Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Adventures of Larry Flynt

Preacher Versus Smut Peddler

The Reverend Jerry Falwell
The Reverend Jerry Falwell

While Flynt was serving his prison term after his run-in with Judge Real, Hustler ran a satirical piece in its November 1983 issue that parodied a widely publicized ad campaign. Campari, the liqueur maker, ran a series of ads in major magazines that asked various celebrities to describe their "first time" with Campari. The titillating sexual double entendre was obvious and ripe for satire. Hustler put together a humorous version of the Campari "first time" ad, featuring the Reverend Jerry Falwell, leader of the Moral Majority. Flynt considered Falwell "one of America's biggest hypocrites," and the Hustler ad had the holy man describing his "first time" — in an outhouse with his mother "drunk off our God-fearing asses on Campari, ginger ale, and soda" and "Mom looked better than a Baptist whore with a $100 donation." In small print at the bottom of the page was the message: "Ad parody — Not to be taken seriously."

Judge James Turk
Judge James Turk

But the Reverend Falwell did take it seriously. He was so offended he filed a $45 million lawsuit against Flynt and his magazine. Ironically, the preacher hired Norman Roy Grutman, a New York attorney who regularly represented Bob Guccione and Penthouse. Grutman filed a complaint in Falwell's backyard, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia. In the complaint, Falwell claimed that the parody ad had used his name and likeness without his permission, that its content had libeled him, and that it had by intent inflicted emotional distress upon him. Judge James Turk was slated to hear the case in Roanoke.

Grutman deposed Flynt while he was still serving his sentence, and by Flynt's own admission, he was "sick, drugged, angry, and overcome with pain." His turmoil was reflected in his hostile, non-responsive answers. Knowing that this could be damaging to their case, Flynt's lawyer, Alan Isaacson, filed a motion to throw out the deposition on the grounds that Flynt was in a manic-depressive rage that day as well as under the influence of strong medication.

Isaacson filed a second motion at the same time, claiming that Falwell's attorney had paid one of Flynt's former bodyguards $10,000 to swear that he had witnessed the Hustler publisher declaring that he intended to "get Falwell." Judge Turk rejected both motions.

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