Jose Luis de Vilallonga

Actor, writer and bon viveur


José Luis de Vilallonga y Cabeza de Vaca, Marqués de Castellbell, Baró* de Segur, Maldá y Maldanell, Grande de España, writer and actor: born Madrid 9 January 1920; married 1945 The Hon Priscilla Scott-Ellis (died 1983; one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1972), 1974 Syliane Stella Morell (one stepson; marriage dissolved 1995), 1999 Begoña Aranguren; died Port d'Andratx, Spain 30 August 2007.

José Luis de Vilallonga, left-wing aristocrat, screen actor and bon viveur, played the dashing Brazilian multi-millionaire who wooed Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's. The movie's star, Audrey Hepburn, chose him for the role. It was the one of the high points of an acting career that included more than 70 films. In 1994 his artistic achievements were recognised by the French government, which appointed him to the Légion d'honneur.

Vilallonga also wrote several books of fiction and memoirs, and the authorised biography of King Juan Carlos. Leading a glamorous life that was picked over by Spain's voracious gossip magazines for decades, Vilallonga enjoyed all the pleasures and privileges his high birth afforded. His father was Salvador, Marquis of Castellbell, one of those Spanish aristocrats with the title of Grande or Grandee, and his mother the daughter of the Marquis of Portago.

Educated in France, Vilallonga bred polo ponies and racehorses in Argentina, conquered beautiful women of the international jet set, including Zsa Zsa Gabor's sister, cruised on the finest yachts, rubbed shoulders with the Onassises, the Kennedys and the Rothschilds, and was renowned for his indolent air and lanky elegance.

His early childhood was inauspicious, however. He spent his first two years in a Munich clinic where he overcame an intestinal complaint that he had been born with. He backed Franco's Nationalist rebels in the Civil War in 1936 at the instigation of his austere father, who prodded him to join a Fascist firing squad at 16 "to toughen him up", and where he shot people daily. His experience left him "painfully confused" until, in 1946, the Catalan writer Josep Pla urged him: "Write, young man, write."

He settled in Barcelona and contributed to the magazine Destino and the newspapers El Noticiero Universal and Diario de Barcelona. He launched upon, then abandoned, a diplomatic career, and moved to Britain. His first novel, Las Ramblas terminan en el mar ("The Ramblas end in the sea"), in 1954, displeased the authorities, who banned him from Spain.

He decamped to Paris, returning home only after Franco's death in 1975. In 1958 he made his acting début in Louis Malle's Les Amants (The Lovers). In 1961 he played José da Silva Pereira, the man Holly Golightly planned to marry in Blake Edwards's classic Breakfast at Tiffany's. There followed minor roles in dozens of films, including Federico Fellini's Giulietta degli Spiriti (Juliet of the Spirits).

He interviewed politicians and personalities for Paris-Match, Marie Claire and Vogue, and contributed to Barcelona's daily La Vanguardia; the soft-porn scandal weekly Interviú – with a racy column entitled "Letters from Paris" – and edited Spain's version of Playboy.

Vilallonga dropped his association with the far right and moved towards socialism, but never rejected his family's monarchism. In February 1981, days after a failed military coup in Madrid, he joined the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party, and became known as the "Red Marquis". He kept a photo of the Socialist leader Felipe González in his office.

Vilallonga's best-known book, his authorised biography of King Juan Carlos, appeared in 1993 and sold 300,000 copies in six weeks. El Rey ("The King") was based on 27 hours of taped conversations held while the monarch was recovering from a skiing accident. It was an insider's account of Juan Carlos's role in Spain's transition from dictatorship to democracy.

He was married three times: first to Priscilla Scott-Ellis, daughter of the 8th Baron Howard de Walden, whom he divorced in 1972; then to the French fashion expert Syliane Stella Morell in 1974. They were divorced in 1995, but Syliane cared for him as his health failed, and was with him when he died. In October 1997 he broke off a relationship with María Vidaurreta, and in 1999 married the journalist Begoña Aranguren, from whom he separated in 2002.

Elizabeth Nash



Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?