Taki Theodoracopulos mourns the recent passing of Gunther Sachs – and an era when gentlemen played hard and died young—in this piece that tells of Sachs’ friendship with Dominican playboy Porfirio Rubirosa.
The cliché “end of an era” is always used when a stalwart of a period passes away. I read it in most reports about Gunther Sachs’s suicide last week. The trouble is that Gunther’s era ended long ago, during the late Sixties, when the word “playboy” was considered a badge of honour among those of us who preferred playing rather than working.
It was a sleepy, unhurried, bygone age, yet most of the famous playboys died violently: Alfonso de Portago, a Spanish marquis of impeccable credentials, died at 27 driving his Ferrari in the Miglia Mille race in May 1957 in Italy. Prince Aly Khan, son of the Aga Khan, a diplomat, second husband of Rita Hayworth, and a fabled seducer, died aged 49, driving his Lancia to a Paris party when he hit an oncoming car and was given le coup du lapin by his chauffeur, whom Aly had placed in the back seat.
The greatest playboy of them all, the Dominican diplomat and sportsman Porfirio Rubirosa, five-times married, husband of three of the world’s richest women and two of the most beautiful, died in the park of St Cloud near Paris, returning from a party following a polo game in which I had played. It was 5am and Rubi was driving a Ferrari at full speed. The date was July 6 1965 and he was 56 years old.
Juan Capuro, a South American diplomat perennially posted in Paris and a Don Juan sans pareil, as well as the best-looking man of his generation, died in 1966 driving a Porsche, after an all‑nighter, needless to say. Prince Raimondo Lanza, a nephew of the great Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, and the model for Prince Tancredi in Lampedusa’s elegiac lament for a lost Sicilian world, The Leopard, threw himself out of an Excelsior Hotel window in Rome in 1958, having ingested too much Bolivian marching powder.
There were others, of course, some of whom died in their beds, but most playboys of that elegant period did not reach the awkward age of 60. Gunther Sachs was 78, a ridiculously old age for a playboy, which he was par excellence. Gunther, who became the third husband of Brigitte Bardot two months after meeting her – he showered her home with thousands of roses from a helicopter the day after spotting her in a bar – modelled himself on Rubirosa when he arrived in Paris in 1957. They became fast friends – Gunther had the funds, Rubi had the connections and know-how – and proceeded to give non-stop parties such as I have never seen again.
That involved entertaining at home – Rubi had a beautiful country house just outside Paris, Gunther’s grand flat was on Avenue Foch – which meant an orchestra was always present, many beautiful young women, and society swells. No freaks, no hookers, very few film people, and even fewer gays. There were absolutely no drugs. It was booze, champagne, fine wines, and more booze. Dinner jackets were mandatory, although an elegant suit was also acceptable. There were no formal invitations. Rubi and Gunther would get on the blower, and a terrific party would take place that very evening. After all, no one of our group worked back then.
A typical Parisian day for Rubi and myself went as follows: we’d wake up around 9am (I lived in his house with him and his last wife, Odile), breakfast in his large garden, then box in his ring for 30 minutes or so, put on our boots and jodhpurs, drive into the Bois de Boulogne, where the polo club was located, and work the ponies. Then we’d meet our wives or girlfriends, as the case may be, lunch with them and friends like Gunther, a de Ganay or two, or perhaps ale heir Mark Watney and the great Belgian tennis champion Philippe Washer, then drop the wives off to go shopping, and more often than not we’d go over to Madame Claude’s, the most elegant and exclusive brothel in the City of Light.
Dinner time was party time, followed by a de rigueur visit to Jimmy’s, the Boulevard Montparnasse nightclub that lasted for 20 years and was the school for budding playboys. The next morning, however badly one felt, it would start all over again. But everyone was young, in good shape, and recovery time was a sign of weakness.
I know it sounds like an empty life now, but back then it had an aesthetic appeal as well as a taste of depravity. Playboys were first and foremost gentlemen, machos excelling in dangerous sports, and above all, ladies’ men. The F-word was never uttered in public places, women were treated as women should be, and showing off was left to a few arrivistes who possessed neither class nor pedigree.
Unlike a number of today’s Arab kleptocrats and vulgar Russian oligarchs, no one escorted hookers, no one employed bodyguards and no one employed PR assistants. Today’s upwardly mobile, socially inept, vulgar types never would have mixed with, say, fabled playboys like the Roman Prince Filippo Orsini, the Brazilian Baby Pignatari, Count Jean de Beaumont or Porfirio Rubirosa, an adventurer like no other, but one who had innate good manners and chivalry.
Dado Ruspoli was an extremely handsome Roman prince who lived in his palazzo, and was among the first post-war playboys to turn spiritual and try opium. He read a great deal, partied very hard, looked to the East for wisdom, and never worked a day in his life. Yet he was as interesting a man to meet and exchange ideas with as any Oxbridge don I’ve ever met, and I’ve met a few.
Being a great businessman does not necessarily an interesting person make, and Dado, a very poor businessman, turned a great fortune into a small one. He had a saying, “physical details reveal the soul”. He adored physical beauty, and thank God he is no longer with us to see the ravages of what has become of our sick celebrity culture – Jade Jagger and Tara Palmer Tomkinson as beauties? – our favourite watering spots now overrun by the grotesque Russian crooks, with their flashy hookers and their ill-gotten billions.
This disappeared life sounds frivolous today, but as a wise philosopher once said, “the superfluous is extremely necessary”. We were also superfluous then, but playboys added not only to the spirit of the times, they added glamour and gaiety and chivalry and were a hell of a lot of fun to be around. During the great balls given at the period, the Rothschild, Ruspoli, Agnelli, Weiller and Rochas balls, playboys were the most in demand. Ladies of high society were particularly drawn to them, but then ladies were really ladies. Little English lower-middle-class girlies like Anna Wintour and Tina Brown, had they been around, would never have come close to meeting them or even seeing them.
Now both ladies are considered arbiters of taste and society, in America at least, a bit of a grotesque joke if you ask me, but then, like all the best playboys, I’ve become a bit superfluous myself.
For the original report go to http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/8512684/Gunther-Sachs-playboys-of-the-world-RIP.html