WARNING: MATERIAL IS OF AN ADULT NATURE. THIS LITERATURE IS NOT INTENDED FOR MINORS...
By Holly Millea
“Being married to a biker who looks for any excuse to stage a ganbang with his buddies has its advantages, especially for a slut like me. I may not be the petite, bottle-blond, eighteen-year-old nympho Jerry wed on the back o± his hog all those years ago, but I can still knock 'em dead with my hourglass figure and bodacious ta-tas...”
Offended? Turned on? Repulsed?
At what point would you stop reading the rest of the above, taken from Hustler magazine's Hot Letters column? When you hit the phrase "soupy mess in my panties"? Perhaps after pondering such unique medical terms as reluctant rectum ... meat hammer ... piping-hot hair pie. Maybe you'd finish the letter right down to the last sentence: "The leftovers go on forever." Riveting stuff. Really. Much more riveting than the sentence: This is a story about a movie based on a man who fought for his First Amendment rights.
More specifically, this is a story about a movie based on a pornographer who married a go-go dancer; spent years on trial fighting obscenity, libel, and contempt charges; was shot and paralyzed from the waist down; and won a Supreme Court case resulting in a landmark ruling upholding the right to publish "outrageous" opinions about public figures. Of course, there are those who find reading "The burly mechanic known as Boozer was the first to join in...” more interesting, but Oliver Stone thought Larry Flynt's life would make a great movie.
The Hustler: "Woody Harrelson resembles me when I was 30 pounds lighter and 20 years younger,” says Flynt. "He's the same age I was when it was all going on."
IF YOU'VE EVER driven north on La Cienega, you know where he does his dirty business. The oval-shaped, ten story, black glass building, marked FLYNT PUBLICATIONS against the sky in white letters, can't go unnoticed. That suits the poor boy from eastern Kentucky's Magoffin County just fine. He sits at the top, with a bird's-eye view of the HOLLYWOOD sign, in grand style. The rich, royal
colors of the carpeting and silk fabrics echo the blue, green, red, and yellow oils of the Renoirs, Monets, and Manets hanging on the walls, a collection of exquisitely rendered reproductions. But, like the Tiffany lamps lighting the rooms, the real deal hangs here and there.
Vast enough to hold six 18th-century English settees, the corner office still feels slightly empty. Lalique bowls rest on highly polished tables next to sterling-framed photos of Flynt with his fiancée, Liz Berrios, a petite Hispanic beauty with short hair and a wide perfect smile. (His former nurse, Berrios now heads up Hustler's talent department, casting the women who appear in the magazine.) A large original Remington bronze of a stagecoach pulled by wild horses sits beside a smaller bronze figure -a man erect and ready to have sex with a woman from behind.
The owner of all you survey sits across an incredibly wide desk littered with various issues from his twenty-publication empire: Hustler, Chic, Barely Legal... Maternity Fashion & Beauty. Sunlight streams through the floor-to-ceiling windows, firing up the many baguette diamonds paving his $500,000 Piaget watch. It is one of only two ever made. Flynt presses a button on his speakerphone and asks his bodyguard to bring him a fresh cup of coffee. He is courtly in manner, and surprisingly, better looking in person than in photographs, with curly, sandy hair slowly inching back toward his crown, a bashful smile, and pale moss green eyes that are at once intense and soft and kind. Like John Malkovich or James Woods, he is sexy in a way that is beyond reason. At 54, Flynt is still a bad boy.
The fourteen-karat-gold-plate wheelchair is a gift from his fourth wife, Althea. It has done little to slow Flynt down since he was shot by an alleged white supremacist outside a Georgia courthouse in 1978. "The only thing that doesn't work is my legs," says Flynt. "I'm fortunate enough that I have control of my bodily functions." Berrios knocks on the door. Flynt introduces her, joking, "She's my main squeeze .... But she still lets me have my fun.
"When I first got injured and I had all the pain, I thought, There's nothing left -no sex," he continues. "When the pain was finally eliminated, I still had the sensation but I couldn't get an erection. So I had a penile implant that works fabulously! I can't have sex in the traditional sense, because of my mobility." He smiles wistfully and looks off. "I miss being able to do it doggie style."
