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Six Life Lessons from Porfirio Rubirosa, the greatest playboy of the twentieth century


He was one of the world's most famous playboys. But what can you learn from the life and times of Porfirio Rubirosa?

Six Life Lessons from Porfirio Rubirosa, the greatest playboy of the twentieth century

What is there left to say of Porfirio Rubirosa? His job titles alone cast a sense of the man – international diplomat-sans-pareil, professional polo player, soldier, political advisor and racing driver – but even they leave something on the table. Gerard Bonnet, an old polo-playing friend from Paris, gets closer to the truth:  “Rubi was the ultimate man’s man. Everyone wanted his style of macho. All the men I know loved Rubi. The ones who didn’t were jealous of him.”

It’s not hard to see why. Rubirosa’s life was a smorgasbord of anecdotes, capers and aphorisms; a cascade of models, movie stars, dictators and sporting rivals. And though the playboy’s worldview now looks drastically outdated (all the more reason to resurrect it, perhaps), it still represents an unbeatable field-guide to living well. Here are six lessons from the life of Porfirio Rubirosa – take them with a pinch of salt, wash them down with a swig of Bollinger, and let someone else’s wife take care of the bill.

Six Life Lessons from Porfirio Rubirosa, the greatest playboy of the twentieth century

Be Attentive

Rubi’s well attested charm was largely derived, it seems, from a combination of utter confidence and a sort of impish, latin playfulness. But a great portion of it came from his manful attentiveness to his targets. A Vanity Fair profile recalls how “When he was around, an unlit cigarette never touched a woman’s lips.” 

Mildred Ricart, meanwhile, an old friend from his home country of the Dominican Republic, remembers how he made everyone feel important. “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. 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.”

Six Life Lessons from Porfirio Rubirosa, the greatest playboy of the twentieth century

Be ready

One of Rubi’s more dubious nicknames was “Toujours Pret”,  or “always ready”. It derived, supposedly, from his constant state of sexual arousal.  (In his novel Answered Prayers, Truman Capote described Rubi’s endowment thus: “An eleven-inch café-au-lait sinker as thick as a man’s wrist”.) 

But it also referred to his unfailing willingness to say “yes”, and to tackle whatever life happened to throw at him. This readiness saw him taken up, in just his early twenties, as the presidential guard of the newly installed Dominican Dictator Rafael Trujillo. “He had me fitted for a uniform” Rubirosa remembers, “which I liked, because I knew that women would be attracted to the uniform.”

Six Life Lessons from Porfirio Rubirosa, the greatest playboy of the twentieth century

Beware of boredom

Rubirosa’s spent his life attempting to avoid boredom. “I would prefer risking everything instead of being bored”, he once wrote. It was this very impatience that plucked him from the Dominican political landscape and throw him into the high life of 1930s Europe. After wooing President Trujillo’s daughter on the first day of his new job, Rubirosa fled to the countryside to hide out, fearing for his life. 

But after a few days he got bored, and ventured back into the open. When he did, he discovered that Trujillo’s daughter had convinced her murderous father that Rubirosa ought to be her husband. Trujillo’s declared their wedding day a national holiday, and soon dispatched Rubirosa to become a diplomat in Berlin.

Six Life Lessons from Porfirio Rubirosa, the greatest playboy of the twentieth century

Put on a show

After Rubirosa and Trujillo’s daughter divorced, Trujillo announced to the playboy that he would like to visit Europe and be shown around. Rubirosa, bemused that his former father-in-law bore no grudge, decided to give the dictator the finest tour of the Parisian high life that he could muster. 

It seemed to do the trick. “Trujillo wanted me to show him the most elegant places in Paris—without rice and beans.” Rubirosa remembers. “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.”

Six Life Lessons from Porfirio Rubirosa, the greatest playboy of the twentieth century

Make the best of a bad situation

As the situation in Europe worsened – and as Rubi’s profile was raised by a string of high-profile affairs – the playboy attracted the attention of the Vichy government’s secret service. Having embarked on an affair with France’s then-best paid movie star and known Nazi sympathiser Danielle Darieux, Rubi soon found himself interned in a hotel at Bad Neuheim. 

What would have destroyed the fast-living lifestyle of a lesser playboy barely dented Rubi’s. The camp was next to a ski resort, and the great man’s memoirs note with a smile how his five-month imprisonment meant he could now spend all day working on his slalom.

Six Life Lessons from Porfirio Rubirosa, the greatest playboy of the twentieth century

Discretion is everything

Despite the sheet of conquest that spanned dozens of famous names (and thousands of forgotten ones), every continent and several decades, Rubi never bragged about his success. (Though Taki Theodoracopulos, the legendary reporter from the frontline of debauchery, does remember how, when Rubi got drunk, he would take out his guitar and sing, “I’m just a gigolo.”) 

Rubi knew that his actions spoke for themselves. And that when it came to gossip, less was always more.  “We never spoke about girls,” says Claude Terrail, the owner of the restaurant La Tour d’Argent in Paris. “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.”

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