Monday, November 23, 2009
Daily Mail: The fascist Casanova
The fascist Casanova: New diaries lay bare Mussolini's insatiable appetite for women
By Jane Fryer
London, November 23, 2009
Benito Mussolini didn't look like your average Casanova. He was short (barely 5ft), bald, suffered horribly from constipation and, by all accounts, rather let himself down when it came to personal hygiene.
But the father of fascism must have had more than just a very twinkly eye.
Because while we've always known he possessed a certain 'je ne sais quoi' - he wasn't known as Italy's 'Phallus-in-Chief' for nothing - the full extent of his extravagantly wild sex life has stayed safely under wraps.
Until now, that is, and the emergence of a series of graphically detailed diaries kept by Claretta Petacci - his lover for nine years and the woman with whom he was shot dead as they tried to flee Italy in 1945.
The diaries reveal that Il Duce regularly had 14 lovers at a time, would rattle through three or four ladies in an evening and was startlingly noisy when in the throes of passion.
Oh yes, and he wasn't averse to a bit of playful biting.
After decades under lock and key - Italy has a 70-year secrecy rule on state documents - the journals are due to be published this month in a book called Mussolini Segreto (Secret Mussolini).
They cover the period from 1932 to 1938 - the halcyon days of Mussolini's dictatorship - and, according to the book's editor Mauro Suttora, provide 'an intimate chronicle, minute by minute, of the daily life of the founder of fascism'.
It's certainly intimate. Claretta didn't spare any blushes and every moan, whimper and pant of their sex life is included.
'I can feel that all his nerves are taut and ready to spring,' one entry reads.
'I hold him tightly. I kiss him and we make love with such fury that his screams seem like those of a wounded beast. Then, exhausted, he falls onto the bed.'
They met by chance when Claretta was just 20 and Mussolini 49 - and married with five children.
The young Claretta - who'd had a crush on him since her early teens and had been writing him poems and letters for years - was driving with her parents in the family Lancia when Mussolini's red Alfa Romeo roared past.
She recognised him, shouted 'Il Duce, Il Duce!' out of the window and, obligingly, Mussolini stopped for a chat and invited her over to his official residence, Palazzo Venezia.
They struck up a supposedly platonic four-year friendship, during which she married and separated from a young air force officer before Benito finally took her as his lover.
It was a passionate affair.
'We made love with such force that he bit my shoulder so hard his teeth left a mark,' she writes.
'He's mortified; he sits on the bed looking a bit pale and panting: "My love, what have I done to you, look at that mark. One of these days I'll tear a shoulder off."'
He didn't hold back in his letters either.
'Your flesh has got me - from now on I'm a slave to your flesh.
'I tremble in telling you, but I have a feverish desire for your delicious little body which I want to kiss all over. And you must adore my body, your giant...
'Be afraid of my love. It's like a cyclone. It's tremendous; it overwhelms everything. You must tremble.'
But as well as the good times, the diaries also chart their screaming rows - invariably sparked by his promiscuity.
In April 1938, she records their exchange after she caught him with former girlfriend Alice De Fonseca Pallottelli.
'All right, I did it. I hadn't seen her since before Christmas, I felt like seeing her; I don't think I committed a crime. I spent 12 minutes with her,' he conceded.
'Twenty-four!' screamed Claretta.
'All right, 24 then, so it was a quick thing,' grumbled Il Duce.
'Who cares? She's past it. After 17 years there's no enthusiasm; it's like when I take my wife.'
Claretta was right to be concerned. Mussolini was never going to be faithful - not to his wife Rachele Guidi, whom he'd married when he was 31, and certainly not to his lover.
Ever since he'd lost his virginity at 17 to a prostitute - 'she was an elderly woman who spilled out lard from all parts of her body' - he'd been obsessed with sex.
'Naked women entered my life, my dreams, my desires. I undressed them with my eyes, the girls that I met, I lusted after them violently with my thoughts.'
So it was happy coincidence that, despite his rather diminutive size, Italian women seemed to feel the same way about him.
It can't have been easy being Claretta.
At the peak of his power, thousands of letters arrived every day from women begging Mussolini to sleep with them - one teacher from Piedmont even wrote pleading that he deflower her on her wedding night.
