In 1997, when Hollywood told Larry Flynt’s story, locals remembered his start in Dayton

In 1997, former Dayton Daily News reporter Wes Hills interviewed local residents who knew Larry Flynt when he started his business career in Dayton.

Flynt died Wednesday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

ExploreLarry Flynt, who started porn empire in Dayton, dies at 78

The following includes excerpts from an article published in the Dayton Daily News:

Flynt’s Legacy in Dayton

Larry Claxton Flynt rolled into Dayton in 1962 with less than $20 and the clothes on his back.

Thirteen years later, he became America’s blue-collar Hugh Hefner, or worse, after publishing grainy, nude photos of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in his new magazine - the notoriously lewd Hustler.

Some people in the Dayton area may not know that the infamous porn king got his start here. Many of those who do know might be happy to forget. Either way, the new film about his life and many controversies, The People vs. Larry Flynt, stars Woody Harrelson as Flynt and is bound to get folks talking again.

People who knew him in Dayton remember Flynt as a tough guy with a short temper and a flair for drama, who nonetheless was not always as wicked as his critics made him out to be.

Flynt came from Bible-belt Salyersville, Ky., and his beginnings in Dayton mirrored those of thousands of other Appalachians who came here in search of work. He washed dishes in a restaurant before landing a job on the production line of General Motors Corp.’s Inland Division.

“He worked a lot of overtime and he saved up $1,800 and bought his first bar,” recalled Richard Mantia, a former business partner with Flynt and owner of Dominic’s Restaurant at 1066 S. Main St.

That first bar was Larry’s Hillbilly Haven in the 500 block of Milburn Ave. Flynt described the secret of his bar’s success this way: “Good drinks, loud music and some nice girls to look at.” Denny Haller, a retired Dayton police detective sergeant, said Flynt’s place was popular with truck drivers in search of “go-go girls (who) were turning tricks.”

Flynt’s second tavern was Larry’s Hangover Tavern at 297 Linden Ave. Later, he and Mantia became partners in the first Hustler bar, located downtown on East Third Street.

Patrick Alexander, who managed three of Flynt’s go-go bars, including the Hustler, said Flynt “kept a tight ship” and made plenty of money.

One of Flynt’s dancers - Althea Leasure, a 17-year-old runaway from the Ohio Veterans’ Children’s Home outside Xenia - would become Flynt’s fourth wife. Portrayed by Courtney Love, she’s a major character in the new movie.

Flynt’s first venture into publishing - and the First Amendment controversies that are the crux of the movie - was an inexpensive local men’s tabloid called Bachelor’s Beat, which he and Mantia put together in Dayton in 1968. Mantia said he and Flynt paid $5,000 to a man in Phoenix for the rights to the publication.

Citizens complained to City Hall that it shouldn’t be sold in news boxes, but it soon expanded and became Hustler - named after Flynt’s chain of clubs, which had by then expanded into several Ohio cities.

“He was very aggressive,” Mantia said of Flynt’s business conduct. Agreed Haller: “He didn’t have a stop switch.”

But despite occasional displays of temper by Flynt, both Mantia and Alexander describe him as a shrewd businessman. “Larry could sell just about anything,” Mantia said.

And the product he decided to sell was sex.

“Sex is the strongest driving force in the world,” Flynt once said. “In fact, sex is what it is all about. I don’t know why a faction of our society tries to discount it.”

Flynt would reflect further on this subject in 1977 while confined to a solitary jail cell in Cincinnati - which he once dubbed “Censor-nati” - after being convicted of pandering obscenity and engaging in organized crime.

“Murder is a crime,” he wrote, “but writing about it is not; sex is not a crime, but writing about it is.” His conviction was later overturned.

“Larry was a hustler,” Alexander recalled. “And he was no coward. Some tough guys tried to shake him down, but you couldn’t get nothing out of Larry unless he wanted you to have it. He’d have gone to the grave first.”

Althought Flynt was “not that astute a fighter,” Haller recalled, he often did his own bouncing at the bars.

“He was handy with that pistol,” Haller said. “I’d pull in front of that Hangover tavern in those early days and there’d always be a guy sitting out there witih a towel over his head with blood running down both sides of his face and Larry had put the pistol to his head.”

“He shot one guy in the foot” for refusing to take his hat off, Mantia said. “He tried to shoot into the floor, but he shot the guy in the big toe.”

Though he may have had run-ins with customers, Flynt knew his market - and how to get attention.

Mantia recalled Flynt received statewide publicity in the early ’70s when Third National Bank foreclosed on a loan on Flynt’s Cadillac limousine. He said Flynt loaded more than $6,000 in pennies in 21 new wheelbarrows and had go-go girls haul them “right down the middle of Main Street.” They dumped all those pennies in the bank’s lobby on a Friday at noon.

Alexander said Flynt sought the same audience for his magazine that he had served in his Dayton bars.

“He was really going after the six-pack Joe work guy,” Alexander said. “The guy who dug ditches and did that type of work. That’s who he targeted, and that’s who he got. I’ll tell you that all those customers he got, he kept them.”

Alexander recalled the impact of the August 1975 issue of Hustler, which contained the nude photos of Jackie Onassis that were purchased from a European photographer. “He zoomed right to the top after that,” Alexander said of Flynt, who eventually amassed a $100 million empire that publishes 30 magazines.

“He paid $100,000 for the photos,” Mantia recalled. “That’s what made him.”

Mantia makes no apologies for helping financially launch Flynt. He recalled that after Flynt had made his fortune, he returned to Dayton to repay about $47,000 to creditors - debts that stemmed from an old bankruptcy. “He paid it all off,” Mantia said. “He didn’t have to to that.

“I love him,” Mantia said. “We always had fun together.”

Alexander saw Flynt several years ago, and recalled how he had changed since he was shot in 1978 by the same would-be assassin charged with shooting civil rights leader Vernon Jordan.

“Larry changed a whole lot,” Alexander said of Flynt after the gunshot left him paralyzed from the waist down. “He just wasn’t the same guy. It ... wasn’t him. It was no longer him.”

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