Ismailism: Where Money Matters

Money plays a very important role in the Ismaili community. If money can be extracted under any guise, you can trust the Ismaili leadership to find that way and implement it in the jamaat. For instance, when it was realized that a vast majority of people who cannot aford majlis memberships, and therefore they do not contribute to memhmani given in those majalis by members, a free majlis was invented, called chaand raat ki majlis. More on this later in this article which is an eyewitness account of the Ismaili religious practices and rituals conducted secretly inside the Ismaili Jamatkhana.

A community of traders finds it easy to understand the simple logic of buying and selling. You want your dead relatives to be fed? No problem, it can be done. Just bring food to Jamat Khana and the mukhi or the kamadia (honorary congregational leaders representing the Imam – selected for a term of 2-3 years) bless it and then the food is auctioned off to the highest bidder in naandi and the proceeds end up in Aga Khan’s coffers. The rich buyer of the naandi enjoys a meal from what is referred to as “The Imam’s Restaurant” without having bothered himself or the Imam for the cooking.

Nobody asks why is it that in the Imam’s Darbar, where the departed Ismaili souls go, is there no food?

What happens to those wretched souls whose family members remember them only once a year on their anniversary? How do those souls get fed? What happens to the Ismailis who died so long ago that no one remembers them and no food offerings are sent on their behalf? Do they suffer with pangs of hunger for the rest of the days through eternity?

Aga Khan collects 10% of monthly income from his Ismaili followers for being an Imam, which is his primary responsibility. He also collects an additional 2.5% for being a pir, but he doesn’t seem to do any work of dawah (propogation of religion) which pirs historically used to do. Some adherents also offer “pir ji sani” (The Plate for the Pir) as mehmani in the Jamatkhana which again gets auctioned off in naandi. Offerings for the pir, like other food offerings, are also sold to the highest bidder among the group of Ismaili bidders in the Jamatkhana after daily prayers.

Seemingly, the Imam has a separate stomach for hi sown food offerings as there is also an auction (naandi) called awal sufro (premium banquet) which is for the Imam’s benefit. Awal sufro is an auction held in the main prayer hall open to the whole congregation – there is visible competition during the bidding and so is an opportunity for showing off one’s wealth and how much of it is one willing to spend in the name of piety.

Dua Karawi and Forgiveness of Sins

Whenever one enters a Jamatkhana, the first people who one encounters are the money changers – seated near the entrance. The entrant gets some change and then dutifully walks to the leaders who are sat right in the front of the hall so that everyone notices who goes to those leaders and does dua karawi (paid supplications for special services). One hands out some coins – a note if you are well-provided and utters man murad (whatsoever your heart desires), and the leader says slowly if the amount is reasonable or quickly if the amount is small: “Hazar Imam aanji man murad qabool kare” (Hazar Imam or Aga Khan grants to you, whatever your heart desires).

One gives more money and utters “mushkil aasaan“, and the leader accepts cheerfully and says: Hazar Imam aanji mushkil aasaan kare” (Hazar Imam ease all your difficulties).

You remember your dead and so hand over more money and say “ruhani” and the leader takes the donation with serious mode and says: “Hazar Imam ruhani ke asal mein vasal kar” (Hazar imam make the hereafter safe for the deceased).

You are not done yet for you remember you are a sinner and so give some more an utter “gunah bakshamani” and the leader accepts with a smile and looking right into your eyes and says: “Hazar Imam aanja gunah maaaf kare” (Hazar Imam forgives your sins).

But then during the course of the evening you stand with the rest of the congregation and make supplications for various things which include forgiveness of sins, easing every Ismaili’s difficulties, long-life blessings in every Ismailis wealth, progeny and also prayers for the departed.

On Friday and chaand raat (new moon), everyone queues up to partake of niyaaz and sukreet (water and a sweet blessed by the Imam) for one’s purification and you guessed it – there is a plate for you to make a contribution for people around to see so one tries to donate as much as one can afford.

On the new moon night and various other congregations there is chaanta ceremoney (sprikling of holy water) whereby one’s sins are forgiven – and again one pays and audibly recites the formula that one is a sinner and may the imam and the community forgive one’s sins.

Ladder of Piety: Majlis Memberships and Titles

Then the Imam has a ladder of piety – consisting of several steps – which one rises on, again, by paying membership. In these gathering the process of dua karawi, sufro, chhanta and mehmani are repeated and more money is collected.

One such gathering is referred to as paanch baara saal meaning service to the Imam for 5 or 12 years. The admission to that gathering has to be purchased. If you actually serve those number of years, you get nothing.

Then there is membership to a majlis called life dedication, to which entry is also by financial contribution. If any individual served a long time then such individual might be gradgingly given a title like Huzur Mukhi.

However, if one makes a large donation, one is given the title of vizier and if a vizier makes a further very large donation, he becomes a Count.

These title holders get the privilege of sitting along the mukhi and the kamadia – the two representatives to the Imam. The result is that the rest of the congregation, who forever envied those who sat in front of them, actually bowed to them in their prayers. The leaders were prevented from bowing to those facing them because there are tabls in front of them.

The competition got so intense that there was no space for the viziers to be accommodated and they ended up with the rest of the adherents who faced the Counts and Presidents of various Councils and bowed to them.

The “new” Majlis of Chaandraat

But the best part was when the chaandraat majlis was instituted. I heard a farman (royal decree recited in front of the Ismaili jamaat) from Hazar Imam that previously such majlis did not exist anywhere and Sultan Mohamed Shah started this scheme. It was to prepare for the time when dasond (tithe) would be abolished. So while everyone was required to pay dasond, they would also take out an insurance and pay for joining the scheme and prepare for the time tithe would be abolished which of course being the biggest money make, Hazar Imam never intended to abolish and the scheme continues under the new imam – Aga Khan IV.

In mubarak majlis (The Gathering of the Blessed), one undertakes to pay 25% of the income including 25% of the value of gifts one receives.

The leaders bless you on behalf of the Imam who, according to the daily dua, has knowledge and authority over everything.

Presumably Aga Khan has under his command some beings who carry out his bidding. Whether it is decreasing your difficulty, increasing your life span or income, or bringing peace and harmony to your life. If it does not happen, then surely your faith was not strong so next time you give more and trust more in the Imam to reward you. Presumably the dead gets nourishment too.

One wonders whether the imam or the pir‘s appetite is ever satiated as these practices are repeated in every jamatkhana in every part of the globe. No one dares to ask where did the Imam get his “authority and power”. He certainly did not get it from the Prophet (pbuh) because the Prophet (pbuh) did not have such abilities. Moreover, the Prophet (pbuh) always said that he wanted no reward for conveying the message.

Analyzing Evidence for mehmani from the Quran

Indeed every Prophet said: “O my people! I ask of you no wealth for it, my reward is from none but Allah”.

Some apologists (on such matters you never get anything in writing from the Imam) on behalf of the continuation of such practices suggest that it is provided in the Quran that whenever people visited the Prophet (pbuh), they were asked to pay him.

So asking mukhi saheb to give blessings is like asking the Imam who stands in the shoes of the Prophet (pbuh) so it is proper that there should be a payment.

Really? Is that so?

Presumably the relevant Quranic verse if 12:58 where it says:

O believers! When you consult the Messenger privately, give something in charity before your consultation. That is better and purer for you. But if you lack the means, then Allah is truly All-Forgiving, Most Merciful.

al-Quran 58:12

Is it not strange that the above verse says absolutely nothing about payment to the Prophet (pbuh)? Is tells for payment to be given in charity and elsewhere in the Quran, those who are included among the deserving charity are specified and the Prophet is not included in the list of those deserving charity. Also the payment is not due from the poor but the Ismaili leadership conveniently skips publicizing that fact.

Again, the verse refers to a private consultation. It does not come into play for asking for blessings of Allah (swt) for the afflicted. It would be a duty imposed upon every Muslim to give support and ask for Allah’s help in times of adversity and that help would be given and prayers would be made by a believer as a means of earning reward for himself or free, but… no for the Imam himself – he needs a fee for asking for Allah’s help for his followers.

Let us consider the verse 58:12 a little further.

In the kingdom of Allah, all instruction and consultation is open and free. But human nature is weak, and people want special instruction or private consultation with the Prophet from one of the several motives:

  • They may actually, or they may think they have a special case which they are not willing to disclose to their brethren.
  • They may some sense of delicacy or dignity, which can only be satisfied with a private interview.
  • They may even have been selfish enough to want to monopolize the Prophet’s time.
  • They may even want to give the impression that they are superior to their fellow Muslims in that they enjoy a special relationship with him.

These motives are worth discouraging. Yet such persons cannot be shut out if an audience is going to help improve their condition. It makdes sense therefore, that they spendsomething in charity for the good of their bretheren before they indulge in such weaknesses.

But the “special charity” is not made obligatory, lest less fortunate persons should be shut out altogether from receiving beneficial advice. For them, the merciful and an indulgent lord offers free consultation. But the poor normally do not have big egos. Most of them are humble and they woul dnot wish to impose on the leader.

