LOS ANGELES (LALATE) – The Vanessa Williams Penthouse scandal (photos below) is remembered today on the passing of Bob Guccione. Vanessa Williams Penthouse pictures struck after her win as Miss America 1984. The issue would net Guccione at least $14 million. But to date, it remains hard to value how one issue put Guccione on top of a $4 billion empire.
Guccione’s Penthouse had been around for two decades when Vanessa Williams won Miss America 1984. The initial leaked photos were offered to Hugh Hefner. He turned down publication of the photos for two reason: they were without Williams’ consent for publication and Williams had just become the first African American to win the pageant. Hefner told news at the time the following “Vanessa Williams is a beautiful woman. There was never any question of our interest in the photos. But they clearly weren’t authorized and because they would be the source of considerable embarrassment to her, we decided not to publish them. We were also mindful that she was the first black Miss America.”
The photos were taken two years earlier, in 1982, by a Mount Kisco, New York photographer Tom Chiapel. The concept was the “new concept of silhouettes with two models.” The pictures showed Williams with another woman.
After Hefner turned down the photos, Guccione confirmed he would run them in a September 1984 issue without Williams’ consent. Williams would sue the photographer and Guccione for $500 million promptly. She would eventually drop the suit claiming “the best revenge is success.”
Despite incorrect reports, Williams would not loose her crown. She would be able to keep her crown and her title and is still recognized as Miss America 1984. Suzette Charles, who was also African America, was recognzied as Miss America 1984b after Williams resigned under pressure.
It remains unclear how much money Guccione made from the pictures. In the months that followed, a report said he earned $14 million from one issue. But by all accounts, Williams’ spread was at least three issues. Within roughly one year, Guccione’s empire was worth $4 billion, his own net worth in excess of $200 million.
Williams would four years later begin a successful music career with three hit singles off her album The Right Stuff.