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Brilliant men always betray their wives
Einstein’s affairs should surprise no one, says Desmond Morris. It is all in the genius’s genes
So Albert Einstein did not, after all, spend all his waking hours chalking up complex symbols on a blackboard. According to letters newly released this week, he devoted quite a bit of it to chasing the ladies. And with considerable success.
To many, the idea of Einstein having 10 mistresses does not fit the classical image of the great, remote genius. Why was he wasting his valuable time with the exhausting business of conducting a string of illicit affairs – affairs that would cause havoc with his family life, damaging especially his relationship with his sons?
The answer is that he, like many other intensely creative men, was over-endowed with one of the human male’s most characteristic qualities: the joy of risk-taking.
Every creative act, every new formula, every ground-breaking innovation, is an act of rebellion that may – if successful – destroy an old, existing concept. So every time a brilliant mind sees a new possibility, it is faced with a moment of supreme risk-taking.
The new formula, the new invention, may not work. It may turn out to be a disaster. But the man of genius – such as Einstein – has the courage to plough ahead, despite the dangers, both on and off the intellectual field.
Not that Einstein is by any means an isolated instance. Indeed, far from being the exception he is closer to the norm where great men and sex are concerned.
During a presidential visit to Britain, John F. Kennedy once shocked an elderly Harold Macmillan when he complained to him that if he didn’t have sex with a woman every day he suffered from severe headaches.
Kennedy was insatiable and impatient. He was reported to make love with one eye on the clock and to be through with a girl as soon as he had had sex with her in three different ways. If possible, he preferred two girls at once and seduced almost every young woman he met, from starlets to socialites, secretaries to stewardesses. Oh yes, and not forgetting strippers.
But then the compulsion in dominant males to take the highest of risks – a compulsion that seems to be innate – is one that dates back to prehistoric times.
Marilyn Monroe, one of Kennedy’s many sexual conquests
Our arboreal relatives, the monkeys, simply fled up into the high branches when danger threatened and, while feeding, all they had to confront was a fruit or a berry. But when our early ancestors came down to live on the ground, they had to give up scampering aloft to escape and also had to face dangerous competitors and prey when turning to meat-eating as a new way of life.
To become successful hunters required a new personality trait – bravery. If the primeval hunters were to survive as carnivores they had to be courageous and take serious risks. The females of the tribe were too important to expose to these dangers – their vital reproductive role ruled them out. But the males were expendable. If, inevitably, a few of them were killed, the others could easily maintain the reproductive rate of the still very small tribes. So it was the males who evolved into the pack-hunters who would become genetically programmed as risk-takers and whose job it was to bring home the bacon.
Today, going to the office or the factory, or working on the farm – the modern equivalents of the ancient hunt – are far less hazardous, but the deeply ingrained urge to take risks still remains. Proof of this comes from the fact that men today are much more accident-prone than women. Throughout life women are less likely than men to die of a violent accident. By the age of 30, males are 15 times more likely to die of an accident than females.
For special males – the most adventurous ones – there are two choices. Either they can engage in risk-taking of the physical kind – join the SAS, get launched into space, or trek to the South Pole -or they can explore new ideas, create new art forms or invent new technologies and thereby change the way we all live.
Men with brilliant minds, whose creativity brings them enormous success, sometimes find themselves in a curious situation. They are so highly rewarded by society for their achievements that they are unable to limit their curiosity to new problems in their special fields. It starts to spill over into other areas.
Novel sexual experiences, for instance, suddenly seem irresistible. It is not the mating act itself that is so important – that varies very little. It is the thrill of the chase and the excitement of a new conquest that drives them on. Once the conquest has been made, the novelty of the affair soon wears off and another chase is begun. Each illicit episode involves stealth and secrecy, tactics and strategy, and the terrifying risk of discovery, making it the perfect metaphor for the primeval hunt.
Aiding and abetting these erotic adventures is the fact that the fame, power and wealth that these especially brilliant men have received as rewards for their achievements make them very attractive figures to the opposite sex. They may have a face like an angry hippopotamus but, thanks to their high status, they somehow manage to ooze sex appeal, much to the disbelief and dismay of the handsome failures who carry out menial tasks for them.
The great philosopher Bertrand Russell, who for all his undeniable intellectual brilliance could never have bedded a woman on looks alone, was described as suffering from ”galloping satyriasis”. He claimed he could not see a sexual partner as sexually attractive for more than a few years, after which he had to make a new conquest.
He had affairs with a long line of women, a few of whom he later married. They included a young secretary, an MP’s wife, the daughter of a Chicago surgeon, a researcher, an actress, a suffragette, several teachers, the wife of a Cambridge lecturer and his children’s governess.
His private life was described by one biographer as ”a chaos of serious affairs, secret trysts and emotional tightrope acts that constantly threatened… ruinous scandal”. This was risk-taking of the highest order.
Picasso was also a sexual glutton, described by a friend as being obsessed with sex. There was a long procession of women in and out of his life: Fernande and Eva, Olga and Marie-Therese, Dora and FranÃƒÂ§oise, Alice and Jacqueline, and many more. He was quoted as saying: ”There’s nothing so similar to one poodle dog as another poodle dog, and that goes for women, too.”
Similarly, his great friend, Gauguin, abandoned his family and moved to Tahiti where he was able to indulge in his passion for sexual adventures by welcoming a different local girl into his hut each night. Sometimes, he had as many as three in one night. And he continued his sexual odyssey even after his body was visibly disintegrating from the syphilis that killed him.
That genius of the cinema, Charlie Chaplin, was an even more active sex addict, capable, he said, of ”six bouts a night”. Whenever he was bored he would set about seducing a girl. He had four wives (three of them teenagers) and an endless procession of mistresses, some of them alarmingly young. His greatest thrill was the prospect of deflowering a virgin. When one of his virgins became pregnant at 16 he was forced to marry her. That marriage lasted only two years, during which time he enjoyed the company of five mistresses.
As a young man he visited brothels, but later was attracted to talented and important women and managed to seduce a cousin of Winston Churchill’s, the daughter of playwright Eugene O’Neill, actresses Paulette Goddard, Mabel Normand and Pola Negri, and William Hearst’s girl-friend Marion Davies. However, his sexual risk-taking eventually led to his downfall and he was driven out of America as a ”debaucher”, his legacy forever tarnished.
But then men with great talent or power, from Elvis Presley to Bill Clinton, Toulouse-Lautrec to John Prescott, will, it seems, more often than not put their careers or family lives in jeopardy in order to satisfy the primeval hunter’s thrill. It is, sadly, simply a by-product of the human exploratory urge, and one of the prices we – and wives the world over – have to pay for being the most innovative species on the planet.
Desmond Morris is author of ‘Watching – Encounters with Humans and other Animals’