By Peter Foges I saw him once. It was in Paris in the fall of 1962 at the fabled nightclub Chez Regine. A small, suave, sleek man stood by the bar wearing the most beautifully tailored silk suit I had ever seen. He radiated magnetism, attended by a bevy of blondes in the shimmering darkness of the discotheque. There was about him, I remember, an air of menace. He was like a coiled spring. “Who is that charismatic character?” I asked. “That’s Porfirio Rubirosa,” my companion replied, “the world’s greatest playboy”. For both men and women, Rubirosa could be dangerous to know.
Porfirio Rubirosa: The Most Interesting Man In The World
Pictured above: Rubirosa was always at home at a cocktail party.
The FBI suspected he was a political assassin.
In the 1930s and 40s, with phony diplomatic cover in Paris, Berlin, and Buenos Aires, and with his first wife, Flor, in tow — the daughter of Rafael Trujillo, the brutish dictator of the Dominican Republic — he is said to have carried out political killings for his father-in-law, who in turn rewarded him with blank checks.
Many think he was Ian Fleming’s secret inspiration for James Bond.
By day he was a man’s man in what was still a macho world: an accomplished polo player, race car driver, adventurer, drinker, and bon vivant with the finest wardrobe of men’s — and discarded women’s — clothes in Paris. His shoes were handmade, his suits bespoke, and he even had tailored underwear from London’s Savile Row.
Singer Eartha Kitt, one of his countless conquests, said he was Cary Grant, Errol Flynn, and Burt Lancaster rolled into one.
Pictured above: Rubirosa in his Ferrari 166MM before a race.
Known as “Rubi” to his friends and the gossip columnists who wrote about him, he would rise at noon, spending an hour on his grooming, which included massaging honey on his face. He would then drive his blue Ferrari to the Bagatelle Polo Club to exercise his string of ponies. At five in the afternoon, he’d hang out in hotel bars drinking massive amounts of scotch with his men friends.
By night — when, as he used to say, “the lizard that sleeps in every man’s brain comes out to play” — he became a woman’s man, the twentieth century’s most famous lover. “Rubi” was erotic catnip. One slow dance with a woman, it was said, and she was his.
Pictured above: Sammy Davis Jr. and Rubi enjoying drinks with company.
To give an idea how expert he was in the field of romance, he once spent two hours teaching Sammy Davis Jr. the proper way to kiss a woman’s hand.
Women were his profession — he bedded thousands — Ava Gardner, Jayne Mansfield, Eva Peron and Zsa Zsa Gabor among them, but was faithful to none.
Pictured above: Rubi being Rubi.
He used to say he controlled women, and no woman controlled him. The two richest in the world, tobacco heiress Doris Duke and Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton, married him in quick succession, Hutton for a mere eight weeks. When the prenup was paid out, Rubirosa had ended up costing her $65,000 a day.
So what was his secret?
Pictured above: Rubirosa kisses Heiress Barbara Hutton's hand.
First, his mesmerizing charm. He was chivalrous, making each and every women feel she was “the one and only” as he stared into her eyes. In the morning he would send over a single rose with a card that read “For the most beautiful woman in the world.”
When he set out to seduce a very married Zsa Zsa Gabor, he filled her suite at New York’s Plaza Hotel with roses. She succumbed like all the others, and then could not have enough of him, chasing him for years halfway round the world.
Pictured above: Rubirosa with his wife, Odile Rodin.
He stuck to the code that a gentleman should never talk. What went on in the bedroom stayed there.
But that was not true for his female playmates. They blabbed.
His second secret was his mythic physical endowment. In the South of France and in Hollywood he was known as “Toujours pret” or “Mr. Ever Ready” — his mighty member said to have been thicker than a man’s wrist, longer than a size 12 shoe.
Pictured above: Rubirosa's mind clearly elsewhere with his wife Odile.
In Europe during the gray years after World War II, before feminism had a chance to brand him a male chauvinist, Rubirosa’s playboy exploits in the fleshpots of the world entertained a glamor-starved public. It was still a man’s world and his womanizing ways were covered uncritically by the paparazzi.
The darker side to his story remained largely unknown.
Pictured above: Rubi attends a premier with Patricia Kennedy.
In wartime Paris, for instance, he had supported his grand luxe lifestyle by selling Dominican visas at exorbitant prices to impoverished and desperate Jews.
By then divorced from Trujillo’s daughter, and married to France’s most famous actress, Danielle Darrieux, he was suspected by the French Resistance of Nazi collaboration, who tried to assassinate him. Indeed, he was badly injured by shots fired at his open sports car in Paris by unknown assailants, as the U.S. army and the Free French liberated the city in 1944.
Pictured above: Rubirosa races Ferraris in Italy.
In the 1960s, after Trujillo’s assassination, minus a patron and temporarily without the support of a rich woman, Rubirosa found himself broke. He told friends he feared growing old. Times had changed and he had slowed down. Married for the fourth time to actress Odile Rodin, the only woman he did not cheat on, he was forced to live simply in a country farmhouse outside Paris. He did however still retain his passion for fast cars and the camaraderie and thrill of polo.
Pictured above: Rubirosa's fatal crash in his convertible Ferrari.
One night in 1965, after leading his team to victory at the Bagatelle Club, Rubirosa celebrated through the night at Jimmy’s legendary nightclub. At 8 a.m. he stumbled into the daylight and the rain, got behind the wheel of his beloved Ferrari and lost control a few minutes later. He hit a tree at 100 miles an hour and died in the ambulance. He was 56.
“Die young and you’ll always be handsome” said Oscar Wilde. No self-respecting playboy should stick around too long.
These days, he is immortalized in the better restaurants of the world by the outsize pepper grinders the waiters wield so proudly. They are always known as “Rubis.”
Editor’s Note: It is with great pleasure that we are able to bring the voice of Peter Foges to our pages. Peter is a film and television producer, but that only begins to scratch the surface. He worked for the BBC in London for fifteen years as a correspondent, anchor, producer, and director, before moving to the U.S. to serve as BBC-TV’s Bureau Chief. He later became Director of News and Public Affairs Programming for WNET/Thirteen in New York City, where he has created, written, produced, or executive produced series and specials such as Good Night and Good Luck and Heretic, and co-wrote The Ten Year Lunch: The Wit and Legend of the Algonquin Round Table, which was awarded the 1987 Oscar for Best Feature Length Documentary. Peter also sits on the editorial board of Lapham’s Quarterly.