The Legend Of Rubirosa
In the 50s jet set, Porfirio Rubirosa was the ultimate man’s man, with his polo, Ferraris, and macho adventures. But what made the Latin diplomat truly unforgettable were his women-an endless parade including Barbara Hutton, Doris Duke, Ava Gardner, and Jayne Mansfield-and the physical endowment that enslaved them.
by Gary Cohen
Porfirio Rubirosa is killed as auto crashes in paris, July 5, —Porfirio Rubirosa, former Dominican diplomat, international sportsman, and playboy, died in an automobile accident here today. His powerful Ferrari sportscar, traveling at high speed, jumped the curb and crashed into a tree on Avenue de la Reine-Marguerite in the Bois de Boulogne at 8 a.m., according to the police. He was alone in the car. The 56-year-old Mr. Rubirosa died in an ambulance on the way to a hospital. The wooden steering wheel of the type used in racing competition had crushed his chest. He died within sight of two of his favorite recreation spots, the Longchamps Race Course and the Bagatelle Polo Club …
—The New York Times
In life Porfirio Rubirosa played polo, piloted B-25 bombers, raced Ferraris at Le Mans, and hunted for sunken treasure in the Caribbean. The inspiration for the romantic hero in the 1966 Harold Robbins potboiler, The Adventurers, “he was the ultimate man’s man,” says banker Gerard Bonnet, a polo-playing friend from Paris. “Everyone wanted his style of macho. He believed in the bond of male friendship. All the men I know loved Rubi. The ones who didn’t were jealous of him.”
But it was Rubi’s success with the fair sex that made him a legend. He was widely seen to be in the same class as Don Juan and Casanova. His conquests included Eva Perón, Ava Gardner, Jayne Mansfield, Veronica Lake, and Dolores Del Rio; the full tally, though, will never be known. One friend sheepishly confirms that Rubi, who married the two richest women in the world, one after the other—Doris Duke and Barbara Hutton—slept with “thousands of women” while living in Paris in the 1950s and 60s. Columnist Taki Theodoracopulos recalls that when Rubi got drunk he would take out his guitar and sing, “I’m just a gigolo.”
Johnny Galliher, an acquaintance from Paris, believes that self-assessment was half true: “Rubi was half playboy, half gigolo.”
“We never spoke about girls,” says Claude Terrail, the owner of the four-star restaurant La Tour d’Argent in Paris and one of Rubi’s closest friends. “He was a gentleman, and a gentleman who has a lot of success with girls keeps his big mouth shut. Never speak about what happened. Everyone should learn that lesson.”
“You have to remember that in the 1950s,” says Taki, “it was much more of a man’s world. You went to a men’s club, you played sports with just men. Women weren’t taken as seriously, and you didn’t see them during the day. They were more for night, as sex objects.”
Rubi’s gallantry was unmatched. When he was around, an unlit cigarette never touched a woman’s lips. “If he was talking to an 80-year-old or a 4-year-old, the most beautiful woman in the world could walk in and he wouldn’t look at her,” says Mildred Ricart, a friend from the Dominican Republic whose husband, Jaime, had been in the foreign service with Rubi. “He made each woman feel that she was the most important thing in the world. There are a lot of men who are excellent in bed, but you can’t go out to dinner with them.”
Yet Rubi’s potent charm had as much to do with the former as the latter. Truman Capote, no firsthand authority on the matter, described Rubi’s principal endowment in his unfinished novel, Answered Prayers, as an “eleven-inch café-au-lait sinker as thick as a man’s wrist.” Rubi’s constant state of erection earned him the nickname Toujours Prêt, which in English is the motto of the U.S. Coast Guard: “Always ready.” When asked to compare Rubi’s member to a writer’s size-11 shoe, one of his paramours glanced at the shoe and merely shrugged. Rubi was bigger.
Legend has it that Rubi could balance a table with his penis, but everyone interviewed said it was an apocryphal story told only after his death. One friend says, “It would be inconceivable that he would pull it out under a table or on top of a table. He was a gentleman. He never would even talk about his penis.”
It did not hurt that Rubi was sterile (whether from childhood mumps or an errant polo mallet, no one knows for sure). This made women all the more willing to jump in the sack with him. He evidently had also mastered the finer points of sexual technique: once, at a Swiss hotel restaurant, as women flocked to his side seeking his autograph, a man asked Rubi point-blank for the secret of his success. Rubi answered, “If you are going to have a hot date, then jerk off in the afternoon so that it takes you longer at night. You’ll be a hero!”
Rubi was short, about five feet nine inches, and slim. While he did not possess matinee-idol good looks, “he exuded a sense of danger and romance and adventure,” says Taki’s wife, writer Alexandra Theodoracopulos. And he was Latin. Francesca Hilton, who lived with her mother, Zsa Zsa Gabor, when Rubi shared Gabor’s house in Beverly Hills in the mid-1950s, remembers that “even sitting in this elegant house, he would still prefer to eat nothing more than a big plate of rice and beans.” Although he wasn’t born to wealth, he never really held a full-time job. “Most men’s ambition is to save money,” Rubirosa once said. “Mine is to spend it.”
