Back to the Main Page


Press Cuttings

Let us look at some quotes that nobody has ever questioned until now:

Penthouse International Ltd., will produce ‘Gore Vidal’s Caligula,’ a $7 million project written by Vidal. (“New Penthouse Production Arm Sets $7 Mil Vidal Film,” The Hollywood Reporter vol. 239 no. 11, p. 1.)

With an original Gore Vidal screenplay of ‘Caligula,’ a $7,000,000 period piece, Penthouse mag topper Bob Guccione is entering the production of feature films in 1976. (“Penthouse Rides Gore Vidal Script into Film Prod’n,” Daily Variety vol. 169 no. 61, Wednesday, 3 December 1975, p. 1.)

‘Gore Vidal’s Caligula,’ based on an original screenplay by famed author Gore Vidal, will be the first to be produced by the new Penthouse (Wide World) Productions, Ltd., a division of Penthouse International, Ltd. A $7 million production, it will begin filming in April in Rome, with Franco Rossellini as co-producer. (John Cocchi, “Penthouse Plans to Film ‘Gore Vidal’s Caligula,’ ” Boxoffice, Monday, 8 December 1975, p. 12.)

Penthouse Productions Ltd., a newly formed film production arm of Penthouse International Ltd., publisher of Penthouse magazine, has joined with Gore Vidal to make its first movie, “Gore Vidal’s Caligula,” from an original screenplay by the scenarist-author-playwright.... Mr. Guccione said that although a cast and director had yet to be signed for the $7 million film, production would start in Rome in April. (“Briefs on the Arts: Guccione to Film ‘Vidal’s Caligula,’ ” The New York Times, Monday, 15 December 1975, p. 41.)

Elsewhere Penthouse has moved into motion pictures (an epic $8.5 million commitment to Gore Vidal’s Caligula, now being filmed in Rome and starring Malcolm McDowell, Peter O’Toole, Sir John Gielgud, Maria Schneider, and Helen Mirren), television, books, concerts, mail order, property, education, etc.—the kind of activities that have taken our first year’s gross revenue of less than $1 million and increased it 10,000 percent to more than $100 million in these relatively few, short, incredibly exciting years. We’ve got much to celebrate and much to be grateful for. This is our party, and you’re invited.... (“Housecalls,” Penthouse: The International Magazine for Men vol. 8 no. 1 (US edition), September 1976 p. 6.)

For months all the cinema sets, not to speak of the corridors and stockrooms of the DEAR, will be occupied by the troupe of Gore Vidal’s Caligula: budget of eight and a half million dollars.... (Giovanna Grassi, “SPETTACOLI. Nel nuovo film che Tinto Brass sta girando a Roma: Caligola miscuglio di sesso e follia,” Corriere della sera, Friday, 13 August 1976 p. 11.)

Rumors whispered in the cafés along Via Veneto say the film will have some very lavish scenes of ‘hard core’ debauchery.... The Penthouse magazine empire, which put up $8.5 million for the production, has mixed feelings about the rumors. ‘All this talk got started because some of the cast were asked to try out in the altogether,’ said executive producer Jack Silverman, president of Penthouse Films.... ‘We expect a maximum of an R rating,’ he said confidently.... The costumes and sets for the film, which ends when Caligula is murdered at the age of 29 by his own soldiers, have been carefully researched to correspond to the era and will alone cost more than $1 million, Silverman said. (Sylvana Foa, “ ‘Caligula’ Set Has Rome Whispering,” The Los Angeles times, Saturday, 21 August 1976, p. B10.)

Maria Schneider, cast as Drusilla in ‘Gore Vidal’s Caligula,’ has left the $7-million production, which went before the cameras in Rome early last month. (“Maria Schneider Quits ‘Gore Vidal’s Caligula,’ ” The Hollywood Reporter, vol. 253 no. 7, Friday, 10 September 1976, p. 1.)