Pep Talk: "I was depressed one night," says Courtney Love. "I said, 'I'm shooting my scenes and going home.' And Milos came in with pictures of Larry and Althea and said, 'You cannot let these people down!'"
SEX, POLITICS, gunfire, a guy in a wheelchair. Oliver Stone must be somewhere close by. The director was attracted to The People Vs. Larry Flynt nearly two years ago, but being knee-deep in preproduction on Nixon, he opted to produce the project, with Janet Yang and Michael Hausman. "Oliver also felt that a director that was slightly more comedic should direct it," recalls Lisa Henson, who was then president of production at Columbia Pictures. "This material needed a deft and sophisticated comic mind."
Writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who scripted Ed Wood, pushed for Czech émigré director Milos Forman. Like Stone, Forman, whose credits include One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Amadeus, and Valmont, turns actors into Oscar contenders. But the director hadn't made a film in seven years. "He had many choices but didn't bite until this script," says Hausman, a producer of four Forman films. "Coming from Czechoslovakia, the freedom-of-speech issue was the big hook to get him."
Forman in turn was the bait that hooked Woody Harrelson. "Initially when I heard of the project I thought, Larry Flynt?" Harrelson says. "I thought he was kind of a slimeball," admits the actor, his natural cadence eerily Flynt-like. "But I was flattered, almost to the point of being aghast, that Milos wanted me. There aren't that many poor white trash guys working with a sense of humor, maybe. I don't know. Poor white trash, that's me, all the way. You can't take that out of somebody, can you?"
Aside from Jack Nicholson in Cuckoo's Nest, Harrelson is the biggest star Forman has ever cast in a film. When he first worked with them, Danny DeVito, Louise Fletcher, Tom Hulce, F. Murray Abraham, and Annette Bening were little-knowns whose talents flared under his direction. The Forman magic lies in casting close to the bone: Brett Harrelson is Harrelson's brother both on- and offscreen; Douglas Bauer is Flynt's bodyguard both on- and offscreen; Blame Nashold is Flynt's doctor both on- and offscreen. In an ironic casting twist, even Flynt gets into the act, as the Ohio judge who sentenced him to 25 years in prison on an obscenity conviction (later reversed). "I had so much fun I'm going into the business," Flynt says. "I'm now available to play judges and cripples."
Although Courtney Love is both famous and infamous for being the lead singer of the grunge band Hole and the widow of Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, Forman had never heard of her. But when Love walked in to audition for the role of Flynt's wife, Althea, Forman's reaction was physical and immediate: "I smelled, This is the character."
Althea was just seven when she watched her father shoot her mother and grandparents before turning the gun on himself. Raised in an orphanage, she met Flynt when she was seventeen, while dancing in one of his Hustler clubs. Althea had beauty, brains, and balls. And she loved Larry. And in the end, Love conquered all because "Milos felt Courtney was the only one who you believed could really love Larry for himself," Yang says, "and not for his money or his fame."
"Milos said 'You are Althea! Nobody is Althea but you!' " Love says, doing a broad, affectionate impersonation. "I just thought he was full of hogwash."
There was something else that made Love either very right -or very wrong- for the role. She could offer a convincing depiction of Althea's drug abuse, having publicly waged her own battles in that area. Informed of Love's drug history, a nonetheless excited Forman recalls taking her aside after her first screen test and telling her: " 'Listen, you are my first choice. I will fight for you if you can give me your word that you will not betray me. And it's not that I will stop loving you -I will love you even if you betray me, but I wouldn't cast you if you can't promise me that.' And she promised."
Flynt was apprehensive about Love getting the role. Though he had no control over the project -"I just script consulted to ensure accuracy and chronological order,"- he wanted Ashley Judd to play Althea. "But Althea had a drug problem for many years, and when Courtney got into that, boy, she was absolute perfection," he says, chuckling. "I guess experience counts there." He readily admits that Love is not one of his favorite people. "The first time I ever met Courtney, she came here for a script reading. And she was almost three hours late." Flynt is in his office, sucking on a Cuban cigar. "Woody was here." Puff. Puff. "Woody was mad. She came in and Woody said, 'Courtney, when we start shooting, I'll give you a half hour. Anybody deserves a half hour. But don't ever do this to me on the set.' And she looked at him and said, 'Who the fuck are you?' So, sure enough, Woody jumped up and grabbed her in the air and threw her down on the floor like a professional wrestler. And she started fighting him and he got on top of her and put his knees on her arms and she couldn't move. And he said, 'Bitch, you're not getting up until you apologize."' Puff. "And Courtney apologized."
