Viva had great writing in it, too. It did. 


[clip of Alec Baldwin]: Well, I think that when you’re done with that memoir [laughter] I want you to remember to allow time for you and I for Sex Action. It’s a winner. I love it.


[clip of Patricia Bosworth]: Okay. Okay. 


Jennifer Romolini: But Patti wouldn’t get a chance to write Sex Action or that next memoir. Three years after this interview in 2020, she unfortunately passed from COVID complications. The New York Times published an obituary for her, and in it they mention, quote, “Creating a biography, Ms. Bosworth wrote on her website, was like solving a mystery. Always looking for clues.” I felt the same way while making the show. Uncovering the details and legacy of a magazine that was published over 50 years ago is a little bit like cracking a mystery and if Viva were a mystery novel. Patti would be a big character. She took the magazine to a new level, the great writing that she mentioned to Alec. A lot of that comes during Patti’s tenure as editor. Her vision, her editing, her leadership, her entire vibe lent a fresh perspective to a place that was still figuring itself out. Here she is in 2017 on the City University of New York talk show One to One.


[clip of Patricia Bosworth]: I was adventuresome. I wanted adventures. I wanted different kinds of experiences. I didn’t want to be curtailed. I guess I did break the rules. There’s no question about it. 


Jennifer Romolini: Once Patti lands the job as Viva’s executive editor, she breaks the rules there, too. Sometimes this pays off, and as you’ll see, sometimes it doesn’t. Patti’s years at Viva are the good times. If this were a movie, this episode would be it’s on the come up montage only instead of Rocky dragging a giant tire or a bunch of ragtag high schoolers dancing in detention. It’s a bunch of women sitting at typewriters, cranking out one smart article after the next. Once Patti steps in, Viva starts gaining a devoted readership, though not as large as Bob would like, and lands a few big advertisers, though still not as many as Kathy would like. [music plays] It’s finally on the right track. But could a cool rebel like Patti Bosworth actually control Viva? And how long could the magazines good times roll? Like all great movie montages, this one’s about to come to a screeching halt. From Crooked Media and iHeartMedia. I’m Jennifer Romolini and this is Stiffed, episode four. Phallus in Wonderland. [music plays] Act one, Christmas Three Way. Now, Patricia Bosworth is no longer here to tell us this story herself. But according to an article she wrote about the experience for Vanity Fair in 2005, when Bob Guccione first called her in 1974, she was 41, working as the managing editor of Harper’s Bazaar. In that initial phone call, Bob tells Patti that Viva is, quote, “the world’s most sophisticated erotic magazine for women.” And he’s looking for a really classy editor like her to run it. Now, Patti is classy, but she was a lot more than that. Truth be told, we could make an entire podcast about the life of Patricia Bosworth Crum. Before Bob’s phone call, before her time at Viva, Patti had already lived a big, enviably glamorous life. She’d been a successful model who’d posed for photographers like Diane Arbus. And she was also an actress trained by Lee Strasberg at the famous Actors Studio and even featured in the Oscar nominated film A Nun Story alongside Audrey Hepburn. Here’s Patti and Audrey in a scene from the film. 


[clip from A Nun Story]: You’re blushing. / It happened to me, too, in my ward. We shouldn’t blush. I’m sure we shouldn’t. / How can we help? / It must mean some real awareness of self. 


Jennifer Romolini: In New York in the sixties. Patti is deep in the scene. She shares cabs with Marilyn Monroe. She rides on the back of actor Steve McQueen’s motorcycle through Central Park. Like I said, she had a cool life. But by the time Bob Guccione calls in 1974, Patti’s left her actress model days behind. She’s now a well-known journalist and editor, and she’s well respected, too. She’s a big name for Viva, its first. All of which is a big deal, especially to Bob and Kathy as Viva sex advice columnist Dr. Judy explains. 


Dr. Judy Kuriansky: Bob and Kathy wanted to have their magazines have some creds to them, have some substance to it. 


Jennifer Romolini: So Bob woos Patti big time. He tells her that while his partner, Kathy’s listed at the top of the masthead and technically Viva’s editor in chief, she’s pretty much out of the day to day editorial. Here’s editor Robin Wolaner.


Robin Wolaner: Well she wasn’t really a boss because her day job was really selling ads. So Kathy didn’t review. I don’t know what kind of review Kathy did. She was the publisher of the magazine, not the editor. 


Jennifer Romolini: So while Kathy is out scaring up ads, Patti comes in as the actual head of editorial. She assigns articles, brings in new writers. She makes Viva her own. Her task is, as Bob tells her, to make Viva revolutionary. She has a budget, a full staff control. Here’s editor Bette-Jane talking about her new boss. 


