It may seem a bit strange to talk about a favorite issue of an adult magazine, especially one that people didn’t even claim to only have to “read the articles.” But most especially, it is strange because I do not have this issue of Penthouse nor do I plan on trying to get my hands on it. It is the September 1984 issue, and it included nude and provocative pictures of the 1983 Miss America: Vanessa Williams.
As of writing, it is mostly available on Archive.org. Not all of it is, however, and I’ll explain just why…which is in large part why it is my favorite issue.
Photo by Thomas Chiapel
In 1983, Vanessa Williams became the first black Miss America, but shortly afterwards, she had the honor stripped from her when rumors that nude pictures of her had been circulated among men’s magazine publishers to see which would pay the most. The lucky winner happened to be Bob Guccione of Penthouse. Because of the high profile (and cost) of the photos and their subject, it was decided to put them into the 15th anniversary issue. The Pethouse Pet of the month was a new up-and-comer in the adult film world: Traci Lords.
Photo by J. Stephen Hicks
Unbeknownst to the adult film industry and Penthouse, Traci Lords began performing at fifteen. While it was relatively easy to recall videos purchased officially by video stores, though much, much harder to find customers who had purchased them prior to removal, Penthouse had a huge number of subscribers and purchasers across the world. It was in nearly every gas station and corner store magazine stand, often wrapped in butcher paper with only the title visible.
But even those stores, much like the adult video shops quickly removing it from their shelves, did not want to get raided for distributing child pornography. Adult video stores were popular raid sites, especially if they included arcades in the back where adults could watch movies in relative privacy, and even if they did engage in black market trades, having child pornography on their sales records was a weighty charge that police and judges wouldn’t mind heaving upon such fringe businesses.
What seemed like a life-shattering reveal ended up being a bump in the road for Williams, though. She had always been a tenacious personality, and she was not going to let a scandal stop her. She released an album four years after losing her title, and it caused a ripple in the R&B music scene. Her next album struck a chord on the pop charts with “Dreamin’.” She asserted all-out dominance in the 1990s with “Saved the Best for Last” in 1991, topping the Billboard chart for five weeks.
Not only did she dominate in music, but she began starring in movies (Soul Food, Eraser, Bad Hair, etc) and television shows (Ugly Betty, Desperate Housewives, 666 Park Avenue, etc).
Photo courtesy of the Mellian Group, Inc.
And while the craziness around the upset at Traci Lord’s age, she ended up clawing her way out of the controversy and became a kick-ass mainstream actress. She has starred in a number of great films: Cry-Baby (John Waters, 1990), Blade (1998), Excision (2013) and many others.
And all that is why it is my favorite issue. The story of the issue is more interesting than any of the photos in it. Plus, it cannot legally be sold in the US with Traci Lord’s pictures intact. It falls into the category of contraband and are subject to seizure by officials and perhaps legal troubles.