You were a mainstream journalist before starting Screw, right?
I was an army press photographer. I went to Pakistan with Jackie Kennedy as a press photographer. I was in Russia in 1959 photographing some governors. After that I was a photographer for International News Photos. I got arrested in 1960, eight years before Screw, for photographing Raul Castro in Cuba. When International News Photos went out of business, I tried different things and then in 1968 I realized, I am 32 years old. I am obsessed with sex. I always want to get laid, and I am not very good with women. I never picked up a woman in my life, but am I a freak? Am I different than other men? If I am like other men, why is there no newspaper for me? There was Reader's Digest with its cloak of "love and oral sex is a perversion." There was Playboy with airbrushed pubic hair. Penthouse wasn't out yet. Hustler wasn't out yet. I thought there must be other people like me. Am I a freak? I started Screw with $150 in 1968, and my partner Jim Buckley put in $150. I bought him out a few years later for over $1 million. When I started Screw, there was no pornography industry. There were nudie films. If people your age wanted to see tits and ass, they'd go to a nudie film with people playing volleyball or a foreign film.
Who are your heroes?
I interviewed Henry Miller. I was influenced by him, and I guess you'd say he was my hero. I met him in Big Sur, and he said, "You know I don't like Screw very much. It's just a big joke." God, was I crushed. It was the worst interview I ever did, because he was my idol, and he dismissed me. He was the only hero I had. I don't have heroes. I would have liked to have met Sartre. I read Being and Nothingness.
It sounds like you had literary aspirations.
I wanted to be a writer. I entered a writing contest, and I won second prize at Pace University [New York, later graduating with a degree in English].... I think where I am different than most people in my business is that I am multidimensional. Remember, I didn't start until I was 32. I had already sold life insurance; I was a press photographer. I'm not like these other schmucks. Larry Flynt is a redneck. I'm a Jew. I believe in analysis.
Are you jealous that other pornographers have made more money than you?
I feel envy, sure. I tell my shrink about that all the time. I feel envy that Larry Flynt had a movie [The People vs. Larry Flynt] and I didn't. The shrink would look at my face and say, "Yeah, but you got the whole package. Flynt has two bullets in his body." So I have to work very hard at saying I have had a good life. I have had four homes. I have traveled. Plus I have no secrets. Nobody can blackmail me. But I am hated.
Tell me about your obscenity arrests and legal battles.
Playboy interviewed me in March 1973, and I talked about "Fuck this and fuck them," and that made me national. And then six months later, I was indicted, a 12-count federal indictment. I had said J. Edgar Hoover was a fag. It's easy now, but I said he was a fag when he was running the FBI.... Anyway, the federal government went venue shopping. They knew in New York they couldn't convict me, so where do they pick for the trial? Wichita, Kansas, based on three subscribers, two of whom were postal inspectors. So they drag me to Wichita, that means I got to live there for months, I got to pay to get my witnesses there. The first trial lasted about a month, four or five weeks. I was found guilty. The judge was going to give me a 12- to 16-year sentence. My son was four years old. I was married. But there was government misconduct.... On the day of sentencing, the judge, who hated my guts but was at least a good judge, threw out the conviction, and I got a retrial. It moved from Wichita to Kansas City, Missouri, which is a little more civilized. This whole thing ran three years, cost me millions, and in the second trial, I was acquitted. The thing that saved me is that Nixon and his attorney general [John Mitchell] were forced from office. There was a new justice department, it wasn't their fight, they didn't care.... I haven't been arrested since I won in Kansas. After I beat the federal indictment, the locals wouldn't go after me.