CAPRI IN THE ’50s
The last Playboy of La Dolce Vita, Dado Ruspoli
Federico Fellini’s, ”La Dolce Vita” is a rare film. Rare not because of its critical acclaim but because it is really something bigger than itself. We can all conjure our own picture of “The Good Life”, even if it’s a terrible Italian restaurant in a sleepy corner of Florida. We know It’s glamour shots of of the Mediterranean, well dressed women and charmingly divisive men. We can all mention a style with the words “La Dolce Vita” even if admittedly most people haven’t sat down and watched the art-house masterpiece.
As a creator Fellini himself is famous for documenting his dreams, wild sexual fantasies. Yet it seems that the world of the Dolce Vita itself is a story very much grounded in a certain type of reality.
That of Alessandro (Dado) Ruspoli whom it is said to have inspired its lead character, played by Marcello Mastroianni. A world of sensual, carefree decadence and the dangers for those existing in the newly rich and famous in a postwar boom mixed with royal lines that date back a millennium.
A romantic lifestyle we will reference but will never have again. Dado Ruspoli was born in Rome in 1924. His mother was Claudia dei Conti Matarazzo, heiress to one of the largest fortunes in Brazil. His father Francesco Ruspoli, an Italian Prince and poet.
Life for Dado was always a world of beauty and extreme opulence, but by the 1950 Dado had become almost mythically known for extravagance. Yet the man was also a curious maverick.
Regularly seen strolling in Capri or the Cote D’Aurz barefoot in red trousers, linen shirts, bare foot and on reportedly with a bird his shoulder.
He streaked colours in his hair 30 year before anyone had seen a punk.
He embodied a time for art, freedom and sex. Not hindered by the banalities of money or a traditional moral code that had preceded him.
Men emulated him, and it’s said that women largely fell into his bed.
As well as numerous affairs, he was married three times, and he fathered the youngest of his five children when he was 73.
If asked about a career Dado he claimed he “never had time” but he was certainly a professional when it came to the sensualist doctrine “The art of joy”. Beyond that he had a handful of small acting roles, including a part in The Godfather Part III, and was a generous patron of performers and artists who captured his imagination.
A true socialite he was friends with the likes Brigitte Bardot, Salvador Dalí, Truman Capote, Roger Vadim, Roman Polanski, Emmanuelle Arsan.
While storytellers like Fellini created the myth of this golden time Ruspoli lived it.
With the parties in the great walled fort of the 15th Century Castello Ruspoli, complete with dungeons and a secret garden to lose oneself in. Dado’s curiosity drove him to lose himself in other ways, drawn to the spirituality of the East, he also became an opium addict.
His romance with the pipe was his longest enduring relationship, far outlasting any of his marriages. Yet even with it’s darker side there is something very sad about the fact the beauty of reckless abandon of La Dolce Vita has died. Camera phones and instant sharing mean that the days of spontaneous orgies and the glitterati totally unfaltering sensualism is now long gone, replaced by set up insta shots, and managers doing deals of sell or create stories.
For Dado a glimmer of the old socialite world remained to the end, Ruspoli and his wife had planned a party for the night he died. It was to raise funds “to support the art of dance”. The prince’s last instructions, conveyed from his hospital bed, would have made a fine epitaph for the dolce vita he symbolised. They were: “Please, don’t cancel anything”.