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Jorge Guinle, 88; Playboy Squired Movie Stars and Squandered a Vast Fortune

March 10, 2004|Henry Chu | Times Staff Writer

RIO DE JANEIRO — Jorge Guinle, one of the last of the global playboys of a bygone era, who squired the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield and Lana Turner while frittering away a massive inheritance, has died. He was 88.

Brazil's answer to Howard Hughes, Guinle fell victim Friday to an aneurysm after refusing surgical intervention. Impecunious but glamorous to the end, he checked into the storied Copacabana Palace Hotel -- a Rio landmark built by his grandfather -- ordered a last supper, then died before dawn in a lavish suite overlooking the pool.

With him went an era of heady, jet set frivolity whose decline he often lamented. Guinle disdained pretenders to his throne, rich high fliers he felt did not capture the spirit or understand the secret of truly fine living.

"No playboy today can be my successor," he once said. "All have a serious flaw: They work."

Guinle never had to labor during his prime, not with a family fortune estimated by some to be worth $2 billion in today's terms. Yet he vowed, and somehow managed, to squander it all, showering gifts on the women he wooed and pursued from continent to continent, decade to decade. Champagne and caviar were staples, as were evenings in the company of some of the most famous bombshells of Hollywood's Golden Age: Rita Hayworth, Anita Ekberg, Kim Novak.

In his final years, the suave and dapper Guinle lived on his memories, a tiny government pension and the largess of family and friends, admitting that he had misjudged his wealth or his longevity, or both. "I think I erred in the calculation," he said. "The money ran out before time did."

Guinle was born into one of Brazil's richest families, which owned the port of Santos, the country's largest. His family once hosted President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and when Roosevelt asked Nelson Rockefeller to rally Latin American support for the Allies during World War II, Guinle became Rockefeller's point man in Brazil.

The job took him frequently to the U.S., where Rockefeller introduced him to high society, and high society introduced him to the starlets who became his passion.

What he lacked in stature -- in Brazil he was known as "Little George" because of his 5-foot-5 height -- he made up for in charm, a pair of piercing blue eyes and a penchant for decking his paramours in jewels.

In his autobiography, a comparatively discreet kiss-and-tell published several years ago, Guinle boasted of liaisons with Mansfield, Hayworth, Monroe and Turner among others.

Many of his lovers followed him to Rio to celebrate Carnaval and enjoy the legendary hotel his grandfather built, a luxurious hangout where Ginger Rogers taught him ballroom dancing while she was in town filming "Flying Down to Rio" with Fred Astaire.

Not everyone accepted Guinle's invitations for fun and sun at the Copacabana, but they often had good excuses, like the charming young woman who Guinle said told him ruefully: "I can't go next week. I have a job to do -- I am going to be crowned queen of Denmark."

Alongside the Hollywood sirens he dated were the Hollywood sires he befriended: the likes of Errol Flynn, Orson Welles and Ronald Reagan. And there were his fellow richer-than-rich playboys, among them Hughes, Ali Khan and Aristotle Onassis, a privileged coterie that embodied not just Epicureanism but a classiness Guinle found wanting in today's fast young crowd.

"There's no glamour anymore," he told an interviewer last year. "Today's generation are arrogant and indiscreet. They want to show off their material wealth. I was never interested in that; I never liked to be ostentatious. I didn't spend my money on Rolls-Royces or helicopters, and I never bought expensive horses to play polo. We just wanted to have fun and sleep with beautiful women."

Guinle appreciated art and music, especially jazz, his other abiding passion. He wrote a book on the genre, and up to the end of his life met with friends at least once a month to listen to and discuss the music of such jazz greats as Charlie Parker.

Guinle married three times and had three children, including a son who died of AIDS in the late '80s. Forced to live hand-to-mouth, he never expressed regrets about his former free-spending life, even when his health began failing.

On Thursday, local news reports said, he signed medical documents refusing treatment for an aortic aneurysm, then checked into the Copacabana Palace, where the staff greeted him as their millionaire boss of old and gave him a final 24 hours of the luxury and comfort he reveled in for decades.

Guinle was buried Friday looking as much as ever the natty Casanova: in a dark wool suit, crisp white shirt, red tie and the elevator shoes he always wore to make him look taller. The Copacabana Palace flew its flag at half-staff.

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