Born as Prince Ali Solomone Aga Khan, Aly Khan, as he was most commonly known, developed a profound interest in horses, fast cars and women early on. As a socialite par excellence and gentleman of style, he was without peers in the hobbies he chose and the lifestyle he led. Today, we would like to provide you with the first part of an illustrated portrait of this figure for whom the best was always just good enough.
The Childhood and Upbringing of Aly Kahn
Aly Kahn was born on 13th June 1911 in Turin, Italy, the son of Aga Khan III, the head of about 20 million Ismaili Muslims then spread all over the world. While he could claim descent from the Prophet Mohammed through his father, his Italian mother Theresa Magliano was a very attractive brunette ballerina of the Ballet Opera of Monte Carlo, who had married Aly Kahn’s father at the age of 19.
The Delicate Child
As a child, Aly Khan was believed to be rather delicate, and so both of his parents were extremely protective of him. Hence, Aga Khan III abstained from sending him to an English boarding school and hired instead the private tutor, Mr. C.M. Waddington, a former principal of the Mayo College for the sons of maharajas near Ajmer in India. It seems like the death of Aly Khan’s older brother at the age of two made his parents overly cautious. From a very early age on, Aly Khan showed excellent horse riding skills as well as linguistic talent – he spoke perfect Oxford English, fluent French, as well as Arabic.
His demanding and emotionally distant father sent him to Cairo at the age of 18 where he was trained in Imsak, an Egyptian sexual art form.
Once Aly returned to London in 1929, he studied law at Lincoln’s Inn under Charles Romer, a renowned chancery lawyer. He was given an allowance of $3,000 a year, though, in the end, he was never called to the bar. Aly Khan claimed that frequent travelling, as well as his father interfered with his studies. While this very well may have been the case, he may have also been distracted by London’s social life, horses, race cars and of course, women.
Prince Aly Kahn and the Horses
Horses were one of Aly Kahn’s largest passions. Not only was he a most successful breeder, trader and owner of the finest race horses, but he was also a glorious amateur jockey who won races up until his 40’s at prestigious races like Prix des Lions, Bar Steeplechase, French Amateur Derby, Le Trambley and Chantilly as well as Longchamp.
Aly Khan Always Risks It All
Before he was successful as a jockey, he recklessly took huge risks in point-to-point races and upset his father. Aga Khan III forbid him to continue to ride, but eventually gave in and allowed Aly Khan to participate in flat races.
Aly Khan and Edgar Wallace
Initially, he gave his debut as a jockey in 1930, at the age of 18. He lost a number of races and was about to give up his “career” as a jockey when Edgar Wallace approached him and said, “If you were not the son of a powerful owner you would be getting all the rides.” And they became friends. At that time, Wallace was still a racing writer and had not yet written any of his famous thrillers.
Beginning in his twenties, Aly Khan seemed to have a great eye for choosing the best horses which once led his father to remark, “Ah, if Aly would only choose his women as well as he does his horses.”
Aly Khan – The Most Successful Horse Trader of His Time
At the age of 35, he had proven his expertise with horses and, consequently, Aga Khan made him a full partner of his stud farms and horse racing acquisitions in Ireland as well as France. Aly was, of course, in charge of all operations. Back then, this horse empire was spread over 3,000 very valuable acres, and the bloodstock of horses was worth north of $8 million. Considering inflation, this would be around $90 million today! In the 50’s, they sold a number of horses when they sensed that Aga Khan III was about to die and Aly Khan fetched $700,000 for the race horse Tulyar after it had won the English Derby. At the time, that was time highest price ever paid for a horse.
The Women of Aly Khan
Throughout his adult life, Aly Khan had a reputation as a playboy. There were always speculations about his current mistresses and, among others, he has been linked to Joan Fontaine, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Judy Garland, Kim Novak, Pamela Digby, Gene Tierney and Simone Simon.
Aly Khan and the Prince of Wales
Supposedly, in March 1934, while in the US, he was invited to a party in New York by Mrs. Frank Vance Storres where he sat next to Thelma Viscountess Furness, who was, at the time mistress of the then Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII. Apparently, they developed an instant affinity to each other and when she had to return to England on the “Bremen”, Prince Aly Khan secretly joined her on the vessel. The Prince of Wales was displeased, but at that time, he had already made the encounter of Wallis Simpson, who should later become his wife. Elsa Maxwell would later claim that if Aly Khan would not have had an affair with the Viscountess, Edward would have never had the chance to fall in love with Wallis Simpson.
Aly Khan’s First Marriage
On 18 May 1936, Prince Aly Khan married the divorced Joan Yarde-Buller Guinness, and had two sons with her: Karim, the one who should later become the Aga Khan IV and Amyn. However, the marriage did not turn out to be a happy one, partly owing to his alleged infidelities. Womanizing and enjoying his life as if he were a bachelor despite being married, he and his wife separated but did not get a formal divorce until 1949.
Aly Khan and Rita Hayworth
Just one year prior, he had met Rita Hayworth, who found him to be “much more attentive and romantic” than her then husband, Orson Welles. On 1st December 1948, Rita Hayworth got divorced and subsequently, she convinced Aga Khan III in Cannes that she was the right one for Prince Aly Khan, and so they married on 27 May 1949. At that point in time, Rita Hayworth was already two months pregnant with their future daughter, Yasmin.
However, this did not keep them from celebrating what was, until then, probably the biggest, and most ostentatious wedding ever held on the Riviera. The festivities probably reached their peak at Aly Khan’s very own Chateau d’Horizon near the Mediterranean, where the ceremony and the reception took place. Prince Aly Khan had hired 100 guards who kept journalists and paparazzi at distance ashore and a boat patrol did the same at sea. Overall, the guests enjoyed more than 600 bottles of champagne, at least 50 pounds of caviar, and Aly had his pool filled with perfume! Aga Khan III wrote in his memoires:
“This was afantastic semiroyal, semi-Hollywood affair; my wife and I played our part in the ceremony, much as we disapproved of the atmosphere with which it was surrounded.”
Aly Khan’s Romances
After Rita Hayworth divorced him in 26 January 1953, Aly Khan made headlines again with his romances with numerous other women until he finally met Parisian top model, Bettina (Simone Bodin), one of the most photographed top models at the time. To his credit, he never left his women in tears. Rita Hayworth had some legal battles with him about the allowance for their daughter, but she remarked, ”Aly is very nice, but he really doesn’t understand family life.”
Aly Khan was always aware of his status as the Casanova of his time and enjoyed it to the fullest.