It is an established practice for the Ismailis that whenever they enter the jamat khana, they all dutifully walk to the mukhi saheb and pay their dues. But is it really the case that they are all so ungrateful? Has life dealt such a bad deal that they have to have special prayers for them every time they go to jamat khana? How about those who are blessed in life to simply take their seat and thank Allah for having blessed them without making a payment.

When you do this you will please Allah for being patient and content and grateful to Allah (swt).

Also, all those poor brethren of yours, who can ill afford to pay – they can happily take their seats without feeling awkward or being embarrassed?

And of course, there is nothing to stop one from spending in the path of Allah (swt) in private not to be seen by the whole jamaat but be seen by the Omnipotent Allah (swt) alone.

In recent years, using the energy and need among the young “to be seen and to see”, there is the visible found raising for the Aga Khan Partnership Walk. Then there is collection for Aga Khan Foundation which used to boast low administrative cost until it’s transparency issues were highlighted by the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA), though one would be hard put to find the charitable projects for which the collections are used.

Then there are schools and a couple of hospitals and a university – which were all built with extra donations and were for the benefit of the community which – as fate would have it – has not much use because Aga Khan Hospital has proved to be the most expensive hospitals in the cities it is present. Just like the hospital, all services have to be paid for and so these are all for profit institutions for the Imam.

“None so blind as those that will not see.”

The Goddess and the Playboy

Aly Khan, legendary playboy son of the Aga Khan, prowled the Riviera in relentless pursuit of speed, sport, and women. In 1948 he set his sights on Hollywood’s “Love Goddess,” Rita Hayworth, who was being pursued by Ari Onassis and the Shah of Iran after her marriage to Orson Welles disintegrated. In an excerpt from Throne of Gold, Anne Edwards tells the tale of Rita and Aly’s tumultuous union.

Intense sunlight made a blaze of the magnificent spectacle of His Highness Aga Khan III’s golden-jubilee procession. A platform, with a divan upholstered in spun gold and studded with hundreds of diamonds and rubies, had been erected in a large open square in the section of Bombay often referred to as “the Ismaili Vatican.” The vast throng of more than 30,000 of the Aga Khan’s followers were crushed together, waiting to be blessed by their divine ruler and to see him receive his weight in gold in the style of Moguls of an ancient time. The ceremony, tula-vidhi, was supposed to bring peace, health, and prosperity to the person weighed.

Directly descended from Muhammad through the Prophet’s daughter, Fatima, and thought by his followers to be endowed with the infallible gift of revelation, the Aga Khan was the Imam (spiritual leader, or “Pope”) to more than 15 million Ismaili Muslims. Yet, though recognized as an important linchpin in Oriental politics, he possessed no political territories. To the world at large he was known for his fabulous wealth and his Thoroughbred horses, and, in fact, he spent more time in his luxurious suite at the Ritz Hotel in London and his several homes in France than at his princely estate in the elite Bombay suburb of Malabar.

Once the Aga Khan was seated the shouts of his followers rose. He stood up so that they could see him better, and raised both arms for silence, a gesture which the crowd mistook for a salutation and cheered vigorously. Nearly 15 minutes passed before the shouting subsided.

At last the Aga Khan sank heavily onto the weighing chair. His eyes narrowed behind the round gold rims of his thick glasses as he watched three Ismaili nobles load bars of gleaming gold bullion onto the counterpan until the scale was finally balanced to rousing cheers from the spectators. The Aga Khan tipped the scale at 220.3 pounds (he was barely five feet five inches tall). The value of his weight in gold was 335,000 rupees, about $125,000, a vast fortune in 1936 in either America or Europe, but almost beyond imagining in India, where even 30 years later, according to the writer V. S. Naipaul, the poverty was quivering. India was a nation where it was cheaper to use men than machines, where parents lopped off a child’s hand or crippled him to make him a more poignant beggar, where great masses of people spent their entire lives on the streets of the country’s overpopulated cities.

After the weighing, personal and valuable gifts were presented to the Aga Khan: a gold-bordered robe and 1,000 rupees in silver from the Maharaja of Kutch, silver and jewels from other rich men. Passages of the Koran were read to the crowd by the Aga Khan, after which a path was cleared. The immense crowd fell to their knees. Rose petals, to scent the air, were thrown “like a gentle rain” before the Aga Khan’s gilt palanquin as it moved through the streets of Bombay.

The public celebration was almost certainly a personal benchmark for the Aga Khan as well. It was a time not only to reflect on a full and remarkable life thus far but also to begin to think about the man who might succeed him as Imam.

The Aga Khan’s elder son and heir apparent, Aly, was 25 at the time of the golden jubilee. Aly’s mother, the second of the Aga Khan’s four wives, was a beautiful, dark-eyed Italian ballerina whom the Aga Khan had relentlessly courted after seeing her onstage in Giselle at the Monte Carlo Opera House in 1907. Aly’s childhood was lonely. His mother pursued a career as a sculptor by day, and gave lavish parties at night, while his father shuttled among the capitals of the world, seeing to the concerns of his followers.

As a young man Aly was tremendously good-looking, quite exotic with his mixed Italian and Oriental heritage. He seemed solemnly determined to prove that he could do everything anyone else could do—only faster. He was always at the top of the hunt when he rode to the hounds. He raced his horses with reckless abandon. He drove in famous Grand Prix races in France, Monaco, and Italy.

To Aly it was all “fabulously fun,” which is how he described a 10,000-mile round-trip flight—the longest civil flight ever out of India—from Bombay to Singapore in 1932, flying over treacherous jungles in a single-engine plane with no radio. He had a lot of experience at big-game hunting, having bagged three lions, seven tigers, and some 20 leopards and panthers while on foot, not from the safety of the elevated platform called a machun.

Like his father, Aly was never attracted to Oriental women. When he was 23, he fell deeply in love. She was a tall, slim English beauty, three years his senior, fair and slightly haughty, and she was married. Her name was Mrs. Loel Guinness, née Joan Barbara Yarde-Buller, daughter of Lord Churston, who was descended from King Edward III. She had been married to the Guinness heir when she was 19 and he was only 20, and their wedding was the society highlight of 1927.

The Yarde-Bullers were fabulously wealthy in their own right, but with her marriage Joan was now hostess of her husband’s town mansion, 11 and 12 Carlton House Terrace, overlooking St. James’s Park, and spent summers at his parents’ spectacular estate in Mougins, near Cannes in the South of France (where an airstrip had been laid down so that Loel’s private plane could land), and at Deauville, where they also owned a villa.

It was at a dinner party in Deauville, in the late summer of 1933, that Aly met Joan; Loel was abroad. There is a story that Aly was so taken with her at first sight that he leaned across the table and asked, “Darling, will you marry me?” She laughed and informed him that she was already married and the mother of a young son. That did not stop Aly. He wooed her with flowers and private, romantic messages until finally she agreed to meet him secretly. Soon they had embarked upon a very serious and all-consuming affair that culminated 18 months later in a sensational divorce trial that made front pages of newspapers worldwide.

On May 18, 1936, Joan and Aly were married quietly in Paris, with the Aga Khan present. The bride wore a simple black silk ensemble trimmed in white, and a broad-brimmed black straw hat with a white bow that framed her narrow, piquant face. In photographs the eye is caught by the Aga Khan, rotund and smiling, his white jacket and metal-framed glasses glittering in the bright spring sun. However he may have felt about the public nature of his son’s romance and winning of a bride, there is little doubt that he had great hopes that marriage and fatherhood would give Aly a sense of maturity and of his responsibilities.

Yet Aly’s marriage did nothing to dampen his interest in speed, sports, bloodstock, and women. During World War II, he served with British intelligence forces in the Middle East. His immediate superior officer, Colonel A. D. Wintle, remembers being told “the only risk I ran in having him on my team was that he was irresistible to women, could not leave them alone. And the Germans knew it. . . . I once asked him why he chose to pose as the great lover when he could have been remembered for so many other things.

“‘They call me a bloody nigger’ was his reply, ‘so I pay them out by winning all their desirable women.’ ” In fact, Aly was always convinced that Joan’s family and English friends held him in low esteem because of his mixed racial background.

After the war Aly was often seen without his wife in Monte Carlo and in the chic clubs and casinos on the Riviera. The Riviera chronicler Stanley Jackson wrote, “Aly Khan walked [into the restaurant of the Cannes Casino]. . . . He was smaller than I expected [he was five feet six inches tall], quite roly-poly [weighing about 160 pounds] and going bald [this was in 1947]. He was soon chatting merrily away about Maxine Elliott’s luxurious villa, the Château de l’Horizon, which he had just bought for £35,000. I gathered that Aly would preserve the water chute down which guests could slide straight into the sea [he did], if they preferred that to the huge swimming pool, but he had no intention of switching on her imitation moon for dark nights.

“Suddenly he jumped to his feet and shot off to greet a very pretty brunette. . . . They were soon dancing cheek-to-cheek, locked in trancelike mutual admiration,” Jackson continued. “It was said that he dipped his fingertips in rosewater to prolong his lovemaking and boasted cynically that he never shot until he saw the whites of their eyes.” One of Aly’s lovers claimed that he was able to hold an erection for hours.