Love Lost: "I will always hold myself responsible for Althea's death," says Flynt, shown with her in the hospital after being shot in 1978. "She got on drugs because I was doing them for the pain."
TEARING AROUND the courtroom set in Memphis, dark ponytail flying, she looks for excitement. Hide-and-seek behind the faux-marble columns. Playing with Harrelson's wheelchair. Sucking on lollipops. Her clear blue eyes match the flowers on her pink baby-doll dress, which falls short of a scraped knee. The lace trim around her anklets is stiff and wide, like awnings stretched over the black patent-leather Mary Janes below. "You better be good," Harrelson teases, arching an eyebrow. Silenced, she stares at him, before retreating with a war cry.
"Frances Bean!" the little girl's mother, Courtney Love, calls from where she watches in Forman's director's chair. "You have to be nice to Woody because he's my movie pretend-husband." Turning, Love whispers, "She doesn't like Woody because she's seen us kissing and she flips out about that." Four-year-old Frances wasn't even two when her father killed himself with a shotgun blast to the head. Their resemblance is sad and beautiful.
In the front of the courtroom, which is actually an abandoned train station, Edward Norton paces before nine empty Supreme Court chairs, working on the scene. The actor, whose first film role was opposite Richard Gere in Primal Fear, plays Alan Isaacman, the lawyer who argued Flynt's case before the Supreme Court. "It is a matter of taste, and not law," he is saying to a judge who isn't there. Norton rests his case and retires to a courtroom seat.
Lanky, with intelligent blue eyes and a face younger than his 27 years, the actor recalls his unconventional audition. "I scrapped the script totally and improvised my own lines," he says, smiling smartly. Overhearing, Yang joins in the tale: "Edward did something which blew all of us away. He tripped on his briefcase. He sort of recovered and stumbled and stuttered his way through this thing. It was so earnest and real and funny. Then I found out he planned it!" Norton nods. "The best extemporaneous performances are the ones that are meticulously rehearsed," he pronounces. Adding, "Mark Twain said that." (Well, actually, Twain said, "The best and most telling speech is not the actual impromptu one, but the counterfeit of it ... which has been carefully prepared." But close enough.)
Norton graduated from Yale, but his degree was not in drama. What it was in, he won't say, explaining, "Yale is a subject less interesting to me than almost anything we could talk about." When it suits him, he can be dizzyingly eloquent, putting to easy use such words as amalgamation, contentious, and behooves as often as most actors say the word um.
Given Forman's literal approach to casting, Norton is the clear choice for designated driver on this project. He is seemingly the most rational -and certainly the most self-possessed- member of a group whose average load of emotional baggage exceeds carry-on limits. Onscreen, the actor provides the audience with the one sane character it can trust. "He's someone from outside of Larry's world," says Norton, "who had to deal with Larry in all his craziness and with all the rewards too." Norton has spent time inside Flynt's world as well, when the publisher flew the cast and Forman to the Cayman Islands for two weeks before shooting to go over the script. "Larry is very erudite -he can converse on any manner of subject," says Norton. Could you maybe just describe Flynt using three adjectives? "That's very reductive," he says. Still, he accepts the challenge. "Let me see.... He is enormously intelligent, that's two adjectives ... surprisingly humble ... generous...”
Courtney Love is another topic Norton finds far more interesting than Yale. "I can't say enough good about her! I think she was really born to play this. When you meet people like Courtney who have been culturally iconic in a way that very few people are, you really see the distance between the press's manipulation of a person's image and the reality of that person. There's an enormous amount of loose hyperbole that doesn't take in the complexities of a person's life and personality. Meeting her was a real lesson in that." (The news of their romantic involvement would not be disclosed until several months after shooting.)
