Sun, Sep 18, 2005 - Page 19 News List

A new look at the ultimate playboy

`The Last Playboy: The High Life of Porfirio Rubirosa' chronicles the Dominican Don Juan's insatiable appetite for sex and money


The Last Playboy: The High Life of Porfirio Rubirosa
By Shawn Levy
356 pages
Fourth Estate

The cad, the bounder, the roue and the lothario. Where are they now, those male predators of yesteryear? Gone the way of the dodo. Already an endangered species when the Charleston came into vogue, they vanished with the arrival of the playboy, a sleek, fast-moving animal perfectly adapted to the modern era of jet travel, night clubs, film stars and gossip columns.

Porfirio Rubirosa -- Rubi to his countless conquests and to grateful headline writers across the globe -- stood head and shoulders above the rest of this international pleasure pack. Rubirosa, the Dominican Republic's answer to Pepe le Pew, provided the model that others could only emulate. A tireless presence at chic nightspots and watering holes, a keen race-car driver and polo player, a friend to the rich and infamous, a relentless pursuer of women with huge bank accounts, he went on a lifelong tear that ended, fittingly, with a spectacular car crash in 1965 after a night of heavy drinking at a Paris club. Even his 28-year old wife -- his fifth -- agreed that Rubi would have wanted it that way.

As Shawn Levy amply documents in The Last Playboy, his bubbly, breathless and appropriately inconsequential biography, Rubirosa worked hard at having fun. Well into his 50s, when he crossed paths with the Rat Pack, he set a pace that few could match. Sammy Davis Jr., wrecked and staggering after a night on the town with Rubi, ran into his host the next day at lunch. Rubirosa, none the worse for wear, was leaning against the bar, elegantly turned out and casually sipping a Ramos gin fizz. Davis asked him how he did it. "Your profession is being an entertainer," Rubirosa said. "Mine is being a playboy."

He found his vocation early. While attending school in Paris, where his father had been posted as ambassador, he took every opportunity to haunt the nightclubs of Montmartre. "Books didn't find in me a very faithful friend, nor did the professors find a conscientious student," he wrote in his memoirs. "The only things that interested me were sports, girls, adventures, celebrities -- in short, life." That version of life requires money, and Rubirosa, despite his polished manners and undeniable charm, had none. That changed when he caught the eye of the Dominican Republic's new strongman, Rafael Trujillo, who saw in Rubirosa a potential ally who could win over the country's golden youth to his regime. For the next 30 years, Rubirosa profited by the connection, sometimes serving in diplomatic posts and, just as often, playing the unofficial role of goodwill ambassador and high-level fixer.

Rubirosa's first audacious move was to marry Trujillo's daughter, a potentially career-ending, or even life-ending, bit of chutzpah. In time, he would capture even bigger prizes. While a diplomat in Paris, he set his eyes on Danielle Darrieux, France's biggest female film star, who quickly became his second wife.

When, after the war, the couple were interviewed by Doris Duke, heir to the R J Reynolds tobacco fortune and one of the richest women in the world, Rubirosa suddenly decided that the American version of the woman could be rather appealing, too. Marriage number 3 took place in 1947, followed quickly by divorce and, in 1953, by marriage number 4, to Barbara Hutton, another fabulously wealthy American heiress. All the while, Rubirosa pursued his side interests with zeal. "One woman is not enough for him," Darrieux complained to the press. "A man like him needs a harem."

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