Industry News

Interview With Spearmint Rhino Owner John L. Gray

We talk on the phone Thursday afternoon.

Luke: “I heard Michael Ninn was going broke.”

John Gray: “It couldn’t be further from the truth and frankly it hurt his feelings, the article you posted. That’s why I asked you to contact me.

“Do you know who I am?”

Luke: “I know Spearmint Rhino.”

John: “I have some clubs down there. We have ones under construction in Brisbane and the Gold Coast. We have one in Melbourne.”

“I started Spearmint Rhino. I’m 50 years old. I’ve been in the business since I was a kid. I’m married to Dyanna Lauren.

“I’ll never lie to you. I don’t bulls—. I do a little over $200 million a year out of the 47 clubs we have. We have over 2,800 hourly employees and over 60,000 dancer entertainers.

“I’ve toyed with getting into the Adult video business for many years. Ten years ago, I didn’t do it because there were still RICO and obscenity issues. People think the Stevie Hirsches and Steve Orensteins make a lot of money in the business, but I make multiples of that. Good friends such as Paul Cambria said it wasn’t the right time to do it.

“It’s frustrating. A friend of mine is Ron Braverman at Doc Johnson. I said, ‘Let’s do a toy line for Spearmint Rhino.’ Ron said, ‘We can do it but the reality is that the guys in North Dakota don’t know Spearmint Rhino. You’re tied to geography. But they know Vivid through television and DVD.

“I had three billboards last month. Vivid and Wicked are lucky to have one billboard. I’ve spent over $400,000 a month for the last ten years on billboards.

“I spend more on feature dancers than Vivid, Wicked and Hustler at their high point have spent on contract girls. There’s so much synergy. We pay $50,000 a month to our publicist in England, Max Clifford. It’s easy for me to put them on all the sides of taxicabs that we’ve got. Last month we hired in-house Penthouse photographer Karl Wachter to shoot our own girls.

“Dyanna’s previous boyfriend, Brad Armstrong, is a good friend of mine.

“It all starts with distribution. Those who win awards may not know whether to sell a piece for $4 or $8. They don’t know which GVA to sell to. Which guy to extend out to 120 days and which one to cut off.

“I always knew that Michael Ninn and Andrew Blake were the two guys to do a unique product. A month ago, for the hell of it, I emailed Ninn’s website and Lucky [Smith] responded. People had warned me that he was a snake. We have the biggest baddest wolves out there.

“Lucky was a nice guy. Michael contacted me. I dragged him out to Rouge in Van Nuys. We bought Bob’s Classy Lady and turned it into a Rouge gentleman’s club.

“Halfway through the conversation, he said, ‘You’re a cool cat. Can I come home with you tonight?’ I thought that was bizarre. I had a manager and a doorman follow us home in his car all the way down to Newport Beach. Dyanna and I live in Pellican Hill Estates. It’s a $14 million house. It’s been in Architectural Digest.

“Michael was impressed. He said, ‘You must be the real deal.’ I said, ‘Michael, you’ve got to understand how much money is in these clubs. The Vegas club does a million dollars a week. There are over 3,000 active dancers.’

“That downtown L.A. club does $6 million a year and I net $3 million.”

“I put Q, his significant other, and him on a plane. We went to Vegas and saw a show. We went to the club. Michael went to our offices in Corona. They blow Flynt’s offices away. They’re artful and huge. He was super-impressed.

“I said, ‘Why don’t we do something together?’

“Michael seems like an honorable guy. He has an eight-year old son in addition to his two teenagers. He does the white-picket fence thing. He’s moved up north because his significant other, Q’s dad, was dying. I know he let Chasey Lain live with them for a while. He took Chasey Lain’s daughter in.

“I found him to be an enigma. He’s probably won more awards than anybody yet he’s never stood on a stage and accepted the award.

“I took six accounting girls and I put them the most recent Jenna – Janine pirates movie in and then I put Ninn’s ‘Sacred Sin’ in and there was such a chasm.

“Dyanna is the most skeptical person. And she got teary-eyed. She said, ‘I wish that during my time I had a vehicle like ‘Catherine’ or ‘Sacred Sin.’ The stuff she did such as ‘Bad Wives’ was crap, technically speaking, compared to ‘Sacred Sin.’

“I bought a majority interest in his company. It is now a Spearmint Rhino company. NinnWorx is now 51% owned by me.

“Michael’s total bills were for $150,000. Most of it was for replication. We cleaned up the bills.

“Michael has all these tag-along people who just suck money out of him. He can’t say no.”

“Dyanna and I are so unsociable that nobody comes over to our house. But we were so comfortable having Michael at our house.”

“Both of us are into interior design. We’re into the nice things of life.”

“There’s no doubt that he’s more of an artist than a businessman. It was a grind for him.”

“I own six Adult book stores and I can’t get product worth s—. The whole distributor thing is f—ed up.

“I know Paul Raymond and David Sullivan. They’re drinking friends of mine. David Sullivan has 80 bookstores.”

Luke: “Didn’t Spearmint Rhino start a video company in 1999?”

John: “We never started one. Dyana interested me in starting one. It was when Dyana and I started dating. We shot a couple of movies with Rhino girls. We ran an ad in AVN. Dyana was then dating Steven St. Croix. We all went and had dinner in Century City. But we never formed a video company.”

“Dyana, the past few years, has been doing still photography as a hobby between being a mom.”

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