“Rubirosa was also an important figure in that as a Dominican he was able to navigate the waters of the international jet set. This was at a time when most Latin men were perceived as either dictators or Ricky Ricardo,” observes Julia Alvarez, whose 1994 book, In the Time of the Butterflies, recalls the final days of Rafael Trujillo’s Dominican Republic dictatorship. Rubi’s rise (and fall) was inexorably linked with that of Generalissimo Trujillo, his first father-in-law, who has been characterized as a Caribbean Caesar. Trujillo not only assigned Rubirosa a string of diplomatic posts but also repeatedly bailed him out financially when Rubi was between heiresses. “While I can’t say I admire the culture of playboys,” says Alvarez, “Rubirosa did survive [politically] divorcing Trujillo’s daughter—I don’t think any of her other husbands ever got that.”
Porfirio Rubirosa was born into a middle-class family in the Dominican Republic in 1909. His father was named counselor to the embassy in Paris in 1920, and he took his young son abroad with him. When it came time to return home, in 1923, a wealthy Chilean family thought Rubi so charming that they begged his father to leave the young boy with them so that his Parisian upbringing might continue. Rubi went back to the Dominican Republic at 17 and joined the army, in which he advanced rapidly, becoming a captain at 20, and captain of the country’s polo team as well. Rubi had no money of his own at this point. He spent weekends organizing boxing matches near the town square of Santo Domingo, the nation’s capital, charging two cents’ admission. When not tending the cashbox, he would sit shirtless on the curb, whistling at the pretty women who passed.
Soon after Rubi’s return to the Dominican Republic, his country sank into political chaos. Its incompetent democratic government fell in 1930 to Colonel Trujillo in a coup. Trujillo, a former guard in the sugarcane fields, had risen fast in the National Guard during the 1920s after being trained, ironically enough, by the U.S. Marines. On seizing power Trujillo launched a 31-year reign of terror as dictator, renaming Santo Domingo as Ciudad Trujillo, and insisting that he be addressed as “Benefactor and Father of the New Fatherland.”
During a polo match in 1932, Trujillo took a liking to young Captain Rubirosa. In Rubi’s memoirs, written during the 1960s but never finished, he recalled that Trujillo had asked him, “‘What are you doing with yourself?’ I said I was studying to be a lawyer, but Trujillo told me to come into the presidential guard instead. He had me fitted for a uniform, which I liked, because I knew that women would be attracted to the uniform.”
One of Rubi’s first assignments was to pick up at the airport Trujillo’s 17-year-old daughter, Flor de Oro (“Flower of Gold”), who was returning to the country after studying in France. Rubi struck up a conversation with her in French, and the elegant young lady was instantly smitten. Flor de Oro invited him to a ball at the Presidential Palace, and that night they danced every dance. This was unheard of in polite society and downright suicidal when the young lady in question was Trujillo’s daughter.
Trujillo was, in fact, enraged to learn of his daughter’s breach of etiquette and decommissioned Rubi, who went into hiding at his family’s coffee plantation. But after eight days Rubi grew restless. “It’s one of my fundamental principles: I would prefer risking everything instead of being bored,” he later wrote. Flor de Oro sent one of her servants to the plantation to ask Rubi to appear at a certain phone booth at a certain time. There, Flor told Rubi that she had told her father she wanted to marry him, and as Rubi somewhat immodestly recalled in his memoirs, “during those eight days [of my exile], the government had stopped governing and the country was paralyzed.”
At the phone booth Flor proposed to Rubi, and he accepted.
Before she died in 1975, Flor de Oro provided an audiotaped account of her life with Rubi to a friend, Maritza Quinones. In it, Flor described what had happened after the wedding: “We were brought to a bungalow on the grounds of the palace. I was still wearing my wedding dress so that my mother [who was not invited by Trujillo to the wedding] could see it before I lost my virginity.… He took me to the nuptial bed. I was scared—this thing lurching at me! I was disgusted and … became afraid, running all over the house.” Flor said she was sore for a week after that first night.
Trujillo proclaimed the wedding day of Flor and Rubi a national holiday; three years later he dispatched Rubi to his first diplomatic post, in Berlin. “He’s an excellent diplomat,” exclaimed Trujillo to the press, “because women like him and because he is a liar.” Hitler was already in power, but Rubi was far more interested in meeting the local beauties. In his memoirs, he described encountering in a bar a woman who proved so entertaining that he did not return to the legation until six the following morning. Then he discovered a huge bouquet of red roses at his place at the breakfast table. The card commemorated “a night in which the sun never set.” Although Flor later recalled their Berlin sojourn as “the happiest time I remember,” she admitted that living with her husband was difficult.
