All Work and All Play: Francisco 'Baby' Pignatari

Francisco ‘Baby’ Pignatari was not your average playboy. True, he enjoyed plenty of sexual conquests, crashed Cadillacs, flew planes, and lived his life, as it’s said, ‘to the full’. But…
Francisco 'Baby' Pignatari and model Barbara Cailleux relaxing beside the hotel's pool. Photo by Ralph Crane/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images.

Playboys should not be complicated. However thick the veneer of sophistication, their 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 multimillion-dollar deals, strategy and investment in new markets. Again: how?

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. “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.”

Fortunately, women were ready to listen. Strings of what the gossip magazines then called ‘starlets’, from Sweden, France and Japan, as well as models including Barbara Cailleux and Melissa Weston, kept him busy between longer affairs and four marriages. It was understandable. Even ignoring the very real attractions of wealth, power and ambition, Baby was 6’3”, darkly handsome, and could carry off any style of clothing from swimming trunks to dinner jacket, bowling shirt to mechanic’s overall. And with this came, in the words of Richard Gully, Baby’s upper-crust English ‘social secretary’, “a very glamorous woman summed up Baby’s personality.”


James Medd


November 2016