Claire Kelly demonstrates the fine art of strap-tease.
American actress Claire Kelly was once called the screen’s most exciting discovery since Rita Hayworth, but her career comprised mainly unremarkable film and television appearances. She did, however, spend a lot of time in the tabloids thanks to a messy divorce/custody battle with George DeWitt, and her liaisons with Frank Sinatra, Conrad “Nicky” Hilton, and Lance Reventlow (son of Barbara Hutton, who for a while was the second richest woman in the world). Kelly eventually gave up acting and married into money. This nice shot of her is from around 1959.
Where did he come from and where did he go?
This Whisper from October 1955 examines Ava Gardner’s love life, Ernest Hemingway’s courage, and Marilyn Monroe’s mole, all of which, while worthwhile subjects, are less interesting to us than the piece on Father Divine. Who was Father Divine? Well, he was a preacher who claimed to be God and had as many as two million followers during his heyday in the 1930s. Of course, that number depends on where you do your research. Some sources try to distinguish between “true followers” and sympathizers who attended his rallies, but that’s like saying seventy percent of the people at a rock concert aren’t true fans. Attendance at events is an accepted method for determining popularity, and consideringthe fact that Father Divine had verifiable rallies in places as far away as Switzerland and Australia, we think the two million figure is accurate.
Why was he so popular? Hard to say. Charisma and an imaginative doctrine are givens. But it was national exposure that really helped swell the ranks of his followers. From the point of view of a typical magazine editor, you eventually can’t resist writing at least a blurb about a person who claims to be God. When that person proves to be polished and intelligent, and his belief system more nuanced than suspected, the article becomes its own public relations. Thanks to steady press coverage, what started as a local congregation in Brooklyn, New York eventually spread to become a multi-ethnic and pan-national movement. But with popularity came scandals. The most notorious of these was when a Divine follower named John Hunt, a California millionaire who had dubbed himself John the Revelator, kidnapped a 17-year-old girl named Delight Jewett and repeatedly had sex with her, either before or after brainwashing her into thinking she was to be the “mother of the new redeemer of the world,” i.e., a new Virgin Mary.
Father Divine’s ministry survived the Hunt scandal and others, and in fact only began to shrink as Divine himself aged and became less active. The cover of Whisper asks if he is dead. Fair question—he was pushing eighty by then and hadn’t been seen in public for months. But he would resurface weeks later in a flurry of press coverage, pronouncing himself“healthy in every organ, muscle, sinew, joint, limb, vein and bone, and even in every atom, fiber and cell of my bodily form.” But Divine was in fact in declining health and had been for some time. Ten years later he died of natural causes at the age of (because his exact birth date is unknown) eighty-nine or ninety. Or he left behind his corporeal form and permanently inhabited his spiritual one. Depending on whom you ask.
When Hush comes to shove.
There’s a veritable smorgasbord of sin on the cover of this March 1956 Hush-Hush. The magazine starts by outing former German tennis star Gottfried von Cramm’s affair with actor Manesse Herbst back in the mid-1930s. Von Cramm had already been jailed in Nazi Germany for the Herbst affair, and before that had been blackmailed by Herbst for enough money to relocate to Palestine, so the Hush-Hush story must have felt like having a vulture land on him after he was already picked clean. Luckily, he had just married serial bride Barbara Hutton (who you may remember from our post a while back on the amazing Porfirio Rubirosa), and since she was the richest woman in the world at the time, we doubt von Cramm's social life was seriously crimped by Hush-Hush's homophobic rehash.
The bit on Adlai Stevenson is of similar nature—he was closely monitored by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who periodically leaked false rumors that Stevenson was gay. The Hush-Hush story reads like a smear, but no actual files are produced because, well, they were top secret. It wouldn’t be until 2007 that a declassification of Hoover’s files revealed that FBI agents followed Stevenson for thirty-five years, sometimes even tailing him internationally. In they end they discovered nothing, except perhaps that Hoover was obsessed with homosexuality, for reasons that are yet to be fully determined, but for which there are plenty of interesting theories.
Harry Belafonte gets a spotlight as well, but for political reasons. By 1956 he was a leading figure in the American civil rights movement and was highly critical of U.S. domestic and inter-national policy, and so Hush-Hush does what any respectable red-baiting scandal rag would do—suggest he was brainwashed by communists. While the story is pure baloney, it did turn out to be prescient in one sense—Belafonte did begin explicitly endorsing communist ideals, and remains a supporter of Fidel Castro and other leftist leaders today.
