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Pimping For The Shah

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The last Shah of Iran was a lifelong patron of call girls. The atmosphere surrounding his court reeked so much of sex and venality that it became standard procedure during his 37 year rule to close the deal for a government contract by supplying Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi with a woman, preferably flown in from Madame Claude’s establishment in Paris. As one courtier told journalist William Shawcross, one had to pimp to progress in Imperial Iran. Although he was overthrown in 1979 and spent the last year of his life being shuttled from country to country while dying of cancer, the Shah remained a lover of feminine sexual company until the end. William Shawcross describes in his book The Shah’s Last Ride, The Fate Of An Ally what may’ve been the last time such entertainment was secured for the Shah. This occurred while he was living in Panama.

With Iran’s new Islamic government holding the staff of the U.S. embassy in Tehran hostage, demanding that they wouldn’t be released until the Shah and his wife were extradited back to Iran to stand trial after they fled in February of 1979, no country, including the United States, was willing to offer Mohammed Reza Shah and his entourage asylum for very long, if at all. The U.S. government, nonetheless, considered itself indebted enough to the Shah to provide him with protection and keep a close watch on his whereabouts. Once it was determined that he had to leave the United States while seeking medical treatment in New York, the Carter Administration was at pains to find a new port of call for the man who’d become, to paraphrase Henry Kissinger, the world’s most high profile Flying Dutchman. Sensing an opportunity to gain a future favor from the U.S. government, General Omar Torrijos, Panama’s dictator at the time, offered the Shah and his entourage refuge. The offer was duly accepted.

Mohammed Shah and his retinue settled on the Panamanian island of Contadora. While in the midst of a conversation with General Manuel Noriega one day, the Shah expressed his abject boredom. The general immediately swung into action and arranged for them to take a day and evening excursion to Panama City. None of the Panamanians informed the U.S. embassy of this impromptu trip and at one point Ambler Moss, the U.S. ambassador, feared Mohammed Shah had been kidnapped. A panicked call to Panama’s President Royo revealed to the Ambassador what had happened. General Noriega had arranged for the Shah to spend an evening with a young woman at a hotel in the capital. The President insisted she was not a prostitute, but a nice young woman from a respectable family.

Shawcross goes onto speculate that had Ambler Moss ever served as U.S. ambassador to Imperial Iran he wouldn’t have been shocked by this. Some of Mohammed Shah’s more notorious exploits included insisting on having sex with one of his government minister’s daughters in a flying helicopter while it hovered over Isfahan; having fathered a love child in Paris; typically leaving his wife at the airport when they arrived for their regular skiing holidays in St. Moritz while he went off to the Hotel Suvretta for a prearranged tryst; shocking the local prefect of Venice when he arrived for their annual film festival by asking for a woman for the night; and keeping a Madame Claude employed French call girl named Ange locked in a hotel room in Tehran for months on end until she became so bored with his sporadic visits that she left the country at her own expense.

One final note should be added concerning the stay of the Pahlavi dynasty in Panama, for the Shah was not the only member of his family the Panamanian oligarchs were at pains to show a good time. Upon meeting Empress Farah, the Shah’s long suffering consort, General Torrijos developed an all consuming passion for her and regularly sent officials to the Empress asking if the dictator could do anything, and he meant anything, to make her stay more pleasurable. Empress Farah politely, but constantly, turned him down. When the Shah and his wife departed Panama, Torrijos demanded Empress Farah’s bed sheets remain unwashed and sent to him. He insisted that if he couldn’t sleep with her, he could at least sleep in her sheets. How the General may have consoled himself while reposing in the Empress’s sheets remains a mystery.

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Comments (3)

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Just one point: the late Shah’s name was Mohammad Reza and not just Mohammad. (Iran did have a Mohammad Shah, and he belonged to the Qajar dynasty). ‘Reza’ was not a middle name but very much part of his first name. The first Pahlavi monarch was Reza Shah, and the Shah and Empress Farah’s sons also had ‘Reza’ in their names. This was a homage to the eight Shiite Imam Reza, buried in Mashhad, Iran.

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