THE LOVER

It's odd about the people you remember best.
I came into this business before Don Larsen pitched his perfect game for the New York Yankees and before John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas.

I have encountered an uncommon assortment of characters, but I don't stake any claim to fame over them. They were the kind of people anyone who worked on a big-city newspaper would encounter as a matter of course.

I took a trip on a train with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor when they were the hottest names in the film business.

I rode in the back seat of a federal judge's limousine with Jimmy Durante, in the back of a newspaper-delivery truck at two in the morning with Congresswoman Bella Abzug, and in a police paddy wagon with David Dellinger of the Chicago Seven.

Muhammad Ali slammed a door in my face when his name was still Cassius Clay. The Black Muslims searched me thoroughly for weapons before allowing me into the presence of their exalted leader, Elijah Muhammad, who promptly began expounding on his encounters with men from outer space.

I spent an extraordinary afternoon with Duke Ellington not long after one of his managers had run off with the profits from a European tour, and sat on the rear of a concert-hall stage to watch Segovia perform.

I listened to Maurice Chevalier complain how he felt obliged to keep supporting a brother who refused to hold a job, and drank vodka gimlets with Ray Bolger, who was trying to avoid his wife for a few hours.

In one memorable week, I did interviews with Casey Stengel and George Halas, Red Grange and Vince Lombardi.

I spent four days waiting outside mass murderer John Wayne Gacy's house in freezing weather while sheriff's deputies dug up the bodies of more than twenty boys he had strangled, then had buried in a crawlspace under his house.

I covered his initial court appearance. Gacy came into court wearing a black leather jacket with a dozen guards protecting him from the parents, fathers who would gladly have lynched him on the spot.

When the Beatles made their United States tour, I was astonished by the crowds that chased them everywhere. I covered a press conference for Elvis Presley when it was still necessary for Colonel Tom Parker, his manager, to drum up interest.

Shortly after his defeat in the California governor's campaign, I drank scotch with Richard Nixon in his hotel suite.

I stood stunned in a federal courtroom when former Illinois Governor Otto Kerner was sentenced to prison and broke down in tears. I covered the last rally ever held by Mayor Richard J. Daley in his home ward on Chicago's South Side when he too broke down, understanding it was his last run for office.

I covered Hank Aaron when he was making his final run at Babe Ruth's home-run record, and Pete Rose on the day that he pulled even with Ty Cobb for the most hits in a career. I was lucky enough to be covering the Cleveland Browns when Jim Brown was a rookie and the Chicago Bears when Walter Payton was a rookie.

I've known tough cops and crooked cops, heroic firefighters, down-on- their-luck actors, and politicians both on their way up and on their way down, as well as a variety of criminals, writers and musicians.

But there are no more than a handful of characters who truly stick out in my mind.

Giovanni Vigliotto is one of them. He made the Guinness Book of Records as the all-time champion bigamist, having wed 105 women without bothering to get a single divorce.

Some men go through life thinking it was a tragedy because the first woman they asked to marry them turned them down. That's not the way it went with Giovanni. Each time he met a woman he asked for her hand in marriage. Unfortunately for him, the woman always said yes.

In the end, it turned out that Giovanni Vigliotto had too much charisma.
So Giovanni married these women--all 105 of them.
And then, in short order, Giovanni left them. And when he did, he was always careful to take their money and their valuables.

Vigliotto spent the final eight years of his life in the Arizona State Prison at Florence before dying last week from a brain hemorrhage. He was 61 years old.

Giovanni had an overflowing belly and an oversize nose. He had a full head of jet-black hair and puffy lips. He looked more like a violinist in a symphony orchestra than a world-class gigolo.

I visited him in county jail a month before he went to trial.
He walked into the fourth-floor visiting room carrying a box full of papers that he would never allow to get out of his sight. It contained all the records he had compiled for his defense.

Giovanni gave me a plaintive look.
"I'm 53 years old," he said, "and look at me. I look like I'm going on a thousand." It was obvious that Giovanni felt sorry for himself.

"I've lived more in my years than the average man would if he lived a hundred lifetimes," he said mournfully.

At this point, Giovanni looked terribly vulnerable. It was this very look of pain, I realized, that probably made so many women want to marry him and mother him.

"You know what I've been doing since they arrested me?" Giovanni asked. He answered his own question before I could reply. "I've been researching the history of bigamy," he said. "I've researched all the way back in time to the point where the penalty was death." Then his face brightened.

"Don't you think it's hypocritical in an era when people are practically being shown all there is about sex on daytime-television soap operas for the state to spend a small fortune to convict me?" Giovanni took his right hand off his precious box of records to rub his chin. Obviously, he realized he'd become a celebrity.

At the time, stories about him were running in newspapers all over the country. Television comedians were telling jokes about him.

"The police have this thing all wrong," Giovanni said. "I don't recall half a dozen times when I had to ask anyone to marry me. It was always the women who popped the question.

"I find it incredible that some of these women are now saying such terrible things about me. If they really feel that way, why did they marry me?" I found myself listening to Giovanni with rapt attention. After all, what is there really to ask such a person? There is nothing in any journalism books that covers this particular set of circumstances. Who else has ever married 105 different women?