Moving along, Ann Woodward was a respected New York City socialite who shotgunned her husband dead in the fall of 1955, apparently believing him to be a burglar. There had been a series of robberies in her neighborhood, so her story made sense, but the fact that she had fired twice raised a few eyebrows. Hush-Hush happily throws a little fuel on the fires of suspicion by dredging up some marital strife and implying the shooting wasn’t an accident. But a grand jury felt differently and failed to issue an indictment. Twenty years later, Truman Capote wrote a book about the shooting and minced no words in voicing his suspicions that Woodward was a murderer. Woodward committed suicide soon thereafter, supposedly in despair that her past had been aired out again.
As always, there’s plenty more dirt and dish we could discuss, but we’ll stop for now because we already have more tabloids than we’ll probably ever be able to post. In fact we just bought fifteen rare copies of the National Informer from an auction site and they only cost us two dollars apiece. And of course we also have a giant folder of tabloids we’ve downloaded. Probably the only way to use them all would be to launch a tabloids-only site, but who has the time? Not us, sadly. More on Hush-Hush later.
He had a lot in common with the guy on those Dos Equis commercials, except he was real.
Today we’re back to the top dog of classic tabloids, the always-titillating Confidential. The above issue is from fifty-five years ago this month, July 1954, and as always the cover promises scandalous inside scoop—this time on champs, presidents, and filthy rich heiresses. But it’s the unassuming banner on the Rubirosa murder case that interests us, because it refers to none other than Porfirio Rubirosa, and if you’ve never heard of him, then prepare yourself to meet (cue grandiose flamenco chords) The Most Interesting Man in the World.
Rubirosa was born in the Dominican Republic in 1909 but raised in France, where his father, an army general, had scored the chargé d'affaires position at the Dominican consulate in Paris. When the young Rubirosa was seventeen he returned to the Dominican to study law, but enlisted in the military before finishing. In 1932, after a weeklong courtship, he married a seventeen year-old girl named Flor de Oro Trujillo, who happened to be the daughter of mass-murdering military dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina. For normal men, rush-marrying a dictator’s little flower would result in a one-way ticket to the torture chamber, but for the charming Rubirosa it meant a diplomatic post in Berlin.
In 1935, Rubirosa’s cousin, Luis de la Fuente Rubirosa, was accused of assassinating exiled Dominican politician Sergio Bencosme in New York City. It was Rafael Trujillo’s work, but de la Fuente Rubirosa was the triggerman, and Porifirio was suspected of being an accomplice. That’s the murder Confidential references, and if you’re asking yourself why they cared about it nineteen years after the event, it’s because by then Rubirosa was very famous. But we’ll get to that.
Rubirosa had developed passions for polo, racing, gambling, and other expensive upper crust pursuits. He excelled at all of them. Perhaps the only thing he wasn’t good at was fidelity, which led to his divorce from Flor in 1937. But his sheer magnetism—or perhaps the fact that he was a valuable hired gun—kept him in dictator dad’s good graces, and he continued to receive diplomatic posts. When World War II swept across Europe, Rubirosa made a stack of money selling Dominican exit visas to fleeing Jews. At some point the Gestapo imprisoned him, but he was released after six months. After that, he was allegedly recruited as a political assassin.
In 1942 he met and married the French actress Danielle Darrieux, who you see above. From then on Rubirosa traveled in cinematic circles, which meant a more public profile. A consequence of this was that tidbits of his personal life began to leak out. Suddenly everyone knew he was a great lover, and that he had a penis measuring anywhere from eleven to fourteen inches, depending on whom you believed. After a while the slang term “rubirosa” became popular in France. They used it to refer to the giant pepper grinders in restaurants, and still do to this day.
By now there were open questions about Rubirosa’s racial background. He was very dark, and was often described as “nut brown.” Rumors spread that he was part black—a devastating accusation in the 1940s, and one still used very effectively as a smear even in today’s supposedly post-racial age. But Rubirosa handled the gossip with the panacheyou'd expect from The Most Interesting Man in the World—he never addressed it all, at least not in public. His silence basically amounted to: “So what if I am?” And if the rumors bothered him, he surely derived ample compensation from the fact that legions of female admirers who’d heard about that pepper grinder of his didn’t care.
