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Is the world’s most popular brothel owner the face of legal sex in America, or a soulless pimp?
In his new memoir The Art of the Pimp, Dennis Hof describes visiting the Arizona State Fair when he was eight and having a beatific vision of a large-breasted blonde woman. The way Hof tells it, the woman saunters up to him, asks him his name, then introduces herself as Marilyn Monroe. “I watch her go, standing there with my throbbing little hard-on, unaware that Marilyn Monroe has just sealed my fate,” Hof writes.
The 68-year-old Hof is, above all else, a consummate salesman, so that tale is likely purely apocryphal. But since that alleged encounter at the State Fair, Hof has been obsessed with women—particularly slim, blonde, large-breasted women like Monroe—to the point where he’s made the pursuit of sex his livelihood. As the owner of the Moonlite Bunny Ranch, the Nevada brothel featured on the popular HBO series Cathouse, as well as six other legal establishments, Hof has made a name for himself peddling sex, partying with such adult entertainment luminaries as Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss and calling himself the “P.T. Barnum of Booty.”
“Dennis Hof is a liar. Every single word that comes out of his mouth is bullshit,” she writes. “All that fake bravado, all that nonsense about how the Bunny Ranch is so wonderful and everybody’s so happy there. It’s all a lie.”
Accompanied by his “work wife” Madame Suzette, Hof has made a career out of trying to portray the warmer, cuddlier side of the sex industry, regularly appearing on news programs to debate the ethics of sex work and speaking at Oxford University to call for the legalization of prostitution. On the show Cathouse, and in his memoir, he positions himself as a jolly paternal figure to the working girls at the brothel—albeit, a paternal figure who has sex with some of his employees. (Hof exclusively dates working girls, and is currently dating the 26-year-old Penthouse Pet and former Bunny Krissy Summers.)
But in The Art of the Pimp, it becomes clear that Hof’s life at the Ranch isn’t all sex swings and lollipop dildos. In the memoir, he writes about his inability to be monogamous and his estranged relationship with his two daughters. In one particularly scathing passage, Hof’s ex-girlfriend, Cami Parker, accuses Hof of being a “soulless pimp,” pressuring her to get implants and lose weight to the point where she developed an eating disorder. “Dennis Hof is a liar. Every single word that comes out of his mouth is bullshit,” she writes. “All that fake bravado, all that nonsense about how the Bunny Ranch is so wonderful and everybody’s so happy there. It’s all a lie.”
As a longtime Cathouse fan, the Daily Dot wanted to chat with Hof about The Art of the Pimp to get a sense of who the real Dennis Hof was: the twinkling-eyed, blustering, harmless pervy uncle caricature on Cathouse, or the soulless, sexist, abusive pimp that conservatives and his ex-girlfriends believe him to be. The answer: probably somewhere in the middle. But he’s OK with that.
“The thing that made the Cathouse series so special is that it was real,” he tells the Daily Dot. “I don’t wanna sugarcoat anything. I wanna put it out there. It is what it is.”
You call yourself a pimp in the title, which is a word with some pretty negative connotations. Why did you decide to market the book like that?
It’s interesting, because I’ve fought the word “pimp” for 20 years. I detest pimps. The image of a pimp in America is a guy that’s exploiting young women and having them do illegal activities and pump ‘em full of drugs to keep ‘em working. The title was Judith’s [Regan, owner of Regan Arts, the publisher of Art of the Pimp] idea, but when you read the book The Art of the Pimp, eventually you realize that I’m not a pimp at all, and that’s the last thing I am is a pimp. It’s just to get everybody’s attention.
Where do you draw the line between what you do and what a pimp does? How do you make the distinction?
Well, if I get called a pimp by Lil Jon or Snoop Dogg or my buddies in the rap world, then I’m OK with it. It’s a term of endearment. It’s like a black guy using the n-word. But if Sean Hannity or Bill O’Reilly says that to me, then it’s on. I’ll fight ‘em. Look, I’m not a pimp. I’m a businessman. I have a license to do this. And I work with girls toward being able to achieve their goals and saying, “What are you doing here? What do you hope to achieve?”
You get into some pretty nasty details about your personal life, such as your relationship with your family and your daughters, who you don’t speak to anymore. What was the hardest part to write for you?
