American Hair Pie: Jackie Kennedy’s Million-Dollar Bush Revisited

Fifty-one years ago this week, February 12, 1973, SCREW #206 ran a cover screaming, “Jackie Kennedy Naked!” Inside was a photo spread titled, “Jackie Kennedy’s Million-Dollar Bush” — the first time in American history a First Lady’s nude photos were published in-print. The single hottest-selling issue of SCREW ever printed, it sold 144,000 copies from New York-area newsstands in just seven days — and ultimately more than 500,000 — all at 75 cents a pop!

This is the story of those photos and how they went on to create fortunes and controversy for all the characters involved. None of the names have been changed because no one here is innocent.

SCREW #206 (February 12, 1973)

Al Goldstein

In January 1973 (the month I was born!), Al Goldstein, the late founder and publisher of SCREW (and my dear friend, mentor and predecessor), received a phone call from the in-house photographer at an Italian magazine called Playmen (how original). He had taken a bunch of paparazzi photos of Jackie Kennedy Onassis, butt naked, full-frontal, frolicking along the beach on the island of Skorpios. Playmen, initially refused to run them out of fear of creating an international incident so the photographer figured he’d shop them around the States instead, starting with SCREW. He was asking $10,000 for them. Al countered with $5,000 and it was a deal. Though Al always publicly claimed to have paid ten —and we’ll get to why shortly — he liked to brag to me how it was only five.

THE ORIGINAL PLAYMEN SPREAD*

Two weeks later, the dirty photos were published in SCREW #206 and the Greater New York Area went nuts. It was unprecedented — actual, nude photos of a First Lady! It was like Walmart on Black Friday, people storming the newsstands to drop six bits on grainy photos of Jackie’s pubes. By the time the week was out, SCREW had “officially” sold 144,000 copies. It was big news locally- and regionally with some nationwide coverage, but the more dignified news outlets did their best to ignore the story completely, lest they give coverage to our shitty, little smut mag. Demand for the issue was high, and #206 became one of only a few issues of SCREW to ever get reprinted. Al squeezed every dollar he could from it. He even turned the photos into 1974 SCREW Calendars.

*After Playmen learned how successful the photos were, they went ahead and published them in Europe anyway.

The Mob

In those days, being “business partners” with the New York Mafia families had its advantages, especially in the porn biz. (Al used to always say he loved dealing with the mob guys because you always got paid.) They ran all the seedy adult book stores and the flow of dirty videos and magazines, so Issue #206 (and the calendars) quickly found their way onto newsstands and adult book store shelves as far west as Buffalo, north to Albany, east to Boston and south to Philly, ultimately selling upwards of 500,000 copies and God only knows how many calendars.

Between the magazine copies and the calendars (at upwards of ten bucks each), SCREW raked-in well over a million bucks on Jackie’s nudes, even after the mob took their huge cut. The title “Jackie Kennedy’s Million-Dollar Bush” had proven itself spot-on.

Jackie Kennedy-“O”

Issue #206 (or a calendar) inevitably made its way to Cape Cod and into the beautiful hands of — you guessed it — Jackie Kennedy Onassis herself. In his book, Stories My Father Told Me: Notes from the Lyons Den, author and film critic Jeffrey Lyons, son of former New York Post Broadway columnist Leonard Lyons, tells of a story his father overhead between Jackie and Aristotle Onassis discussing what the Kennedys should do about the photos. She wanted to sue SCREW (and Al), and Aristotle is quoted as saying, “You don’t get into a pissing contest with a skunk. Don’t do a thing.” And so nothing was done of it.

The whole “scandal” (if you’d call it that) only perpetuated SCREW’s reputation as a shitty, sleazy magazine. To quote Al Goldstein, “Having instigated a supreme violation of this magnificent private woman’s privates, I was considered more contemptible than bed lice.” (To which I added, “ — than Oswald!”)

It should be noted here that Al Goldstein was very fond of and totally infatuated with Jackie Kennedy. He had actually gotten to know her, and fell in love with her, while serving as the First Lady’s press photographer for her Goodwill Tour to Pakistan in March 1962.

But that’s not where the story, or the scandal, ends. It gets better…

Aristotle Onassis

In his book, America’s Reluctant Prince: The Life of John F. Kennedy Jr., biographer Steven M Gillon claims Aristotle himself orchestrated the leaking of the photos to SCREW in a sadistic attempt to teach his “spoiled” wife a lesson. But Gillon erroneously states they were leaked to Hustler, which is completely wrong and leads me to the next part of the story.

Larry Flynt

Around the same time the photos hit the streets in SCREW, another smut peddler was up to “no-good” out in Ohio. Larry Flynt was running his strip joints along with a mail-order sex toy operation he called, “Dr. Columbo.” Using his strippers as models, he was placing ads in SCREW to sell shit-tons of dildos and vibrators and all the latest sex gadgetry, but also spending shit-tons on advertising to do so. So much so, that he wanted to launch his own magazine and reached out to Al Goldstein for help. According to Al, “no one in Ohio would print The Hustler Newsletter because of the nudity” so he reached out to his mob connections to help Larry. (And, I’m sure, somehow figured out a way to pad his own pockets in doing so.)

And in July 1974, a year-and-a-half after SCREW published the Jackie photos, Hustler magazine (as we know it) was launched in beautiful, full-color, showing lots of pink pussy (something SCREW was unable to do with its shitty black-and-white newsprint). Larry went on to achieve what Al could never do with SCREW — national distribution — and the two remained friends (er, frenemies) right up until Al’s death in 2013.

It was a big joke between them that (back then) if you wanted to know what was going to be in Hustler next month, just look in SCREW last month. It’s no secret much of Hustler’s format was shamelessly copied from SCREW. It’s kind of like McDonald’s vs. McDowell’s in the movie Coming to America where McDonald’s had the “Golden Arches” and the “Big Mac” and McDowell’s had the “Golden Arcs” and the “Big Mic”, except SCREW had “Shit List” and “Smut from the Past” and Hustler had “Asshole of the Month” and “Porn from the Past”, and so on.

“Fellini”

In the late-Spring or early Summer of 1975, as Larry was putting together Hustler’s August issue, he got a phone call from a goofy-sounding Italian guy wanting to sell him nude photos of Jackie Onassis. Now keep in mind, the world was much smaller back then. People in Ohio had little- to no idea what was going on in New York and vice versa, unlike today. So whether or not Larry had even known the photos had previously been run in SCREW or not, who knows, or perhaps he had forgotten all about it. It was, after all, two years later.

The “Italian guy” on the phone was Al doing his best “Fellini” impression, and what started out as a goofy joke between friends quickly became a deal — one the greatest deals in the history of adult publishing. Al ended up selling the photos to Larry for $20,000 — $18,000 to SCREW and $2,000 cash in his pocket — claiming it was twice what we paid for them. Remember when he paid five and told everyone ten? Well, that’s the kind of friendship they had.

Larry proudly published the photos in Hustler‘s August 1975 issue, in beautiful full-color (unlike shitty newsprint SCREW) and it went on to become one the most sought-after magazine issues in the history of magazines (even to this day). It propelled Hustler’s circulation from a few thousand to more than two million in a month’s time.

And so Jackie’s beautiful First Lady parts earned their moniker once again. This month we celebrate the 51st Anniversary of “Jackie Kennedy’s Million-Dollar Bush.”

— P.

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