Rubi was transferred to the embassy in Paris in 1937, and Flor soon returned to her homeland. “He was living it up in Paris,” she recalled on the audiotape. “He was out every night, and would come home at dawn, covered with lipstick. I was so jealous, and when I asked him where he was, he beat me.” After chastising her for marrying a playboy, her father granted a divorce, and Flor proceeded to take eight more husbands.
For one year following, Rubi was unable to return to his country because Trujillo would have had him killed. Without Flor to bankroll him, Rubi started selling Dominican visas to Jews wishing to flee Europe. Another scheme involved using his diplomatic passport for smuggling: a jeweler who had fled Spain when the civil war broke out asked Rubi to retrieve his store’s inventory. Returning from Madrid, Rubi concocted a wildly improbable story involving savage attacks by snipers—even though his car displayed not a single bullet hole. About $180,000 worth of jewelry was missing from the inventory.
One day, out of the blue, Trujillo telephoned Rubi as though nothing had transpired between them, informing Rubi that his wife and 10-year-old son, Ramfis, were coming to Paris and would require a tour guide. (The previous year, in a state of paternal exuberance, Trujillo had named the spoiled Ramfis a Dominican Army general.) Rubi proved so exceptional a guide that Trujillo himself followed the very next month to see the sights of Paris.
Rubi later wrote, “Trujillo wanted me to show him the most elegant places in Paris—without rice and beans. I took him to the restaurant in the Eiffel Tower, and there was such a beautiful woman there selling postage stamps that Trujillo had sex with her, right there on the tower. A month later I was named Commercial Attaché to France.”
An employee of the embassy in Paris recently reviewed all the relevant files, only to conclude that Rubi did virtually no official work at all. But he did enjoy the nightlife at the Moulin Rouge and in the Latin Quarter’s seedy cabarets. In the autumn of 1940 he was invited by the Count de Limur to a cocktail party in honor of 23-year-old Danielle Darrieux, then France’s highest-paid movie star. At the end of the party, the host asked Rubi to drive Darrieux home because she and Rubi lived on the same street. As the two departed, a guest warned her, “Careful, this man is dangerous.”
Of meeting the movie star, Rubi recalled, “It was like a spring has sprung. An internal voice told me, ‘Caramba, how I like this woman.’ We dined together a couple of days later at Maxim’s, and when we met next, we knew we would never be separated again. We decided to marry as soon as we were free.” But before they could marry, Rubi was interned in a hotel at Bad Neuheim by the Vichy government. Luckily for him, the camp was next to a ski resort, and he noted with delight in his memoirs that his five-month imprisonment meant he could spend all day working on his slalom. He and Darrieux were married in 1942. At the time, he was so little known that The New York Times mistakenly described him as a diplomat from San Salvador. (Darrieux, still living in France, refused all requests for interviews.)
Notorious for her supposed Nazi sympathies, Darrieux became so unpopular that she and Rubi were ambushed on the Boulevard Malesherbes in Paris while driving in an open car. Three bullets hit Rubi near his kidneys as he threw his body over Darrieux to protect her. Soon afterward, the couple moved to Septeuil, 30 miles west of Paris, where they would live for the next few years. Rubi became a gentleman farmer, tending his cow, two pigs, and six sheep. He even learned to milk the cow. When guests visited the couple, they brought cognac and weapons.
Following the war, Rubi was transferred to Italy by Trujillo. Darrieux, in between films, followed. The day after her arrival in Rome a journalist from Harper’s Bazaar went to their hotel suite to interview Darrieux. The reporter was Doris Duke, heiress to the $100 million American Tobacco fortune.
Rubi later remembered, “The three of us had breakfast, she [Duke] seemed lively, jovial, with that je ne sais quoi that American women can have. Little did I know that a few months later, I would be completely controlled by her. Until then, I had been happy with Danielle. But at this moment, things started to change.” Rubi’s polo-playing friend Gerard Bonnet says that Duke sent Rubi a telegram following their first encounter: “When you are finished with Danielle, call me, and I will come.” Rubi must have been encouraging, as Duke soon wrote again: “Arriving immediately.”
“She loved him, no question in my mind,” says Stephanie Mansfield, author of a 1992 biography of Duke, The Richest Girl in the World. “He was the only one who was genuine in his pursuit of her. He didn’t pretend to be anything but a gold digger or gigolo. There was no manipulation about it, and with Rubi what you saw is what you got. Duke was in her mid-30s, the richest woman in the world but not that attractive, and couldn’t have children. The love of her life, British M.P. Alec Cunningham-Reid, [had just left to serve] in the war. Here comes Rubi, the International Man of Mystery. Rubi was really a fuck-you to her [mother]. They had warned her about men being after the money.”