The ancient Arabic art of imsák was said to be responsible for Aly’s extraordinary sexual prowess. As a young man he had gone (as the Aga Khan had before him) to a doctor in Cairo, with whom he had spent six weeks studying the control of his muscles so that he did not reach a climax. “He liked the effect it had on women,” one friend claimed. “He liked to get them out of control while he remained in control—the master of the situation.”

Aly’s romantic adventures brought him international fame, the press stepping lively to keep up with the “most recent #1 equestrienne of his romantic merry-go-round.” Attractive women had a startling effect on Aly. A beautiful young society matron sitting across from him at dinner at this time recalled that “suddenly he began staring at me, very intently, not moving his eyes. Then his nostrils began to flare; I swear they did, just like Rudolph Valentino’s in the silent movies. I was at a complete loss. All through dinner, every time I raised my eyes, he was staring at me and flaring his nostrils.”

“The trouble with Aly,” an intimate of his ventured, “is that he is grossly oversexed. If he would stop chasing women he probably would be all right. But the man must have three or four of them at a time. He doesn’t chase tarts. He runs after lots of decent, respectable women. And he has made many enemies doing it.”

One of Aly’s favorite diversions when not pursuing women or one of his demanding sporting activities was viewing movies. He had added a projector and screen to the many other luxuries at Château de l’Horizon. In the early days of the summer of 1948, the most popular film in Europe was Gilda, starring Rita Hayworth—a role that earned her the name of Hollywood’s “Love Goddess.” Aly had the film run several times, fascinated by Rita as she sang (her voice was dubbed by the singer Anita Ellis, but he learned that only later) “Put the Blame on Mame,” oozing sex in a formfitting gown while dancing and peeling off a pair of elbow-length black gloves.

Aly had just ended a short affair with Pamela Churchill, the red-haired, free-spirited former daughter-in-law of Winston Churchill, a particular hero of his. In fact, one of the largest of the 10 bedrooms at the château was called the Winston Churchill Room from the days when he had been the former owner’s guest. Pamela departed by sea with one of Aly’s closest friends, the Fiat heir Gianni Agnelli. Aly did not seem too disturbed by this, especially when he learned that Rita was on the Riviera.

He had voiced his desire to meet Rita to Elsa Maxwell, gossip columnist, friend (and enemy) of the rich and famous, who was also grossly overweight, celibate (she said), and renowned for her parties (always paid for by other people). Lady Luck was in his corner. Rita Hayworth was arriving in Europe at any moment. And it so happened that Elsa was helping to arrange a party on July 3 at the elegant Palm Beach Casino. She would, she promised Aly Khan, make sure he was invited and seated next to Rita.

“The Love Goddess” was married to the actor-director Orson Welles, but the marriage had fallen apart and Welles was living with an Italian woman. Not that Rita needed to be lonely. She was being wooed at the time by Aristotle Onassis and the Shah of Iran, but chose to ignore telephone calls, flowers, and gifts from both these powerful men. The failure of her marriage had been an enormous disappointment. She greatly admired Welles, and they had a small daughter, Rebecca. She was in a depressed state and considering returning to the States sooner than she had planned. Maxwell urged her to attend the party where Aly Khan was also to be a guest.

“I have nothing to wear,” Rita lamely protested.

Not a woman to give up easily, Maxwell told her to go and buy a new dress in the boutique of the Hôtel du Cap, where Rita was staying. “Come in late. Make an entrance,” she prodded.

I was nearly midnight when supper was to be served. Everyone had arrived an hour or so earlier. The room was glittering, the doors thrown open to the soft breezes of the Mediterranean night. Rita stood on a landing, a winding staircase before her, dressed in a stark white Grecian gown that hugged her sun-bronzed shapely body; her red hair was loose about her bare shoulders, and around her neck was a shimmering emerald-and-diamond necklace. She looked spectacular, and heads turned toward her as she started to descend, slowly and majestically, head up, never looking at her feet.

Aly was at her side when she reached the bottom step, and never more than an arm’s length from her for the rest of the evening. He was a smooth and expert dancer; he was equally adept at seduction. At about three they left the party and drove up to where the precipitous Grande Corniche overlooks the Mediterranean coastline, miles below, a ribbon of lights charting its path.

Rita’s secretary and traveling companion, Shifra Haran, said, “The prince was immediately smitten, but Miss Hayworth definitely was not.

If not smitten, she was certainly charmed, because she went back to the Château de l’Horizon with him and did not return to her hotel until later that morning. Aly was to have flown that day in his private plane, Avenger, to Ireland, where Attu, one of his newest horses, was to race, but he canceled his trip. Rita had agreed to return to his white seaside villa in the afternoon. When she arrived, three hours late for their appointment, she was dressed in white shorts, her hair loose and her face free of makeup. Aly was stunned by her natural beauty. They danced cheek to cheek in the grand ballroom of the spectacular house, just the two of them, a record player spinning Gershwin, Porter, and Berlin.

When he left for Ireland the next morning, Rita promised she would remain in the South of France until his scheduled return, five days later. While he cheered Attu to victory, Rita was deluged daily with huge bouquets of red roses. The day before his return, a Gypsy woman (who spoke Italian and was accompanied by a translator) appeared at Rita’s hotel, insisting on seeing her. Intrigued, Rita asked her up to her suite. The woman predicted that she was “about to embark on the greatest romance of her life. He was someone she already knew. . . . Rita [she insisted] must relent and give in to him totally. Only if she did that would she find happiness at long last.”

Aly’s hand in this prediction seems likely, but Rita was strangely convinced by the fortune-teller’s words. She extended her trip and all but moved into l’Horizon for the 10 days before she had to return to Hollywood, where she was committed to start a new film. The impressive white, green-shuttered three-story château, with its dozens of sun-filled rooms, paintings by the great Impressionists, whom Aly collected, the magnificent sea views from the immense terrace that almost encircled the gracefully sprawling building, the Olympic-size swimming pool, the safe in his bedroom that contained thousands of dollars in many different currencies so that he could fly off on a whim in Avenger to any place he wished, and the quality of pampering she received from Aly’s exotic Indian staff all contrived to fuel her romantic nature. Aly’s great charm completed the seduction. Rita believed herself to be deeply in love with him.

Hollywood’s “Love Goddess” she may well have become, but Rita Hayworth’s roots were rough and humble. Born Margarita Cansino in Brooklyn, New York, she was the daughter of Eduardo Cansino, a professional Spanish dancer, who took her out of school at the age of 12 to dance as his partner (made up to look older) in Tijuana, across the border from Southern California, and who (according to her own tortured confession) had abused her sexually since she was 10. They were known as the Dancing Cansinos, and Eduardo passed her off as his wife in the “raucous, offshore gambling ships” and Mexican gin mills and casinos in which they performed. Her mother, the exotically named Volga Hayworth, was an American showgirl who became an alcoholic (as did Cansino later in his life) and seemed to have more than she could handle with Rita’s two younger brothers.

At 17, shapely, a dark-eyed, ravenhaired beauty, Rita was signed by 20th Century Fox, only to be dropped, to her father’s great disappointment, a few months later. He turned to a promoter named Edward Judson, 22 years Margarita’s senior, to help her get another contract. Judson took over the girl’s life, creating a new young woman by subjecting her to painful electrolysis to raise her hairline, dyeing her hair red, dressing her in more glamorous and formfitting clothes, and renaming her Rita Hayworth. He did get her a seven-year contract with Columbia, but first he married her. Then he pressed her to have sex with studio executives to further her career.

She was the obsession of Harry Cohn (head of Columbia Pictures) and then the mistress of the rich and powerful Howard Hughes, neither of them known for his respect for women. She did not emerge as a star in major films until 1941, with Blood and Sand. She was 23 and becoming a little more secure about herself. Judson threatened to disfigure her if she left him, but she got up her courage and walked out on him with the help of strongman actor Victor Mature, who was then her lover.

A few months later, to everyone’s surprise, she married Orson Welles. However, Welles, whose realistic radio adaptation of H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds had terrified a nation into believing men from Mars had landed in New Jersey, was well suited for the role of Rita Hayworth’s husband-mentor. He was a take-charge person and immediately assumed control of his wife’s appearance, career, and education. A brilliant man, he attempted to make Rita into his vision of what she should be—a beautiful, gracious woman with brains enough to star in films of a higher intellectual caliber than those she had been making. He seemed to be following the sort of scenario he had helped create for Citizen Kane, but it did not work any better in real life than it had on film.

The breakup of their marriage left Rita shaken, and it was at this time that Aly entered her life.

Only a few female stars (Vivien Leigh, Virginia Bruce, and Elizabeth Taylor, perhaps) could claim to be more beautiful offscreen than on. Beauty on-screen can be greatly enhanced by a star’s photogenic qualities—skin that has a third dimension on film, eyes that glow, bone structure that draws the light. Rita photographed extremely well and had a marvelous way of moving, walking, dancing, or merely tossing her head back that made the viewer take note. But off-camera she was truly ravishing, with her olive skin, large, dark eyes framed by that startling mass of red hair, and a body that seemed to be pure perfection.

After a little more than a week, Aly could not resist showing the world his newest conquest. He organized parties at the château. This was a fatal error, because Rita suddenly found herself in a hostile environment. Aly’s social friends were inclined to put her down. Mostly they conversed in French, which she did not speak. According to Shifra Haran, “It was too overwhelming for her.”