The hardest part of the book for me was reliving experiences. When I started this book, Judith told me, “I’ve seen many people break down doing this. It’s gonna be a wild ride.” I go, “Come on, I’m a tough guy. All I’m doin’ is telling stories about my life.” But when you relive these things, you feel it. I felt every relationship that I’d been through, every breakup with girls. I was married at a very young age because I wanted to get laid, and after that it was one girl for 2 years, one girl for 5 years. Seems like 2 to 5 years is the number. It’s difficult. When you’re in the business I’m in, where you’re surrounded by hot girls who love sex, it’s difficult. But I’m honest with girls and I tell them that I wanna have an emotionally monogamous relationship, but there are times when my little buddy in between my legs can’t do that.
Dennis Hof/The Art of the Pimp
You talk a lot about that, and your inability to be monogamous. Do you think it’s specific to you, or that men in general can’t be monogamous?
Oh, it’s not specific to me at all. The only difference is, I’m honest about it, and they’re not. With young guys, the ploy is, “If I do this, he’ll be my boyfriend. If I do this we’ll get married.” Girls use sex over our heads to control us, and we’re too weak to say no. But now I can do that and be honest and say, “I want a relationship. I want to be in love. But you have to understand that I can’t be monogamous.”
Why did you include the section with your ex-girlfriend, Cami Parker? There’s a whole 10-page section where she talks about how much she hates you, and how much you manipulated her during your time together.
Well, the thing that made the Cathouse series so special is that it’s real. I don’t wanna sugarcoat anything. I wanna put it out there. It is what it is. I did the same thing in the book. I wanted to give every girl the opportunity to say what they really think about me, including Brooke and Cami and Krissy, who I wasn’t with at the time, but now I am with. I gave them all the opportunity.
The Bunny Ranch is like any other legal operation. It’s like Walmart or church: You only go if you need something.
Who has the nerve to do that? How would you like me to have a meeting tomorrow night and have every guy you’ve ever dated have the opportunity to say what they think about you?
I would hate that.
Everybody would. But that’s part of what makes [the book] real. I could’ve had hundreds of people sugarcoat it and pat me on the book, but that’s not what I wanted. I personally think Cami comes off like a lunatic. But that’s good, because that’s what will sell the book.
What do you think Cami or anyone else who talks about you in the book got wrong?
I haven’t read the psychiatric report. My people have said things like “jarring,” and “Oh, my fucking God.” But I had total editorial control over this book, I just didn’t want to exercise that. It was the same with HBO. There was a time when Brooke got in my face and started a confrontation and I allowed it to be in there, because I felt it was important. People will like this book because it’s real. I’m telling the wives and girlfriends what they need me to be doing to keep their men happening. They’re not doing such a great job, otherwise I wouldn’t be so rich.
Dennis Hof/The Art of the Pimp
In the book, there’s also a lot of where-are-they-now-type stuff—for instance, you talk about where Isabella Soprano [NSFW] from Cathouse is, which fans have often wondered about. It seems like a lot of girls are like Isabella, and they come and go from the house and spend a short time there. What’s the turnover rate at the ranch? What are the girls’ most common reason for leaving?
The turnover rate is high in any convenience sales business. A lot of girls don’t look at this as a career opportunity. This is a means to an end. I’ll use Kristy as an example: She was a fan at 14, and she came here with a specific goal. She had $25,000 in school loans and she didn’t come from a wealthy family, and her goal was to come here and pay off the loans and go back and get her master’s. And she achieved that, and now she’s 15 months from getting her Ph.D. and being a doctor. And I like that. I like girls who come to the ranch to achieve their goals.
In your book, you talk about how you have a very specific type of woman you’re attracted to—blonde, thin, big boobs, early 20s—and how you no longer date civilians, only working girls. Why do you think that is?
I quit dating civilians a long time ago. I make a lot of appearances, and in the past I could go out every Friday and Saturday night, and I could pick up three-to-10,000 dollars making appearances at night clubs and strip clubs and picking up girls and all that. But I quit that for a few reasons. Number one, the STD rates in America are so high right now. One out of four groups in America has an STD, primarily chlamydia. I don’t wanna deal with that. I also realize if I hook up with a civilian girl, it’ll make her crazy. I’m around girls all the time. They’re suggestive, they’re fun, in a sexually charged business environment. If you bring a girl from the outside world into that, they don’t get it. So I stay away from civilian girls, and I date girls who have already made the decision to come here. But there’s a difference. Some girls use this as a means to an end. I have a girl here now who’s a real professor. She has $100,000 in school loans, and she’s not making enough money to pay these loans off. Other girls, like an [Cathouse stars] Air Force Amy or a Caressa Kisses, this is their job, this is their occupation. They don’t work very hard. They take a lot of time off and go to health camps and make half a million dollars a year.