Later, when Forman calls it a day, Norton reappears. "Hey," he says, catching your attention. "Nice meeting you." He shakes your hand. He turns to leave and hesitates. "Say nice things about Courtney, okay?" There is a certain kindness in his voice. "She deserves it."
Love on the set.
THE ICON is in her trailer, unveiling one of her lesser known talents. "These are the dolls I make," Love says, gently laying three whitebaked clay figures on the table. "Augusta, Sabrina, and Eugenia." Thin limbed and no longer than a hand, they wear little macramé dresses. Each face painted with a different expression. Each head tufted with a different shade of waist-length human hair.
Love offers you a choice of two foreign brands of cigarettes before lighting one from Cairo. She too is snow white and thin limbed, with thick-lashed eyes and a brightly painted mouth. Her lipstick perfectly matches the bloodred satin jacket worn over narrow black pants. The bleached blond hair has been dyed a dark Althea auburn. Worlds away from the blowup doll growling her heart out on MTV, Love looks damned elegant. "Someone said, 'What's with your new look?' And I said, 'well, it seems like every time I get near a bottle of peroxide, I get in trouble!"' At Forman's suggestion, she even lost twenty pounds. "It was the weirdest diet in the world," Love says. "Meat, tomatoes, tuna fish, Crystal Light, Jell-O, egg whites and soy cheese...” And a stream of imported cigarettes. "I never realized how pudgy I'd been. Wow."
Having committed to the character, Love abandoned all ego. "This role is so Jennifer Jason Leigh," she says, referring to the Method-y actress, "in terms of taking the high road and just having no shame." For example: "I had zits and I went to Milos and I said, 'Look! I gave you a present!' And he played them up." She smiles broadly. "This part is not going to put me on the map as a sex symbol. That's for damn sure." But it will put her on the map. And once she's there, it will be hard not to compare her abilities to those of another bottle-blond singer turned actress. "Yeah, well..." She rolls her large blue eyes. ("Courtney has a fixation with Madonna," says Flynt. "I don't know if it's jealously or some kind of rivalry. But anytime Courtney has an opportunity to trash Madonna, she does it, big time.") Right now she looks like a beautiful junkyard dog, trying very hard not to bark. Good girl.
Love seemed destined to play a junkie. Her big-screen debut is just a moment in the tragic Sid and Nancy, but according to her she was nearly cast as the heroin-addicted lead.
("I would have been dead if I'd gotten that part," she says.) She has been approached to play both Janis Joplin and Marianne Faithfull. "Great career move, no typecasting there," Love says facetiously. "I had been offered so much. And the one thing I didn't get offered...," she wanted.
Stranger Than Fiction: "I couldn't stop reading the script," says director Milos Forman (above). "When I found out it was all true, it became even more fascinating."
Patricia Arquette, Mira Sorvino, Rachel Griffiths (Muriel's Wedding), and Georgina Cates (An Awfully Big Adventure) were all in serious contention for the role of Althea. "I had people's screen tests," says Love, "and I went to write Rachel because she was great. Like, 'I'm sorry I got this part because you were really good -you were better than me,' basically. And I called Drew [Barrymore] and I'm, like, 'Is this cool?' And Drew was, like, 'No! You can't do that.' I just thought she was a really good actress. But you had a hard time seeing her say the word fuck." All of which raises the question, If Forman believed Love was the perfect Althea, why did he spend so much time auditioning other actresses? To be reductive: insurance.
The insurance company was willing to cover the entire production with the exception of Love. "Because of her reputation, Courtney presented problems for us," producer Hausman explains. "With cast insurance, if an actor becomes sick, and we can't shoot something else, we get the money back for that shooting day." Without it, the movie is a no-go. (Bad Boys 2 was recently held up when actor Martin Lawrence proved difficult to insure.) Casting another actress would solve the problem. But Forman, Stone, and Yang had their hearts set on Love.
