A gigolo is a male who either supplies sexual or romantic services in exchange for money or other gain, or who works as a male escort or professional dancing partner. Other terms for a gigolo include lounge lizard, escort, or even male prostitute. The contemporary concept of a gigolo tends to focus on opportunistic gentlemen with refined manners and impeccable dress who troll for rich women who will pay handsomely for their services.
The stereotypical gigolo is a witty man dressed in impeccably designed clothing worn with flair and style. Gigolos have the ability to make and sustain entertaining and flattering conversation as they flirt shamelessly with potential clients. They also need ambition, a good support system of friends who help them promote their image as charming gentlemen, and even an elitist sense of whom to cultivate and where to hunt. Some fortune-hunting gigolos claim noble birth and display manners and breeding calculated to attract wealthy, upper-class women.
Although the term gigolo originally referred to males who worked as paid escorts for women, gigolos may provide sexual favors for both females and males, may be men out to marry rich women, or may simply serve as paid escorts and companions. Many gigolos can survive well only if they have multiple mistresses. They often leave a mistress as soon as the money runs out, and many enjoy a selectivity that prevents them from working for women they find distasteful.
Payment to gigolos is often subtle and indirect. Their dates give them money to pay for drinks or settle restaurant bills, assuming the gigolo will pocket the change. They receive gifts of jewelry, plane tickets, vacations, clothing, and automobiles. Their female clients pay for entertainments and also perhaps give them access to a bank account or other money.
ORIGINS OF THE TERM
The word gigolo comes from the French dance halls of the mid-nineteenth century, which employed or tolerated a dance hall pickup girl called a "gigolette." The term gigolette was derived from the combination of two meanings for the French word, "gigue" meaning "thigh, and "gigue" meaning jig or a type of dance. The "gigolo" referred to the pickup girl's boyfriend, her steady.
The origins of the term in both dancing and sex define the special character of the gigolo. As dance halls and popular dancing, especially the tango, became the rage in France in the early twentieth century, dance halls hired professional dancing partners, often Argentineans, who could perform the tango with women clients. Irene and Vernon Castle brought the tango to the United States around 1912 and with it the need for professional partners. World War I interrupted the dance hall craze, but after the war, café society renewed an interest in jazz and dance, commencing an active culture that provided a lucrative ground for professional dance partners. The Roseland Dance Hall in New York employed a cadre of male dancers called "huskies," who danced with female customers for a fee.
These male dance partners did not stick solely to dancing and provided the gist for fascination and scandal as well as a foothold for ambitious and handsome immigrants. In 1922 Edna Ferber published her novel "Gigolo," which Cecil B. DeMille made into a film starring Rod La Rocque in 1926. "Just a Gigolo" became a popular song. A young Italian immigrant named Rodolpho became such a successful dancing partner that he acceded to the rank of professional dancers, eventually going to Hollywood as Rudolf Valentino.
The dance halls were forced to close down during the Great Depression, though café society in France managed to limp along. In the 1930s Midwesterner Ted Peckham opened the Guide Escort Service in New York, which provided nonsexual male companionship for women willing to pay $10 for an evening's company. His service was successful enough to expand to London and throughout Europe, where he often established the service in a department store, which would bill and collect payment from his clients. His service was halted in 1939 by the red tape involved in New York labor laws.
PRECURSORS AND MODELS
Precursors of the gigolo go back at least to the seventeenth century with such figures as Beau Fielding, a favorite of the ladies who was of the entourage of Charles II, king of England. In eighteenth-century France, husbands who were off on exploits of their own hired professional male escorts called "chevalier servants" to amuse and guard their wives in their absence. In Italy, husbands also hired paid male escorts called "cicisbei" to accompany, entertain, and guard their wives. The nineteenth century saw the emergence of the dandy, a well-dressed and witty male figure who made a life's work of style and elitism. Beau Brummell and Count Alfred d'Orsay number among these, d'Orsay being one who married for money.
Adventurers such as d'Orsay and Count Boni de Castellane, who married the wealthy daughter of the American financier Jay Gould, provide the model for the gigolo who marries rich women for their money. Often, as in the case of these two, neither the money nor the marriage lasted. Porfirio Rubirosa (1909–1965), an embassy representative from the Dominican Republic, was another of these nuptial-seeking gigolos. Rubirosa married four times for political or monetary advantage, marrying two of the richest women in the United States, Doris Duke and Barbara Hutton. His marriages did not last, but he derived from each financial benefit enough to enable him finally to marry a woman for love.
In the early twenty-first century, references are more typically made to male escorts and prostitutes than to gigolos. Gigolos still ramble the lucrative enclaves of such fashionable resorts as Palm Beach or Saint-Tropez, but escort services providing male escorts for male and female clients list ads in newspapers and on the Internet. In the United Kingdom, male escorts advertised as nonsexual still work for a nightly fee. In the United States male escort services pander to a gay male clientele, though there are web sites offering training to would-be heterosexual gigolos and heterosexual male sex workers. Many of these sex workers offer services to both sexes. Although there are many men who are kept financially by women, including unemployed husbands, boyfriends, and pimps, the gigolo retains its aura of seedy elegance.
see also Prostitution.
Nelson, Adie, and Barrie W. Robinson. 1994. Gigolos and Madames Bountiful: Illusions of Gender, Power, and Intimacy. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.
Ramsey, Lynn. 1978. Gigolos: The World's Best Kept Men. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.