One friend remains perplexed to this day by Rubi’s interest in Duke: “She was ugly! Very rich, but ugly. But he was a gentleman—he would never say that.” It is rumored that Duke—who was used to paying for beautiful things—gave Darrieux $1 million to bow out of her marriage to Rubi. Duke’s friend Hélène Rochas says, “She could buy toys, but Rubi was not a toy. He was difficult to keep, but it was a special deal.… He was more for pleasure, like a caprice, a whim.”
Duke and Rubi were married at the Dominican Embassy in Paris on September 1, 1947, about a year after their first meeting. At nearly six feet, the bride was three inches taller than the groom. She wore a green Dior suit with matching velvet hat, and he a smoking jacket with charcoal-gray pin-striped trousers. He seemed jovial, until two men from Duke’s law firm, Coudert Frères, arrived bearing a pre-nuptial agreement. Rubi got drunk enough to sign it, then either fainted or passed out following the ceremony. As Duke later delighted in telling friends, “Big boy passed out in my arms.”
Despite the pre-nuptial agreement, Rubirosa did well financially in the marriage. Presents from his wife included a check for $500,000, a stable of polo ponies, several sports cars, a converted B-25 bomber, and a three-story 17th-century hôtel particulier in Paris. The first two floors of the town house were decorated with Louis XV and XVI pieces selected by Duke’s decorator, Henri Samuel. On the top floor, where the servants’ quarters had been, Rubi put in a regulation-size boxing ring and a full bar. At around four each morning, a trio of guitarists from the Calvados nightclub would pack up and follow Rubi home. They would set up their instruments inside the ring and the party would continue. Victor, Rubi’s butler, would serve beer, scotch, and tortilla omelets.
Obviously impressed with his former son-in-law’s new wife, Trujillo offered Rubirosa the pick of any ambassadorship. Rubi chose Argentina, mainly for the polo, and in 1948 presented his credentials to President Juan Perón. The late Ramfis Trujillo Jr., grandson of the Dominican dictator, recalled that at the time “Juan Perón was thought to be a center-right dictator in the mold of Franco. Rubi was sent to find out what that meant for the Dominican Republic. My grandfather assumed he’d find out whatever he needed, whatever it takes, even if it meant sleeping with Evita.”
Duke hated living in Latin America, however, and soon returned to Paris. “While Doris fell in love with Rubi, he didn’t want to be the man of just one woman,” observes Mansfield. “And she was not easy. She wanted Rubi to be there always, like a slave. But he wanted to do as he pleased. And she knew this before she married him.”
The final straw came when Duke caught Rubi in flagrante delicto on Capri with his former wife Flor de Oro. Soon after, Rubi later recalled, “there was a new lunch guest. By his looks and his briefcase, he immediately revealed his identity—an attorney. Three minutes later, we signed an agreement.” The marriage had lasted less than two years.
Rubi wrote in his memoirs that, while Duke left the house and returned to the U.S., “this was so stupid, because we did not want to be separated. For the next year, all we did was reunite, break, reunite, in the back of airplanes, in between the United States and Europe.” Duke gave him the Paris house and all of its contents, and agreed to pay alimony of $25,000 a year until he remarried.
Claude Terrail later asked Rubi why he had married Duke. “What I did,” Rubi said, “is better than most people do—they go out with a girl from a good family, they take all her money, and then they leave her. The difference with me is that I marry her, give her the best time in all the world, and when I leave her, she is richer than ever before.”
Socialite C. Z. Guest, a longtime friend of Duke’s, says that the heiress never said a bad word about Rubi, ever. And when Duke died in New Jersey in 1993, next to her bed were only two framed photographs, one of her boyfriend, Louis Broomfield, the other of Rubi.
Rubi soon returned to his old job in Paris at the Dominican Embassy. He had come away with some money from the marriage to Duke, but his fever for an easy stake overruled his better judgment in business ventures. In the summer of 1952 he received a call from a mysterious man named Alexandre Korganoff, who told him about sunken treasure off the coast of the Dominican Republic. Rubi flew to Santo Domingo while a crew, hastily assembled for the expedition, crossed the Atlantic aboard a ship called the Re. The choice of the crew was disastrous; within a week of their arrival they were arrested for drunken behavior and mutiny. Managing to get them out of prison, Rubi sailed with them in search of the treasure, but a storm hit suddenly, and the Re suffered heavy damage. On its way to a dry dock for repairs, there was another storm and the ship sank, costing Rubi about $250,000.
Fortunately for him, Rubi never really needed to work so long as he remained in Trujillo’s good graces. “He was like a son to him, even more so than my own father,” recalled Ramfis Trujillo Jr., “and so my grandfather would just send him a blank check whenever Rubi needed it. He was the best public relations money could buy for the regime, and the only condition for the money was that Rubi fly the Dominican colors whenever he had a party.”
On a typical day, Rubi awoke at noon. After coffee, he would go to the Bagatelle Polo Club in the Bois de Boulogne to exercise his ponies until six. A friend from Santo Domingo, Kahlil Heche, says, “Rubi was the only one who played polo wearing a jacket and a scarf.… He protected his skin with honey; he took better care of himself than a woman.”