...Bob Guccione, publisher of Penthouse and the movie’s producer, has announced a press conference, to be held in New York Monday, at which he will ‘respond to derogatory charges made by Gore Vidal’ to explain ‘why Vidal was banned from the set of the $8.5 million production’ and ‘also explain why actress Maria Schneider walked off the set and was removed from the film.’  (Gregg Kilday, “Film Clips: The Roman Circus of ‘Caligula,’ ” The Los Angeles Times, Saturday, 11 September 1976, sec. 2 p. 7.)

We meet Vidal in Rome, where he has come for ‘Caligula,’ an eight-million-dollar movie, currently in production, which bears his name and for which he wrote the screenplay. (Jerry Bauer, “Playmen intervista: Gore Vidal” Playmen vol. 10 no. 10, October 1976, p. 21.)

With an $8.5 million budget provided by Penthouse magazine’s new film company, Penthouse Films International.... (Sari Gilbert, “Vidal’s ‘Caligula’: Rancor in Rome” The Washington Post, Monday, 29 November 1976, p. B1.)

Although long barred from Dear Studios in Rome, where the 8½ million dollar spectacle ‘Gore Vidal’s Caligula’ is in production, Gore Vidal is very much a felt presence.... Every inch of the studio is filled to capacity with hundreds of workmen and specialists weaving and dyeing cloth, making costumes, sculpting statues, and constructing the giant sets (64 in all) that run the gamut from pleasure villas (requiring the partial reconstruction of half of Capri in the outskirts of Rome) to a huge stable with especially ‘aged’ tiles to house Caligula’s favourite stallion and sometime senator, Incitatus. (David L. Overbey, “Gore Vidal’s Caligula” Sight & Sound vol. 46 no. 1, December 1976, p. 27.)

Gore Vidal has been banned from the set of his own movie, an $8.5 million Imperial Rome epic being assembled here by the publishers of Penthouse magazine. (Colin Dangaard, “Movies: In Rome, ‘Caligula’ Stays but Vidal Gets the Heave-Ho” The Chicago Tribune “Arts & Fun, Sunday, 26 December 1976, sec. 6, p. 6.)

Despite the exploitation of Vidal’s money-coining name, it has little to do with Vidal — and even less to do with Caligula. It has everything to do, however, with Penthouse magazine and its publisher, Bob Guccione, who has put up $16 million, exactly double the original budget, to film the life of one of history’s most colorful monsters. The movie is the grandest spectacle to be shot in Italy since Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra (1963). (“Will the Real Caligula Stand Up?” Time vol. 109, no. 1, Monday, 3 January 1977, p. 64.)

“‘Gore Vidal’s Caligula,’ a Penthouse Films production, has completed shooting at Dear Studios in Rome, ending 22 weeks of filming on a budget of more than $15 million. The picture will be released in the fall.” (“Hollywood Happenings,” Boxoffice vol. 110, no. 16, Monday, 24 January 1977, p. W-2.)

The budget has not been announced, but it is surely somewhere between $8 and $10 million. (Dick Kleiner, Who Wrote the Film? the Many Problems with ‘Vidal’s Caligula,’ “” The Oakland Tribune, Tuesday, 8 February 1977 p. .14)

...Guccione (owner of Penthouse etc., who has put up $9 million to finance ‘Gore Vidal’s Caligula’) was never there, and this man Brass had set out to become an auteur du cinema, at whatever cost to my script. It’s a mess, and it could have been such a good movie. (W.I. Scobie, “Judgment of Vidal” The Advocate: Touching Your Lifestyle no. 211, 9 March 1977,  p. .25)

Am told that Gore Vidal’s no longer insisting that his name be taken off the title of ‘Gore Vidal’s Caligula’ — and not for sentimental reasons, after it was pointed out to him that removal of his name would also remove his 5% of the pic’s profits, as per his pact with producer Bob Guccione, who invested over 11 million bucks in the Rome-born epic. (Hank Grant, “Rambling Reporter,” The Hollywood Reporter vol. 246 no. 49, Tuesday, 14 June 1977,, p. 2.)