Recalls Yang, "People looked me in the eye and said, 'You won't be able to insure her.' I said, 'Don't tell me it's not possible until I dig and dig and talk to every person in the insurance business to know that's the case.'" Yang finally found a company willing to insure Love on a separate policy. The price of the premium was nearly three quarters of a million dollars. Nonreturnable. Columbia was not willing to foot the extra bill. So Yang, Stone, Forman, Hausman, Harrelson, and Love split the cost. In addition, says a close source, Love was forced to put up a "huge" amount of her own money as a letter of credit: "The tension was enormous. Months between banks and insurance companies. Medical exams. Columbia saying, 'It's too much trouble!' Courtney's people saying, 'We can't do this letter of credit, the terms are too harsh!' They did all these calculations: What's the worst that could happen? We'd be halfway through shooting and we had to recast, how much money do you lose over that?"
A woman sits at the edge of the set at all times, just to keep an eye on Love. So far, the actress has passed her weekly urine tests and shown up on time, camera ready. "If you ask any of the people involved in this project, 'Was Courtney the right decision?' everybody would unanimously say that she was," says Flynt. "But I think what pulled her through her first major film was the good fortune of having Milos Forman as a director and getting involved with Edward Norton during filming."
"I think Courtney wants to succeed," says Hausman, during a rare moment when he isn't roaming the set, ready to put out a fire, any fire that might occur when you're responsible for 150 people over 75 days. "I honestly don't know what image she had -except everyone told me that she was a nightmare. She hasn't been a nightmare for me. So far she's been perfect. And I have no reason to think that anything will happen in the next fourteen days."
COME ON, come on! Where's the vein? Time for a feeding. Sitting next to Harrelson on the circular bed, she tightens the strip of rubber around his arm, slap, slap, slapping the soft underside of flesh. A hungry blood line offers itself up to the drug-filled syringe. Pulsing, eager, ready. The needle enters. A press on the plunger and the fix is in and ... ahhhh, he arches his head back against the pillow on the bed. Such sweet relief. There is a God.
Now it's her turn to believe. "Althea got on drugs because I was doing them because of my injury," says Flynt. "When I got rid of the pain, I got off the drugs no problem. But her addiction was psychological." Syringe clamped between her teeth, Love summons a vein. Here I am. Take me! ... Whooooosh ... Love lays back on the bed and rolls into his arms, nestling her head on his chest.
"Beautiful," declares Forman, watching the live action on a monitor. Turning to the first assistant director, he says, "I like that she's embracing him." The cameraman approaches. "We're looking straight up her nostrils," he says under his breath. "Not pretty."
"This is not for Vogue," Forman replies, slightly irritated. Seeing the powwow, Love gets off the bed and walks over, clutching a teddy bear. Backlit, she appears ghostly thin through the sheer lavender nightgown. "What is it?" Love asks, looking concerned. "Can you see my crotch?" And then a look of horror: "My ass doesn't look fat, does it?"
"When we first started, Courtney knew fuck-all about making movies," whispers a production assistant. "The first week was, like, Uh oh. Then after that she got it all down. She knows lighting, camera angles, everything."
Love is also expert at translating Forman's direction. "Print means: I really like that," she says. "Very good means: We're going to do that a lot more times. And again means: That was horrible. Beautiful means nothing. You are Althea! means: I'm thinking of you and four other people."
The bedroom, including the adjoining full bath and sunken marble tub, is an exact replica of one in Flynt's Bel Air mansion, which he bought from Sonny Bono. Crystal chandeliers. Purple wallpaper. Matching crushed-velvet bedspreads. Wall tapestries. Oriental rugs. Nude statues. A crystal candy bowl full of syringes. Security monitors in the wall. A steel bank-vault door to keep the world locked out. And piles of Hustler magazines that entertain the cast and crew during setups. No one complains about waiting. "I've looked at hundreds of his magazines," confesses Harrelson. "And a lot of it isn't that repulsive." Equally unfazed, Norton says, "It essentially becomes a medical journal after four pages."
Lazing on the bed during the lighting change, Love sings softly: "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound/That saved a wretch like me/I once was lost but note I'm found / Was blind, but now I see...” People look up from their magazines. The room quiets to the lovely sound. Someone harmonizes. " 'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear...Unable to contain himself, Harrelson starts wolf howling. "Stop it, Woody!" orders Forman sharply. Incorrigible, the actor jumps up in the bed and yells evangelically, "Hallelujah! Amen, brother!" Love laughs the loudest, slapping his leg.
