Attila Ambrus was a gentleman thief, a sort of Cary Grant — if only Grant came from Transylvania, was a terrible professional hockey goalkeeper, and preferred women in leopard-skin hot pants. During the 1990s, while playing for the biggest hockey team in Budapest, Ambrus took up bank robbery to make ends meet. His opponents: a police chief who learned how to be a detective via dubbed episodes of Columbo; a deputy so dense he was known only by his Hungarian nickname, Mound of Asshead; and a forensics expert-cum-ballet teacher who wore a top hat and tails on the job.
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John Aspinall was born in Delhi, India, but was a United Kingdom citizen. He was a zoo owner and agambler. He was also a self-declared misanthrope and reputed co-plotter of an extreme right-wing conspiracy against Britain’s Labour government.
Sathya Sai Baba was an Indian guru, spiritual figure, mystic, philanthropist and educator.He claimed to be the reincarnation of Sai Baba of Shirdi, considered a spiritual saint and a reputed miracle worker, who died in 1918 and whose teachings were an eclectic blend of Hindu and Muslim beliefs. The materializations of vibhuti (holy ash) and other small objects such as rings, necklaces and watches by Sathya Sai Baba were a source of both fame and controversy; devotees considered them signs of divinity, while skeptics viewed them as simple conjuring tricks. Photos of him are displayed in millions of homes and on the dashboards of cars, and lockets bearing his photo are worn by many as a symbol of good fortune.
The former editor of Andy Warhol’s Interview, Colacello is an author, Vanity Fair contributor, and omnipresent figure on the New York social scene.
He’s a master of the vanishing act and reinvention. First he dressed the stars at the Oscars, then he sold art to the rich, and now he’s a movie director. Every time he disappeared and changed his name, leaving behind a trail of suspicion. Read the story here.
Angelo d’Arrigo was an Italian aviator, of French origin, who held a number of world records in the field of flight, principally with microlights and hang gliders, with or without motors. He has been referred to as the “Human Condor”. In 2003 he flew 5,500 kilometres from northern Siberia to the Caspian Sea in Iran in the company of a flock of Siberian Cranes who had been born in captivity and, due to imprinting, considered him their parent: the bird is at risk of extinction and in order to try to save the species, Russian ornithologists hatched this plan: have the eggs incubated under Angelo’s hang-glider, so the chicks saw this as they hatched. Have Angelo be with the chicks as they fledge. And when they were ready to fly, have them fly alongside Angelo so they would consider him their mentor. That way, he could show them the traditional migratory route for their species. They had no other way to learn it.
George Dibbern was a sailor-philosopher, self-declared citizen of the world for whom the 32 foot ketch Te Rapunga became the means to break free from the constraints and conventions of society, to share his philosophy of the sea, his message of peace, brotherly love and world citizenship at a time when the world was bracing itself for World War II.
When Antoinette Saint Leger was forced to sell her beloved Isles of Brissago in 1927, the islands were bought by the multi-millionaire Jewish German business man Max Emden. Emden had built a profitable empire with department stores spread across all of Germany, including the world famous KaDeVe in Berlin. By the late 1920s he had decided that he had had enough of the business world. It was time to turn his mind (and body) to the delights of the world. Happiness could only be found by turning back towards a more natural way of living. The magical Swiss shores of Lake Maggiore, with Alpine scenery, a Mediterranean climate, a lively arts scene and experiments in alternative ways of living, seemed perfectly suited to his designs. Emden, deciding to start a radically new life, divorced his wife and sold his 150 department stores. He bought the islands and, while preserving the marvelously exotic botanical garden that Saint Leger had so painstakingly created, he had a thirty-room neo-classical palazzo built, together with a Roman style outdoor bath. From this point until his death in 1940 he lived in the palazzo on his own island and indulged to the full in what he called “the Art of Living”.
Ron Galella is an American photographer, known as a pioneer paparazzo. Dubbed “Paparazzo Extraordinaire” by Newsweek and “the Godfather of the U.S. paparazzi culture” by Time Magazine and Vanity Fair. On June 12, 1973, notoriously-reclusive actor Marlon Brando punched Galella without warning outside a restaurant in Chinatown in New York City, breaking the photographer’s jaw and knocking out five of his teeth on the left-side of his mouth.
Joshua Milton Blahyi, better known by his nom de guerre General Butt Naked, was originally a tribal priest before becoming a Liberian warlord-turned-preacher. He was a fiercely violent and eccentric leader on the side of Roosevelt Johnson in the First Liberian Civil War in the first half of the 1990s. At age 11, he claims, he was initiated as a tribal priest and participated in his first human sacrifice. During the course of the three day ritual that followed, Blahyi says that he had a vision in which he was told by the Devil that he would become a great warrior and that he should continue to practice human sacrifice and cannibalism to increase his power. Blahyi has said he led his troops naked except for shoes and a gun. Apparently, he believed that his nakedness was a source of protection from bullets.
James Harden-Hickey was a Franco-American author, newspaper editor, duellist, adventurer and self-proclaimed Prince.