The 600,000 foot negative which was shot in Italy last year at a cost of £8 million is at present with Technicolour (UK) Ltd., and the Judge continued a temporary order preventing them from parting with the possession of the film pending the October hearing. (“Caligula Action Adjourned,” Screen International no. 105, Saturday, 17 September 1977, p. 13.)

Moreover for a scene in a ‘harem of freaks’, the producers did not go the easy route by re-creating the wretched misshapen creatures with makeup and special effects. They searched for the most bizarre unfortunates on offer from circuses, freak shows and elsewhere.... Siamese twins were flown in from Cuba. Lumbering elephant-skinned types were secretly spirited into Rome from South America. Assorted rarities with nightmare features were brought in from the Far East.... The script was written by that elegant acid-humoured author, Gore Vidal. The director was a huge cigar-chewing Italian named Tinto Brass, but the mastermind, the man who put up the staggering 16 million dollars was Bob Guccione, handsome boss of Penthouse, that crotch-orientated rival to Hugh Hefner’s Playboy. (Donald Zec, “Beyond the Sex Barrier,” The Sunday Mirror, Sunday, 20 November 1977.)

As maiden entry via his Penthouse Films ‘Gore Vial’s Caligula’ was supposed to come in for $3,500,000 but instead will wind up at around $16,000,000. (Jack Pitman, “ ‘Caligula’ Winds up $12.5-Mil Over Budget; Legalistics Too,” Variety vol. 289 [misprinted as 298] no. 4, p. 31.)

This $8 million film, starring Peter O‘Toole and Malcolm McDowell, was produced by Penthouse chief Bob Guccione and directed by Italy’s Tinto Brass. (Roderick Mann, “Blake Bleak in a Sellers Market” The Los Angeles Times, Thursday, 9 March 1978, p. E1.)

First budgeted at $3.5 million, that three-hour history will wind up costing $16 million, at least.... (Roberta Plutzik, “Movies: Budgeting Inside the Frames of Reference,” The Los Angeles Times Calendar, Sunday, 30 April 1978, p. 40.)

It s the movie that the film world has been buzzing about for more than a year: Penthouse Films’ $15 million opus.... (“The Most Sexually Explicit and Extraordinary Film Epic Ever Made” Publisher’s Weekly, Monday, 29 May 1978.)

According to the producers’ legalites, the director has made no progress toward a final cut since last year’s ruling, causing financial hardship to both the producers and distributors around the world who had picked up the Penthouse-Felix film before and during production. Penthouse and Felix had to return minimum guarantees in millions of dollars to investors in ‘Caligula.’ (“ ‘Caligula’ Still Stalled in Roman Courts; Judge Sets a Hearing July 4,” Variety vol. 291 no. 6, Wednesday, 14 June 1978, p. 32.)

Finally, venturing again where angels like Hugh Hefner got their wings singed, there’s a $16-million movie called ‘Caligula’ — starring Peter O‘Toole, John Gielgud and Malcolm McDowell—the first X-rated blockbuster. (“Faces behind the Figures: Bring on the Girls” Forbes, Monday, 7 August 1978, p. 76.)

Produced by Bob Guccione, publisher of Penthouse magazine and directed by Italy’s Tinto Brass, the film cost $17 million — give or take a million or so. (Roderick Mann, “The Horsey Set in ‘Caligula,’ ” The Los Angeles Times Calendar, Sunday, 3 December 1978, p. 48.)

Within the last couple of years, for instance, he said he has sunk $16 million of his own personal money into the production of Gore Vidal’s ‘Caligula,’ a movie scheduled to be released in late March of 1979. It is the first movie Guccione has owned completely. (Lammy Johnstone, “The Communicators: Guccione Out to Break More Barriers” Yonkers Herald-Statesman BUSINESS Magazine, p. F4.)

The film has been controversial from the start: this ambitious fusion of establishment and underground cinema re-creates the unprecedented sexual explicitness of ancient Rome — an effort requiring a cast of thousands, hundreds of artists and artisans, and a budget exceeding $16 million. (“Coming in the April Penthouse” Penthouse: The International Magazine for Men vol. 10 no. 7 (US edition), March 1979, p. 202.)

