The death of the richest woman on this 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 racing driver, a boxer and polo player, and a great seducer of beautiful women. He died on July 6, 1965 in his Ferrari.
After Rubi, the gigolo business took a dive. Thierry Roussel—French, effete, greedy as hell, and effeminate—took tens and tens of millions from Christina Onassis, and then dumped her for his regular mistress. Roussel was the kind of bum who gave 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, alright, 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 not only become 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’s 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 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 5th Avenue apartment, and had her face painted all white like a Kabuki dancer. She hardly spoke. The next thing I knew was that 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 the money was gone. Raymundo was the sole beneficiary. But soon after he died of AIDS, the fortune went 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. Francois Marie Banier was the son of a lowborn Hungarian Jew who immigrated to Paris and Frenchified his name. After working on an assembly line, he 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.
His first protector was Salvador Dalí, a voyeur who was up to anything sexual as long as he didn’t have to partake. Banier then became the lover of decorator Jacques Grange, followed by a platonic friendship with the very aged widower Louis Aragon. Marie-Laure de Noailles helped him meet intellectuals and artists, and soon the young hustler was writing novels and taking pictures and painting on canvas. He got lots of publicity because of his contacts, but his talents were minimal, if they existed at all. His worst trait, apart from being nasty as hell, was the name-dropping. He never once opened his mouth without using the names of Truman Capote, Princess Caroline, Prince Charles, Johnny Depp, Vanessa Paradis, Mick Jagger, David Rocksavage (they owned a house together for a while), Andy Warhol….
Banier conned everyone but not Father Time. When he turned 40—he’s 70 today—his hair began to fall out and he turned a bit simian. That’s when he decided to go for broke and went after the richest woman on earth, L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt. You know the rest. The older woman gifted her younger-by-25-years friend close to one billion euros, and at one moment even contemplated adopting him, which meant the gigolo could have ended up with 25 billion big ones, easily making him the richest man in Europe. After her daughter sued, Banier had to give lots of it back but avoided the three-year prison sentence on appeal and got to keep 156 million euros. Plus a great art collection and various houses, all paid for by Madame.
Goes to show we’re all in the wrong business.