Giovanni put his box of records down next to him. He seemed outraged.
"They say I mesmerize people," he said. "That's just not true. They charge me with adopting a courtly manner to manipulate these women." As he spoke these words, Giovanni started to smile. Perhaps he was now remembering several of the best of his multitude of courtships.

"I never realized there was any other way to treat a woman than the way I do. Is it wrong for a man to hold the door for a woman to pass through? Is it wrong to buy them flowers?

"If the rest of the men in the United States don't treat women that way, then I'm sorry for the women in this country. No wonder so many of them were anxious to marry me." At this point, Giovanni puffed up his chest. He made fists of both his hands and pounded them against his chest.

"I love women!" he said, his voice rising. "And I think I love them because they bring me out of myself.

"For a brief time, they have the power to make me forget that I am actually short and dumpy and that my face is actually ugly.

"They give me a chance to escape into a beautiful dream . . . into a world of fantasy. They take me on a wonderful trip to a wonderful place where everyone is in love." Giovanni put his head in his hands momentarily. He had spoken so passionately that he had brought tears to his own eyes.

"Does that make me the world's worst human being?" he asked in a cracking voice.

"Am I being dragged through the mud because my name isn't Walter Mitty?" he asked.

Giovanni was speaking of the main character in the James Thurber short story, who daydreamed about being a different hero every day.

"In the red lights and traffic patterns of my life, I, too, have emerged like Walter Mitty and assumed other identities. Must I be persecuted for having fantasies? Am I the only person who has ever had dreams and sought to live them out?" he asked.

What Giovanni never figured out was that society frowns on a man who adopts an assumed name and attracts women by spinning wild tales in which he is either a wealthy businessman or a Mafia don with millions socked away.

He admitted that in totaling up his record score, he had assumed almost as many false names and occupations as there were marriages.

"I always looked for a name that fit the role I was playing at the time," Giovanni said. "There were so many aliases. I just don't remember them all." In the courtroom of Judge Rufus Coulter one day, Giovanni did something I'll never forget. He was on trial for marrying and then deserting a Mesa woman who turned out to be his last victim.

Giovanni had been captured in Florida when another of his wives spotted him in a shopping center and called the police. The authorities in Florida returned him to Arizona for trial.

The trial was a wonderful piece of theatre. Giovanni, ever the eccentric, performed in a unique manner each day, much to the annoyance of Judge Coulter and Dave Stoller, the prosecuting attorney. What made it even more unusual was that Giovanni also alienated his defense attorney, Richard Steiner, as well.

Asked if he could remember the names of all 105 of his wives, Giovanni said that if he were allowed to remain in court during the lunch hour he'd try to write down the names of every wife he ever had.

Someone handed him a pen. Giovanni went to the board where attorneys hang their exhibits and began writing.

His handwriting was excellent. His memory was even better. Long before the spectators began appearing for the afternoon session of the trial, Giovanni had written down what appeared to be 100 different names.

I'm not sure how many names he actually wrote on that blackboard. I think it was probably close to 105. I don't remember that anyone ever bothered to count them. I do recall, however, that Giovanni filled every bit of blank space before returning to his seat at the defense table.

How many people do you know who, under pressure, could write down the names of even 105 people they had met in their entire lives?

Vigliotto was an unusual fellow. He told many fantastic stories about himself and they not only made him famous but also contributed to the 34-year sentence he was handed at the end of the trial.

It was a remarkable trial and a remarkably stiff sentence. And Giovanni played his part of the injured innocent to the hilt. Day after day he infuriated not only Judge Coulter but the jury as well.

He did so with such panache that the jury needed only 24 minutes to decide he was guilty of every one of the 34 counts of bigamy and fraud.

I wasn't surprised at the verdict. Neither was Giovanni. I think he secretly wanted the sentence that for him turned out to be for the remainder of his life.

He spent eight years in the Arizona State Prison at Florence. During that time, various accounts of Giovanni's escapades made their way into the daily newspapers.

He was writing a book about his life that would become a television special. He was signing up with a chemical company who would pay him $1 million to lend his name to a potency drug. A group of women banded together to declare his innocence and attempt to win him a new trial.

Ultimately, nothing ever really developed from any of these things.
Every once in a while, I remember how it was that day in the courtroom when they finally led Giovanni away to spend the final years of his life behind bars.

Giovanni walked away proudly, even arrogantly. He held his head high.
I have always wondered about Giovanni and his 105 marriages. Suppose it wasn't true. Suppose that Giovanni had falsified his claim in order to achieve record status.

There is a real possibility that he had made up this fantastic tale about being the world's biggest bigamist.

Was it worth spending his final years in prison just to be memorialized in the Guinness Book of Records?

Each time he met a woman he asked for her hand in marriage. Unfortunately for him, the woman always said yes.

Giovanni looked terribly vulnerable. It was this very look of pain that probably made so many women want to marry him and mother him.

"I love women!" he said, his voice rising. "And I think I love them because they bring me out of myself.

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