Jamie Johnson, writing for Vanity Fair, goes in praise of gigolos, using Dominican playboy Porfirio Rubirosa as the quintessence of the breed.
One distinction that appears to be made less and less within the ranks of fashionable society is that between a gentleman and a gigolo. For the better part of the last century, formalities required leading figures of the upper class to examine the backgrounds of their friends and associates to make a determination about where these individuals fit into the greater social order. Since tradition forbade the inclusion of anyone who didn’t hold a direct connection to a vast fortune, all men were invariably classified according to the source of their income. Those lucky enough to posses their own money were considered gentleman, and the others who were forced to rely on handouts from rich wives were referred to as gigolos.
Today, the word “gigolo” carries excessively negative, almost shameful connotations. It’s commonly associated with male street prostitutes or the kind of brawny erotic dancers who entertain women at bachelorette parties. And perhaps this contemporary interpretation of the term is part of what’s contributing to its disappearance from the lexicon of modern aristocrats. Because while it’s true that gigolos were never actually regarded as equals to gentlemen, it’s also a fact that they were not merely dismissed as scamps or unwelcome interlopers either.
One of the most gallant and genuinely beloved men to hold an exalted place among genteel folk during the 1940s, 50s, and 60s was Porfirio Rubirosa. Though blessed with good looks, athleticism, and what was to women irresistible charm (he enjoyed marriages to two of the world’s richest and most desirable heiresses, both Doris Duke and Barbara Hutton), he himself never obtained vast wealth. And the notable deficiencies in his financial portfolio were always acknowledged openly by his closest friends and admirers, who, when speaking about him even to this very day, refer to him fondly as a “gigolo” (or as it sounds in their telling, ggggiii-goh-loh).
In more recent times, affluent society has relaxed its exclusivity and offered admittance to successful professionals who, though extremely powerful, don’t necessarily have large fortunes to speak of. The inclusion of these individuals within the establishment has added new layers of nuance to the old system of assigning social labels. Originally, there were only three kinds of families included among the moneyed class: those who were rich on the paternal side; those who were rich on the maternal side; and, the most prevalent scenario, those who were rich on both sides. Back then, when society could be broken down straightforwardly into such basic and absolute categories, the title gigolo must have been easier to apply and decidedly less pejorative.
There is really no shortage of authentic gigolos living prominently alongside fabulously wealthy women these days. You just don’t ever hear of them, because the term has become so debased. No one wants to be associated with socially loathsome characters. But if you look around and scratch the surface of respectable society, you’ll see them all right. They still exist and, right along with their female equivalent, the gold-digger, they are usually making someone somewhere happy.
Posted originally in the Vanity Fair blog at http://www.vanityfair.com/online/daily/2010/04/in-defense-of-gigolos.html