Monday, July 23, 2012

Just passing through ...

Mother/daughter photo shoot on Riverside Civil War Cannon. 11:00 AM. Photo: Jeff Hirsch.
Monday, July 23, 2012. A warm, sunny, pleasant weekend in New York, with cooler air in the evening. About 7:30 last night I went down to the Promenade to get a picture of the activity or the boats on the river. Instead, however, I was taken by the clouds – the weatherman was forecasting a rainstorm passing through. However, they didn’t look like rain; but instead had a Magritte feeling for me. Innocent yet portentous – if you were in the mood.
Planning to go down to watch the river flow, I was taken by the clouds gathering above New York at sunset on the East Side yesterday at 7:30 PM.
Over the weekend I was working on my files which are a slapdash accumulation, disorganized and as crowded as the Number 6 Subway heading south at 8:30 on a weekday morning. I came upon a box labeled “Journals 1991.” I was immediately distracted, curious to see what my last full year living in Los Angeles had felt like. I’d already experienced great changes (and most very stressful) going on in my life. In my private journals (the ones where I just wrote for myself, frequently crowded with personal complaints and boo-hoos about [my] life). Amidst that torpor of torment, I found this entry which, thankfully, had nothing to do with my own personal dramas but rather with someone else’s. In this case, one of the someone’s was Evita, as in “Don’t Cry For Me ...”
President Juan Perón and his First Lady and Vice President Eva Perón.
Los Angeles. June 15, 1991. Last night dinner at fashion designer Luis Estevez’ for San Francisco’s interior designer Tony Hail. The conversation at table turned to some South Americans they’d known. Luis told the story about Betty Dodero and Eva Perón.

Betty Dodero’s husband Alberto was a very rich Argentinian shipping magnate with close ties to Juan Perón, the President of Argentina and Evita’s husband. The Doderos were big on the international social scene in the 1940s and early '50s. Alberto was always credited with being the man who gave Aristotle Onassis his big break in business.

Betty Dodero and her friend Eva Perón.
One year Alberto gave Betty, his much younger second wife, a fantastic brooch of aquamarine, diamonds and rubies for her birthday. She wore it the night of her birthday party in Buenos Aires. The Peróns were guests and Evita noticed the brooch – an enormous one – immediately, and couldn’t stop admiring it. She remarked more than once on its beauty, how much she loved it, how much she wished she had one like it.

Her repeated admiration meant only one thing: she wanted Betty Dodero to take the pin off and give it to her. Alberto, observing this, finally told Betty sotto voce to give it to her, that he’d replace it with something even bigger and more fantastic. But Betty, a former New York showgirl still in her late 20s, was independent and she didn’t feel it.

“No, it’s my birthday, it’s my birthday present, and why should I take it off and give it to that whore?”

Alberto begged.

No, said Betty. No matter what he offered her she refused to give in. The next day Perón canceled a huge business contract that the government had with Alberto Dodero. It was clear to everyone that it came as a result of Betty not handing her birthday present over to Evita.

The following day Betty, taking matters into her own hands, gave in and sent the pin to Mme. Perón. The following day the government’s contract with Dodero was reinstated. This wouldn’t be the only time such a thing happened with Evita. There was another incident afterwards when Mme. Perón admired a diamond ring of Betty’s. This time, Betty simply removed it immediately and gave it to her.

Alan Curtis.
Betty Dodero's last husband, Hugh Shannon.
Betty Dodero later had an affair with a B-movie actor Alan Curtis and divorced the much older Alberto to marry him. The divorce was acrimonious although Alberto was still generous with her in the settlement. The marriage was quick and Betty went back to her Alberto. Although he died only a few months after that, in 1951 at age 64. He had not remarried Betty, however, and so the great fortune she would have inherited as his widow, did not come her way.

Betty was not one to tarry over missed fortunes, however. A few years later, she met and married cabaret singer/pianist Hugh Shannon. The couple lived in Capri and in New York where they remained stalwarts in the post-War international set, although Betty died of cancer, in 1959, at the age of 45. Her one time friend Evita had pre-deceased her, dying the year after Alberto, in 1952 at the age of 33.

Alberto Dodero is a completely forgotten name in today’s world, but in the mid-20th century he was the major shipping tycoon in South America. The youngest of five sons of an Italian who had emigrated to Uruguay during the great Italian immigration to the Americas in the late 19th century, Alberto Dodero took his father's small shipping business and transformed it into the biggest merchant fleet in South America.

As a young man he moved the family business to Buenos Aires and added a freighter bought on credit. Still in his early 30s, with a $10 million loan, at the end of World War I, he bought 148 surplus U.S. ships, and quickly re-sold them at a big profit. At the beginning of World War II, he owned more than 300 ships, as well as valuable real estate in Argentina, New York and Paris. His fortune then expanded greatly during the War. In 1944, his cargo ships alone brought him a $5,600,000 profit (almost $100 million in today’s dollars).

However, the greatest move of his career had been his early recognition and backing of the future political fortunes of Juan and Eva Perón. Showering the Peróns with expensive  gifts – diamonds and Rolls-Royces for Evita – he flattered them by wearing gold replicas of their profiles in his lapel. When Perón was elected President of Argentina, Alberto became a permanent house guest at the presidential palace. More than that, Perón directed most government shipping contracts to him, as well as lending him money to buy more ships.
Alberto Dodero (holding glasses) with President Juan Perón standing to his left while the official announcement is made of the government takeover of Dodero's companies in 1949.
The Alberto Dodero, one of the shipping tycoon's transatlantic passenger ships.
South American millionaires in those days had a glamorous presence in both New York and Paris. They were fodder for the social press and Alberto Dodero became one of the most important of them. He dazzled the elites with his big spending. Proud possessor of a big yacht, a private plane, a fleet of cars, major residences in Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Punta del Este, New York, London, Paris and Cannes, he entertained constantly and lavishly. During summers on the Riviera he spent an estimated $50,000 a week for entertainment. He  also had the Latin eye for pretty women. When he met Betty Sundmark, who was thirty years his junior, he was still married to his first wife. Betty became his mistress, putting her up in a palatial apartment in Paris.

At the end of the War, however, Argentina's trade boom slowed markedly. Dodero blamed the government's state-trading policies. This hurt his friendship with Juan Perón, who dismissed his erstwhile, long time supporter with a take-it-or-leave-it offer to sell his business to the government. In other words, a nationalization – which had already taken place with the railroads, telephones and other utilities. From Dodero they took his ships, his airline shares, and his Argentine business property – except five apartment houses. The terms were not generous – less than $3,000,000 for the controlling stock. The party was over.
In the spirit of The Open Championship: If only Tiger could golf like Fred ...

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