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Playboy Taki, the Riviera, and an Elegant Culture of Excess

Photo by Nicholas Beel / Unsplash

I have a romantic nostalgia for something I'm nearly clueless about

I tend to loathe the rich, especially those who have money because of Hollywood or, worst of the worse, government.

But there's something about the elegant rich I admire, almost in a nostalgic or romantic sense, almost like the world needs elegance to elevate it.

Yeah, I know:

I don't know what I'm talking about.

The world needs the spiritual strength of the sacraments and the simple example of saints, not the lavish luxury of the elegant rich.

Still, there's always been “something there” for me in the elegant rich: about the way they held themselves above vulgar ways, about the way they disdained boorishness, about the way they intuitively realized high manners are an art form of consideration for others, about their retreating and demure public persona.

It's all on display in this splendid article at Gentleman's Journal: The Last Playboy of the Riviera – Taki Theodoracopulos.

I'm not even sure it's properly called an “article.” It's a piece of writing, I suppose, but after the introductory paragraph, it's all a bunch of quotes from Taki about hanging out on the Riviera in the 1950s.

It's one of the most delightful things I've read lately. A handful of excerpts will, I think, illustrate my general nostalgia and vague romanticism.

The Riviera in the 1950s. In the words of Taki

“[T]here was no real drug use. We were young, people drank. Debauchery then was a private affair. Of course, you had a lot of women looking for a rich man, but it was all done in a very discreet way. You didn't have the hookers in the hotels, the slobs in t-shirts in the casinos. At the very least, everyone was very well dressed.”
“Philippe Washer was the number one [tennis] player in Europe in the fifties, and a friend of mine. Our routine was pretty simple. He and I would wake up in the morning with a tremendous hangover and go down to the courts to hit a set or two for an hour. Then we'd go to La Boheme, the old beach hotel in Monte Carlo. The waiters knew us there, so we'd go there to recover, have a swim, maybe in the afternoon have a hit or two, and then in the evening we'd get back into black tie and go around hunting for women.”
“I can't go back any more. It's too painful. [I visited the place in 2003.] The place looked like a brothel on a Sunday morning. Fat people, slobs, nobody paying any attention to anyone else, everything over crowded.”
“The great actress Bella Darvi lost all her money in '71 and went back to her hotel room and committed suicide. That finished the Riviera once and for all. She was a girlfriend of Daryl Zanuck, and Zanuck dropped her, and she was getting old and losing her looks. Certain things happen, and after that nothing works anymore; nothing's the same. It wasn't the cause, but it was the signal. The party was over.”
“High Society today is the Kardashians. It's not the same.”
“When Onassis ran Monaco it was Ruritania on the sea. If you see pictures of it in the 1950s it looks straight out of the 18th century. Then all these big glass buildings went up. They keep the lights on at night to show residency. But there's no one there.”
“There are no more playboys, as far as I'm concerned. Take the top playboy Porfirio Rubirosa, or Dado Ruspoli. In those days, if you wanted to be a playboy you had to be a tough guy, because if you were in pursuit of their women you'd have a fight on your hands. They were tremendous athletes, too.”
“Charm was everything. You couldn't not have charm and be a playboy. It was very social. People had extraordinarily good manners. I never heard anybody say the F-word. I never heard Rubi or anyone say fuck. Now that's all you hear.”
“I have the last memories of the Riviera. The terrible thing is, in those days, taking photographs was not the done thing. You didn't say: “Oh can you take a picture of us?” – that was for American tourists. In those days, Gianni and I, sitting on our boats, would never have dreamed of taking a photograph. I regret that I don't have any shots, but perhaps it's better than looking like a show off.”

Oh! That last quote!

Taki would hang out with the President of Fiat, “The Rake of the Riviera,” and it never crossed his mind to take a picture, much less to send it to a publicist.

And the idea of posting it to a thing like Facebook? I believe Taki's response would've been, "Why would I care that other people know I'm hangin' with the Rake?"

That's detachment. The first rule of the spiritual life, albeit in secular form.

And that, my friend, is what I'm talkin' about.