British censors are priming their thumbs for a downward plunge on the $15 million movie version of Gore Vidal’s ‘Caligula.’ ;” (Hank Grant, “Rambling Reporter,” The Hollywood Reporter vol. 257 no. 20, Friday, 6 July 1979, p. 2.)

Penthouse chief Bob Guccione insists that this $17 million film ‘Caligula’ with Malcolm McDowell and Peter O’Toole, finished more than a year ago, will definitely be released next spring. ‘Exhibitors who have seen it say it’s the most shocking film ever made,’ he adds. (Roderick Mann, “A Yank Who Couldn’t Tell a Lie?” The Los Angeles Times, Thursday, 23 August 1979, p. E25.)

Bob Guccione, the founder and publisher of Penthouse magazine, said the other day that he was awaiting with Roman stoicism a critical thumbs down for ‘Caligula,’ his $17.5 million epic, which opens in New York next Friday. (Tom Buckley, “At the Movies” The New York Times, Friday, 25 January 1980, p. C9.)

A record high first-run admission price of $7.50 will be charged when Bob Guccione’s $17 million film ‘Caligula’ makes its American premiere on Feb. 1 at the Penthouse East Theatre here. According to a spokesperson for Penthouse Films International, the film was financed and produced by Guccione, publisher of Penthouse magazine, for his first property as an independent producer. (Martin Gould, “ ‘Caligula’ to Get $7.50 at Boxoffice for N.Y. Premiere,” The Hollywood Reporter vol. 260 no. 12, Monday, 28 January 1980, p. 1.)

Guccione’s ‘serious’ intent seerns evidenced by the amount of money spent on the film, some 18 million dollars.... (Michael Taylor, “Penthouse’s ‘Caligula’: Pushing Back Film Frontiers#148; Yale Daily News vol. 102 no. 75, Wednesday, 30 January 1980, p. 6.)

Produced by Penthouse king Bob Guccione — who has poured £9 million of his own money into the project — the picture is inevitably the centre of a carefully orchestrated controversy. (“Rise and Fall,” Daily Mail, Wednesday, 6 February 1980.)

In what would prove to be one of the more novel examples of entertainment ‘crossover,’ Penthouse International owner Robert Guccione has suggested that the hoped-for cash flow from his $17,000,000 hardcore ‘Caligula’ could be the key to completing construction on Penthouse’s underfinanced Penthouse boardwalk hotel and casino in Atlantic City. (“Guccione Hints ‘Caligula’ Cash Flow May Bail Out Planned Hotel” Daily Variety vol. 186 no. 143, Wednesday, 6 February 1980, p. 6.)

Who else but Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione could sink $17.5 million into a film like ‘Caligula’ and already be financing a follow-up? (Carlin Romano, “Limelight,” The Washington Post vol. 103 no. 123, Sunday, 6 April 1980, p. F3.)

The $17.5 million film was produced and personally financed entirely by Guccione as the first property for his independent production company, Penthouse Films International. (Martin Gould, “Guccione Optimistic, Expects $100 mil Gross from ‘Caligula,’ ” The Hollywood Reporter vol. 261 no. 22, Tuesday, 2 April 1980, p. 24.)