Terrail recalls that after polo Rubi and his friends would begin drinking. Rubi could usually finish off a bottle of scotch by himself. “By two in the morning, what Rubi called the petit cochon [little pig], the little animal that sleeps inside every man’s brain, would awake, and then it was time for the women,” says Terrail. “He did not need to say anything to the woman, he merely danced with her. That said it all.”
Jimmy’s disco in Paris, owned by the legendary Régine, was Rubi’s preferred haunt. “When he came in, everything changed, like magic,” remembers Régine. “All of a sudden, the women were on fire. It was everything—his eyes, his hair. He never went running after the women, the women were throwing themselves at him. They would even pull him into the ladies’ room. He was a victim, not a gigolo.”
“He liked women who were rather plump, the way they were in the Dominican Republic,” Terrail adds. “But usually it was just for five minutes behind the bar or down in the wine cellar. He’d say to the woman, ‘Come on, let’s do it and just forget about it in the morning.’”
“He had one of the best qualities for any lover: time,” says designer Oleg Cassini. “Since he didn’t work, he could control his time. He would go out, then stay in bed for the next whole day. He had a saying, ‘One night out, one night in.’”
Even now the women who knew Rubi in the 1950s cannot forget his charm. Heche remembers that Rubi’s calling card was a single rose, which he always sent after meeting a woman, along with a card that read, “A la mas bella de las mujeres” (“To the most beautiful of women”). “He was astute,” says Heche. “He would only send one rose.”
In 1953 and 1954, Rubi reached his zenith as a sexual adventurer. He was named a co-respondent when Robert Sweeny Jr., a golf champ and member of society, sued his wife, Joanne, for divorce. Rubi pursued another affair, with Marianne Reynolds, a former actress who was unhappily married to tobacco king R. J. Reynolds Jr. Wherever the Reynolds yacht docked, Rubirosa showed up. Patrick Reynolds, now an anti-smoking activist, believes that Rubi never really meant that much to his mother, and he asked her before she died why she had had an affair with him. “I was standing on the deck of one of the largest boats in the world, wearing a beautiful designer gown and some of the world’s best jewelry,” Marianne Reynolds told her son on her deathbed. “But I was a prisoner on that yacht because every night by five your father had passed out. And when Rubi kept calling me, asking me to dinner and the casino, by God I went.”
Reynolds says his mother told him the affair was consummated in Paris and lasted just long enough for his father to hire a detective and catch the couple in the act. Walter Winchell reported the affair, and Patrick believes that “naming Rubi saved my father a couple of million bucks in the settlement.
In 1953, in an elevator at New York’s Plaza hotel, Rubi ran into Zsa Zsa Gabor, fresh off the success of John Huston’s Moulin Rouge. They exchanged pleasantries, and she went to her room for a nap. His habit of sending a single rose notwithstanding, when Gabor awoke, her room was filled with flowers, and the card read, “Don Porfirio Rubirosa, Minister Plenipotentiary of the Dominican Republic,” plus the magic words “To the most beautiful of women.” That night, in the Oak Bar, Gabor saw “his dark eyes on me. He moved closer, but did not touch me. A terrific magnetism emanated from this man, silent and restrained.” For the next few months, he showered her with phone calls, flowers, and telegrams, never minding that she was already married to the actor George Sanders.
“We were like two children,” Gabor wrote in her 1991 autobiography, One Lifetime Is Not Enough, “pleasure-seeking, hedonistic, perhaps spoiled and selfish.… We were too greedy for life and too greedy for each other.” Gabor eventually moved in with Rubi in Paris. “He really loved my mother and wanted to marry her,” says Gabor’s daughter, Francesca Hilton. “He was also insanely jealous, and he had this mentality [with my mother] of ‘You are mine. I own you.’”
Eventually, Sanders filed for divorce. Rubi followed Gabor to the Last Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas, where she was performing, and gave her an ultimatum to marry him, but she remained torn by her feelings for Sanders. Angered by her response, Rubi hit her. Gabor showed up at rehearsal the following morning wearing an eye patch, and announced to reporters that she had jilted him, adding, improbably, “The fact that he hit me proves that he loves me. A woman who has never been hit by a man has never been loved.”
While playing polo in Deauville, and with Gabor still in the picture, Rubi met 40-year-old Barbara Hutton, granddaughter of F. W. Woolworth. Already married four times, Hutton had lost her sleek, youthful looks and figure, and had turned gaunt and hollow. That mattered not at all to Rubi, who wrote in his memoirs that he found Hutton to be a “frail beauty, someone who was smart, cultivated, sensible, and whose company I enjoyed more and more.” Mildred Ricart recalls things differently: “Barbara called him when he was at the bar in the Jaragua Hotel in Santo Domingo. She said, ‘You married Doris, now it’s my turn.’ Rubi had just admitted to us that he was broke, so he said to Barbara on the phone, ‘O.K., you set the date.’”
