Al Goldstein: The Pornographer in Winter

Lovelace’s first official interview, to Mr. Goldstein in Screw, was less an interview than an episode of oral sex in a $17-a-night hotel room. It was her handler’s way of thanking him for the marquee line–“the best porn film ever made!”–that the World Theater was featuring to such great effect in its promos. “Here I was with the world’s No. 1 cocksucker,” Mr. Goldstein said years later, “and yet it was a lonely experience. I felt like a hooker faking orgasm with a john.” Mr. Goldstein soon had a falling-out with Lovelace (who died in a car accident in 2002; she had been converted to anti-pornography crusading by the feminist writer Andrea Dworkin). He dug up a piece of juvenilia, an obscure work called Dog Fucker, a title and plot synopsis in one, and ran photos in Screw of Lovelace and her paramour in flagrante. When later Mr. Goldstein showed up at the book party for Inside Linda Lovelace, she had him thrown out by a couple of tuxedoed goons. In her later memoir Ordeal, she referred to him as “crude, rude, infantile, obnoxious, and dirty.”

By the time they were at odds, the pair no longer needed each other. Sex had entered the popular culture. Alex Comfort’s The Joy of Sex: A Gourmet Guide to Love Making came out in 1972. So did Behind the Green Door, the first hard-core film to enjoy wide release in the U.S., featuring, with ejaculate all over her dewy-fresh face, the girl who appeared as the young mother on the Ivory Soap box. In Screw, Mr. Goldstein offered, in addition to the expected pleasures of explicit images of acts of depravity, incisive political and social commentary. He ran pieces with titles like “Is J. Edgar Hoover a Fag?” and would drop references to Aristotle and Spinoza while swapping sex tips with the porn star Seka. Screw was dirty, but it could also be smart. And so it achieved a certain antiestablishment credibility. Celebrities like John Lennon and Jack Nicholson submitted to interviews that ran alongside interviews with porn-world figures like John Holmes and Georgina Spelvin.

Mr. Goldstein’s business thrived for three decades, but in 2003, his company, Milky Way Productions, home of Screw and Midnight Blue, went into bankruptcy, the result, he claims, of the burgeoning of online porn, his own mismanagement of funds and the unscrupulous antics of a lawyer-cum-girlfriend. Mr. Goldstein lost everything, including his townhouse on East 61st Street and a mansion in Pompano Beach, Fla., with an 11-foot statue of a raised middle finger. Mr. Goldstein did time in prison for harassing a former employee (he published indiscreet photos of her in Screw, along with her name and phone number, urging readers to give her a ring), then received three years’ probation for similarly harassing his third ex-wife, Gena. He was briefly homeless in 2005 until his friend Penn Jillette, the magician, rented him an apartment. His 2008 campaign for president (“Support Al. He likes it on top”) received scant attention. As James Wolcott said, his “senior years could add a chapter to the Book of Job.”

I’d like to say that I’ve been a good luck charm for Mr. Goldstein, but that hasn’t been the case. His life since we’ve met has gone from bad to worse. Last fall, Mr. Goldstein’s social worker arranged a meeting between him and his estranged son, Jordan, a corporate lawyer and a graduate of Georgetown and Harvard Law. (Father and son have been distant since 2002, when Mr. Goldstein, in a fit of pique, decided once again to use Screw as a forum to air his personal grievances, printed a mock-up of Jordan being fellated by his mother, the long-suffering Gena.) Just before the reunion was to take place, Mr. Goldstein went into a seizure.

I stopped by the hospital to visit him. He was naked save for a single dingy gray sock on his foot and a sheet over his crotch. He hadn’t eaten in days apart from a McRib sandwich smuggled in for him by his new fiancé, a former mistress from the ’80s named Donna. The engagement came as a surprise; every time I’ve seen Mr. Goldstein, he’s been wearing a T-shirt bearing the slogan DEATH BEFORE MARRIAGE. After offering my congratulations, I told him I hoped he wasn’t jinxing himself. He shrugged, mumbled something about us–us meaning humanity–being “the flea on the ass of a dog,” then asked me what was happening on the television program In Treatment.

Al Goldstein: The Pornographer in Winter