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Claire Keeton reminisces About Bob Guccione

from www.timeslive.co.za – I never saw any “Penthouse Pets” – the nubile pinups who posed for the magazine’s provocative centrefolds – either time I stayed at Bob Guccione’s mansion in New York City in 1990 and 1997.

But I did meet Penthouse magazine founder Guccione, who passed away last week aged 79, because at that time he was married to a distant and generous relative of mine, Kathy Keeton.

Despite his fame and fortune, or maybe because of it, he looked like an Italian godfather who could swagger onto the set of Sopranos and fit right in.

And the South African-born Keeton, who started her career as one of Europe’s best paid strippers before she became a publishing tycoon, matched his ambition and passion until her death in September 1997.

The couple, together for more than 20 years, exported Penthouse from the UK to the US in 1969, pushing the boundaries of explicit naked photography in Penthouse further than Hugh Hefner’s Playboy.

But the only nudity I saw in their Manhattan house was a statue of David alongside their vast indoor swimming pool, and in paintings from their world-class art collection, which included original Picassos, Dalis and Van Goghs.

I remember looking at a painting by one of the masters still rolled on a desk in their impressive library, and being struck at the beauty money could buy.

In 1982, Guccione was listed by Forbes as one of the richest Americans with a fortune of $400-million. The General Media International publishing stable by then included titles founded by Keeton, such as the sci -fi magazine Omni and health glossy, Longevity.

She was the president and chief operating officer of General Media Communications and Guccione continued to name her on the Penthouse masthead as its president even after her death.

I didn’t envy their opulent house, country estate, indoor cinema or array of staff. Only their art, their books and their pack of sleek ridgebacks, which I was not allowed to take to Central Park for a walk on my own.

In fact the dogs, their Latino dog-walker and the chef were good company for myself and my then partner when we stayed there in 1997 after visiting Keeton and Guccione at their country home.

It’s fair to assume we were not Guccione’s usual guests. On a year-long rock-climbing trip around the world on a budget of $10 a day, we were travelling with only two changes of clothes and backpacks full of gear.

When their chauffeur came to fetch us in the limousine from a designated street corner in New York, he did a double take before opening the door for us.

But once we were inside, he was friendly and entertaining, even offering to close the partition so we could enjoy privacy if we wanted (we didn’t).

What I remember best about the sprawling country home was playing pool with their chauffeur (and losing), playing tennis with my partner (and losing) and going hiking and quad-biking around the rolling estate.

Guccione presided unobtrusively over the guests – mostly his better groomed relatives – from an armchair in the corner and seemed to accept us with good grace. Maybe by then he was used to Keetons appearing unexpectedly from the southern hemisphere.

I spent most of my time with my relative, who had been fighting breast cancer and later that year died in surgery, and really only saw Guccione at the banquets that passed for meals.

After a few days of fattening up and no climbing, we were ready to move on and went back to their Manhattan house for the night before heading to the west coast.

Without the king and queen of the Penthouse publishing empire in residence, the palace felt deserted. We could order what we felt like for dinner from the chef and ate at the giant marble table on our own.

We were the only guests on the sixth floor of the Guccione home – reportedly the largest private residence in New York City at the time. If it weren’t for a stack of Penthouse back copies in our room, we could have been in the room of any luxury hotel.

Male visitors were out of bounds and my partner was the only one allowed above the second floor.

I was never sure if that was a rule to keep the “Pets” or wayward relatives in line.

Keeton offered me accommodation when I studied journalism in NYC from 1989 to 1990, and I declined even though my student hovel cost $400 a month. But after I graduated, I stayed at their place for a few weeks while I finished a research job.

On that occasion I seldom crossed paths with either of them.

What I remember best is that after my graduation, when I was planning to come back to South Africa, Keeton offered me a job with Penthouse South Africa. I declined.

In 2006, Guccione had to move out of his mansion and when he died last week he was living in Texas with his fourth wife.

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