Heidi Crabtree | Special to the Fort Leavenworth Lamp
The U. S. Army Command and General Staff College, training leaders for more than 100 years and developing officers in the highest standards, has had many famous names among its graduates.
It’s likely that students have never assumed that they could breeze through the curriculum with ease or even buy a diploma.
When the son of a certain president-dictator showed up in the late 1950s with those notions, he caused a triangle of trouble involving Leavenworth, Washington and Hollywood that would make headlines and result in failure.
Rafael “Ramfis” Trujillo Jr. of the Dominican Republic was given a coveted slot in the CGSC class of ’58, possibly by the State Department, which wanted that country as an ally in Latin America. His father seized power decades earlier and made Ramfis a colonel with pay at age 3.
Trujillo blew into town in a private plane, a 27-year-old lieutenant general in the Dominican Army, spoiled, lazy and without knowledge of the word “no.”
In the summer of 1957, Trujillo, with his wife, children, servants, aides and nearly 20 detectives provided by a former FBI agent, took over the entire ninth floor of the Ambassador Hotel in Kansas City. Trujillo also rented a house on Western Street in Leavenworth for use during the week. Life magazine ran an article with photos of hotel guards loading guns, Leavenworth police watching the rented house and another of Trujillo on post near one of the lakes, pretending to discuss strategy. He arrived to class with two chauffeured Cadillacs.
By accounts, he seemed to do fairly well in his classes, though it was suspected that the officer in the other Dominican student slot did the work for him.
Trujillo wasn’t exactly warm when associating with the other officers; yet, he threw a lavish celebration in Kansas City in February 1958 to celebrate the independence of the Dominican Republic. Six hundred guests, including classmates and faculty from CGSC, were invited to the Hotel Muehlebach for a champagne-drenched, black-tie affair where Xavier Cugat’s orchestra was flown in.
The 1958 Bell yearbook mentions the shindig and newspapers reported that Trujillo left early, hardly speaking with classmates who later said that they tried to help the “lieutenant general” in his studies but he’d snobbishly refused. Speaking of the Bell yearbook, Trujillo is uncharacteristically wearing a U.S. uniform for his photo, while other foreign students, including Fernando Sanchez, the other Dominican student, wore their native uniforms.
Also at the celebration that night was Porfirio Rubirosa, playboy diplomat from the Dominican Republic. Rubirosa was well known, as he had been married to some of the wealthiest women in the world and had given Zsa Zsa Gabor a black eye she didn’t try to hide. Rubirosa’s first wife was Trujillo’s own sister, making him a former brother-in-law. Rubi passed Gabor’s phone number to Trujillo that evening.
Ramfis returned to Leavenworth after Christmas break sans wife and children, but with an entourage. He attended classes until he had “sinus trouble” after a party trip to Mardi Gras on his 350-foot yacht. That was the story he gave to his superiors at CGSC, asking for medical leave. He applied for leave, went to Washington, D.C., and upon his return, his plane overshot Leavenworth by some 1,500 miles, landing in Los Angeles. Whether he asked for additional recovery time or just took it is unclear — either way Trujillo was renting a cozy $2,500-a-month pad in Beverly Hills by the beginning of spring.
Zsa Zsa was most accommodating, fixing him up with actress Kim Novak. Trujillo preferred Novak to Joan Collins, who only got a $25,000 bauble from her dates with him before he met the blonde star. Novak received a shiny new Cadillac and his undivided attention. For her matchmaking, Gabor received a chinchilla coat, later redressing journalists who wrote that the coat was merely mink, not chinchilla.
It’s doubtful that the ladies talked military tactics with him, but newspapers and gossip rags alike wrote about Trujillo, now referred to as “Junior” in the papers, and showering actresses with expensive gifts. When asked about the amount of money he was blowing as a student, he would angrily shoot back that it was his own money from an allowance of $50,000 a month.
The attention Junior was getting was astonishing, considering so much ink was spilled at that time about the newly widowed Elizabeth Taylor.
The gifted cars became the butt of national jokes. It wasn’t long before Novak (as well as the rest of the country) found out that Junior had a wife. Novak deadpanned that she didn’t know the Caddy was a gift; she said she thought he was parking it at her place for his return to Fort Leavenworth.
Companies sold bumper stickers reading “This car is NOT a gift from Trujillo.”
Comedian Jack Benny quipped, “How would you like to be General Trujillo’s supply sergeant?”
Congress took note and easily calculated that the amount of Trujillo’s allowance was about equal to what the United States was giving his country in aid each year. One politician suggested the U.S. just give the aid directly to actresses and cut out the middleman. Others called for formal investigations.
When Rep. Wayne Hay called Zsa Zsa Gabor the most expensive courtesan since Madame de Pompadour, she spiritedly said she’d “make that woman look like a bum.”
Novak took the innocent route, claiming that Trujillo was great for foreign relations and besides, they both loved hamburgers.
On May 20, 1958, Trujillo returned to Fort Leavenworth on a private train out of Tinseltown, with photographers conveniently catching a tear-filled goodbye from Novak.
Not long after Trujillo returned he was told that he would absolutely not receive a diploma because of his many absences, and that CGSC could instead give him a “certificate of acceptance to the school” at graduation to save the failed student embarrassment.
He refused and reportedly left the office in tears, blaming his sinuses. The public found out on Friday, June 13, when Rep. Charles Brownson of Indiana made the announcement. CGSC did not compromise its standards despite the State Department asking the Army to do so. The Army was praised in newspapers for its firmness.
The senior Trujillo was angry at the United States, not his son. As soon as the news hit the Dominican Republic that their lieutenant general flunked out, Daddy made him head of the combined chiefs of staff.
Ramfis Trujillo left Leavenworth as quickly as he blew in, but stayed in the U.S. for a bit longer. He partied in Hollywood, told the press that he would marry Novak, who was out of town making “Bell, Book and Candle,” changed his mind and announced that he was really in love with another actress who said she’d never met him, and partied on his yacht, the Angelita. Moored as a man o’ war to avoid paying fees, the sarcastically named “tramp steamer” finally left for home in August, cleaned of the paint where pranksters painted “Zsa Zsa” over the real name.
His father, Rafael Trujillo, stuck to his declaration that Franklin Roosevelt’s “Good Neighbor Policy” was over as far as he was concerned. Ramfis Trujillo agreed, saying he’d never eat another hamburger again.
Ramfis Trujillo briefly held power in the Dominican Republic after his father was assassinated in 1961. He fled to Europe, married American actress Lita Milan and died in 1969 in Spain from complications following a car accident.