Aly appeared to understand what had happened. Fearing she might return to Hollywood, he arranged a motoring trip to Spain, which he believed he had managed in great secrecy. Somehow the press got wind of their “elopement,” and when they arrived in Madrid they were harassed by reporters and photographers. They moved on to Seville, her father’s birthplace, where her elderly grandfather Padre Cansino happened to be visiting his relatives, who were rather simple, poor people. Rita invited them all to a family gathering at a local restaurant, and Aly joined them and watched, fascinated, as Rita danced the flamenco with her grandfather.

“She danced like a real Spaniard,” one bystander recalled. “Her white arms flashed above her head as she clicked her fingers. Her skirt had wings as she spun round, and long, loose red hair floated above her shoulders.”

Aly proposed marriage to her, promising he would apply for an immediate divorce. To his shock, she refused him and shortly after left for Hollywood to be reunited with her young daughter, Rebecca Welles. Aly followed in hot pursuit. He took a Mediterranean-style house across the street from her movie-star mansion in Brentwood and plied her with gifts of jewelry and a small poodle puppy. Before long they were spending almost every evening alone together, usually at Aly’s so that Rebecca would not be aware of the depth of the affair, and to avoid the press. Shifra Haran claims that it was an intensely passionate time for them both. “I never saw the prince as a sex maniac,” she later said. “It was Miss Hayworth who was insatiable.”

Directly descended from Muhammad through the Prophet’s daughter, Fatima, and thought by his followers to be endowed with the infallible gift of revelation, the Aga Khan was the Imam (spiritual leader, or “Pope”) to more than 15 million Ismaili Muslims. Yet, though recognized as an important linchpin in Oriental politics, he possessed no political territories. To the world at large he was known for his fabulous wealth and his Thoroughbred horses, and, in fact, he spent more time in his luxurious suite at the Ritz Hotel in London and his several homes in France than at his princely estate in the elite Bombay suburb of Malabar.

Once the Aga Khan was seated the shouts of his followers rose. He stood up so that they could see him better, and raised both arms for silence, a gesture which the crowd mistook for a salutation and cheered vigorously. Nearly 15 minutes passed before the shouting subsided.

At last the Aga Khan sank heavily onto the weighing chair. His eyes narrowed behind the round gold rims of his thick glasses as he watched three Ismaili nobles load bars of gleaming gold bullion onto the counterpan until the scale was finally balanced to rousing cheers from the spectators. The Aga Khan tipped the scale at 220.3 pounds (he was barely five feet five inches tall). The value of his weight in gold was 335,000 rupees, about $125,000, a vast fortune in 1936 in either America or Europe, but almost beyond imagining in India, where even 30 years later, according to the writer V. S. Naipaul, the poverty was quivering. India was a nation where it was cheaper to use men than machines, where parents lopped off a child’s hand or crippled him to make him a more poignant beggar, where great masses of people spent their entire lives on the streets of the country’s overpopulated cities.

After the weighing, personal and valuable gifts were presented to the Aga Khan: a gold-bordered robe and 1,000 rupees in silver from the Maharaja of Kutch, silver and jewels from other rich men. Passages of the Koran were read to the crowd by the Aga Khan, after which a path was cleared. The immense crowd fell to their knees. Rose petals, to scent the air, were thrown “like a gentle rain” before the Aga Khan’s gilt palanquin as it moved through the streets of Bombay.

The public celebration was almost certainly a personal benchmark for the Aga Khan as well. It was a time not only to reflect on a full and remarkable life thus far but also to begin to think about the man who might succeed him as Imam.

The Aga Khan’s elder son and heir apparent, Aly, was 25 at the time of the golden jubilee. Aly’s mother, the second of the Aga Khan’s four wives, was a beautiful, dark-eyed Italian ballerina whom the Aga Khan had relentlessly courted after seeing her onstage in Giselle at the Monte Carlo Opera House in 1907. Aly’s childhood was lonely. His mother pursued a career as a sculptor by day, and gave lavish parties at night, while his father shuttled among the capitals of the world, seeing to the concerns of his followers.

As a young man Aly was tremendously good-looking, quite exotic with his mixed Italian and Oriental heritage. He seemed solemnly determined to prove that he could do everything anyone else could do—only faster. He was always at the top of the hunt when he rode to the hounds. He raced his horses with reckless abandon. He drove in famous Grand Prix races in France, Monaco, and Italy.

To Aly it was all “fabulously fun,” which is how he described a 10,000-mile round-trip flight—the longest civil flight ever out of India—from Bombay to Singapore in 1932, flying over treacherous jungles in a single-engine plane with no radio. He had a lot of experience at big-game hunting, having bagged three lions, seven tigers, and some 20 leopards and panthers while on foot, not from the safety of the elevated platform called a machun.

Like his father, Aly was never attracted to Oriental women. When he was 23, he fell deeply in love. She was a tall, slim English beauty, three years his senior, fair and slightly haughty, and she was married. Her name was Mrs. Loel Guinness, née Joan Barbara Yarde-Buller, daughter of Lord Churston, who was descended from King Edward III. She had been married to the Guinness heir when she was 19 and he was only 20, and their wedding was the society highlight of 1927.

The Yarde-Bullers were fabulously wealthy in their own right, but with her marriage Joan was now hostess of her husband’s town mansion, 11 and 12 Carlton House Terrace, overlooking St. James’s Park, and spent summers at his parents’ spectacular estate in Mougins, near Cannes in the South of France (where an airstrip had been laid down so that Loel’s private plane could land), and at Deauville, where they also owned a villa.

It was at a dinner party in Deauville, in the late summer of 1933, that Aly met Joan; Loel was abroad. There is a story that Aly was so taken with her at first sight that he leaned across the table and asked, “Darling, will you marry me?” She laughed and informed him that she was already married and the mother of a young son. That did not stop Aly. He wooed her with flowers and private, romantic messages until finally she agreed to meet him secretly. Soon they had embarked upon a very serious and all-consuming affair that culminated 18 months later in a sensational divorce trial that made front pages of newspapers worldwide.

On May 18, 1936, Joan and Aly were married quietly in Paris, with the Aga Khan present. The bride wore a simple black silk ensemble trimmed in white, and a broad-brimmed black straw hat with a white bow that framed her narrow, piquant face. In photographs the eye is caught by the Aga Khan, rotund and smiling, his white jacket and metal-framed glasses glittering in the bright spring sun. However he may have felt about the public nature of his son’s romance and winning of a bride, there is little doubt that he had great hopes that marriage and fatherhood would give Aly a sense of maturity and of his responsibilities.

Yet Aly’s marriage did nothing to dampen his interest in speed, sports, bloodstock, and women. During World War II, he served with British intelligence forces in the Middle East. His immediate superior officer, Colonel A. D. Wintle, remembers being told “the only risk I ran in having him on my team was that he was irresistible to women, could not leave them alone. And the Germans knew it. . . . I once asked him why he chose to pose as the great lover when he could have been remembered for so many other things.

“‘They call me a bloody nigger’ was his reply, ‘so I pay them out by winning all their desirable women.’ ” In fact, Aly was always convinced that Joan’s family and English friends held him in low esteem because of his mixed racial background.

After the war Aly was often seen without his wife in Monte Carlo and in the chic clubs and casinos on the Riviera. The Riviera chronicler Stanley Jackson wrote, “Aly Khan walked [into the restaurant of the Cannes Casino]. . . . He was smaller than I expected [he was five feet six inches tall], quite roly-poly [weighing about 160 pounds] and going bald [this was in 1947]. He was soon chatting merrily away about Maxine Elliott’s luxurious villa, the Château de l’Horizon, which he had just bought for £35,000. I gathered that Aly would preserve the water chute down which guests could slide straight into the sea [he did], if they preferred that to the huge swimming pool, but he had no intention of switching on her imitation moon for dark nights.

“Suddenly he jumped to his feet and shot off to greet a very pretty brunette. . . . They were soon dancing cheek-to-cheek, locked in trancelike mutual admiration,” Jackson continued. “It was said that he dipped his fingertips in rosewater to prolong his lovemaking and boasted cynically that he never shot until he saw the whites of their eyes.” One of Aly’s lovers claimed that he was able to hold an erection for hours.

The ancient Arabic art of imsák was said to be responsible for Aly’s extraordinary sexual prowess. As a young man he had gone (as the Aga Khan had before him) to a doctor in Cairo, with whom he had spent six weeks studying the control of his muscles so that he did not reach a climax. “He liked the effect it had on women,” one friend claimed. “He liked to get them out of control while he remained in control—the master of the situation.”

Aly’s romantic adventures brought him international fame, the press stepping lively to keep up with the “most recent #1 equestrienne of his romantic merry-go-round.” Attractive women had a startling effect on Aly. A beautiful young society matron sitting across from him at dinner at this time recalled that “suddenly he began staring at me, very intently, not moving his eyes. Then his nostrils began to flare; I swear they did, just like Rudolph Valentino’s in the silent movies. I was at a complete loss. All through dinner, every time I raised my eyes, he was staring at me and flaring his nostrils.”