The two stars have come to coexist quite comfortably. Love recalls only one fight. "It was about Alanis Morissette," she says. "Woody didn't understand that Alanis Morissette is fake. And I put on P.J. Harvey and he said, 'What's that shit!' And I'm like, 'Woody, you've been on TV for nine years! You've got a problem!' And he goes: 'You fucking cunt!' It was twenty minutes of back-and-forth. You know that famous quote, 'Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy!' Woody said to me, 'You are no Demi Moore!'"
Harrelson looks perplexed when asked about the story. "What? 'What I said to her was 'You're no Alanis Morissette!' That pissed her off." He laughs. "I shouldn't have said it. But you know, we're like brother and sister, so we have argued. I'll tell you, we really have gotten to be pretty tight. She's just crazy as shit and fun to hang out with."
Ready to shoot the scene again, Love scoots to the edge of the bed and hollers for a fresh prop. "Fake needle, please!" Her arm flies out, palm up, fingers clawing the air.
STARING OUT the window at the HOLLYWOOD sign, Larry Flynt looks lost. Yesterday he spent two hours sitting in the dark watching his life flash before his eyes. "The movie is frighteningly real," he says. Flynt sits quietly for what seems like a long time, mentally fast-forwarding, rewinding. "There's only one nude scene," he says. "Courtney is nude in the bathtub." He adds, almost casually, "That's a pretty dramatic scene. I jump out of the wheelchair and fall on the floor and then pull her out of the bathtub onto the floor. But she was already dead." Of course, he's not really speaking of Courtney. He's remembering Althea.
Weakened by AIDS, Althea slipped under the water while taking a bath and drowned. "Water started running out from under the door." He's crying now. "You know, I didn't grieve a lot, because I know Althea wanted to die. I don't think she killed herself, she was just very small and thin. I think she just got in a tub of hot water and dozed off.
"When she first told me she had AIDS, I couldn't believe it. I couldn't understand how she got it. I knew if Althea was having sex anywhere, it was with another girl, not with a man. So I immediately assumed it was from a needle because she was friends with all the guys in Motley Crüe and Kiss and they hung out over at the Roxy and the Whisky a Go Go. And I know she would go down there and shoot up occasionally. So I just assumed she got it from the needle and I told her that. I'll never forget her reply. She said, 'I might be a junkie, but I'm a rich junkie and I don't use somebody else's needles.' But I still didn't believe it. Then I got to thinking. In 1983 she had a hysterectomy and she was given a blood transfusion. That was '83, and she found out in '85. And, see, since she would never concede that she might have died from a needle, and she hadn't been with a man, I accepted that it had to have happened with a blood transfusion." Althea died in 1987. She was 33.
How does a pornographer define love? In terms that are, naturally, startling in their intimacy. "I remember as a kid, about ten years old," Flynt begins. "My grandmother and grandfather were very old. My grandmother was in bed, white hair. My grandfather didn't walk in a step, he walked in a shuffle. He slid his feet along. And I remember one day, looking out the bedroom window, I seen him come up the side of the house with a flower. And he shuffled into the house and went to my grandmother's bedroom and handed her the flower, and told her how her face looked like a beautiful May morning. I don't know how to define love. I can only relate what I witnessed. And to me, that's love." Has he ever...? He answers before you can finish the question. "Yes."
Her portrait presides over the vacant conference room down the hail. Althea Leasure Flynt ran the business during the seven years her husband convalesced. Drugs or no drugs, business grew by twenty percent. The hand painted photograph conveys the complexities of its subject, calling to mind something Forman had said of his star: "She has that incredible span. On the one hand she's a very vulnerable, generous, fragile, compassionate person. And on the other hand, she can be tougher than a nail in Christ's cross."
"Milos saw something in Courtney that nobody else saw and he captured it on film," says Flynt. "I was blown away by her in the movie. Milos got absolute perfection out of her." It is time to go. Flynt casts a last glance at Althea and says simply, "She's a lot prettier than Courtney."
