Parting Shot

Almost 25 years ago, graphics man Alan Berrent took Hustler "into the pink." Before he dies, he wants to make amends.

So consumed was he with the art of porn that he never participated in the sex around him. He watched Linda Lovelace crawl beneath Flynt's desk to audition for a pictorial. He was aware that many of the dancers at the club were available for love. But in his devotion to porn, Berrent was monastic. He said he kept his eyes on the pictures.

Women's groups began protesting, and the more attention they drew to Hustler, the more it sold. "I ended up looking at 2,000 pussies a week," Berrent said, with his toothless smile. When he told Flynt he needed help, Flynt offered his wife, Althea, and Berrent taught Althea everything he knew.

He received for his labor $300 a week, but there was an agreement, he said, that if Hustler ever took a profit, Berrent would get 10 percent of it. The magazine was enormously in debt when the deal was made, however, and not wishing to be held responsible for that debt, Berrent always worked as a consultant. His name was never listed in the masthead, and he never got his deal in writing.

In his book, Flynt claims Hustler was profitable within nine months. Berrent didn't know about the profit until everyone did, after Jackie Onassis became a Hustler model. In a small boat offshore a Greek island, an Italian photographer had floated for days, peering through a long lens. When Jackie O. pranced naked into the sun, the photographer must have believed this was the biggest catch of all. But fearing an invasion-of-privacy lawsuit, Playboy and Penthouse refused to buy. Four years passed, during which the Supreme Court ruled that it was no invasion of privacy for a public figure to be photographed in the public domain. Word of the photos circulated through the porn business. In 1975, Flynt consulted his lawyers and contacted the photographer. The original price of $100,000 had been dropped to $30,000, and Flynt haggled it down to $18,000.

Vendors who had been queasy about displaying Hustler clamored for the Jackie O. edition. All of them were required to sign a one-year contract. "Batabing bataboom!" said Berrent -- from about 6,000 stands, Hustler suddenly appeared on 19,000. In August 1975, Hustler published a story on Jackie O.'s marriage that never mentioned the nude photos it surrounded, and that could arguably be said to have redeeming social value. The magazine was devoured. Jackie O. sold five million copies of Hustler. Even the governor of Ohio was caught buying one.

Three months later, just before he went to the distributor to collect his first million-dollar check, Larry Flynt told Alan Berrent his services would no longer be required. They began fighting, says Berrent, each pornographer struggling to get to his desk to get his gun to end the life of the other. Then Berrent realized his gun was in his car, and he fled without revenge, or anything at all.

"I don't like my veracity questioned," said the honorable pornographer. But when pressed, Berrent offered the names of people who could vouch for his tale. The first was Larry Karaszewski, who said everything he knew about Alan Berrent he had learned from Alan Berrent.

Karaszewski was writing the screenplay for The People vs. Larry Flynt when Berrent called, hoping to influence him to show the damage Hustler has done. Karaszewski listened. He found no place in the movie for Berrent's story, but he thought it was probably true. None of it conflicted with Karaszewski's research, and anyway, "Why would he lie?" said Karaszewski, "Why would anyone lie about being a pornographer?"

Berrent's second reference was the vice president of Great Eastern Publishing in New Jersey, whose company printed the early Hustlers. He confirmed that Berrent was the fellow who brought the proofs and okayed the color. "Alan's got regrets?" he said. "Who cares! We don't have regrets. We're still in business." He didn't want his name published. No one does in the industry, he said, except Larry Flynt.

Hustler, by now, is the most reviled of all mass-circulation porn magazines. As he says himself in his book, Flynt is largely considered "a seedy, dirty old man." He has consumed vast quantities of women, alcohol and drugs. He's been imprisoned and shot. He roams a ten-story building in Beverly Hills that bears his name, wearing custom-tailored clothes and sitting in a gold-plated wheelchair.

In making his movie, Karaszewski asked Flynt about Alan Berrent. The response was only silence, and it was the same in this case. Notorious for his love of publicity, Flynt failed to return repeated calls to his office, and after his aide requested a faxed list of questions, he didn't reply to those, either.

His book doesn't mention Berrent at all, but it places the same events in the same places at roughly the same times, though in considerably less detail than Alan Berrent's version. Berrent said he always thought, "It was me and Larry against the world," but it was Larry and Althea. She took over for Berrent after he left. She's dead now, but Flynt credits her with his survival.

"When you love someone, and are loved in return," wrote the porn king, "even the worst times and circumstances cannot destroy you."

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