…they just wanna do the best with what they have, which is their beauty and their youth.
I’m a lot of things to a lot of girls. I’m a financial adviser. I’m a dad to a lot of them. I’m a lover to some of them. My thrill in life is seeing girls achieve their goals.
Do they have to sleep with you in order to achieve that level of success at the ranch?
No. I very seldom get involved in the hiring. Literally, one out of 500 that I get involved at all. So if I’m dating a girl, they’re here working already. It’s got nothing to do with them keeping their job. And I let them know this is for fun, and nothing else. I’m very careful. If the girl’s got a boyfriend or husband, I stay totally away from them. And all that has slowed down to—I hate to stay a stop, but a trickle—with Krissy, because I’m really happy with her.
What’s the difference between the Air Force Amys and a girl who comes to the Moonlite Bunny Ranch, works a few months, and leaves?
Well, the Air Force Amys treat it like it is their full-time job. Other girls come in to accomplish a goal. They need $20,000. They wanna make enough money so they don’t have to go back and beg Mom and Dad for a few hundred bucks for gas and food money. They wanna be independent. This is one of the few jobs in America where a girl not only makes 100 percent of what a man makes, but she’ll make a lot more at the same occupation. And girls like that. They like that feeling of power.
On the flip side of that, though, there are a lot of sad stories in the book. You talk about Amy’s story, where she said her brother sold her for half a pack of cigarettes when she was 10 years old, and you write, “No girl becomes a prostitute because her life is perfect.” Doesn’t that contradict what you’re saying and what you see on Cathouse about brothel work being empowering?
It’s primarily financially driven. Some girls come from a lower socioeconomic background and they don’t have a lot of opportunities. You get a girl who lives with a single mom, and she doesn’t have the money for a quality education. You also get girls who come from wealthy families who don’t like the control. I had three girls come in from Wellesley for a summer and pooled their money together because they were sick of begging their parents for money. I also see a lot of role reversal since the recession. I see the stay-at-home mom with three kids and the county worker who lost his job, and she comes into the Bunny Ranch and he stays home with three kids. I see a lot of people from the auto industry who got laid off, from Ohio and Michigan, and there are just no jobs. In these tough situations, they just wanna do the best with what they have, which is their beauty and their youth.
Dennis Hof/The Art of the Pimp
How many women come to the bunny ranch as clients?
The women are about 15-to-17 percent of our business. Last night, there were 11 couples in here at one time singing karaoke and going to the rooms. Some wives wanna treat their husbands, because they’re smart enough to know men have a hard time being monogamous, so they have a party with another girl, and that’s enough to satisfy their needs. It could be as much as being in the room, maybe getting a massage by the husband and another girl, or it might be that she’s never tried being with a woman and she’s bi-curious. A lot of girls get turned on by watching the husband with another girl. Other times, it’s the guy watching. It’s a zillion different scenarios, but bottom line is when I took the “no women” sign down in 1992 and started letting women in, and showed single women and couples coming in and having fun, it worked, and now it’s acceptable where 20 years ago, a woman wouldn’t think about walking into one of these places.
Do you think you’ll ever hire men at the bunny ranch?
Men at a brothel is coming. I own seven places now, two were because Heidi Fleiss talked me into looking into that market and saying, “Let’s go down there and open up Heidi’s Stud Farm and a bunny ranch together.” I went along with it and Heidi got into some legal trouble, so we didn’t feel like she’d get a legal license. Now, there is business for guys, no question about it. The majority of it is homosexual business. If there are guys out there telling you they’re gigolos, it’s 90 percent homosexual business. It might seem hard to believe, but Nevada is a very conservative state. I feel like these old conservative Nevadans, if they found out men was working for there, they’d be saying, “Oh, no. It’s OK for these girls to be satisfying these men, but you’re telling me that two men are sucking each other’s cocks? I don’t like it.” It could be the death blow to the industry at this point. Will it happen someday? Yes, and I’ll be the guy who does it, and does it right. But I don’t feel like the political climate is right for it right now.