“The trouble with Aly,” an intimate of his ventured, “is that he is grossly oversexed. If he would stop chasing women he probably would be all right. But the man must have three or four of them at a time. He doesn’t chase tarts. He runs after lots of decent, respectable women. And he has made many enemies doing it.”

One of Aly’s favorite diversions when not pursuing women or one of his demanding sporting activities was viewing movies. He had added a projector and screen to the many other luxuries at Château de l’Horizon. In the early days of the summer of 1948, the most popular film in Europe was Gilda, starring Rita Hayworth—a role that earned her the name of Hollywood’s “Love Goddess.” Aly had the film run several times, fascinated by Rita as she sang (her voice was dubbed by the singer Anita Ellis, but he learned that only later) “Put the Blame on Mame,” oozing sex in a formfitting gown while dancing and peeling off a pair of elbow-length black gloves.

Aly had just ended a short affair with Pamela Churchill, the red-haired, free-spirited former daughter-in-law of Winston Churchill, a particular hero of his. In fact, one of the largest of the 10 bedrooms at the château was called the Winston Churchill Room from the days when he had been the former owner’s guest. Pamela departed by sea with one of Aly’s closest friends, the Fiat heir Gianni Agnelli. Aly did not seem too disturbed by this, especially when he learned that Rita was on the Riviera.

He had voiced his desire to meet Rita to Elsa Maxwell, gossip columnist, friend (and enemy) of the rich and famous, who was also grossly overweight, celibate (she said), and renowned for her parties (always paid for by other people). Lady Luck was in his corner. Rita Hayworth was arriving in Europe at any moment. And it so happened that Elsa was helping to arrange a party on July 3 at the elegant Palm Beach Casino. She would, she promised Aly Khan, make sure he was invited and seated next to Rita.

“The Love Goddess” was married to the actor-director Orson Welles, but the marriage had fallen apart and Welles was living with an Italian woman. Not that Rita needed to be lonely. She was being wooed at the time by Aristotle Onassis and the Shah of Iran, but chose to ignore telephone calls, flowers, and gifts from both these powerful men. The failure of her marriage had been an enormous disappointment. She greatly admired Welles, and they had a small daughter, Rebecca. She was in a depressed state and considering returning to the States sooner than she had planned. Maxwell urged her to attend the party where Aly Khan was also to be a guest.

“I have nothing to wear,” Rita lamely protested.

Not a woman to give up easily, Maxwell told her to go and buy a new dress in the boutique of the Hôtel du Cap, where Rita was staying. “Come in late. Make an entrance,” she prodded.

It was nearly midnight when supper was to be served. Everyone had arrived an hour or so earlier. The room was glittering, the doors thrown open to the soft breezes of the Mediterranean night. Rita stood on a landing, a winding staircase before her, dressed in a stark white Grecian gown that hugged her sun-bronzed shapely body; her red hair was loose about her bare shoulders, and around her neck was a shimmering emerald-and-diamond necklace. She looked spectacular, and heads turned toward her as she started to descend, slowly and majestically, head up, never looking at her feet.

Aly was at her side when she reached the bottom step, and never more than an arm’s length from her for the rest of the evening. He was a smooth and expert dancer; he was equally adept at seduction. At about three they left the party and drove up to where the precipitous Grande Corniche overlooks the Mediterranean coastline, miles below, a ribbon of lights charting its path.

Rita’s secretary and traveling companion, Shifra Haran, said, “The prince was immediately smitten, but Miss Hayworth definitely was not.

If not smitten, she was certainly charmed, because she went back to the Château de l’Horizon with him and did not return to her hotel until later that morning. Aly was to have flown that day in his private plane, Avenger, to Ireland, where Attu, one of his newest horses, was to race, but he canceled his trip. Rita had agreed to return to his white seaside villa in the afternoon. When she arrived, three hours late for their appointment, she was dressed in white shorts, her hair loose and her face free of makeup. Aly was stunned by her natural beauty. They danced cheek to cheek in the grand ballroom of the spectacular house, just the two of them, a record player spinning Gershwin, Porter, and Berlin.

When he left for Ireland the next morning, Rita promised she would remain in the South of France until his scheduled return, five days later. While he cheered Attu to victory, Rita was deluged daily with huge bouquets of red roses. The day before his return, a Gypsy woman (who spoke Italian and was accompanied by a translator) appeared at Rita’s hotel, insisting on seeing her. Intrigued, Rita asked her up to her suite. The woman predicted that she was “about to embark on the greatest romance of her life. He was someone she already knew. . . . Rita [she insisted] must relent and give in to him totally. Only if she did that would she find happiness at long last.”

Aly’s hand in this prediction seems likely, but Rita was strangely convinced by the fortune-teller’s words. She extended her trip and all but moved into l’Horizon for the 10 days before she had to return to Hollywood, where she was committed to start a new film. The impressive white, green-shuttered three-story château, with its dozens of sun-filled rooms, paintings by the great Impressionists, whom Aly collected, the magnificent sea views from the immense terrace that almost encircled the gracefully sprawling building, the Olympic-size swimming pool, the safe in his bedroom that contained thousands of dollars in many different currencies so that he could fly off on a whim in Avenger to any place he wished, and the quality of pampering she received from Aly’s exotic Indian staff all contrived to fuel her romantic nature. Aly’s great charm completed the seduction. Rita believed herself to be deeply in love with him.

Hollywood’s “Love Goddess” she may well have become, but Rita Hayworth’s roots were rough and humble. Born Margarita Cansino in Brooklyn, New York, she was the daughter of Eduardo Cansino, a professional Spanish dancer, who took her out of school at the age of 12 to dance as his partner (made up to look older) in Tijuana, across the border from Southern California, and who (according to her own tortured confession) had abused her sexually since she was 10. They were known as the Dancing Cansinos, and Eduardo passed her off as his wife in the “raucous, offshore gambling ships” and Mexican gin mills and casinos in which they performed. Her mother, the exotically named Volga Hayworth, was an American showgirl who became an alcoholic (as did Cansino later in his life) and seemed to have more than she could handle with Rita’s two younger brothers.

At 17, shapely, a dark-eyed, ravenhaired beauty, Rita was signed by 20th Century Fox, only to be dropped, to her father’s great disappointment, a few months later. He turned to a promoter named Edward Judson, 22 years Margarita’s senior, to help her get another contract. Judson took over the girl’s life, creating a new young woman by subjecting her to painful electrolysis to raise her hairline, dyeing her hair red, dressing her in more glamorous and formfitting clothes, and renaming her Rita Hayworth. He did get her a seven-year contract with Columbia, but first he married her. Then he pressed her to have sex with studio executives to further her career.

She was the obsession of Harry Cohn (head of Columbia Pictures) and then the mistress of the rich and powerful Howard Hughes, neither of them known for his respect for women. She did not emerge as a star in major films until 1941, with Blood and Sand. She was 23 and becoming a little more secure about herself. Judson threatened to disfigure her if she left him, but she got up her courage and walked out on him with the help of strongman actor Victor Mature, who was then her lover.

A few months later, to everyone’s surprise, she married Orson Welles. However, Welles, whose realistic radio adaptation of H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds had terrified a nation into believing men from Mars had landed in New Jersey, was well suited for the role of Rita Hayworth’s husband-mentor. He was a take-charge person and immediately assumed control of his wife’s appearance, career, and education. A brilliant man, he attempted to make Rita into his vision of what she should be—a beautiful, gracious woman with brains enough to star in films of a higher intellectual caliber than those she had been making. He seemed to be following the sort of scenario he had helped create for Citizen Kane, but it did not work any better in real life than it had on film.

The breakup of their marriage left Rita shaken, and it was at this time that Aly entered her life.

Only a few female stars (Vivien Leigh, Virginia Bruce, and Elizabeth Taylor, perhaps) could claim to be more beautiful offscreen than on. Beauty on-screen can be greatly enhanced by a star’s photogenic qualities—skin that has a third dimension on film, eyes that glow, bone structure that draws the light. Rita photographed extremely well and had a marvelous way of moving, walking, dancing, or merely tossing her head back that made the viewer take note. But off-camera she was truly ravishing, with her olive skin, large, dark eyes framed by that startling mass of red hair, and a body that seemed to be pure perfection.

After a little more than a week, Aly could not resist showing the world his newest conquest. He organized parties at the château. This was a fatal error, because Rita suddenly found herself in a hostile environment. Aly’s social friends were inclined to put her down. Mostly they conversed in French, which she did not speak. According to Shifra Haran, “It was too overwhelming for her.”

Aly appeared to understand what had happened. Fearing she might return to Hollywood, he arranged a motoring trip to Spain, which he believed he had managed in great secrecy. Somehow the press got wind of their “elopement,” and when they arrived in Madrid they were harassed by reporters and photographers. They moved on to Seville, her father’s birthplace, where her elderly grandfather Padre Cansino happened to be visiting his relatives, who were rather simple, poor people. Rita invited them all to a family gathering at a local restaurant, and Aly joined them and watched, fascinated, as Rita danced the flamenco with her grandfather.

