The High Life of Porfirio Rubirosa


Diligently reconstructed life story of a man who readily laughed off lables like “bounder” and “cad” while elevating that of “Latin lover” to both art form and profession.

Porfirio Rubirosa was born in 1909 to a militarist adventurer who instilled in him the code of tiguerismo (ultimate Dominican machismo). His fate was sealed by his being sent, a failed high-school student, to France for academic rehabilitation—and then some. Levy, film critic for the Portland Oregonian and chronicler of mega-celebrities (Rat Pack Confidential, 1998), tracks “Rubi” through the nighteries and brothels of Paris, then back to his impoverished home island, where he dared dance, sans permission, with the daughter of the Dominican Republic’s emergent dictator, Rafael Trujillo, as a young lieutenant (albeit with connections) at a military ball. Even El Benefactor (one of the Caribbean’s cruelest despots) knew the girl was enthralled by the cosmopolitan bon vivant and shortly blessed their marriage. It wouldn’t last; neither would those with French actress Danielle Darrieux or American multimillionaire heiresses Doris Duke and Barbara Hutton, but it set Rubi up as a vague Dominican diplomatic fixture for decades. “I can’t work,” he once told a reporter, “because I don’t have time for it.” Meanwhile, women came, in the off-hours of his various marriages, and fell, including Christina Onassis, Eva Perón and Zsa Zsa Gabor. According to Levy, Rubirosa’s basic attitude was reflected in a comment on his father’s tendency to have illegitimate children: “My mother got fat,” he explained. During World War II, he sold Dominican visas to European Jews for up to $5,000 each, but professed to be far more interested in spending money than making it. When he fatally crashed his Ferrari in 1965 after a night of revelry, the money was almost gone. A fitting end, most said, including his then wife, French actress Odile Rodin, half his age.

Engrossing profile of unrelenting excess.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-00-717059-9
Page count: 368pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2005


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