Former Mussolini Driver Exposes IL Duce's Love Life

Roundup: Talking About History

Paddy Agnew, The Irish Times, 12/09/04

"Every now and again 'R' would have a fit of jealousy and indeed I personally witnessed one such occasion. One morning, she waited for us in the grounds of Villa Torlonia the Mussolini residence in Rome , hidden amongst the trees. All of a sudden, there she was in front of the car signalling to me to stop.

"She was in her dressing gown and she appeared upset. With a dramatic gesture, she flung open the car door, in the process displaying what little clothing she wore underneath her dressing gown, and then I could hear her perfectly as, sobbing, she shouted at Mussolini: 'So then, it's all over between us'?"

The above comes from the diary of Ercole Boratto, the man who for 20 years from October 1922 to July 1943 was the personal driver to Il Duce, Benito Mussolini. Written in 1945 and 1946, Boratto's diary has never gone into the bestseller list for the good reason that for the last 58 years or so it has been gathering dust in the US National Archives centre at College Park, Maryland.

Early in December 1945,"Dusty", an Italian informer of the OSS (US Office of Strategic Services, precursor of the CIA) informed his OSS handler, agent CB55, that he had come across Boratto. Mussolini's driver, he said, was willing to write a diary of his life and times with Il Duce, on three conditions - (1) that the diary never be published in Italy, (2) that his name not be attached to it and (3) that he receive a"small lorry" by way of retribution for his literary efforts. Having agreed terms, Boratto kept his side of the bargain and delivered his text which, ever since, has remained on micro-film at College Park . . . until recently when the Rome newspaper La Repubblica published an illuminating, extended extract from the now declassified diary.

From the extracts, it would appear that Boratto's duties ranged far beyond those of the chauffeur. In effect, he comes across as something of a Leporello to Mussolini's Don Giovanni, cataloguing with cheerful equanimity Il Duce's frantic love life.

He portrays the dictator as an inveterate womaniser, someone who if he saw a good looking woman when out for his morning drive through Villa Borghese would promptly order his driver to turn around and drive past the lady in question. He recalls that, early in his service with Il Duce, he began to realise what his duties might entail when he travelled with him to Milan.

After a brief stop at the family house in Foro Bonaparte, Mussolini ordered him to take him to a house in Corso Venezia. Here, while he waited below in the courtyard, a rather too talkative maid servant filled in the picture. The Corso Venezia house belonged to Margherita Sarfatti, one of Il Duce's lovers (later discarded because she was of Jewish extraction). You will be spending a lot of time in this courtyard, the maid told him, and so it was.

During the long hot Roman summer, Mussolini moved out to the private beach resort of Castel Porziano, his favourite"love nest", made available to him by the King Vittorio Emanuele. Problem was that the nest became crowded and Boratto would routinely find himself detailed to head off a mistress who had arrived unexpectedly, whilst Il Duce was otherwise engaged with a rival.

Claretta Petacchi, Il Duce's last great love and the woman who ended up hanging upside from a rope alongside him in Milan's Piazza Loreto, cried regularly on Boratto's shoulder when she found he had betrayed her with yet another passing conquest.

While at Castel Porziano, Mussolini disliked being disturbed so much so that he had Boratto and two telephones installed in a beach hut, in order to concentrate on his womanising. Reluctantly, at the end of the day, Mussolini would return to Rome for two or three hours of work in Palazzo Venezia. All of which leads Boratto to ask how Mussolini managed to keep"the great ship of state afloat, especially during wartime".

Boratto's portrait of Il Duce tells us about more than just his womanising. For example, he describes a game of"bocce" (bowls) with Mussolini during which Il Duce became so annoyed with a good shot by Boratto that he threw the bowls down in disgust and walked off in a huff. He also recalls drives along the Roman coast at Ostia when Il Duce oftimes liked to stop for a glass of white wine. Seated at table, Il Duce nearly always invited his faithful driver to join him. On leaving the trattoria, however, Mussolini would also instruct Boratto to pick up the tab since he himself never carried money on his person.

What do historians make of this portrait of Mussolini? While pointing out factual inaccuracies on dates and while also lamenting the fact that Boratto's narrative seems to focus on the smaller picture rather than political events such as Il Duce's meetings with Hitler, Franco and others, historian Nicola Carraciolo nonetheless concludes:"Mussolini fascinated Italians, for good and for bad. This portrait of a Mussolini obsessed with sex, even if partial and unilateral, is nonetheless certainly true."

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