THE BENTLEY is in the garage being repaired, so the white stretch limousine will have to do. The one with the naked redheads painted on the trunk and sides. Flynt's bodyguard lowers his wheelchair handle and places a wooden board across the chair and car seat. He lifts Flynt onto the board and helps him slide over while Liz Berrios, already inside the car, lifts his legs and pulls them in.
Flynt settles into the soft pink leather seats as the limo glides out of the underground lot and into broad daylight. "I am as happy as I could possibly be considering everything that I've had to go through," he says, looking beyond the black-tinted windows. "I'm at a point in my life where, What do you do for an encore?" A chuckle. He knows there is another fight left in him. "The Internet is really big business. We get almost as much money off the Internet as we do off newsstand sales." A fact that hasn't escaped censorious legislators. Go ahead, make his day.
Berrios holds his hand. Around her neck is a gift from her fiancé -a red Faberge heart locket that opens to reveal their pictures on either side. Flynt is adorned with a large vagina-shaped medallion necklace. The pave-diamond labial folds swell around a diamond-studded clitoris, mounted on rose quartz, in the middle of which is a hole, where a hole should be. "See these figures?" He holds out the heavy chain. Each gold link is a couple in the 69 position. "They're all having fun!"
His other favorite necklace has a gold #1 with a fat diamond in the number sign. Flynt had it made because "we always strive to be number one." But when the publisher of Hustler wears it, it looks more like a medal of honor in the fight for First Amendment rights. Tell him this and he replies modestly, "I might have advanced the cause of free expression. But we often give people too much credit for how they influence society."
And yet laws are only challenged and changed in extreme cases. When the pornographer ran an advertisement parody in which the Reverend Jerry Falwell was portrayed as drunk and losing his virginity to his mother in an outhouse, Falwell cried libel. In an odd decision, a jury cleared Flynt of the libel charge but ordered him to pay Falwell $200,000 for "emotional distress." In 1988, the Supreme Court overturned the lower-court decision, stating, "The State's interest in protecting public figures from emotional distress is not sufficient to deny First Amendment protection to speech. Thus the world was made safe for the likes of Doonesbury and Saturday Night Live to pillory the powerful.
"When I first met Milos," says Flynt. "I asked him what interested him in the project, and he said, 'I'm from a country where people like you don't win. I lost both of my parents in a concentration camp. Their crime was passing out literature for school kids to read.'"
Still, Forman admits that after browsing through a Hustler for the first time, he had his reservations. "Uh, oh: the most tasteless pornographer, right? Then when I read the script and some articles on him, I started to admire his life. And I was so impressed that the script was not trying to make Larry Flynt a hero. The real hero of this film is the Supreme Court of the United States. Everybody else is just human."
MAKING THIS MOVIE was so healing in a way for many people," reflects Yang, who has since formed Manifest, a production company with Lisa Henson. "Especially Courtney. Watching her be transformed was so gratifying. I just saw her new rock video, 'Gold Dust Woman,' and she looks like Althea! She looks so beautiful, she's like a different person. Throughout filming you could see her become much more self-aware and poised."
In the end, everyone who donated to the Courtney Love Insurance Fund got their money back, thanks to Forman bringing the film in under budget and a star keeping her promise. "Courtney was a total professional," says Harrelson. "And as an actress, whoa, really phenomenal. I'll tell you, it would take years to learn what she does naturally on film."
Having lived through this, Love is anxious to see the finished product. "I just hope it brings the importance of what Larry did to the fore, and that it's not perceived as... Fuck, we'll see," she says. "It could be an insane disaster-it could be brilliant. I have no idea. It's either Shanghai Surprise or it's not."
It is not. Cross your fingers, Love is just what the Oscar telecast desperately needs. "If Courtney makes the right choices, she'll be very, very big," Forman says. "She can only decide this by herself." The director sighs and shrugs his shoulders. A father who must let go. "I just love her. I just love her."
"She gave me a doll, a fallen angel. It's beautiful. She made it herself." He smiles. "With a little imagination, it looks like Courtney. It has wings.”