The death of the richest woman on the planet, as the tabloids dubbed Liliane Bettencourt, brought back some vivid memories, mainly of the gigolos I’ve known and their disgraceful pursuit of the fairer sex for the root of all envy. Ironically, my great friend Porfirio Rubirosa acted the gigolo at times—he married three of the world’s richest women, and two of the most beautiful for love—but he was also a man’s man, a pistolero, an ambassador, a race-car driver, a boxer, a polo player, and a great seducer of beautiful women. He died on July 5, 1965, in his Ferrari.
After Rubi, the gigolo business took a dive. Thierry Roussel—French, effete, and greedy as hell—took tens and tens of millions from Christina Onassis, and then dumped her for his regular mistress. Roussel was the kind of bum who gives gigolos a bad name. Until François-Marie Banier, that is. But before I get to that particular leech, a few words about a friend of mine who actually went through a Rockefeller fortune, the Marquis Raymundo de Larrain.
Raymond, as his real name was, was a marquis, all right, but of his own making. His demonic charm seduced both very rich men of that persuasion and highborn women. He went after me like gangbusters in Paris when I was not yet 20, but once he got the message he remained a good friend until, well, I’ll tell you in a jiffy. Raymundo was birdlike, had impeccable manners, and out of the blue managed to become not only a ballet dancer in the Marquis de Cuevas (another dubious title) corps de ballet but also a choreographer and a designer of ballets. He was Cuevas’ lover, but also the lover of Vicomtesse Jacqueline de Ribes, a leading Parisian society hostess. He once told me that he was about to marry Douce Francois, a niece of the fabulously rich Arturo López, assuming she would inherit from her uncle, who was gay and lived with Alexis de Rede. I warned him that Douce, a good friend of mine, was penniless, so he took along Rudi Nureyev in order to impress her. Disaster. Douce fell for Rudi and spent a lifetime pursuing probably the greatest dancer ever. Who was very gay.
After the dissolution of the Cuevas ballet and Douce’s rejection, Raymundo set out for New York. One night he took me and my girlfriend at the time, C.Z. Guest, to meet Margaret de Cuevas, the granddaughter of John D. Rockefeller. She was a very old lady, lived in a huge Fifth Avenue apartment, and had her face painted all white like a Kabuki dancer. She hardly spoke. The next thing I knew, Raymundo had married her. She was 80 and he was 38. The “marriage” lasted five years, and when Margaret died of natural causes, her children discovered that the money was gone. Raymundo was the sole beneficiary. But soon after, he died of AIDS, the fortune having gone up in smoke. This was around 1988.
Back in Paris, in the meantime, a gay, good-looking young hustler was about to make all of the above look small-time. François Marie Banier was the son of a lowborn Hungarian Jew who immigrated to Paris and, after working on an assembly line, slowly made his way up in life enough to afford a small flat on Avenue Victor Hugo. His son the arriviste was a bit more ambitious. He realized early on that the very rich and famous are easy prey if one does not kowtow in deference. He mocked, scorned, and tried to humiliate those who couldn’t defend themselves, mostly old men and women, but also flattered, cajoled, and amused those whose bank accounts were in the stratosphere.