“She danced like a real Spaniard,” one bystander recalled. “Her white arms flashed above her head as she clicked her fingers. Her skirt had wings as she spun round, and long, loose red hair floated above her shoulders.”

Aly proposed marriage to her, promising he would apply for an immediate divorce. To his shock, she refused him and shortly after left for Hollywood to be reunited with her young daughter, Rebecca Welles. Aly followed in hot pursuit. He took a Mediterranean-style house across the street from her movie-star mansion in Brentwood and plied her with gifts of jewelry and a small poodle puppy. Before long they were spending almost every evening alone together, usually at Aly’s so that Rebecca would not be aware of the depth of the affair, and to avoid the press. Shifra Haran claims that it was an intensely passionate time for them both. “I never saw the prince as a sex maniac,” she later said. “It was Miss Hayworth who was insatiable.”

Of course, Miss Haran could not have been a witness to their lovemaking. She is reporting her instincts and reactions in seeing them together. From the time she was a child, Rita had been used and abused sexually. Her father and Judson had trained her well in how to arouse and satisfy a man, and she knew how to win men of power. But Welles had wanted much more of her, and her failure to hold him had wounded her deeply. In a sense Aly was helping her heal those wounds. He wanted nothing more of her than her love and possession of her body. On her part, she was determined to make sure he never became bored.

The London newspaper The People blazoned the headline: THIS AFFAIR IS AN INSULT TO ALL DECENT WOMEN. In the castigating article that followed, Aly was called, in a rather denigrating manner, a “colored prince.” The Sunday Pictorial added fuel to the fire by publishing a photograph of Rita and Aly side by side with one of Joan and her two sons, Karim and Amyn, under the headline A VERY SORDID BUSINESS, adding gratuitously words of dialogue Rita had spoken in Gilda: “If I had been a ranch, they would have called me the Bar Nothing.”

The Aga Khan began to put pressure on Aly to end the affair with Rita or stop seeing her until a divorce from Joan (whom he very much liked) was arranged. It was not that he did not understand how Aly could become enamored of such a beautiful woman. He was the last one to cast stones. But he had always dealt with the women in his life in a discreet fashion. It did no good for Aly to explain to him that Rita was a famous movie star whose every move alerted the press. Finally plans were set in motion for Rita and Aly to meet with the Aga Khan. What he did not know at the time was that his son’s mistress was pregnant.

Rita was dressed in a conservative caped suit, her abundant red hair brushed back smoothly from her lightly rouged face, when she arrived with Aly at the Aga Khan’s villa near Nice. It is difficult to know what her decision might have been had she not been pregnant. She had nearly died during an abortion. It is unlikely she would have chosen to repeat the experience. But these were not the days when a public figure could have a child out of wedlock without serious repercussions. And, also, Aly was madly in love with her, and desperate for them to marry.

The Aga Khan finally gave his approval, but not until he was assured Joan would be well provided for. Joan did what had to be done with great dignity and speed, securing a divorce in Paris.

There was the matter of a prenuptial agreement for Rita. Perhaps to prove the depth of her emotions for Aly, or to savor her integrity in the matter, she rejected any arrangement to receive money from Aly should the marriage fail. In appreciation he presented her with a magnificent diamond necklace valued at $150,000; the wedding was set for May 27, 1949.

As the day grew closer, Rita began to panic. She was aware of the Aga Khan’s reluctant approval and had been warned by several friends that Aly would never be faithful. Orson Welles, who she was always to say was her greatest love, was in Rome at the time. She telegraphed him just before the wedding, telling him she had to see him, that it was a terrible emergency. “I couldn’t get any plane,” he told biographer Barbara Leaming, “so I went, stood up in a cargo plane to Antibes. . . . [When I arrived at her hotel, there] were candles and champagne ready—and Rita in a marvelous negligee. And the door closed, and she said, ‘Here I am. Marry me.’”

He did not make little of this request. Rita was in a painful situation, and he was sensitive to her dilemma. Whatever she felt for Aly, Welles had a strong hold on her emotions. He managed to calm her, to explain that he couldn’t remarry her, because he was otherwise involved; nor would she find it a happy solution if he could. Against his better judgment he had to advise her to go through with it. No law could stop her from divorcing Aly if it didn’t work out.

“She was marrying the most promiscuous man in Europe,” Welles said, “just the worst marriage that ever could have happened. And she knew it! It was a fatal marriage, the worst thing that could have happened to her. He was charming, attractive, a nice man . . . but the wrong husband for her.”

The ceremony at the town hall became a media event, with reporters and photographers from all over crushed together to photograph and speak to the newlyweds. (A Muslim ceremony would follow later.) The reception at l’Horizon was one of the biggest and gaudiest ever held on the Riviera. Rita seemed to have invited the world, for more than 500 guests (among them representatives from almost every major American and European newspaper) consumed 600 bottles of champagne, 50 pounds of caviar, and mounds of other gourmet treats. Rita cut the wedding cake with a glass sword she and Aly had found in an antiques shop in Paris, wielding the awkward weapon in toreador fashion. Then, while the band struck a chord, a corps of servants marched to the swimming pool, which had been scented with 200 gallons of eau de cologne, and threw in two massive floral pieces, one shaped like an M (for Margarita), the other like an A. Later, Yves Montand sang, the guests danced, and Rita sat in a chair surrounded by Ismailis who knelt beside her, a guest recalled, “and kissed her foot. And each one had something to give her—pearls, a little gold object. It was extraordinary! . . . All those people whom she had never seen before, all different types with women dressed in native [Indian] costume . . . going down on their knees to her.”

On December 28, 1949, Rita gave birth in Switzerland to a daughter, whom they named Yasmin. The Aga Khan saw his granddaughter for the first time in the spring of 1950. He came away with an uneasy feeling about Aly’s current wife and speculated that their marriage was inevitably headed for collapse. It was clear to him that Rita “looked upon her marriage as a haven of peace and rest.” In other words, her marriage was mainly a means of relaxing and being entertained. This would never do for the wife of a future Imam.

The Aga Khan was not blind to Aly’s shortcomings as a husband—his blatant philandering, gambling, and tendency to leave his wife alone while he pursued his own pleasures. And, of course, he expected Aly’s wife to be forbearing in all these foibles, a good companion, a fine hostess, and the kind of mother who would take full responsibility for the raising of her children. The Aga Khan was also keenly aware of Aly’s spendthrift ways, which were making him run short of money, even with his great inherited wealth (which was protected so that he could not get immediate access to the capital).

Father and son had some unpleasant conversations about Aly’s extravagant spending habits. Both Aly and Rita needed to be made more aware of their position and the responsibilities attached to it. In 1950 he ordered Aly to embark on a three-month tour of Ismaili communities in Africa and insisted that his wife accompany him.

The trip was a ghastly experience for both of them. They quarreled violently. Rita was left to herself as Aly met his father’s followers, and she had no idea how to fill her time in places like Zanzibar and Nairobi. Aly carried off his assignment as emissary for the Aga Khan with enthusiasm. The problem was that he also managed to find time for numerous liaisons with women. Late one night, Aly came back to their hotel in Nairobi from one of these assignations to find that Rita was returning to the States for two months. He correctly suspected that she planned to end the marriage.

In fact, Rita flew from Nairobi to Nice by chartered plane, took a taxi to l’Horizon, packed up the girls, and was off to Paris en route to New York within 12 hours of her arrival in France.

Miss Hayworth somehow got it into her head that either Aly or I myself might try to take her daughter away from her, indeed kidnap the child,” the Aga Khan wrote.

Rita began divorce proceedings after she reached the States, where she began to negotiate a new studio contract. She also instituted legal action to ensure that Yasmin would be given a $3 million trust fund. (Her pre-marriage contract nullified any claims she personally might have made. But Rita did have a small fortune in jewels given to her by Aly.) The Aga Khan was highly indignant: “There is no way under Islamic law by which a child can possibly be disinherited by his or her father.”

As Aly Khan was struggling to extricate himself from his second marriage, he fell in love again with a film star—this time Gene Tierney, who had made quite a sensation in the title role of the screen adaptation of Vera Caspary’s Laura in 1944. They had met in Argentina, where Aly had flown on racehorse business and Gene was making Way of a Gaucho. Gene possessed an exotic green-eyed beauty, great style, and panache. She had had a youthful wartime affair with John F. Kennedy and had recently been divorced from designer Oleg Cassini (who was then courting Grace Kelly).

Gene had a fragile side to her nature, a vulnerability that neither Joan nor Rita had exhibited. She had suffered severe trauma when her daughter by Cassini was born retarded after she contracted German measles during her pregnancy. She was desperately attracted to Aly and his high spirits, charm, and exciting lifestyle. She traveled with him all over Europe and to the States for about a year. Twice she told reporters that they were engaged and would soon be married in France. But no announcement was forthcoming from Aly.

Unsure of herself and on the edge of a breakdown (which Aly did not observe), Gene pressed him to seek permission from his father to marry her (a requirement in Aly’s position). He went to see his father, and they talked for several hours to no avail. The Aga Khan was adamant that his son should not, and would not, marry another movie star and that if he did he would risk any chance of becoming Imam upon the Aga Khan’s death. Aly reported this to Gene and suggested that she remain his mistress, an idea that did not displease him. But she could not accept this arrangement. Tearful, hysterical scenes ensued, and when they were in Paris together Aly, unable to cope with them any longer, walked out on her.

