LOS ANGELES—Bruce David, an employee of LFP, Inc. for nearly 40 years, died last Thursday at the age of 75, reportedly from septic shock following a long illness. When he retired approximately three years ago, his titles were editor-in-chief and editorial director for the company's major publications including Hustler magazine, having succeeded Alan MacDonell at the post in 2003, and was himself succeeded by Ann Denbok, another longtime LFP employee who had been editing some of the company's smaller magazines.
"My father was certainly the greatest man I've ever known and I will miss him dearly," wrote son Taylor David on the Facebook page devoted to Bruce. "Although I am beyond devastated by this loss, I find comfort in the fact that he lived a rich and fruitful life. He was a brilliant artist, writer, publisher, and journalist—a man of many talents. He made his mark on the world as editor-in-chief of Hustler Magazine, publishing consequential investigative pieces and political commentary that championed the working class and First Amendment, pushing the boundaries far beyond the scope of your typical sex magazine. As a screenwriter, he made people laugh, adding his wit to shows like Family Ties and Alf, among others. His achievements in life were abundant and I am terribly saddened he has gone."
"My heart is broken, as we have lost a Hustler family member, Bruce David," wrote Theresa Flynt on her Facebook page. "Bruce’s contribution to Hustler over the past 40 years added to the DNA of the magazine. He was the essence of what Hustler stands for, he was the catalyst in the obscure subjects that contributed to our editorial edge, always thinking of the strange, outside of the box thoughts, sexual, worldly, environmental, sci-fi and political concerns with no fear. Many people feared him as he was crass, direct with crazy ways, yet at the same time, he was respected, admired and loved."
Little is known of David's pre-porn career. He served in the U.S. Army after World War II, and was stationed in Germany during the Cold War, and got to travel to many countries—and later described himself to others as a young man who was "ridiculously handsome and irresistible to women."
David's first contact with the adult entertainment industry came as Al Goldstein's executive editor at Screw magazine in New York City in the early 1970s, and as sometime-co-host of Goldstein's Manhattan Cable late-night sex talk show, Midnight Blue.
But all that changed when David wrote a critique of Flynt's then-new magazine, Hustler.
"Bruce was working for Screw and wrote a review of the very first issue of Hustler back in 1974," Flynt recalled. "He said, 'The new men's upstart, Hustler, has just nudged out Refrigerator Monthly as the most boring publication in America.' So I called him up. I told him, 'I love your review! And I agree with you, by the way. Why don’t you come to Columbus and help us out?'"
"He worked for Larry Flynt Publications for nearly four decades," added Denbok. "He was stubborn, arrogant … very creative. He was Bruce."
As editorial director, David oversaw all of the LFP publications, including Hustler, Hustler XXX, Chic, Taboo, Taboo Illustrated, Barely Legal and others. He wrote editorials for several of the magazines, as well as the "Asshole of the Month" column, though Flynt himself chose the featured asshole. It was one of those columns, featuring "Moral Majority" leader Rev. Jerry Falwell, that led to a lawsuit in which Falwell claimed that he had been defamed, even though the column was clearly labeled as satire. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which found that the content was constitutionally protected—a major victory for adult entertainment, which still produces parodies of famous mainstream movies, TV shows and books.
"I'm sorry to hear that he's gone," reflected Ernest Greene, whose work on the Taboo magazines and some "all-sex" LFP publications was overseen by David. "I really liked him. He was a big tall guy with a big loud booming voice and he could be intimidating—and God knows, I think a lot of people quavered at the thought when he'd yell for them to come into his office, but actually, I think the times I spent in his office were some of the happiest times I had there.
"I'm gonna miss the guy," Greene continued. "I missed him when he left the company. He took such a huge chunk of the institutional history with him, too. What Bruce knew, the extraordinary experiences that he had and the things that he'd seen in his life—I was after him forever to write a book and he was always, 'Aw, it's a lot of work; maybe ...' I would say he's not the most modest person in the world, but even looking at him as an older man, he had the energy of a guy half his age a lot of the time. He had a very high-powered personality. He was definitely a part of a circle of offbeat intellectuals in the '70s who were there."
David was reportedly a bit of a technophobe, disliking email and preferring to edit copy in printed form rather than on a computer screen.
