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HISTORY

How A Cruel Dictator’s Playboy BFF Became The Inspiration For James Bond

With an actual license to kill, a Casanova reputation, and unlimited money to spend, Porfirio Rubirosa was one of the most influential and famous men in the world at the service of one of the most despicable dictators of the twentieth century.

Picture this: it’s the summer of 1965, and you’re in the middle of the ocean aboard the Creole, a luxurious boat where the most lavish parties take place. You don’t know it yet, but in a few minutes, this gorgeous symbol of power will turn into the setting of one of the most emblematic spy stories in history. However, instead of any of the iconic Hollywood 007 renditions, you’re about to see the real-life James Bond in action. Or at least, the man who is believed to have been the main inspiration for Ian Fleming’s character: the Dominican playboy, diplomat, and also (in a way) spy, Porfirio Rubirosa.

Turns out that in 1965, Rubirosa and his friends decided to film their own version of Fleming’s Goldfinger. However, it wasn’t like any old random video you’d make with your friends: they actually got planes and props to make it look like a real film, but it never saw the light of day. This isn’t Rubirosa’s only connection to 007. His whole life has so many links to him, that it’s hard not to see him as a real-life James Bond. In reality, though, Rubirosa wasn’t at Her Majesty’s service. Instead, he worked for one of the most ruthless dictators of the 20th century, the Dominican “leader,” Rafael Trujillo.

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Rubirosa was born in 1909 to an upper-middle-class family in the Dominican Republic. When he was just six years old, his father was named ambassador in Paris, where he grew up until the age of seventeen, when he returned to his home country. As a young man, he was full of high expectations about life after having experienced the glamour of Paris in the twenties, and he decided to enroll at the university to study law. However, he soon saw that the real ticket to luxury in the Dominican Republic was a career in the military. 

In 1931, he met the newly-elected president (and soon-to-become dictator) Rafael Trujillo at a country club. Soon later, Trujillo, made him lieutenant of his personal guard. The following year, he married Trujillo's eldest daughter, Flor de Oro, and his life started going where he had always dreamed. By 1936, he was appointed diplomat for the Dominican Republic, and he was traveling the world with a diplomatic immunity that allowed him to do anything he wanted. It’s even believed that he attended the infamous ‘36 Olympics in Berlin and that he actually sat in Hitler’s personal box at the inauguration.

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Rubi, as his friends called him, wasn’t a handsome man, but he had something that made him attractive, and soon, he was known all over the world as the playboy of the century. Even after his divorce in 1938, Trujillo still cared for him as if he were his own son (which Flor de Oro’s future husbands never got). The tabloids did nothing but talk about his high-profile dalliances with celebrities like Dolores del Río, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Ava Gardner, Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, and Eva Perón. This earned him the nickname of “Casanova of the Caribbean,” and is a possible inspiration for the Bond girls in Fleming’s series.

Rubirosa also shared with Bond many other traits, including his passion for sports, his lavish trips and parties, and of course, his life as a secret agent. It’s even said that he actually had a license to kill and that he would “take care” of Trujillo’s international enemies behind his diplomat façade. In addition, his own persona was as intriguing as that of the 007 agent. His personal style was to die for, to the point that it’s also believed he was the inspiration for Ralph Lauren’s Polo brand (polo, along with car racing, was one of his life’s passions after women, of course).

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Now, the most solid argument to believe that he’s the sole inspiration for James Bond is Rubirosa’s actual connection to Fleming. Not only did they meet, but they also had friends in common and would hang out whenever they were in the same part of the world. Moreover, most of the James Bond stories take place in the Caribbean, a place Fleming loved dearly. It’s also well known that Fleming knew about Rubirosa’s life from the tabloids and even followed rumors that the playboy had sunken treasures in the Caribbean, a subject Fleming was very passionate about and that he included in some of his Bond stories. 

Fleming once said that he had drawn inspiration for Bond from different characters he met throughout his life, but if the similarities with the Dominican jetsetter are so evident, why did he never acknowledge him?  The first one to point out this out was Daniel J. Voelker, in his essay “Will the Real James Bond Please Stand Up?” According to him, keeping his real inspiration to himself was a deliberate and smart move on his part that made his series even more popular. The first novel was published in 1953, and for the next two decades, the name James Bond would be everywhere. But we’re also talking about a time of extreme racism, so linking his character to a real-life Latin American man would not have been good for his appeal.

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After looking at Rubirosa’s life, it’s hard not to see the similarities, but it goes beyond that: he was truly a fascinating character with a very dark, secret life. After Trujillo’s assassination in 1961, Rubirosa wanted to maintain his close ties to the family intact, to the point that he tried convincing John F. Kennedy to support Trujillo’s son, Ramfis, to take over control of the country (it was a no from JFK). 

Throughout his life, he got married five times, once to one of the wealthiest heiresses in the world and twice to two famous actresses. But his playboy ways came to a tragic end in 1965. After a night of celebrating his own victory at the Polo Coupe de France, he crashed his car and died instantly. The life of the playboy had ended and with him the last direct link to an era of terror in the Dominican Republic. 

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