Would you ever hire trans workers? It’s quite a lucrative market, from a business perspective.
No, we don’t. We don’t have any male parts. I think we had a girl one year who went through the operation, but she was very, very popular, and I heard from a couple clients, “I think this girl is a post-op tranny,” but that was only speculation. I know that business will be a good business. I just don’t know if the timing is correct for me to put it out into the world, but we don’t want the constituents of Nevada who on any Thursday could say, “Eh, we don’t want the brothels anymore.”
I wanna ask you about your stance on trafficking and the legalization of prostitution. Why do you champion legalization, and not decriminalization? Why do you think the brothel model works over a decriminalized model?
I don’t like decriminalization. It doesn’t work. The same person who’s saying decriminalization is OK, are they also saying my doctor should do boob jobs in his garage? They don’t need continuing education or government oversight as to quality or health issues? Decriminalization just won’t work, because there’s no honor system. It costs a girl $300 to $400 a month to get proper health checks in Nevada, which involves pre-screening for chlamydia and gonorrhea. It’s a weekly test, and monthly you get tested for HIV and syphilis. Illegal prostitutes don’t do that. It’s a cost they don’t wanna spend. Pimps won’t take their illegal underage girls to doctors to get tested. It’s just not gonna happen. I see the brothel system as being a system that’s safe for the girls, safe for the public, as opposed to decriminalization… you have to do it in a commercial environment. There has to be checks and balances to ensure everything’s done right.
We don’t want girls with pimps. My girls’ pimps are Mercedes Benz credits, Louis Vutton, a Wells Fargo credit card. That’s who a girl’s pimp should be…
If you decriminalize the sex trade, or leave it illegal, no one benefits from it. I like to use Nevada as an example. Nevada has legal prostitution, except in Vegas or Reno. In Vegas, it’s out of hand. There are 3,000 active pimps working there, per the mayor Oscar Goodman. HIV was up 48 percent a few years ago in Clark County, and they’ve now had their thousandth girl who they’ve arrested and forced to take a HIV test, and found out she was working with HIV. So decriminalization and the honor system is bullshit. It just doesn’t work.
Do you ever debate this with your friends in the porn industry? I know a lot of sex workers and people in the adult industry who disagree strongly with the Nevada model.
I talk to Ron Jeremy every day, he’s my best friend. We talk about these things. He agrees on some things and he doesn’t on others. The porn industry girls believe they should have no regulation. They should go out and have sex with anyone they want to. What benefit is that to society? Fifty percent of the girls who come from the porn industry and go into the brothel industry have STDs. If they’re working here legally, they give those STDs to clients. We don’t want people in the sex industry that are running from criminal activity they were involved in. We don’t want girls with pimps. My girls’ pimps are Mercedes Benz credits, Louis Vutton, a Wells Fargo credit card. That’s who a girl’s pimp should be, not some guy. So the porn industry is a mess… the demand will always be there. What you can control is the supply.
If there’s a legal alternative, someone’s always gonna take it. I can’t imagine people in Colorado, where marijuana is legal, dealing with some sleazy drug dealer on a street corner, when they can walk into a dispensary and buy the product legally. Prohibition isn’t gonna work. It’s never gonna work. It’s just easier to understand “Relax, it’s just sex.” The Bunny Ranch is like any other legal operation. It’s like Walmart or church: You only go if you need something.
Dennis Hof/The Art of the Pimp
At the same time, I will say, when I was reading the excerpts from the Bunny Ranch Bible [the handbook governing the women’s behavior at the Ranch], I was a little surprised by how much control you have over the girls in the house. Like for instance, the rule where they can’t bring their significant other or their children in the house. It seems like they’re sacrificing an awful lot of personal freedom to live in the house, and in the brothel system in general.
OK, and I agree, but state laws require that you have to be 18 to live here. So we can’t take a chance on having a girl bring her 6-year-old daughter hanging around in here. We don’t feel like it’s an appropriate place for them to be at that age, and it gives the right wing something to shoot at you with. “Oh, they have 6-year-old girls there? You know they’re grooming them to have sex with pedophiles.” [By having that rule in there], you take that away from them. It’s a business that’s mandated not to have underage girls or boys in the house, and we adhere to that…we have such strict rules because I don’t want Sean Hannity to come in and say, “Oh, look, they’re doing this in there, they’re doing that in there.” I don’t want to give that to him. Just like you’re never gonna see me with a pound of cocaine and two 15-year-olds. I’m not giving it to ‘em, ever.