She suffered a severe nervous breakdown and was flown back to the States. She was later admitted to a sanatorium in Hartford, Connecticut, remaining there for 18 months, and then a short time later entered another institution for 8 months. She was off the screen for seven years, never regaining her status as an important Hollywood star.

Meanwhile, Rita left Rebecca and Yasmin in the care of a Mrs. Dorothy Chambers in White Plains, New York, while she and actor-singer Dick Haymes stayed at a luxurious Manhattan hotel. It was never disclosed who tipped him off, but a reporter gained entry to Mrs. Chambers’s house by claiming to want to rent it. Photographs of Yasmin were worth a good price to magazines, and he had come, he later claimed, simply wanting a photograph of the child. What he found shocked him, and he returned the next day with a photographer, who took a number of pictures while the reporter diverted Mrs. Chambers. The house and yard were a filthy shambles. Yasmin was playing in a “trash-littered” yard; Rebecca Welles was sitting on a back porch “heaped with trash”; unwashed dishes, pots, and pans overflowed the kitchen sink and counters; paint was peeling from the walls. These photographs appeared in Confidential magazine and then found their way into other periodicals. Articles and editorials sharply criticizing both parents were printed in the States and abroad. The children were placed under protective custody of the children’s court. Neglect charges were considered.

Aly’s troubles were creating great problems for the Aga Khan. There had been a subversive campaign among members of the sect calling for his and Aly’s abdication from their spiritual leadership. While the Aga Khan was visiting Africa in 1953, things reached such a pitch that a special council was called to meet in his hotel suite to discuss what should be done. The end result was a decision that all members of the East African communities be requested to sign a declaration of loyalty to the Aga Khan, or be excommunicated if they refused.

By 1956 the old Aga Khan’s heart was failing, and cancer was spreading throughout his body. It was only a matter of time. In the early morning of July 11 the family began their vigil by the dying man’s bedside. The Aga Khan was unconscious. At 12:45 he died. In his last days he had made no mention or sign of who was to succeed him. It would, by the natural course of things and following historical precedent, be his elder son, Aly. Despite his many disagreements with his father, Aly seemed at that moment confident that this was the case.

He immediately took charge of the situation. The answer to the succession would be in the will, which would be read by the Aga Khan’s lawyer the next morning. The crowd—religious followers and members of the press—that was gathered on the grounds of the Aga Khan’s villa in Versoix, on Lac Léman across from Geneva, had to be informed of Aga Khan III’s death and the fact that he had not named his successor on his deathbed.

Aly said his last good-bye to his father and then led the rest of the family down the villa’s curving staircase and out onto the terrace. It was more than 90 degrees in the sun, and Aly, his face drawn, showed signs of grief and exhaustion, his open-necked shirt revealing beads of sweat. He made the announcement. Ismailis dropped to their knees.

Aly greeted reporters and told them there would be a press conference soon and the new Aga Khan would address them. Then he disappeared back inside.

Early the next morning Maître Ardoin, the Aga Khan’s personal lawyer, and Dr. Otto Giesen, one of the lawyers who had drawn up the will, arrived. Aly hurried with the rest of the family to the luxurious sitting room with its Oriental décor. Even Yasmin was brought in to hear the reading of the will. The curtains were drawn so that those inside could not be seen by the hundred or so Ismailis standing in the garden near the windows waiting to pay homage to their new Imam as soon as the announcement was made.

Giesen, in a clear, unemotional voice, with a slight but noticeable German accent, began to read:

“Ever since the time of my ancestor Ali, the first Imam, that is to say over a period of some 1,300 years,” he intoned, “it has always been the tradition of our family that each Imam chooses his successor at his absolute and unfettered discretion from amongst any of his descendants whether they be sons or remoter male issue.”

Aly paled. These words left no doubt in his or anyone else’s mind in that room that Aly Khan was to be passed over.

“In view of the fundamentally altered conditions in the world in recent years . . . I am convinced that it is in the best interest of the Shia Moslem Ismailian Community that I should be succeeded by a young man who has been brought up and developed during recent years and in the midst of the new age. . . . For these reasons, I appoint my grandson Karim, the son of my son … to succeed to the title.”

Aly’s elder son by Joan, Karim had proved himself to be a responsible young man and had attended Harvard, where he had exhibited little of his father’s wild streak.

However much Aly might have suspected his father could have passed him by, he was unprepared when the Aga Khan’s final words were read. His then girlfriend, the fashion model Simone Bodin (who called herself Bettina), recalled that “his father’s preference for [Karim] was a kind of public humiliation. He was never quite the same from that day on.”

But Aly pulled himself together and crossed the room to Karim. “The Imam is dead, long live the Imam,” he said and kissed his son’s hand before backing humbly away.

Excerpted from Throne of Gold, by Anne Edwards, to be published in July by William Morrow; © 1995 by Anne Edwards.

Of course, Miss Haran could not have been a witness to their lovemaking. She is reporting her instincts and reactions in seeing them together. From the time she was a child, Rita had been used and abused sexually. Her father and Judson had trained her well in how to arouse and satisfy a man, and she knew how to win men of power. But Welles had wanted much more of her, and her failure to hold him had wounded her deeply. In a sense Aly was helping her heal those wounds. He wanted nothing more of her than her love and possession of her body. On her part, she was determined to make sure he never became bored.

The London newspaper The People blazoned the headline: THIS AFFAIR IS AN INSULT TO ALL DECENT WOMEN. In the castigating article that followed, Aly was called, in a rather denigrating manner, a “colored prince.” The Sunday Pictorial added fuel to the fire by publishing a photograph of Rita and Aly side by side with one of Joan and her two sons, Karim and Amyn, under the headline A VERY SORDID BUSINESS, adding gratuitously words of dialogue Rita had spoken in Gilda: “If I had been a ranch, they would have called me the Bar Nothing.”

The Aga Khan began to put pressure on Aly to end the affair with Rita or stop seeing her until a divorce from Joan (whom he very much liked) was arranged. It was not that he did not understand how Aly could become enamored of such a beautiful woman. He was the last one to cast stones. But he had always dealt with the women in his life in a discreet fashion. It did no good for Aly to explain to him that Rita was a famous movie star whose every move alerted the press. Finally plans were set in motion for Rita and Aly to meet with the Aga Khan. What he did not know at the time was that his son’s mistress was pregnant.

Rita was dressed in a conservative caped suit, her abundant red hair brushed back smoothly from her lightly rouged face, when she arrived with Aly at the Aga Khan’s villa near Nice. It is difficult to know what her decision might have been had she not been pregnant. She had nearly died during an abortion. It is unlikely she would have chosen to repeat the experience. But these were not the days when a public figure could have a child out of wedlock without serious repercussions. And, also, Aly was madly in love with her, and desperate for them to marry.

The Aga Khan finally gave his approval, but not until he was assured Joan would be well provided for. Joan did what had to be done with great dignity and speed, securing a divorce in Paris.

There was the matter of a prenuptial agreement for Rita. Perhaps to prove the depth of her emotions for Aly, or to savor her integrity in the matter, she rejected any arrangement to receive money from Aly should the marriage fail. In appreciation he presented her with a magnificent diamond necklace valued at $150,000; the wedding was set for May 27, 1949.

As the day grew closer, Rita began to panic. She was aware of the Aga Khan’s reluctant approval and had been warned by several friends that Aly would never be faithful. Orson Welles, who she was always to say was her greatest love, was in Rome at the time. She telegraphed him just before the wedding, telling him she had to see him, that it was a terrible emergency. “I couldn’t get any plane,” he told biographer Barbara Leaming, “so I went, stood up in a cargo plane to Antibes. . . . [When I arrived at her hotel, there] were candles and champagne ready—and Rita in a marvelous negligee. And the door closed, and she said, ‘Here I am. Marry me.’”

He did not make little of this request. Rita was in a painful situation, and he was sensitive to her dilemma. Whatever she felt for Aly, Welles had a strong hold on her emotions. He managed to calm her, to explain that he couldn’t remarry her, because he was otherwise involved; nor would she find it a happy solution if he could. Against his better judgment he had to advise her to go through with it. No law could stop her from divorcing Aly if it didn’t work out.

“She was marrying the most promiscuous man in Europe,” Welles said, “just the worst marriage that ever could have happened. And she knew it! It was a fatal marriage, the worst thing that could have happened to her. He was charming, attractive, a nice man . . . but the wrong husband for her.”

The ceremony at the town hall became a media event, with reporters and photographers from all over crushed together to photograph and speak to the newlyweds. (A Muslim ceremony would follow later.) The reception at l’Horizon was one of the biggest and gaudiest ever held on the Riviera. Rita seemed to have invited the world, for more than 500 guests (among them representatives from almost every major American and European newspaper) consumed 600 bottles of champagne, 50 pounds of caviar, and mounds of other gourmet treats. Rita cut the wedding cake with a glass sword she and Aly had found in an antiques shop in Paris, wielding the awkward weapon in toreador fashion. Then, while the band struck a chord, a corps of servants marched to the swimming pool, which had been scented with 200 gallons of eau de cologne, and threw in two massive floral pieces, one shaped like an M (for Margarita), the other like an A. Later, Yves Montand sang, the guests danced, and Rita sat in a chair surrounded by Ismailis who knelt beside her, a guest recalled, “and kissed her foot. And each one had something to give her—pearls, a little gold object. It was extraordinary! . . . All those people whom she had never seen before, all different types with women dressed in native [Indian] costume . . . going down on their knees to her.”