Because of the ease with which he was able to meet and bed women, Rubirosa found it impossible to remain faithful, even to an elegant beauty like Danielle Darrieux. They divorced in 1947, and the high-profile involvements began to pile up. There was Dolores del Rio, Ava Gardner, Rita Hayworth, Soraya Esfandiary, Veronica Lake, Kim Novak, Doris Duke (who happened to be the richest woman in the world), and Barbara Hutton (who was the second richest woman in the world). He fooled around with his first love Flor during his marriage to Duke, and with Zsa Zsa Gabor during his marriage to Hutton. When Duke divorced him he walked with $500,000, a string of polo ponies, some sports cars, a converted B-25 bomber, and a 17th century house in Paris. When Hutton divorced him—after only five weeks—he added a coffee plantation in the Dominican, another B-25, and $3.5 million to his holdings.
By now he was a professional celebrity. He was friendly with Joe Kennedy, Frank Sinatra, and Sammy Davis, Jr. One night in Paris, after teaching Davis how to properly kiss a woman's hand, the two went out to perfect the technique by flirting with women on the Champs-Élysées. Frank Sinatra once asked Rubirosa, “Rubi, have you ever held a full-timejob?” Rubirosa reportedly answered, “Women are my full-time job.” At some point he met Ian Fleming, and the novice writer came up with the great idea of basing a character on Rubirosa—a certain spy named James Bond.
Rubirosa’s fame made him tabloid fodder, and the scandal sheets dutifully tried to dig up dirt on him. They went back to the racial stuff, and whispered about that nineteen year-old New York murder. But the rumors that he had been an assassin just fed into his growing legend. He seemed to know everything, was one of the boys, one with the girls, and had already done more than most men manage in a lifetime. Truman Capote saw Rubirosa’s cock and rated it eleven inches. A female acquaintance pointed out a size twelve loafer in a shoe store and said Rubi had it beat. Rubirosa partied his way from Hollywood to Rome to Monaco, and wherever he went local women hung around his favorite hotels and bars, hoping to meet him.
He was racing his Ferrari professionally, and competed twice in the 24-hour race at LeMans. He was also looking for a relationship that would last, and in 1956 he married for the fifth time to actress Odile Rodin. She was nineteen and he was 42. He had mellowed—not a lot—but just enough to remain faithful. The marriage seemed to work. He was still boyish and exciting, and his biggest asset—that famous pepper grinder—showed no signs of diminishing with age. He began working on his memoirs. He was still young for that, but he had lived so much.
In 1965 Rubirosa was part of a team that won the Coupe de France polo cup. He spent the night of the victory celebrating at a Paris nightspot called Jimmy’s, then headed home in his Ferrari. The roads werewet, and he was a little drunk. He lost control of the car and died in a fiery crash. The Most Interesting Man in the World was gone—literally burning out rather than fading away. He never finished his memoirs, and today the closest the world has to a Porfirio Rubirosa is a fictional character in a Dos Equis commercial.
More than almost any man of his era, Porfirio Rubirosa represents the lost glamour and mystery of a time that can never be reclaimed. He was the product of a more innocent and refined—yet also crueler—age. Reading about his life is like reading about an event you’d give anything to have witnessed, even if it would have been dangerous to be there. Rumor has it a few Rubirosa-based scripts are floating around Hollywood. Supposedly Antonio Banderas has rights to one, and wants to play the lead role. Maybe it’s a lack of imagination on our part, but we don’t see it. There is no shortage of legends in history, but we can’t think of one whose shoes would be more difficult to fill. As much as we’d like to see a Rubirosa biopic, our advice is this: if it’s better to burn out than to fade away, maybe it’s also better to never try and rekindle the flame.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1953—Jomo Kenyatta Convicted
In Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta is sentenced to seven years in prison by the nation's British rulers for being a member of the Mau Mau Society, an anti-colonial movement. Kenyatta would a decade later become independent Kenya's first prime minister, and still later its first president.
1974—Hank Aaron Becomes Home Run King
Major League Baseball player Hank Aaron hits his 715th career home run, surpassing Babe Ruth's 39-year-old record. The record-breaking homer is hit off Al Downing of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and with that swing Aaron puts an exclamation mark on a twenty-four year journey that had begun with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro League, and would end with his selection to Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame.
1922—Teapot Dome Scandal Begins
In the U.S., Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall leases the Teapot Dome petroleum reserves in Wyoming to an oil company. When Fall's standard of living suddenly improves, it becomes clear he has accepted bribes in exchange for the lease. The subsequent investigation leads to his imprisonment, making him the first member of a presidential cabinet to serve jail time.
1930—Gandhi Leads Satyagraha March
In India, Mahatma Gandhi raises a lump of mud and salt and declares, "With this, I am shaking the foundations of the British Empire." His words, which were a protest against the British salt tax, mark the beginning of the Satyagraha March, which in turn triggers the wider Civil Disobedience Movement that ultimately culminates in Indian independence.
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