The neighbors of the Dear Studios had some experience with film extravagance, of course  — the Taylor-Burton Cleopatra film had been shot there, with all its attendant contoversy — but, as everybody finally discovered, there was no precedent for the latest series of events. For 18 months the studios were occupied with the filming of Caligula, a controversial $17.5 million-plus epic on the short but memorable reign of the infamous Roman Caesar.
   Guccione: The final cost of the film comes in at a little over $17.5 million. But if you take into consideration interest on money — which, for accounting purposes, is not only proper but necessary — it will come in at around $22 million....
   Penthouse: Rumor has it that you put up the entire amount yourself in cash. Is that true?
   Guccione: Yes.
   Penthouse: Is that the first time any one individual has put up that much money to bankroll a film?
   Guccione: I believe so....
   Penthouse: Doesn’t he [Vidal] insist that his original script was badly mutilated by you and the director and on those grounds disown it?
   Guccione: Firstly, I never touched the script, although I spent many hours working with Gore during the original conceptualization and the numerous subsequent revisions. The first drafts were too strong, particularly in terms of violence and homosexuality. It was far too long and called for too many scenes and too many sets. It would have cost $30 or $40 million to shoot the film the way Gore originally wrote it. Of course there are script changes, but they are the same sort of changes that would have been made in any event, whether he continued to be associated with the film or not. Once a director gets his hands on a screenplay, there are many ways that he can interpret movements, events, activities, and attitudes on the part of the characters, because he uses images instead of words. Very often you can excise three or four pages of dialogue with alook, a gesture, or a single movement of the camera. And that, finally, is what motion picture direction is all about. It’s the director who really makes the film, not the author.
   Penthouse: Didn’t Vidal later accuse you of making it pornographic?
   Guccione: (Laughing) Actually, we had to remove a lot of the material that Gore had originally written into the script, so that the film is now somewhat more sensual than the original version. In fact, just to give you one example, in the beginning — other than Drusilla — there were practically no heterosexual scenes at all. Every sex scene Vidal wrote was homosexual in content.... (Ernest Volkman, “Penthouse Interview: Bob Guccione,” Penthouse: The International Magazine for Men [US edition] vol. 11 no. 9, May 1980, p. 113+.)

Another critical ‘casting’ decision, finding a newborn baby girl to appear as the child born to Caesonia, required the participation of several pregnant Roman women. The infant, ‘Julia Drusilla,’ made a perfect ‘entrance’ in one take. (“The Making of Caligula,” Penthouse: The International Magazine for Men vol. 11 no. 9, May 1980, p. 145.)

In handing down its decision the court also rejected a last minute plea by defence attorneys to allow the 14 million dollar epic to return to cinemas in a version with the more scabrous scenes darkened or cut out. (Judith Slatin, “ ‘Caligula’ — Italy Bans It Outright,” Screen International: The Paper of the Entertainment Industry no. 239, Saturday, 3 May 1980, p. 76.)

This is the £10 million movie, made in Rome a couple of years ago, which started out in life as ‘Gore Vidal’s Caligula.’ (Roderick Mann, “Riotous Life of a Man Who Fought Errol Flynn” The Sunday Express, Sunday, 11 May 1980, p. 23.)

The $17.5 million movie (all Guccione’s money) is, said the producer, ‘at a confluence fed by two streams — the Hollywood big-budget, big-star movie, and the underground current of X-rated, explicit pornography.’ And having made it at such cost, Guccione feels justified in charging for it. (Desmond Ryan, “Movies — ‘Caligula’: Controversy and $7.50 Ticket Price,” The Chicago Tribune, Sunday, 11 May 1980, sec. 6, p. 28.)

 ‘Caligula,’ Penthouse International’s $22 million ($17.5 million plus interest) erotic spectacular, has reached the $1.7 million domestic boxoffice mark, and producer Bob Guccione is confident the picture will succeed through a gradual release plan. (Jim Robbins, “Mostly Four-Wall Deals: Guccione Boasts Confidence in ‘Caligula’ Release Plan” Boxoffice vol. 116 no. 20, p. 8.)

The film, which Guccione says cost $17.5 million, has grossed more than $3.3 million in exhibition in 14 American cities without prosecution. (“ ‘Caligula’ Maker Will Fight Boston Obscenity Charge” Boxoffice vol. 116 no. 26, p. 2.)

Begun in 1976, the $17.6 million film was made with on almost all-Italian cast and a handful of English-speaking names. (Ed Blank, “Actors Wasted in ‘Caligula,’ a Sleazy Mess,” The Pittsburgh Press vol. 97 no. 25, Friday, 18 July 1980, p. A17.)

