- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Many people know about Aly's flamboyant record as a lady-killer, but few are aware of his distinguished war record. Even his closest friends were surprised in 1939 when he spurned higher commissions he was offered because of his Moslem connections and joined the French Foreign Legion as a second lieutenant. He took basic training and served for a year at the legion's desert headquarters at Sidi-bel-Abbes before French authorities decided a direct descendant of Mohammed was more valuable in dealing with Arabs than toting a gun. To Aly's chagrin he was posted to General Weygand's headquarters in Syria. He had not been there long when France fell and the Petain government sent a German army commission to take charge of French forces in Syria. Aly promptly deserted, made his way across the frontier and signed up with the British forces in Jerusalem. He was given the rank of subaltern and put to work by British intelligence. For a while he made propaganda broadcasts to Moslems over Radio Jerusalem and then was assigned to undercover missions. The exact nature of this cloak-and-dagger work still remains a secret, but at least one of Aly's accomplishments, it seems, was to establish a network of Ismaili informants throughout the Middle East, particularly in German-controlled Syria. Aly's spies filed information on the activities of both Arabs and Germans. Later Aly was assigned to Cairo, where he did more intelligence work and acted as a liaison officer to Free French forces. He advanced steadily to the rank of lieutenant colonel, and was British liaison officer to the U.S. Sixth Army Group in the invasion of southern France.
Aly was the first Allied officer to step ashore on the Riviera. Nine days later, accompanied by one American G.I., he jeeped into Cannes—his old playboy stomping grounds—almost on the heels of the departing Germans and settled down in the royal suite at the Carlton Hotel. Aly emerged from the army after six years with the French Legion of Honor, the Croix de Guerre with palms, and an American Bronze Star. He also was given a French citation, issued at army order level, which described his service with the French Legion as brilliant and praised his bravery under fire.
An integral part of the Aly Khan legend is that he has always left his many women smiling; smiling through tears, perhaps, but smiling nevertheless. It certainly is true that his former wives seem to bear him no grudge. He and Rita Hayworth have had legal wrangles over a trust fund and allowance for their daughter, Yasmin, but they have remained friends. Rita's statement when she left Aly not only upheld the finest traditions of caf� society, it was a solid 24-karat nugget of understatement: "Aly is very nice, but he really doesn't understand family life."
Aly is on excellent terms with his first wife, the former Joan Yarde-Buller Guinness, who is the mother of his two sons, Karim—the new Aga Khan—and Amyn, 19. Both boys are students at Harvard, and nowadays they frequently pop into New York to spend the weekend with Aly. In explaining to Elsa Maxwell what went wrong with his first marriage, Aly also gave a revealing glimpse of his own personality. "Joan always knew more than I did," he said. "She came to speak to me about some things and I grew an inferiority complex. So of course I was miserable."
If Aly lays claim to an inferiority complex, few people would care to argue with him. Some of his friends have said the same thing for years by way of explaining his daredeviltry; his pursuit of women, particularly those in the limelight; and his extravagant entertaining. In fact, if analyzing Aly were a game which could be patented the bistro rights alone would be worth millions. But it is a matter of record that Aly was careening alone at a headlong and tempestuous pace long before his first marriage. It began in his middle teens, a few years after he had arrived in England as a shy, diffident and overprotected little boy who had been considered too delicate even to be sent to school. There is little doubt that his parents were oversolicitous of him, but they had some reason to be. Aly's birth, on June 13, 1911, at Turin, Italy, came in the same year as the death of his 2-year-old brother, a tragedy that crushed his young Italian mother. The Aga Khan wrote: "His birth was a profound solace and joy to my wife and myself. But for her the happiness of his babyhood was tinged with a solemn sense of responsibility. Long years had passed since there had been a son in our family. The grief we felt at the loss of our first-born gave an especial sharpness and watchfulness to the care which we exercised over his brother's upbringing."
Unfortunately, Aly was a tiny baby and apparently as delicate as his brother had been. This made his parents even more determined to protect him from the rigors of the world. A leading children's specialist was a great believer in the health-giving properties of the Normandy coast, so the Aga bought a villa at Deauville and installed the begum and Aly there every summer. In the wintertime they shifted to the warmer climate of the French Riviera. The begum found an outlet for her artistic talents by taking up first painting and later sculpture. Under the name Yla she eventually had mild success as a sculptor. But her first concern was Aly and he was seldom out of her sight. She almost never accompanied her husband on his travels. She was not always his hostess at lavish parties he gave in London and Paris. She became even more protective after Aly almost died of Spanish influenza during World War I. Largely because of his parent's alarm Aly himself apparently believes that he had a "narrow escape" during the first World War. This occurred when a shell from a Big Bertha plowed into the garden of the Ritz Hotel in Paris. Aly and his mother were staying at the Bristol Hotel, quite a distance away on the Place Vend�me.
Aly had few playmates as a child. He can recall only one who rated as a chum, the son of his mother's Italian gardener. He had a succession of starched English nannies, but only one is memorable. She was a devout Roman Catholic. She was sent packing one night when the equally devout Moslem Aga came into the nursery and found her teaching little Aly the Catholic catechism. Later, since no school was considered quite suitable for him, the nannies gave way to a succession of Swiss tutors. Such coddling did not make Aly a spoiled and headstrong little boy. His mother saw to that. "Aly's mother was very severe with him, much more so than I would have cared to be with my own boy," an acquaintance once recalled. "If he gave her the slightest bit of trouble she would give him a quick slap across the face to keep him quiet. But of course she was full of talent and temperament and was very high-strung."
Aly adored his mother and was extremely dependent on her. Charles Topper, an English barber who attained a degree of fame by cutting the hair of British royalty, was once called to the Ritz Hotel in London to attend little Aly. "He was a very timid little chap," reported Topper, "who never let go his mother's hand all the time I was cutting his hair." Said a Deauville neighbor: "Aly was a real picture of a child, much better-looking even than he is today. But I never thought him a particularly sporting type. I never saw him go swimming. In fact, I don't remember ever having seen either him or his mother even go into the sea for a bathe."
All the evidence indicates that Aly as a boy was nothing like the reckless, assertive, headstrong man. Instead he was timid, quiet, painstaking, well-mannered, and just perhaps something of a sissy. Aly himself laughingly recalls that when he was 5 or 6 and on his first visit to London, his mother and father took him to the zoo. "We went into the lion house after a while," said Aly, "and I remember it was very crowded. Suddenly one of the lions gave a great roar and I was so alarmed that I let go my mother's hand and ran away." It was a couple of hours before his frantic parents found him.
Aly had been put down for both Eton and Winchester, two of England's leading public schools, but when he reached the entrance age his mother could not bring herself to send him to either. It was only reluctantly, when he was 14, that she agreed to the Aga's proposal to send him to live with and be tutored by C. W. Waddington, an old friend of the Aga's who was a former principal of Mayo College for the sons of maharajas near Ajmer, India. At the same time, Aly was to receive religious instruction from mullahs at the Moslem Mosque at Woking, Surrey.