On December 28, 1949, Rita gave birth in Switzerland to a daughter, whom they named Yasmin. The Aga Khan saw his granddaughter for the first time in the spring of 1950. He came away with an uneasy feeling about Aly’s current wife and speculated that their marriage was inevitably headed for collapse. It was clear to him that Rita “looked upon her marriage as a haven of peace and rest.” In other words, her marriage was mainly a means of relaxing and being entertained. This would never do for the wife of a future Imam.

The Aga Khan was not blind to Aly’s shortcomings as a husband—his blatant philandering, gambling, and tendency to leave his wife alone while he pursued his own pleasures. And, of course, he expected Aly’s wife to be forbearing in all these foibles, a good companion, a fine hostess, and the kind of mother who would take full responsibility for the raising of her children. The Aga Khan was also keenly aware of Aly’s spendthrift ways, which were making him run short of money, even with his great inherited wealth (which was protected so that he could not get immediate access to the capital).

Father and son had some unpleasant conversations about Aly’s extravagant spending habits. Both Aly and Rita needed to be made more aware of their position and the responsibilities attached to it. In 1950 he ordered Aly to embark on a three-month tour of Ismaili communities in Africa and insisted that his wife accompany him.

The trip was a ghastly experience for both of them. They quarreled violently. Rita was left to herself as Aly met his father’s followers, and she had no idea how to fill her time in places like Zanzibar and Nairobi. Aly carried off his assignment as emissary for the Aga Khan with enthusiasm. The problem was that he also managed to find time for numerous liaisons with women. Late one night, Aly came back to their hotel in Nairobi from one of these assignations to find that Rita was returning to the States for two months. He correctly suspected that she planned to end the marriage.

In fact, Rita flew from Nairobi to Nice by chartered plane, took a taxi to l’Horizon, packed up the girls, and was off to Paris en route to New York within 12 hours of her arrival in France.

Miss Hayworth somehow got it into her head that either Aly or I myself might try to take her daughter away from her, indeed kidnap the child,” the Aga Khan wrote.

Rita began divorce proceedings after she reached the States, where she began to negotiate a new studio contract. She also instituted legal action to ensure that Yasmin would be given a $3 million trust fund. (Her pre-marriage contract nullified any claims she personally might have made. But Rita did have a small fortune in jewels given to her by Aly.) The Aga Khan was highly indignant: “There is no way under Islamic law by which a child can possibly be disinherited by his or her father.”

As Aly Khan was struggling to extricate himself from his second marriage, he fell in love again with a film star—this time Gene Tierney, who had made quite a sensation in the title role of the screen adaptation of Vera Caspary’s Laura in 1944. They had met in Argentina, where Aly had flown on racehorse business and Gene was making Way of a Gaucho. Gene possessed an exotic green-eyed beauty, great style, and panache. She had had a youthful wartime affair with John F. Kennedy and had recently been divorced from designer Oleg Cassini (who was then courting Grace Kelly).

Gene had a fragile side to her nature, a vulnerability that neither Joan nor Rita had exhibited. She had suffered severe trauma when her daughter by Cassini was born retarded after she contracted German measles during her pregnancy. She was desperately attracted to Aly and his high spirits, charm, and exciting lifestyle. She traveled with him all over Europe and to the States for about a year. Twice she told reporters that they were engaged and would soon be married in France. But no announcement was forthcoming from Aly.

Unsure of herself and on the edge of a breakdown (which Aly did not observe), Gene pressed him to seek permission from his father to marry her (a requirement in Aly’s position). He went to see his father, and they talked for several hours to no avail. The Aga Khan was adamant that his son should not, and would not, marry another movie star and that if he did he would risk any chance of becoming Imam upon the Aga Khan’s death. Aly reported this to Gene and suggested that she remain his mistress, an idea that did not displease him. But she could not accept this arrangement. Tearful, hysterical scenes ensued, and when they were in Paris together Aly, unable to cope with them any longer, walked out on her.

She suffered a severe nervous breakdown and was flown back to the States. She was later admitted to a sanatorium in Hartford, Connecticut, remaining there for 18 months, and then a short time later entered another institution for 8 months. She was off the screen for seven years, never regaining her status as an important Hollywood star.

Meanwhile, Rita left Rebecca and Yasmin in the care of a Mrs. Dorothy Chambers in White Plains, New York, while she and actor-singer Dick Haymes stayed at a luxurious Manhattan hotel. It was never disclosed who tipped him off, but a reporter gained entry to Mrs. Chambers’s house by claiming to want to rent it. Photographs of Yasmin were worth a good price to magazines, and he had come, he later claimed, simply wanting a photograph of the child. What he found shocked him, and he returned the next day with a photographer, who took a number of pictures while the reporter diverted Mrs. Chambers. The house and yard were a filthy shambles. Yasmin was playing in a “trash-littered” yard; Rebecca Welles was sitting on a back porch “heaped with trash”; unwashed dishes, pots, and pans overflowed the kitchen sink and counters; paint was peeling from the walls. These photographs appeared in Confidential magazine and then found their way into other periodicals. Articles and editorials sharply criticizing both parents were printed in the States and abroad. The children were placed under protective custody of the children’s court. Neglect charges were considered.

Aly’s troubles were creating great problems for the Aga Khan. There had been a subversive campaign among members of the sect calling for his and Aly’s abdication from their spiritual leadership. While the Aga Khan was visiting Africa in 1953, things reached such a pitch that a special council was called to meet in his hotel suite to discuss what should be done. The end result was a decision that all members of the East African communities be requested to sign a declaration of loyalty to the Aga Khan, or be excommunicated if they refused.

By 1956 the old Aga Khan’s heart was failing, and cancer was spreading throughout his body. It was only a matter of time. In the early morning of July 11 the family began their vigil by the dying man’s bedside. The Aga Khan was unconscious. At 12:45 he died. In his last days he had made no mention or sign of who was to succeed him. It would, by the natural course of things and following historical precedent, be his elder son, Aly. Despite his many disagreements with his father, Aly seemed at that moment confident that this was the case.

He immediately took charge of the situation. The answer to the succession would be in the will, which would be read by the Aga Khan’s lawyer the next morning. The crowd—religious followers and members of the press—that was gathered on the grounds of the Aga Khan’s villa in Versoix, on Lac Léman across from Geneva, had to be informed of Aga Khan III’s death and the fact that he had not named his successor on his deathbed.

Aly said his last good-bye to his father and then led the rest of the family down the villa’s curving staircase and out onto the terrace. It was more than 90 degrees in the sun, and Aly, his face drawn, showed signs of grief and exhaustion, his open-necked shirt revealing beads of sweat. He made the announcement. Ismailis dropped to their knees.

Aly greeted reporters and told them there would be a press conference soon and the new Aga Khan would address them. Then he disappeared back inside.

Early the next morning Maître Ardoin, the Aga Khan’s personal lawyer, and Dr. Otto Giesen, one of the lawyers who had drawn up the will, arrived. Aly hurried with the rest of the family to the luxurious sitting room with its Oriental décor. Even Yasmin was brought in to hear the reading of the will. The curtains were drawn so that those inside could not be seen by the hundred or so Ismailis standing in the garden near the windows waiting to pay homage to their new Imam as soon as the announcement was made.

Giesen, in a clear, unemotional voice, with a slight but noticeable German accent, began to read:

“Ever since the time of my ancestor Ali, the first Imam, that is to say over a period of some 1,300 years,” he intoned, “it has always been the tradition of our family that each Imam chooses his successor at his absolute and unfettered discretion from amongst any of his descendants whether they be sons or remoter male issue.”

Aly paled. These words left no doubt in his or anyone else’s mind in that room that Aly Khan was to be passed over.

“In view of the fundamentally altered conditions in the world in recent years . . . I am convinced that it is in the best interest of the Shia Moslem Ismailian Community that I should be succeeded by a young man who has been brought up and developed during recent years and in the midst of the new age. . . . For these reasons, I appoint my grandson Karim, the son of my son … to succeed to the title.”

Aly’s elder son by Joan, Karim had proved himself to be a responsible young man and had attended Harvard, where he had exhibited little of his father’s wild streak.

However much Aly might have suspected his father could have passed him by, he was unprepared when the Aga Khan’s final words were read. His then girlfriend, the fashion model Simone Bodin (who called herself Bettina), recalled that “his father’s preference for [Karim] was a kind of public humiliation. He was never quite the same from that day on.”

But Aly pulled himself together and crossed the room to Karim. “The Imam is dead, long live the Imam,” he said and kissed his son’s hand before backing humbly away.

Excerpted from Throne of Gold, by Anne Edwards, to be published in July by William Morrow; © 1995 by Anne Edwards.