Hutton biographer C. David Heymann says, “I think that at this part of her life this was the beginning of her true insanity. She was hooked on everything, she looked terrible and had gone through a mental collapse. Even though Barbara was friends with Doris, there was a kind of rivalry. By marrying Rubi, she was trying to outdo Doris. And for Rubi it was simply a business arrangement.
The two decided to tie the knot at the Dominican consul’s residence in New York, and all seemed fine until the day of the wedding. Rubi wrote, “When I went to the Pierre to get Barbara, there were hundreds of newspaper photographers and reporters. As Barbara was coming down the stairs of the Pierre, she was shaking.”
The couple held an impromptu press conference, and Hutton’s voice was taut: “You would think that sometimes people would just believe I’m getting married because he sees something in me. But they always think it’s the money. I have loved him ever since I met him.” Rubi wore the same dark jacket for the ceremony that he’d worn at his wedding with Duke, but this time the bride wore black and carried a scotch-and-soda down the aisle. As the Dominican consul read aloud the marriage contract in Spanish, Hutton gently took Rubirosa’s hand and placed his arm around her waist. After the contract was signed, Mrs. Rubirosa asked her new husband, “Aren’t you going to kiss me now?”
“See how unhappy they look?” Zsa Zsa Gabor told newspaper reporters at the time as she triumphantly waved the wedding photos. “I give them six months. In a couple of weeks, this man will be after me again.”
The newlyweds chartered an 86-seat jet for just the two of them and flew to Palm Beach for their honeymoon. Recalls Ricart, “Barbara bought Rubi the biggest coffee plantation in the Dominican Republic, the biggest aside from Trujillo’s farm. She also paid for 40 suits, 20 pairs of shoes, eight polo ponies, and an airplane, the exact model that Doris bought him [which he had crashed just a year after their marriage, but even more luxuriously appointed. Barbara also gave him $2.5 million in cash]. But he still was not happy.” Rubi later wrote, “The villa where we were staying became a clinic. Barbara did not follow her medical treatments. There was no honeymoon.”
Edith Rosenberg, a friend of Hutton’s, whose husband, Leland, was Hutton’s business manager, remembers that Rubi was not a stay-at-home spouse: “I think he just walked away. She would fall, half the time could hardly walk. He took off a few days after their honeymoon. He wasn’t going to be cooped up with the windows closed and the blinds drawn.”
“One never saw him during the day, only at nightclubs,” says socialite Brownie McLean of Palm Beach. After just two weeks of marriage, Hutton moved to her aunt Marjorie Merriweather Post’s house in Palm Beach, and after 53 days the marriage was over. “For all the gifts and money he got,” says Heymann, “Rubi cost her $66,000 a day.” And Rubi complained to reporters at the time, “I was a bachelor before marrying Barbara and very happy. But [the marriage] was no good. She stays in bed and reads all day. It’s a very boring life.”
Rubi flew his new plane west, to win Gabor back. “He decided that he wanted to become an actor, and I really think he was a big talent,” says Gabor today. The movie they chose as a vehicle to introduce him was called Western Affair. It was set in Deadwood Gulch, South Dakota, at the turn of the century, and Rubi was to play Don Castillo, the owner of one bar, and Gabor a French girl, the owner of a rival bar. The movie featured all the things Rubi loved best—boxing, shooting, horseback riding, and romance. He gave up his late nights and took acting lessons. Every afternoon he practiced the quick draw. Shortly after production started, though, the Immigration and Naturalization Service denied him permission to be in the movie, saying he had no previous acting experience. The film was never completed.
Francesca Hilton says that Rubi was like an uncle, if not a father, to her. “He loved taking me to the magic shop in Beverly Hills. He loved things like peashooters, dog-doo pieces made of rubber, and he loved racing his Ferrari 100 miles an hour around the curves on Sunset Boulevard. He was like a big kid!”
When Rubi returned to Paris in 1956, everything changed. That May, at a polo match in Deauville, he met 17-year-old Odile Rodin, an aspiring actress who had just appeared on the cover of Paris Match. Rubi later wrote, “I fell in love with her the first moment I saw her. She was young, fresh, so beautiful, and again, a certain mysteriousness.”
Rodin, who had no idea of Rubi’s notoriety, mentioned the encounter to her mother, a teacher in Lyons. “My mother,” she says, “forbade me to go out with him, and warned me that he was dangerous.” But her mother’s stance softened, she recalls, “after she danced just one slow dance with him.”