What are most of the above quotations? Lies, lies, lies, lies, lies, lies, and more lies. Well, the bit about the original budget being $3.5 million, a figure that was never publicized anywhere, that was okay. ($3.5 million was double the negative cost of Salon Kitty. Those of you who have seen Salon Kitty can now easily imagine how far $3.5 million would go in Italy at the time!) As for the other claims about the budget, well, the actual budget was not $17.5 million or even close to it. Actually, the final budget was not much more than $3.5 million! If you factor in all the peripherals and honoraria for Penthouse personnel, the budget was a whopping gigantic $4.5 mil or thereabouts, as far as I can figure. There is some indication that it may have been as high as $7,000,000, but I have no compelling evidence of that. Guccione claims to have paid for the entire production in cash up front, but then adds four and a half million dollars of interest. If he supplied all the money in cash up front, then there wouldn’t have been any interest. Further, if Guccione had supplied all the budget in cash up front, then why did he go to court claiming that the delay in releasing the film forced him and Rossellini “to return minimum guarantees in millions of dollars to investors in Caligula”? (True. They did. Well, maybe not millions, but certainly one million.) In fact, as Guccione stated, there was indeed interest, though it was not even a quarter as much as four and a half million dollars. It was Franco Rossellini who got saddled with that interest. Further, it was Franco Rossellini, who by contract, by law, and in fact was the producer of Caligula, who had raised three-quarters of the budget. It was Franco Rossellini’s company, Felix Cinematografica Srl, not Penthouse, that had produced Caligula. Yet Felix was almost never mentioned in the English-language press stories. Felix’s credit was unceremoniously scrubbed from all prints of the film that Penthouse licensed for distribution. Guccione was granted an honorary title of “coproducer” in return for raising a portion of the budget from various investors, but that was merely an honorary title, nothing more. Guccione also put up collateral so that Felix Cinematografica could induce financiers to invest. There’s no denying that. For years Guccione enjoyed parading himself as a film producer, though he was nothing of the sort. Technically he was the presenter and the controlling investor who had total artistic control and who by contract was permitted to take credit for that artistic control. The 64 sets? There were only 22. The film was never expected to have an R rating, at least not in its original version. The misshapen creatures were mostly the work of makeup and effects, intentional duplicates of the freaks found in Barry Humphries’s Bizarre, to which Penthouse had the UK distribution license. The Siamese twins were actually identical (monozygotic) twins in makeup. Baby Julia Drusilla was not born on camera. A production still reveals that the emerging newborn baby was a doll placed into a woman’s vulva. (Ouch! That image makes me wince.) Yes, Caligula was filmed at Dear International SpA, Via Ettore Romagnoli 30, 00137 Roma, but it is absolutely untrue that Cleopatra had also been filmed there. Cleopatra was filmed at Cinecittà. Check IMDb for a sampling of the movies shot at Dear International Srl. I know where the idea about Cleopatra being filmed at Dear came from: Dear in the late 1950’s to mid-1960’s had a distribution contract with Fox, and so it was Dear that distributed Cleopatra in Italy. It by no means followed that Dear had anything to do with the production, which it certainly did not. Gore Vidal’s earlier drafts of the Caligula script were not focused on homosexual acts, they contained less violence and sex than the final film, and any of his drafts could have been filmed most economically. Gore wrote the script that way because he wanted a low-budget film, not a multimillion-dollar extravaganza. In Gore’s version there was hardly any nudity, even. In the final film there is almost nothing but. Guccione did not work with Vidal on the script. Guccione’s involvement came later, after Gore had completed his final draft, and these later script changes were very much made under Guccione’s orders. They were radical and needless, to say nothing of tastless, and killed the entire point of the story. McDowell and his friend Ted Whitehead had to perform last-minute surgeries to make that monstrosity playable, and even then Guccione continued to interfere. Saddled with an unplayable script, Tinto was forced to improvise. In order to refute Gore Vidal’s accusations, Guccione made a comment about a director’s visualization of a script. Yet his comment was almost verbatim what Gore had told him about how movies should be made. You’d like to examine the budget a little more? Okay, happy to oblige! Keeping in mind that the claim of $8 million was nothing more than a number pulled from a hat, let’s look at what Malcolm McDowell had to say:

Back to the Main Page