Bette-Jane Raphael: I love Patti. She was so smart and so kind, and she had an open mind. You know, you would propose something perhaps that was slightly off the beaten track or whatever, and she’d want to hear. 


Jennifer Romolini: Patti’s the staff’s first true creative ally. She’s curious and imaginative, and she brings her reporter’s chops to Viva, begins to do something that’s never been done before. She asks a lot of questions and considers what female readers might actually want out of an erotic magazine. She has a cohesive, big picture vision. The magazine is now stacked with great editors and award winning writing, not to mention plenty of cocks. That’s right. As we discussed in the last episode, at Kathy’s urging, Viva’s more sexually explicit than ever. But with the arrival of editor Patti, it’s smarter than ever, too. It’s a winning combination, and readers they start to take note. 


Viva Readers: I’ve never written to a magazine before, but I wanted you to know my boyfriend and I keep Viva by our bedside. It’s like having a threesome. There’s something for everybody. / My husband and I were discussing Viva’s sexual fantasies column in bed but ours became more than a fantasy. I asked him to fuck my underarm, and it worked. / Finally, a publication which does not downgrade my intellect, degrade my humanity, nor debase my feminine sensitivity. / Just read a letter in Viva’s October issue and felt I must reply. The letter concerns a model’s quote, “big, ugly, disgusting penis.” I would like to change those adjectives to quote “large, beautiful and exciting” because that’s what I experience when I’m looking at a large cock in Viva. 


Jennifer Romolini: So the readers are satisfied. And after a rocky start, even the editors are finally having some fun. Molly Haskell, Viva’s film critic, remembers it like this.


Molly Haskell: Viva was, I think, sort of making feminism sexy. That would be the way I would describe it. Just it was fun. It wasn’t just these dour, old, you know, women suffragettes. That sort of image of what used to be the early feminist, maybe. 


Jennifer Romolini: What she’s describing here is the loose, confident, sexy and, yes, fun feeling of this new Viva. Patti helps guide Viva’s erotic photoshoots, and the women are often now literally on top, straddling hairy chested dudes dressed in nothing but fur. There are men eating women’s asses. There’s cunnilingus everywhere you look. On the cover of Patti’s December Viva. There’s even group sex. Two men with a woman in the middle, all naked in bed, wrapped up in a set of silky red sheets like a bow. It’s a Christmas three way right there on the cover. A work of art. Here’s Leslie Jay, Bob’s head of PR. 


Leslie Jay Gould: The covers were gorgeous inside it was gorgeous. It was so well-produced. And I thought, this is a work of art. I just loved looking at it. 


Jennifer Romolini: And it’s not just the sex in Viva that’s better. The vibe in the office is too. The editors are stretching themselves creatively. And like editor Robin remembers the writing a ton. 


Robin Wolaner: There was one issue where I had three articles that I wrote, and we thought that would look really rinky dink. So I wrote, one is under my own name. I wrote one is Peggy Renalow. Peggy’s my middle name and Renalow is Wolaner backwards. And I can’t remember what I did on the third, but it just might have not had a byline. But that was a personal best. [laughs]


Jennifer Romolini: And the editors are even finding their way into the whole hot guys thing, enjoying the perks of their job. 


Robin Wolaner: We would have, like, you know, a profile of Chevy Chase because we thought he was hot. It wasn’t based on research of what what women wanted. It was what we want. Yeah. What what did we think would be cool or interesting? Who did we think was hot? We were the target demographic, and we wanted a magazine for us and our friends. 


Jennifer Romolini: Here’s Bette-Jane again. 


Bette-Jane Raphael: We had each other’s backs, and we were colleagues, you know, because it would take maybe more than one person to get a piece off the ground. Sometimes we would be collaborating. 


Jennifer Romolini: And in the seventies, this kind of collaboration between women is novel, something most of them had never experienced before. 


Bette-Jane Raphael: I remember, you know, part of the fifties was or before them, any way you didn’t want to work for women because they were going to be competitive and sappy and bitchy and give you a hard time. So that was another thing that I found liberating, finding women who maybe had a little more power than you but were not trying to fuck with you. 


Jennifer Romolini: The Viva editors are becoming tight like the best kinds of coworkers, they’re friends. 


Bette-Jane Raphael: We would see each other outside of the office as well as in the office. You know, we all go for drinks. Or if somebody was had an occasion, maybe we go to whoever’s apartment. I don’t remember ever having a grim nose to the grindstone kind of work atmosphere. 


Jennifer Romolini: And at least part of this positive culture comes from Patti, who, as a writer herself, knows how important it is to give the staff agency. Her leadership style is collaborative, which makes them feel more in control. 


[clip of Patricia Bosworth]: The thing about acting, which is so frustrating, is it’s very passive. You cannot control your life. And I got tired of being rejected so much and also tired of not being able to control my life. And as soon as I became a writer, I had this control. I felt more active, more energized. 


