ALL WORK AND ALL PLAY: Francisco 'Baby' Pignatari

Originally published in Issue 41 of The Rake, James Medd writes that Francisco ‘Baby’ Pignatari was not your average playboy. True, he enjoyed plenty of sexual conquests, and was harshly dismissive of some of the women in his life. He embraced danger and lived his life, as it’s said, ‘to the full’. But one thing set him apart: all the cash he burned through at night he earned through hard work during the day.
Brazilian industrialist and playboy millionaire Francisco Pignatari (Photo by Ralph Crane/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Playboys should not be complicated. However thick the veneer of sophistication, their very essence is to obey their natural instincts. Francisco ‘Baby’ Pignatari was the exception. He raised questions — chief among them: How? As in, how did he do it? When it comes to Porfirio Rubirosa, the Aga Khan or Pignatari’s other rivals from the postwar golden age of the international playboy, the answer is simple enough: others paid (either parents or lovers or both). But when Baby wrote off a speedboat, hired a plane to fly halfway around the world to amuse a new girlfriend, or rented eight suites at Paris’s Georges V, he paid for it himself.

And this was not with money made by wandering in front of a camera or applying a splash of paint to canvas. At the height of his international misadventures in the 1950s and sixties, when he had a glass engraved with that unfortunate nickname (the gift of an English nanny) in every club in any city in the world worth visiting, Baby was running Brazil’s third-largest business, employing 10,000 workers, responsible for multi-million deals, strategy and investment in new markets. Again: how? At home in São Paulo, the police chief long believed there were in fact two Pignataris: the hard-working industrialist Francisco and his spoiled playboy son Baby. Perhaps, on one level, he was right.

One of the secrets of Baby’s success was his ability to do without sleep. He never wasted more than four hours a night unconscious. During the remaining 20, he barely kept still. To call him a man of action would be like labelling an atomic bomb a potential hazard: it was simply what he was for. “I must do something dangerous when I feel restless,” he confided to Life magazine in 1958, going on to explain that he felt restless all the time. “I don’t like watching other people do anything. I only want to do things myself. If you are sitting at this table talking to someone else, I will not hear you. I only hear when I am talking.”


James Medd


February 2021


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