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Sunday, 24 April 2016





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

Porfirio Rubirosa (1909 - 1965):

The Last Playboy

Shawn Levy was born in New York City, educated at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California. He was the film critic of 'The Oregonian' newspaper in Portland, Oregon from 1997-2012, and is a former senior editor of 'American Film' and a former Associate Editor of 'Box Office'. He has contributed to several of North America's best newspapers and has written biographies on Jerry Lewis (1996), The Rat Pack (1998 and 2012), Swinging London (2002), Paul Newman (2009), Robert de Niro (2014) and Dolce Vita Confidential (2016). However it is his biography of Porfirio Rubirosa entitled 'The Last Playboy', published in 2005, which is perhaps his most revealing and sensational work.


Porfirio Rubirosa

On the afternoon of Wednesday 30 January 1953 Porfirio Rubirosa married Barbara Hutton on Dominican soil in their New York Consulate. Rafael Trujillo immediately reappointed Rubirosa to his diplomatic post in Paris. She was granted Dominican citizenship by special decree, and he received a lump sum of $2.5 million pursuant to a prenuptial agreement. No less than 400 newspapermen attended the ceremony.

The combination of Rubirosa's quick wedding and his former lover's black eye made for irresistible newspaper headlines. It was the bride's fifth wedding and she looked frail and very much the worse for wear. She was 41 years old, and even before their honeymoon in Palm Beach she fell into her bath and broke her ankle. Once there they rented the Maharajah of Baroda's Mansion on Ocean Drive with a full-time staff.

New wife

They kept separate quarters, hardly saw each other, and Rubirosa continued playing polo, driving, night clubbing and shopping. His new wife barely left her rooms - hobbling around and spending most of her time in a wheel-chair. There was no sex. "How could I?" Rubirosa obliquely comments, "She was on drugs." It was a disaster scenario and one that couldn't last. One day in February 1954, only two months later, Barbara Hutton packed her belongings and left the Ocean Drive mansion. The marriage was over.

They had been married seventy-five days and the groom had come away with $2.5 million in cash, a plantation in the Dominican Republic, clothes, jewellery, a luxurious B25 aeroplane, plus many other incidentals. By July 1955 under Dominican Law the marriage was officially over, but the tragic life of Barbara Hutton continued.

There were two more marriages, her son's death in an air crash in Aspen, Colorado, and an indolent life of financial mismanagement. When she died at The Beverly Wilshire Hotel at sixty-seven she had a mere $3,500 in cash and little else to show for her unhappy life.


Rubirosa, in the years following, was linked with Dolores del Rio, Eartha Kitt, Marilyn Monroe, Ava Gardner, Rita Hayworth, Joan Crawford, Veronica Lake, Kim Novak, Judy Garland and Eva Peron. He was named co-respondent in at least two divorce papers. He was wealthy and famous. Then at the height of this fame and celebrity a new girl entered his life. She was nineteen years old.

Porfirio Rubirosa and fatal car crash

Odile Bérard (the acting world would later come to know her as Odile Rodin) was a student at the Conservatoire National d'Art Dramatique - with a wide smile, almond eyes, freckles, voluptuous curves and a chic hair style. At a party after a polo match she met Rubirosa who remembered her as being pretty "with a certain mystery in her gaze". He proposed dinner - and then another night out.

Odile Rodin's mother objected strongly to the union saying to him, "Odile is in the springtime of her life. You, on the other hand, are past your prime." Rodin was given a much sought after role in the Marcel Pagnol play 'Fabien' as an object of lust, which kept her in Paris while Rubirosa followed the racing and polo seasons. During the summer however they found themselves together again on the Riviera. She sought him out in St. Jean-Cap-Ferrat arriving drenched in an already sheer summer outfit.

Ten days in the South of France allowed the romance to blossom. She was young and impressionable and he had the money, the cars, the clothes, the house and the name. He in fact was a legend. Not long after the opening of 'Fabien' in which she was a hit - Rodin moved out of her family home and into his house on Rue de Bellechasse. On 27 October 1956 Rubirosa and Odile Rodin married in a quiet ceremony in Sonchamp - a village thirty miles southwest of Paris. A small group of friends that included Aly Khan and fashionista Genevieve Fath, and Count Guy d'Arcangues attended the wedding. Odile, submitting to his convincing arguments, gave up her acting career and followed Rubirosa to the Dominican Republic for a honeymoon. He had plucked her from one stage and was determined to groom her for another.

In 1958 Rubirosa was almost fifty years old. He looked good. He had money in the bank, a beautiful young wife, lots of friends, fast cars, horses, a lovely house and plenty of clothes. He was a recognised celebrity and although he had no claim to the succession of Trujillo in the Dominican Republic he was still a valuable asset. No Dominican had better contacts in Europe or the United States.

Dominican Embassy

In September 1958 Rubirosa arrived in Havana and presented his credentials as Ambassador to the government of Fulgencio Batista. It was a crucial time in North American history and Trujillo counted on Rubirosa to use his cunning and charm to make peace with both sides in the simmering conflict.

Doris duke and husband Porfirio Rubirosa

He was instructed to sell arms to Batista and to the rebels. Cannily, Trujillo would only sell to the government for cash - but extended credit to Castro. The Rubirosas' stay in Cuba wasn't long but it was vivid. Odile was not only beautiful but the youngest ambassadress in the world. They partied constantly in Havana - at that time perhaps the wildest place in the world, and Rubirosa did meet Batista and established useful relations between the two dictators.

On December 31 Rubirosa and Odile dined at the US Embassy and were warned by Ambassador Earl Smith that something was going to happen. They were going to have a problem.