That summer Rodin was staying on the Riviera with industrialist Paul-Louis Weiller. Having decided to take Weiller’s Rolls-Royce and driver into Saint-Tropez, she recalls, “I told my host that I would be back by dinner.” But at the bar she met a friend who had motored over by boat and said he was staying with Rubi in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat with the Dubonnets (the wine kings). Odile sent the car and driver back to the Weillers and jumped into the Chris-Craft. Her trip by boat through choppy waters left her drenched. Since she was wearing nothing more than a bikini top and white short-shorts, it didn’t matter much. “When we got to the house, I made quite an entrance for Rubi,” she says. “I must have looked like Ursula Andress! Rubi was thrilled, and the first thing he did was call Weiller and say that I won’t be there for dinner. Three days later, the Dubonnets sent their Rolls-Royce to the Weillers to pick up the rest of my clothes.”
Rubi and Rodin returned to Paris at summer’s end and were married that October. “Just as we were about to get in the car to go to the church, Zsa Zsa Gabor called Rubi,” says Rodin. “I don’t think she had any idea that she was catching him just as he was about to get married.”
Despite the 31-year age difference, Rubi and Rodin were a happy couple. “Rubi was lucky to find Odile, because he finally found someone who loved him,” says Kahlil Heche. Rubi played Pygmalion to his young bride’s Galatea, demanding that she dress in a conservative, understated manner. “He wanted me to be the opposite of Zsa Zsa,” says Rodin. “He would put me under the shower if my hair was too lacquered and bizarre.” Rubi also introduced her to couture, including Chanel and Balenciaga. “She was so beautiful, one of the sexiest women I’d ever seen,” recalls one friend, “but he made her dress conservatively, that Grace Kelly look. She would get around that by not wearing any underwear.”
In 1957, Trujillo named Rubi ambassador to Cuba. (Rodin later noted with great pride that, at 19, she was the “youngest Ambassadress in the world.”) “Castro was very taken with Rubi,” says Rosenberg. “He was fascinated by Trujillo, and questioned Rubi for hours on end about how Trujillo stayed in power for so long.” But not long after Rubi arrived in Cuba, the Revolution began, and Fulgencio Batista, Cuba’s then dictator, fled to the neighboring Dominican Republic. “Trujillo was livid with Rubi for not giving him advance notice that Batista just showed up on their doorstep,” recalls Rodin, “but it’s not like Batista asked Rubi for permission to land during a coup.”
After the coup, the Rubirosas moved in with Flo and Earl E. T. Smith, the U.S. ambassador to Cuba. Rodin recalls that “machine guns were going off everywhere, and everyone was on the floor. It was raining bullets.” Claude Terrail remembers a phone call from Rubi about what was troubling him the most at the time: “They are having a revolution. We have to get my polo ponies out.”
Trujillo offered Rubi a choice of postings, either Belgium or Argentina; he chose the former so Rodin could be closer to her family. As it happened, Trujillo was facing difficult circumstances at home. Out of the blue, he forced Rubirosa to trade his coffee plantation to him for stocks that soon became worthless. “Rubi couldn’t argue, as the Trujillos had been awfully generous to him through the years,” says Rodin.
Trujillo needed the money. His political base was collapsing and his life was in constant danger. On May 30, 1961, as he was traveling from Santo Domingo to his farm, six revolutionaries ambushed his car and assassinated him. Trujillo’s son, Ramfis, succeeded him.
Three months later, Rubi and Rodin went to visit President and Mrs. Kennedy for the weekend in Hyannis Port, along with Frank Sinatra, Ted Kennedy, and Pat Kennedy Lawford. (Rubi had known the Kennedys since meeting Joe senior on the Riviera, where he summered following the war.) They all went for a three-hour cruise on the president’s yacht, the Honey Fitz. Rubi was there also to talk business: the Organization of American States had ordered a trade embargo of the Dominican Republic because Ramfis Trujillo had tried to have the president of Venezuela killed, and Rubi asked J.F.K. both to support Ramfis Trujillo’s new regime and to get the sanctions lifted.
“Rubi … spoke and spoke to Kennedy,” says Gunther Sachs, part of the swinging-60s set on the Riviera. “But when he came back to Santo Domingo to report on the talks to Ramfis, the asshole [Ramfis] left the country with a boat full of banknotes and went to Spain. Rubi never talked to them again.” Flor de Oro estimated that her half-brother took $200 million out of the treasury before he left the country.
Joaquin Balaguer, the new Dominican president, terminated Rubirosa’s job as ambassador inspector of embassies, putting him out of work at the age of 53. In 1963, Rubi told London Sunday Express writer Susan Barnes (now Susan Crosland, widow of British Labour Party foreign secretary Anthony Crosland) his version of events. “I said to [Ramfis]: ‘You must support [the new president] and give back things your father stole from the people.… ’ But [he] didn’t have the guts.… And [he was] out. He took his yacht and went to Paris. So, I won’t ever see him again in my life. He is not my friend. He betrayed me.”