Harry Kessler. W.H. Auden called him probably the most cosmopolitan man who ever lived. Aesthete, patron, diplomat, diarist, peace campaigner, defender of the Weimar republic and exile from Nazism, this ultra-sophisticated German count belongs to a type that probably no longer exists: a moneyed and cultivated amateur whose brains and background brought him effortless access to politics, society and intellectual life in any capital where he set foot.
During his days as Nizam, he was reputed to be the richest man in the world, having a fortune estimated at US$2 billion in the early 1940s or 2 per cent of the US economy then.
Seth Kinman was an early settler of Humboldt County, California, a hunter based in Fort Humboldt, a famous chair maker, and a nationally recognized entertainer. He stood over six feet tall and was known for his hunting prowess and his brutality toward bears and Indians. Kinman claimed to have shot a total of over 800 grizzly bears, and, in a single month, over 50 elk. He was also a hotel keeper, barkeeper, and a musician who performed for President Lincoln on a fiddle made from the skull of a mule.
To illustrate his belief in the magnetic relationship between the sun and the vegetable kingdom, Kircher designed this heliotropic sunflower clock by attaching a sunflower to a cork and floating it in a reservoir of water. As the blossom rotated to face the sun, a pointer through its center indicated the time on the inner side of a suspended ring.
The Kray twins were English gangsters who were foremost perpetrators of organised crime in London’s East End during the 1950s and ’60s. Ronald, commonly referred to as Ron or Ronnie, most likely suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. With their gang, “The Firm”, the Krays were involved in armed robberies, arson, protection rackets, assaults, and the murders of Jack “The Hat” McVitie and George Cornell. As West End nightclub owners, they mixed with prominent entertainers including Diana Dors, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland and with politicians. The Krays were much feared within their milieu, and in the ’60s became celebrities in their own right, even being photographed by David Baileyand interviewed on television.
Jacques Mesrine was a French criminal who was also briefly active in the United States and Canada. He was responsible for numerous bank robberies, burglaries, and kidnappings, and claimed in an autobiography he wrote from prison to have committed upwards of forty murders. He was adept at disguising himself (earning himself the moniker “The Man of a Hundred Faces”) and making successful escapes from prison.
Porfirio Rubirosa was a Dominican diplomat, polo player and race car driver who competed in the 1950 and 1954 24 Hours of Le Mans, but was best known as an international playboy for his jet setting lifestyle and legendary prowess with women.
Frederick Courteney Selous was a British explorer, officer, hunter, and conservationist, famous for his exploits in south and east of Africa.
The Dilettante Society is a society of noblemen and scholars which sponsors the study of ancient Greek and Roman art, and the creation of new work in the style. It first met in 1732 and was formally established as a London dining club in 1734 by a group of people who had been on the Grand Tour. The Society has 60 members, elected by secret ballot. An induction ceremony is held at a London club. It makes annual donations to the British Schools in Rome and Athens, and a separate fund set up in 1984 provides financial assistance for visits to classical sites and museums.
Simon Spies was a famous Danish tycoon, best known for starting the charter airline Spies Rejser. He was known for his provocative views and flamboyant lifestyle. He was famous for employing at his private residence so-called morgenbolledamer, lit morning humping ladies. When going to the theater he would usually buy three tickets, leaving one seat for his cane and one for his dog Archibald.
Rafael Trujillo ruled the Dominican Republic from 1930 until his assassination in 1961. His 30 years in power, to Dominicans known as the Trujillo Era (Spanish: La Era de Trujillo), is considered one of the bloodiest ever in the Americas, as well as a time of a classic personality cult, when monuments to Trujillo were in abundance. It has been estimated that Trujillo’s rule was responsible for the death of more than 50,000 people. At the suggestion of Mario Fermín Cabral, Congress voted overwhelmingly in 1936 to rename the capital from Santo Domingo to Ciudad Trujillo. The province of San Cristobal was created as “Trujillo,” and the nation’s highest peak, Pico Duarte, was renamed in his honor. Statues of “El Jefe” were mass-produced and erected across the Republic, and bridges and public buildings were named in his honor. The nation’s newspapers now had praise for Trujillo as part of the front page, and license plates included the slogan “Viva Trujillo!” An electric sign was erected in Ciudad Trujillo so that “Dios y Trujillo” could be seen at night as well as in the day. Eventually, even churches were required to post the slogan, “Dios en cielo, Trujillo en tierra” (God in Heaven, Trujillo on Earth). Trujillo was recommended for the Nobel Peace Prize by his admirers, but the committee declined the suggestion. When he received (or summoned) a visitor, his four bodyguards would have submachine guns trained upon the “guest” during the meeting.
An overlooked film. The key is of course Pacino’s character, classic self-hated. This is Lars von Trier level.
Soldier, explorer, mystic, guru and spy, Francis Younghusband began his colonial career as a military adventurer and became a radical visionary who preached free love to his followers.
Few men have acquired so scandalous a reputation as did Basil Zaharoff, alias Count Zacharoff, alias Prince Zacharias Basileus Zacharoff, known to his intimates as “Zedzed.” Born in Anatolia, then part of the Ottoman Empire, perhaps in 1849, Zaharoff was a brothel tout, bigamist and arsonist, a benefactor of great universities and an intimate of royalty who reached his peak of infamy as an international arms dealer—a “merchant of death,” as his many enemies preferred it.