Jennifer Romolini: So Patti makes the staff feel in control, and in turn, they’re happy. Like you are at a job where your ideas are valued and you’re treated well. They’re bonding outside of work for non-work events. They’re also attending a whole lot of work functions, mostly at their bosses house, which isn’t just any house at this time. Bob and Kathy live in one of the largest private residences in Manhattan, a 26 room, six story townhouse run by 22 servants with an art collection worth $150 million, including a gold piano once owned by Judy Garland. Here’s Viva sex columnist Dr. Judy again. 


Dr. Judy Kuriansky: A real fantasyland castle in his own image. When you walk in and you’re like in a museum, every place you look is fancy artwork and and sculptures and a pool. It was just breathtaking to be in that environment. 


Jennifer Romolini: And here’s editor Pat Lynden. 


Pat Lynden: There’s this great big sort of central living room area with all this art. I mean, you know, Fra Angelico and, you know, these major old painters, there was a Picasso Blue Period there. 


Jennifer Romolini: But not all of the editors were quite as impressed. Here’s Annie. 


Annie Gottlieb: It was Trumpy. I mean, it was it was kind of Trumpy, you know? It was a lot more kind of Austin Powers style. You know, Trump is like the five and dime Versailles, you know. But I think Bob Guccione had his own kind of kitsch. He could turn a great painting into an accessory of kitsch. 


Jennifer Romolini: But at this time, the Viva editors like their jobs enough that they don’t really care about how often they have to go to Bob and Kathy’s intense house since Patti’s come on board the two have mostly left the staff alone, and with Patti, their works become more meaningful. She greenlights stories they love. They’re interviewing feminist politicians like Bella Abzug, reporting on cutting edge contraception, like the IUD, publishing stories on why sex workers deserve a union. Molly Haskell is writing about the choice to not have children. Book reviewer Annie Gottlieb’s promoted, is now writing essays on living without a man on her own. Things are getting better and better. The magazines smarter and smarter and the Viva team, they’re about to publish their most important editorial package yet. Bette-Jane remembers how it came to be. 


Bette-Jane Raphael: We wanted a spread on rape, on date rape. You know what women were facing out there and and how it wasn’t reported and how most women suffer in silence. 


Jennifer Romolini: And this spread will turn out to be a groundbreaking, special report on sexual assault, one of the first of its kind, one that gets Viva and its editors a lot of attention, though it’s not exactly the attention they were hoping for. Act two, Rubber Meets the Road. [music plays] In order to understand the story I’m about to tell you, you need to understand a few fundamentals about how magazines are made. So because of printing schedules and shipping schedules, magazines work on a long lead time. They’re usually made months before they come out. For example, in the 2000s, when I was working on them, I’d be editing a holiday gift guide in the dead ass heat of August. But in the seventies, before the Internet, before email, before computers, even everything in a magazine was done by hand. This took a super long time. And a magazine like Viva, with its complicated layouts and expensive photoshoots. It took even longer. 


Robin Wolaner: Because of the way it was bound, because of the really high end printing and photography. We’ve been working in June on the on the Christmas cover. 


Jennifer Romolini: Viva’s production schedules around six months before its publication date. And this is important because while the special report on rape is published in November 1974, the editors had been working on it for months before. Viva’s special report on rape covers a ton, including a self-defense handbook, a guide to rape centers all over the country, which is important in a pre Google time. And a sexual assault survey created by famous second wave feminists Andra Medea and Kathleen Thompson authors of the famously influential book Against Rape. The survey is among the first of its kind, and this being Viva, an erotic magazine for women. There’s even a thoughtful, sensitive, non shaming examination of rape as a sexual fantasy and what that might mean. Here’s Dr. Judy. 


Dr. Judy Kuriansky: Women really liked the idea of being, you know, totally overpowered, thrown on the bed, tossed around, you know, slapped down to their face, you know, into the into the bed sheets or up against the wall and madly widely taken. And as sex therapist, we were constantly saying, why do they like that? 


Jennifer Romolini: With Viva’s rape issue, the editors led by Patti are defining what Viva could be a bridge between feminism, activism, sexuality and groundbreaking journalism, and also with this rape issue. Patti’s following her marching orders. She’s following what Bob told her in her interview when he told her Viva could be revolutionary and she could be the one to make it revolutionary. Together, the editors have tackled a relevant, important issue for women from a number of smart, original, even groundbreaking angles. These are the kinds of stories they always wanted to do. The team is proud of their work, but after the rape issue comes out, Bob unexpectedly calls a meeting. And like all of Bob’s business dealings at this point, he conducts it out of his house. Here’s editor Pat Lynden again. 