Leaving the American Embassy they found themselves in a Havana under siege. Rebel troops led by Che Guevara had entered the city. When they reached the Dominican Embassy the telephone was already ringing and Rubirosa was told to get to the US Embassy immediately as Batista had left the country and landed in the Dominican Republic. This was a real crisis. Rubirosa and his young wife were trapped in the US Embassy for a week and then virtual prisoners in the Dominican Embassy for nearly four months. They had no communication with the outside world and could not leave the Embassy building - not until the Dominican Republic broke relations with Cuba. Castro wanted Trujillo to turn Batista over to the rebels - but Trujillo refused. The Dominican Embassy was bombed. By May 1959 the Rubirosas had left Cuba for good. One month after leaving Havana Rubirosa was named Ambassador to Belgium.

Late in 1959 Rubirosa sold his house on Rue de Bellechasse in Paris to the Rothschild family for an amount estimated to be half a million dollars. With the money he bought a large house with a garden at 12 Rue Schlumberger in Marnes-la-Coquette - a simple suburban village that had been Maurice Chevalier's home. They had been married now for four years. He was no longer racing cars and the couple mixed much more with politicians, financiers and bluebloods rather than denizens of the night in the dark alleys of the Left Bank. Friends noticed too that there seemed to be friction between the couple and Rubirosa's "too young" wife was growing to be a handful for him - preferring to be out and about and showing an interest in some of his younger male friends. But he was still Rubirosa, still playing polo, and still looking dark and attractive with his wavy greying hair, quizzically arched eyebrows, and irresistible wide smile.

In May 1961, while in Paris, the inevitable finally happened and Trujillo was ambushed and killed in the Dominican Republic. On 2 January 1962 the seven-man Council of State for the Dominican Republic dismissed Rubirosa from his post as Inspector of Embassies. After thirty years of diplomatic pomp and immunity, Rubirosa's ambassadorial roles were confiscated. He was a man without a job.

Back in Paris in 1963 Rubirosa found that his world had shrivelled up. He stayed at home at night but continued to practice and play polo during the days. "I like home life," he told a reporter. Odile, now in her mid-twenties, found this retiring life far too dull - but she admitted she was trapped in his world. Observers of their fast-moving Paris set wondered openly about Rubirosa's ability to control his young wife. They also noticed that, although he claimed to have an income of $5,000 a month, he was clearly having a bad time making both ends meet. He was running out of money. They reverted to selling off antiques and works of art to pay for their lifestyle. Life was getting harder.

In July 1965 the annual Coupe de France polo tournament was held on Rubirosa's home pitch - the Bagotelle in the Bois du Boulogne. Since the mid 1950s his Cibao-La Pampa team had enjoyed particular success winning it three years running, when he had seemingly unlimited finances to produce a top-flight team. His new team in 1965 included two Frenchmen and an Argentine. They played well, sporting red jerseys with a broad white horizontal stripe across the breast.

La Calvados

The Cibao-La Pampa team surprisingly reached the final where they facedLaversine - another Paris-based team whose captain was Baron Elie de Rothschild. In a closely contested final Cibao-La Pampa won with a score of 21/2 to 2. Rubirosa was thrilled with the victory and the good discipline during the tournament called for a special celebration at New Jimmys to mark the triumph. Both teams were there with wives, followers and many admirers. Rubirosa and Odile arrived in separate cars - she in an Austin, he in his specially charged Ferrari. They seemed strained together but the party raged on until the early hours of the morning.

At 5.00 a.m. Odile left for home but Rubirosa, with his Argentine polo friends, went on to La Calvados, a Spanish night-spot on the Champs-Élysées. There, at 6.00 a.m. a party was already in progress and the weary polo champions joined in. Approaching 7.00 a.m. the headwaiter asked Rubirosa why he didn't go home. "I'm happy here," he answered. "There's music, my beer, and I'm happy." But then suddenly Rubirosa left

At 8.00 a.m. on the Allée de la Reine Marguerite, two hundred yards north of the Avenue de l'Hipodrome, Yves Ricourt, an engineer, was reading his paper. A bicyclist approached the scene. Suddenly he heard a metallic scrape behind him and turned to see a silver Ferrari with a black convertible top hurtling towards him at high speed. Prudently he veered his bicycle onto the bridle path away from the speeding car. He didn't see the Ferrari crash into a chestnut tree head-on. Yves Ricourt didn't hear the first sound but heard the second - a fearful crash. Both Ricourt and the bicyclist raced to the wreck to see if they could help the driver. The front end of the car was completely crumpled and the hood forced back toward the passenger compartment. Inside was a gory mess.

The driver hadn't been wearing a seat belt. He was crumpled over the steering wheel - half of his scalp was torn away. He was moaning - covered in glass. They dared not move him. Magically an ambulance appeared on the scene and pried the wounded driver from the wreckage. He was alive when they moved him but by the time they arrived at the hospital, barely a mile away, it was too late.

Odile Rodin's last words to the press said it all: "It is better that it happened this way. A clean break with the life he loved. Neither he nor I could have endured the spectacle of him lingering on, a cripple, unable to dance, play polo or drive his car. If Rubi could have chosen the way he died this is the way he would have gone. In his car, in the dawn, going fast as he loved to do. He loved speed. But he loved life even more. .... I would have liked to be beside him, even in death."

Rubirosa's death made headlines all over the world - but it was all over very quickly. Long good-byes had never been his trademark. His life had been a whirlwind, a tidal wave, and then just as abruptly he disappeared. His was a magical life. He will always be remembered as 'The Last Playboy'.


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