Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Art of the Pimp- A Love Story: One Man's Search for Love, Sex, and Money, by Dennis Hof with Pablo Fenvjes

 The greatest literary mystery of all time....?

   I'm a sucker for a good (Even a not-so-good...) celebrity autobiography. I love to read about famous people dishing the dirt, the more unfiltered, the better. I'd heard Moonlight Bunny Ranch owner Dennis Hof a million times on Howard Stern and Brother Wease (A local radio legend), and seen him on Maury Povich, Geraldo Rivera, Jerry Springer, and his own HBO docu-series, CATHOUSE, so his autobiography THE ART OF THE PIMP- A LOVE STORY: ONE MAN'S SEARCH FOR LOVE, SEX, AND MONEY seemed like a good bet. I was expecting to be mildly entertained by his life story, but I wasn't expecting that I would be unable to put the book down. I devoured it in a few days, always saying "One more chapter, then I'll put it down..." This is good stuff!

 The book starts off as a straightforward autobiography, but soon veers off into uncharted territory, before ending as a mystery for the ages: Is Hof really the jovial, kindly, benevolent figure that he presents himself as, or is he a vindictive, cold, manipulative puppet-master....?

 Hof opens up with his story about meeting Marilyn Monroe as a child at the 1954 Arizona State Fair, which I've heard recounted during countless interviews. A quick bit of research online shows that Marilyn was at the fair that year, filming BUS STOP, so my initial reaction of "This is bullshit!" may very well be wrong. If indeed Marilyn Monroe did plant a kiss on eight-year-old Dennis Hof, sparking his lifelong obsession with pale-skinned, buxom bottle blondes, then she's solely responsible for the possible destruction of the lives of countless young women. (I say possible destruction. More on that later.)

 Hof goes on to recount his three failed marriages and his removing himself from the lives of his children, and tells how he went on to establish his cathouse empire, and it's easy to see how people could gravitate to this man. He comes across as perfectly reasonable, easygoing, and extremely likeable. The problems come along later, when you get to the sections of the book contributed by Hof's friends, acquaintances, and ex-girlfriends.

 There are brief sections throughout the book that are written by people in Hof's life, such as Bunny Ranch workers Caressa Kisses, Air Force Amy, and Brooke Taylor, Hof's Madam, Suzette Colette Cole, friends Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss, and a ton of other people, including Mancow, Tucker Carlson, and Rita Cosby. You would expect all of these testimonials to be puff pieces, and, for the most part, they are. Ron Jeremy waxes lovingly about his bromance with Hof, which Hof goes into at great length during the course of the book. They're close friends, but Hof refers to Jeremy as "She" and "My bitch". Hof pays for everything, so he feels entitled to verbally denigrate the notoriously cheap Jeremy. There's a piece by Hof's friend Glen Heggstad, who was kidnapped while taking a motorcycle trip through Mexico for his fiftieth birthday and held for ransom. Hof tried to organize a mercenary team to stage a rescue, and butted heads with the United States Government over his attempt to free his friend. Heggstad loves his friend, but also calls him a "puppetmaster", and says that he really can't bear to spend too much time around Hof.

 The really damning stuff comes from former Bunny Ranch workers/Hof's ex-girlfriends Cami Parker and Krissy Summers. Hof spends a lot of time in this book trying to dispel the myth that all sex workers are intrinsically damaged people, but then he lets these ladies speak (As well as the other Bunny Ranch workers that have essays in the book), and you can clearly see that these women have a LOT of issues. Hof paints Cami Parker as a psychotic alcoholic, then you get to Parker's scathing essay, which I was amazed that they actually printed....While Parker goes out of her way to never address the alcoholism claim, she flat-out states that a lot of the girls at the Ranch are addicted to drugs, another claim that Hof attempts to debunk during the course of the book. Parker paints a picture of Hof that is just a tad shy of him actually being Satan incarnate. She accuses Hof of using the girls for free sex, keeping them dependent on him as he pits them all against each other by using devious psychological tricks, and making them feel that plastic surgery was necessary (To fit into his Marilyn Monroe fixation), then forcing them to pay for it themselves. Hof goes on and on about how his girlfriends should keep working, so they have money saved and get a feeling of self-worth from earning it themselves. Parker paints a picture of a man who cannot be alone, but gets off on knowing that he is forcing his significant other to have sex with other men all day before coming home to him at night so he can collect their money. Hof portrays himself as a generous "Daddy" to all of his whores, showering them with money and expensive gifts...Parker accuses him of buying loyalty from damaged young girls by giving them cheap, knockoff presents while taking 50% of their earnings and using them sexually whenever the mood strikes him, which, if Hof is to be believed, is up to ten times a day.

 The guest essay from Krissy Summers is less hateful, but more pathetic...Summers has had a crappy life, and has passed through her time as a Bunny, as well as Hof's girlfriend du jour, ending up even more damaged and unsure of herself. Is Hof ultimately responsible for the lives that these young women have chosen, or would they have ended up there anyway, possibly with someone more violent and mercenary than Hof as their Pimp...?

 By the end of this book, it was like a sex-industry version of RASHOMON...you are inundated with all of these different perspectives (Including an essay at the conclusion by Sheenah Hankin, PHD, where she rips apart Hof's psyche and labels him as a sex-addicted control freak with mommy issues.....), and don't know what to believe. Is Hof the gentle, misunderstood man that he portrays himself as, a sensitive man who loves too much and tries to help young women stand on the own feet and empower them? Or is he the soulless, manipulative Pimp that others paint him as? The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, but I will say this: I sure as shit could not stop reading this book, and despite it being marketed as an autobiography, I'm going to go on record as saying it was probably the best, most absorbing mystery that I've ever read. Whatever Dennis Hof may be, the man can tell one hell of a story.

Regan Arts provided a review copy.