Pat Lynden: And so you’d go knock on the door and the guy would be there to sort of make sure you were okay. And the dogs would then come running at you. This herd of big dogs. 


Jennifer Romolini: Bob and Kathy’s dogs. All 13 of them were Rhodesian Ridgebacks. Each of them weighed about 85 pounds. 


Pat Lynden: And the floor was marble. And, you know, you’d hear them scraping along and they’d come plowing at you. They were just friendly. [laughs] But it’s kind of scary to have this. 13 Rhodesian Ridgebacks. 


Jennifer Romolini: So the editors arrive at Bob’s house. They navigate past the giant dogs and into a dining room turned meeting room to meet their boss, the king, on his throne. All these months, while the magazine was in production, they hadn’t heard a peep from Bob about the rape issue. And maybe that’s because he’s mostly not reading the magazine. Mostly only cares about Viva’s pictures. But now that the issue is out in the world, the headline rape has very much caught his eye. Here’s editor Bette-Jane. 


Bette-Jane Raphael: And we all sit down at this dining room table, this long table. And he started yelling at us because he said, this is an entertainment magazine and you don’t put rape on the cover or in the magazine at all. That’s not what the magazine is supposed to be. And everybody was totally silent, shame feeling looking down at the table. 


Jennifer Romolini: Bob thinks Viva should be lighthearted and fun. A slinky sex positive romp, not a magazine that tackles serious issues about predatory men and sexual violence. 


Bette-Jane Raphael: He was very angry that we had printed this article, and actually we had gotten a lot of response to it because we had invited women to share their experiences and we got a lot of feedback. 


Jennifer Romolini: She’s talking about the survey by the Against Rape authors, which asked women to share their sexual assault stories, stories which start pouring in by the hundreds almost right after the magazine arrives in subscribers mailboxes. A few weeks before this meeting. Viva will turn out to be one of the first magazines in the world to publish rape survivor stories to allow them to share their experiences in their own words. Readers will send letters praising the rape issue for months. Letters like this one. Your report on rape offered a compassionate but forthright view. I must thank Viva for the exceptional editorial coverage. See, this is the Viva magazine many of its readers actually want. But still, Bob doesn’t like it. I’m back in the meeting in his house. Bette-Jane, for one, is not at all into Bob’s reaction. 


Bette-Jane Raphael: Now I don’t know what possessed me because I. I don’t think of myself as a speaker up-er. [laughs] But I couldn’t let the silence go by. And I said, well, you know, Mr. Guccione, you know, yes, it is entertainment, but it’s it’s involvement, too. I mean, this was a this was an important issue when we got a lot of reader mail on it. Silence. Nobody backed me up. Nobody opened their eyes. And two days later, Patti called me into her office. She had tears in her eyes and she said, I have to fire you. So that was where the rubber met the road. 


Jennifer Romolini: In her 2005 Vanity Fair article, Patti remembered it like this. I had accepted the job and was telling them maybe I could help Viva fulfill a need and inform and inspire women. Whom was I kidding? Viva would never be anything but hopeless. [music plays] And maybe the saddest part of all this, Bob, had not only fooled Patti, but in the process he’d given her and all of the Viva editors real hope about what Viva could be. Because of the magazine’s long lead production time. The editors had six months to hope, six months to fulfill the promise of the magazine without Bob hovering over and watching their every move. And in those months, they’d seen what they could do. Like so many women for forever, they’d felt hopeful because they’d seen what was possible when men like Bob Guccione got out of their way. But the thing is, even though Bob hired women like Kathy and Patti to run the magazine and editors like Bette-Jane and Annie to edit and write in it, he once again never actually stepped aside and let them do their jobs. Here’s Leslie Jay, Bob’s head of PR again. 


Leslie Jay Gould: And it would always be Bob says he doesn’t want to do that. Bob says it was really Bob’s magazine. Viva was Bob’s magazine. 


Jennifer Romolini: But now the tides inside Viva are about to turn again because by the mid-seventies, the tides outside Viva are about to turn for Bob Guccione in a big public way. 


[news clip]: Still to come on the news hour, the never-ending battle over pornography with in-house publisher Bob Guccione and others. 


Jennifer Romolini: Stiffed is an original podcast from iHeartMedia and Crooked Media. It’s produced by Crooked Media. It’s hosted and written by me, Jennifer Romolini and produced by Megan Donis. Sydney Rapp is our associate producer. Story editing by Mary Knopf. Music, sound design and engineering by Hannis Brown. Our fact checker is Julia Paskin. Additional production support from Nafula Kato and Ines Maza. From Crooked Media our executive producers are Sarah Geismer, Katie Long, and Mary Knopf. With special thanks to Alison Falzetta and Lyra Smith. From iHeartMedia our executive producers are Beth Anne Macaluso and Julia Weaver.