"He was really good at the editorial part of being an editor," Greene stated. "He could read things very well. He never gave up on doing that; he looked at everything that went into the magazines. Manys the times I saw him going through copy line by line—and I will tell you absolutely, he never touched a piece of copy of mine that didn't get better. He really had the knack for it.
"One thing he could not tolerate was anything he thought was stupid," Greene added. "He could tolerate a lot of things, but if you said something dumb in his presence, or something he perceived to be dumb, look out! He had an epic, legendary temper but once he vented that, it was over and then he could go right back to being a very cheerful and very entertaining and very funny raconteur. But a lot of people would just stay away from his office because they were afraid of his wrath, but I also knew that was partially—I think he thought dramatic delivery was part of his job, so after a while, I stopped taking that personally."
One person who felt some of David's intensity was Lonn Michael Friend, who posted on Facebook, "On April 19, 1982, thanks to the help of fellow Bruin Nancy Gottesman, I got the opportunity to sing and dance my way through a series of interviews at LFP, Inc for an entry level associate editor's position. Managing editor Kelly Garrett picked my brain; executive editor, Don Evans, gave me his laid back lay of the sophisticate land but their boss, the man in charge, Larry's Mr. Spock, editorial director, Bruce David, took a stainless steel shovel to my cranium. He was so fast, curt and smart, he scared the living shit of me but somehow, someway, I survived the vetting and got the job. First few months on staff was baptism by sophisticate fire. My copy was rejected more often than Senate gun control legislation. Bruce didn't just request rewrites on my pieces, he'd trek (with heavy footstep) from his executive suite adjacent to Althea's red velvet lair down the long Century City tower hallway, kick open my door and hurl the manuscript at my head like a Frisbee. The punk met the godfather and my learning curve got downright quadrophonic."
Friend and David shared a love of science-fiction, and David gave Friend some of Theodore Sturgeon's sexy sci-fi books to review for the magazine.
"We talked about UFOs, Joseph Campbell and our kids," Friend recalled. "I was convinced that—like a Supreme Court justice—Bruce would die at his post. He loved his job and the courageous, cantankerous icon that employed him for so long. Gratitude and safe crossing, Mr. David."
Politically speaking, David had libertarian leanings, which very much allied with Flynt's early politics, and David began to push Hustler in a more political direction early on in his career.
"His politics were a funny mix of things, but generally speaking, he was suspicious of government—but he was suspicious of the people who were suspicious of government," Greene related. "It could be fairly said of Bruce that his general attitude was one of extreme skepticism toward anything that came through the door, which is a good attitude for an editor, in my opinion. He was not impossible to convince. He had an open mind, and some of the many things we discussed—politics, culture—there was very little he didn't know. He was in many ways a product of the earlier generation of this business. He had the history in his head."
It was David who brought on board such politically savvy columnists as Nat Hentoff (formerly of the Village Voice), Robert Scheer (former editor of the radical left-wing journal Ramparts) and political commentator Brad Friedman, who writes the political/environmental BradBlog.
"I think as the years went by, Bruce's interest shifted more toward politics, which was in a way in accord with the way the magazine tilted too," Greene speculated. "I think there was a feeling it was going to be more about that, and while he didn't necessarily endorse every conspiracy theory that was out there, Bruce was willing to entertain some pretty far-out ideas on the basis that what we knew of reality gave us reason to think that perhaps there was something to them. But mainly, I think he really wanted to position Hustler as a general-interest magazine with some sexy content, and he worked hard at doing that.
"He was one of the more important figures in recent years in adult publishing, in that he really saw it as a platform for looking at bigger issues, and he brought that consciousness to it, and again, we didn't necessarily agree on every point of that," Greene added. "What we did agree on was that it was an important subject and that it deserved to be treated importantly. He was firm in his thinking until persuaded otherwise, which he could be, and really was, as he said, not afraid of much of anyone or anything. He was a fearless person. He wasn't afraid to say anything or take anyone on; he was a scrapper.
"Once again, our community loses part of its memory and part of the strange mix of interesting Bohemian-type people that were drawn to the industry in the early days. This is a link with our history that's now severed—another one."