You’re estranged from your own children, and you write about that at length in the book. Have they reached out to you since it was published?
I’ve been estranged from them for 23 years. That was my choice. They did some wrong things, and these are girls I took real good care of for a long time. It happened yesterday that they reached out to me and sent me an email, and I don’t know how I feel about it. I was nice. I was firm. I reiterated the reasons I didn’t want to know them, but I’m a guy that—I expect the business world to try to fuck me and take my money. But when that happens with a family member, I don’t think they deserve another chance. One of my daughters said, “I’d like a chance to show up on your doorstep one day.” But I don’t know how that would be. I don’t know if I’d want that or not. I did my part. I was a guy that was 17 years old and I wanted to get laid, and the price of that was having a child. Then I had another wife who did the same thing to me a few years later. I was broke. I didn’t have an education, because I had a family to support. I was trying to work real hard and be successful, and all I got from it was a hard time from them. So I cut it off. Not to say that I might not revisit it. Judith Regan thinks it’s time for me to reunite with them. I don’t think it’s the right time.
Did they read the book? Is that why they reached out to you?
I don’t know if they have or not. I just got a letter and I was perfectly honest. I said, “What’s in this for me? I understand your mother’s dead. I understand your life is just so-so. And I understand you have a rich, famous father who’s gonna leave somebody a whole lot of money. So I could see why you’d be interested in talking to me. But what’s in it for me?” I’ve got a family. I have Suzette. She’s a loyal, hard-working person, and I love her to death. I have a great girlfriend, Krissy, and I wanna spend the rest of my life with her. I have a 14-year-old dog who’s the most loyal, honest, protective person on the planet. So what more do I need? I don’t think I need anything else.
Dennis Hof/The Art of the Pimp
What did Suzette think of the book? Many of your friends quoted in the book speculated she’s in love with you.
I think Suzette’s in love with me, and I love her also. She’s my office wife. Like most wives, you’re best friends, you’re loyal to each other, you don’t have any sex. That’s what a wife’s about. She’s a great businesswoman. She’s the heir to the business, and a big part of my will, because I don’t have any family. My daughters will get enough to buy a good dinner, because that’s what they deserve. That’s my family. My family is my girls, my business, and I want it to continue on.
Are you at all worried that people will read the book and read about her calling you a pimp, and about the negative aspects of your upbringing, and think it’s reflective of everyone in the sex industry?
No, I don’t think so. I think the fact that it’s real is what’s gonna sell it. I want people to look at it from both sides. I’ll use Cami as an example. People that have read the book say, “She’s coming off like a fucking lunatic. What the hell is wrong with this girl?” They have to come at it from the perspective of this is a girl who was drinking too much, doing drugs—which I hate—and one Sunday morning I woke up and said, “I’ve had enough of this.” And I’ve never had said a word to her since. Now, how many guys and girls would like to be able to do that, but couldn’t for whatever reason? She’s gonna hate me forever. She’s a mean-spirited chick that got dumped and deserved to be dumped. She’s gonna say terrible things to me. It’s for the reader to read through it and find out who the real Dennis is. Is he the worst flaming asshole in the world, or is this something a lot of men and women would love to do, but don’t have the guts to?
Well, who do you think the real Dennis is? What should I be taking from the book?
What I would hope that you take away from this is this is a guy who came from a very conservative background—World War II, mom and dad—that came from high standards, no money. He worked harder than anybody. He got himself into a position at 17 years old because a girl tricked him and got pregnant. But he took that responsibility and lived with it. He could’ve run off, he could’ve put these children up for adoption, but no, he took the responsibility. But he worked harder than anybody. He wasn’t any smarter than anybody else, he just worked harder… I’ve made a lot of money. I’ve done things in an honorable manner. I have a lot of friends. Some people would be impressed by the fact that I’ve slept with 4,000 chicks on the way. Other people would think it’s disgusting, but either way it is what it is. I’ve got it right. My business is right. It’s what the world needs.
Photo via Dennis Hof/The Art of the Pimp
EJ Dickson is a writer and editor who primarily covers sex, dating, and relationships, with a special focus on the intersection of intimacy and technology. She served as the Daily Dot’s IRL editor from January 2014 to July 2015. Her work has since appeared in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Mic, Bustle, Romper, and Men’s Health.