Crosland remembers the interview not so much for Rubi’s political statements as for what happened afterward. As she went into the bathroom of his suite at the Hotel Savoy to freshen up, she says, she encountered a “grinning Rubirosa in his monogrammed boxer shorts, through which stood his donkey-style member. He threw me onto his unmade bed, and a wrestling match ensued as this grotesque thing swung about.”
Heche says, “After Trujillo died, Rubi had to change his life. All the money from the rich wives was spent. He had to start living like a poor person!”
The Rubirosas sold their house on the Left Bank for $400,000 to banker Edmond de Rothschild and moved to a village outside of Paris, Marnes-la-Coquette, where Maurice Chevalier lived. The new house had no guest bedroom and was furnished very simply, Doris’s antiques all having been sold to pay the bills. “If he wanted to be rich, he could have been very rich. He could have taken money from his wives and said to me, ‘Put this in a trust,’ but he never did,” says Gerard Bonnet, who was then head of Merrill Lynch’s Paris office.
Friends thought that Rubi had lost the vitality of his previous years, and he seemed depressed. “He still drank quite a lot,” says Bonnet, “but now afterwards he would not get up for two days.” At four one afternoon, he tried calling several of his friends to see if they wanted to play boccie. All of them were working, and none could come out to play. He remarked to Rodin, “What, are my friends all of a sudden ouvriers [factory workers]?” Says Rodin, “To work would have been a nightmare for Rubi.”
Some friends in Paris say that Rubi was ready to return to his life as a gigolo. They say that he said privately he might marry Patricia Kennedy Lawford, who had separated from Peter Lawford, or Peggy Hitchcock, a Mellon heiress. “For Rubi to live without money was torture,” says Ricart. Oleg Cassini estimates that in Rubi’s glory days, in the 1950s, the house, the servants, the parties, the polo ponies, and the annual rotation among Gstaad, Saint-Tropez, Deauville, and Palm Beach must have cost about $2 million a year.
He tried to write his memoirs, but never completed them. A hotel in Florida asked him to be its public-relations man, but he did not want to leave Europe. He launched one final business venture, this time with fellow playboy Gunther Sachs: a line of perfume called Rubi, which was to be sold in ruby-colored bottles. Rubi traveled to the South of France to visit the manufacturing facility, but nothing ever came of the venture. (About five years earlier, Rubi had tried to bring to market Pego Palo, a Dominican aphrodisiac made from tree bark and herbs. “The men drank it, like a liquid Viagra,” recalls Edith Rosenberg. “Rubi was poised to endorse this; it was out there that this was the product that made him Rubirosa. But he ran out of money.”)
Still, life was not entirely dreary. During Taki’s first honeymoon, in June 1965, aboard Stavros Niarchos’s three-masted schooner, Creole, the guests decided to film their own version of Goldfinger, with Rubi as James Bond, Niarchos as Goldfinger, Taki as Oddjob, and Odile as Pussy Galore. They hired a plane to pummel the boat with 3,000 tennis balls, but the wind blew the balls in the wrong direction. Gunther Sachs filmed the proceedings from a small boat that eventually capsized, and Niarchos—too busy conducting business on the Teletype—failed to speak his lines. Rubi was too drunk to remember any lines at all.
Three weeks following the cruise, Rubi’s team won the Coupe de France polo tournament, defeating the Brazilian team. To celebrate he invited everyone to Jimmy’s. Terrail later noted that Rubi usually planned ahead when he expected to be too drunk to drive home. “There was a man, Marcel, a taxi driver, who would follow us from place to place. If he saw we were in very bad shape, he would take the key from us and drive us home and another man would follow in the car home.” Rubi almost never took the Ferrari out when he knew he would be drinking, but Rodin and some of her friends had already commandeered the other car, an Austin Mini, leaving Rubi to take the Ferrari into Paris.
He and his teammates started celebrating in the early evening. When Rodin and her friends grew bored, they drove home. Régine remembers that on that night Rubi spoke to her three or four times about his fear of the future. “He said he didn’t want to become old.” Terrail, who left in the early morning, remembers that Marcel was not there that night. At around seven A.M., Rubi and his party left for the Calvados nightclub to eat ham sandwiches, and then returned to Jimmy’s. “I had asked my man at the door to take his keys out of the car and hide them under the carpet,” recalls Régine. “Rubi came back from Le Calvados in a cab, and somehow found the keys.”
The fatal crash occurred at eight.
Was it suicide?
Claude Terrail thinks it was simply fate.
Rubi’s funeral was held at the house in Marnes-la-Coquette. More than 250 mourners attended, including both Pat Kennedy Lawford and her sister Jean Kennedy Smith. Gunther Sachs helped arrange for the burial, and following the service, Rodin returned to Hyannis Port with the Kennedy sisters. She later remarried and now lives in rural New England, worlds away from her former life with the century’s most famous playboy.
Rubi’s legacy lives on in Paris, though, where to this day, when diners ask the waiter for a giant pepper mill, they ask for a “Rubirosa.”