The letters were sorted into 'known' or 'new' categories.
After background checks by his policemen on the 'new' women, they were passed on to the great man himself, who'd pick out any that caught his eye - generally, the older women with big breasts and powerful hips - and have them summoned to the Palazzo Venezia.
It meant a busy schedule and, like Napoleon, he didn't waste time.
Trysts took place in the afternoon, usually on a stone window seat, the carpet or against a wall, and - according to one former lover - ended without ceremony, 'coffee, liqueur or even a piece of cake'.
Meanwhile, Claretta sat waiting for him in her apartments, listening to Chopin and miserably eating sweets.
According to one man servant, from the moment he moved into the Palazzo in September 1929 until the collapse of his regime in July 1943, Mussolini had sex with a different woman nearly every day.
Exaggeration or not, he was at it hammer and tongs - something he freely admitted to Claretta, explaining monogamy was 'inconceivable' to him and lecturing her on the benefits of the orgasms.
'Orgasm is good for you: it sharpens your thoughts, it widens your horizons, it helps your brain, makes it vivid and brilliant.'
Yet he was at pains to insist many of the liaisons meant nothing to him.
So there was Cornelia Tanzi, who was 'frigid, so cold it's incredible... imagine, she never felt anything, not even with me'.
And Giulia Brambilla Carminati, of whom he said: 'I met her in 1922 and then I didn't see her again for more than ten years... I never loved her; it was purely physical.'
And Romilda Ruspi. 'It was a purely physical, sexual attraction... Every so often, when I felt like it, I'd have her.
'I took other women in front of her,' he admitted, swearing 'on his five children' that he never loved her, before confessing weeks later that he'd slept with her again.
'I'm bad - hit me, hurt me, punish me, but don't suffer. I love you. I think about you all day, even when I'm working.'
But perhaps the most startling tale involves Marie-Jose of Belgium, Italy's last Queen, who ruled for just 35 days and, according to the journal, tried to seduce him at Castelporziano, a beach resort near Rome, in the autumn of 1937.
'Marie-Jose came and said "May I?" Then with a small movement her dress fell and was there virtually naked,' he confessed.
'All she had on was a very short pair of knickers and two scraps of material over her chest.'
Claretta wrote of how Mussolini later told her: 'To be honest, I find her repulsive, she makes no impression on me at all.'
With all that sex, it's a wonder he had any time to focus on work. But politics did, occasionally, get a mention.
Such as the description of a meeting Mussolini had with Hitler in 1938 after Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister, agreed to Germany's annexation of the Sudetenland.
'The Fuhrer was very kind. At heart, Hitler is an old sentimentalist. When he saw me he had tears in his eyes. He really does like me a lot. But he does have angry outbursts.'
And in an entry dated August 4, 1938, Claretta records his deep irritation at being viewed as Hitler's junior in fascism and anti-Semitism.
'I've been racist since 1921. I don't know why people think I am imitating Hitler... It makes me laugh.
'I need to teach these Italians about race, that they don't create half castes and that they don't ruin what is beautiful in us.'
A few weeks later, on October 11, 1938, Claretta's record of his hatred of Jews makes particularly chilling reading: 'These disgusting Jews, they should all be destroyed. I will massacre them as the Turks did.
'I have isolated 70,000 Arabs in Italy's North African colonies, I can easily contain 50,000 Jews. I will build a little island and put them all on there.'
It's hard to see how such an appalling, sexist, racist, bigot could have driven so many women into such a frenzy for so many years, but Benito Mussolini clearly had some kind of animal magnetism that drove women wild.
For two decades he went on a sexual rampage, sleeping with hundreds, if not thousands, of women and treating them and his long-suffering wife Rachele and the ever-loyal Claretta, disgracefully throughout.
It was not until spring 1945 that it all finally unravelled for Il Duce.
With Fascism in its death throes, the Allied victory over the Germans in Italy only days away and numerous plots to kill him, he and Claretta tried to flee the country, but were intercepted by partisans and shot by machine gun at point-blank range.
Their bodies were taken to Milan and strung up by their feet from the roof of a petrol station as the crowds of men and - more tellingly - women jeered, laughed and roared.
Finally, in death, the Italian stallion had lost his magic.