November 17, 2001 09:57am
Brazil's 'Entrepreneur of Pleasure' Has Big Plans
by: Carlos A. DeJuana
(SAO PAULO, Brazil) -- It would be easy to label Brazil's self-proclaimed entrepreneur of pleasure, Oscar Maroni Filho: brash, immoral and indecent.
Just don't call him a hypocrite.
The psychologist-turned-businessman publishes the Brazilian (news - web sites) version of adult magazine Penthouse and owns one of Sao Paulo's most notorious cabarets, where men can chat up working girls in a co-ed sauna and, if need be, rent a per-hour room upstairs.
He also claims to have slept with 1,500 women, calls himself a visionary businessman and says he is one of Sao Paulo's best ranchers.
``I may be immoral and indecent, but I am not a hypocrite and I don't do anything illegal,'' says Maroni.
Whether it be the luxury hotel in the works or his bold marketing tactics, Maroni likes to play the larger-than-life rebel like his heroes Hugh Hefner and Larry Flynt, the publishers of Playboy and Hustler magazines.
``I'm not a humble man and I don't want to be,'' Maroni says. ''You could say I have everything a man dreams about.''
But the 50-year-old father of four also wants to spread the good life around and poke some holes in what he sees as the hypocrisies of Brazilian life while he's at it.
Maroni's staff at Penthouse say it is sometimes hard to get their analysis-prone boss to focus on the business at hand. The former therapist can hold forth on religion, corruption, politics, the environment and, of course, sex, for hours on end.
Now that he has become a publisher and is about to launch an Internet site, Maroni says his transformation to a ``media man'' is complete.
``I am a social being,'' he said. ``I am influenced by society but I also want to influence society.''
He is not quite a household name in Brazil, but Maroni has managed to shake things up a bit.
SHOCKING THE MASSES
Although known abroad for its wild Carnival parades and skimpy bikinis, Brazilians can be surprisingly conservative when it comes to public nudity. Topless sunbathing, common in Europe, is rare and still illegal on some beaches.
So when a judge banned June's debut issue of Penthouse in Rio de Janeiro for its racy cover, Maroni shot back with sarcasm, printing a special Rio edition in which he dressed the model head to toe in a white First Communion dress.
But his most headline-grabbing move yet has been hiring 94-year-old Dercy Goncalves -- a raunchy comedian who appeared topless in Rio's famous Carnival parades last year -- to appear in the nude.
Maroni says the photos, expected in December or January, will be part of a larger spread spotlighting the hypocrisy and double standards in Brazilian attitudes about sex, the elderly, teachers and police.
``You can't expect much from a society in which those who work their whole life, those who protect us and those who educate us -- police, teachers and the retired -- have the lowest salaries,'' Maroni says.
His latest media assault is a grim one: calling attention to the rampant crime that plagues Sao Paulo, which, at 55 per 100,000, has the second-highest homicide rate in Latin America, behind Bogota in civil war-torn Colombia.
Close to his hotel under construction, Maroni erected a billboard telling passersby: ``You could be the next one murdered: React. Get out of your passivity in an intelligent way and within the law.''
The statement is emphasized by the four mannequins that hang beneath the billboard.
HOOF AND HOTEL
Maroni made his first mark in Brazil's ``pleasure'' industry with Bahamas, a pricey version of the night club/saunas common in Brazil and many times popular with visiting businessmen.
It is among the largest adult entertainment centers in Latin America, visited by 350 men and 150 women a day, and one of the best known clubs of its type in Sao Paulo, the continent's largest city.
Between the club and a cattle-breeding ranch, Maroni's company, Oscar's World, sees about 9 million reais ($3.2 million) in sales per year.
His next project is Oscar's Hotel, a 13-story 227-room complex. Aside from the usual amenities of five-star hotels, Maroni has thrown in his own special touches that perhaps underscore his unique vision: a piranha-filled aquarium, a cattle auction house and a museum devoted to sexuality.
``It's a hotel focused on hedonism. Hedonism doesn't mean only sex, it means the good things in life,'' Maroni says.
While some may complain Maroni is simply propagating bad taste, those who have worked with him say that at least he sticks to his plans.
``Unlike most people, he follows his dreams no matter how absurd they are,'' says Paulo Pratti, an architect and designer who has worked with Maroni on the hotel.
``Most people's dreams stay that way. He makes them real.''
Maroni, who got his start selling hot dogs while at university, says his business model is quite simple.
``I always made my money with sex and food,'' he says. ''That's the basis of humanity.''