The Pioneer of Porn

What do you say to a naked lady? For more than 30 years Leroy Griffith has been saying, "You're hired!"

Criticism aside, Griffith has a history of sympathetic support for charitable causes involving both police and firefighters. "I used to do [benefit] shows at the Carib, which seated over 2000 people," he recalls, "donated the theater, staff, advertising, and helped get talent. This all went to the widows and orphans of the firemen and the policemen." A plaque commemorating his generosity hangs on Griffith's office wall, which prompts another recollection, about the time some years ago when Griffith was reported to have quipped that he had the Miami Beach Police Department "in his pocket" after making a $2500 donation. "I never said anything like that," Griffith now says. "There was a big benefit, and Danny Thomas came out and made an announcement that he was taking $2500 of the money raised for the wives and children of police and firemen and giving it to the actors' guild. They had a retirement fund, too. I said I didn't think it was right and that I'd match whatever he took back. That's why I donated it. I might have said something like, `I got my money's worth already.' At the time I was building the Gayety here, and we had a fire, and the [fire department] guys came in and opened up the doors, didn't break them down, and they were very pleasant, vacuumed up the water and got all the smoke out. They did a good job instead of tearing everything up, so it saved me $2500 just by that."

The fact is, Griffith doesn't even remember the last time he encountered legal problems in Miami Beach. "And I'm sure," he adds, "that they check and recheck my places. There's no drugs, no prostitution. Never has anything like that been connected with us."

So why has he always encountered such antagonism? And why in particular from newspapers, those bastions of free expression? His battles with newspaper business managers reach back to 1969, when he sued the local dailies for restricting the size and content of his advertisements. They continue today, even with New Times.

After much negotiation, the paper finally allowed him to advertise, but told him how big his ad could be, what could or could not be used to illustrate it, even what the copy could say. And the longest contract he was offered was four weeks.

New Times publisher Greg Stier says, "We're not comfortable with those businesses. We restrict him to four weeks because it gives us an out. There's nothing wrong with sex or nudity, but a woman getting on top of a bar and stripping? It's legal, but it's demeaning to women, and it abets the demeaning of women."

Griffith, obviously, disagrees, even though he doesn't pay much attention these days to the product he provides to his adult customers. "I haven't watched it in a long, long time," he notes. But he is not immune from pondering the moral implications of his business. "I've been thinking that over quite a bit," he says. "If I was a judge taking bribes, a banker trying to swindle my customers out of bank funds, a doctor selling drugs, I might feel bad. But seeing a nude girl? There's nothing immoral about that. And there are more judges and lawyers and cops and bankers in jail than theater owners. I'm not hurting anyone or stealing or anything like that.

"All those people -- those judges, lawyers -- are our customers. They have collections of more adult films in their homes than we have in our theaters. I don't feel too bad about the business I'm in any more, but if fights come up, and we think we're right, we fight it. If I walked away from fights, I wouldn't have been here for 30 years. There's nothing immoral about the human body. Evil's all in the mind.

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