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6/4/2010  

Grove eccentric Baron `Sepy' Joseph de Bicske was Miami's Hugh Hefner

BY ELINOR J. BRECHER | ebrecher@MiamiHerald.com
Smoking with a beautiful woman in Bali  
 
Sepy in Parva, Chile  
 
Rita-Lino and Sepy  
 
Yesenia and Sepy  

The party's over: Sepy is dead.

Sepy was ``Baron'' Joseph de Bicske Dobronyi, the globetrotting Coconut Grove bon vivant who claimed Hungarian nobility and movie-star girlfriends,and hosted epic bacchanals at his one-of-a-kind bachelor pad.

Any recounting of his history must carry a disclaimer: The only person who could separate fact from fiction in his colorful life died of liver cancer just after midnight May 29 at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach.

Not even his sons, Joseph, of Larchmont, N.Y., and Ferenc, of San Francisco, can confidently deconstruct the mystique.

``He was a great believer in the more you tell the lie, the more it's true,'' said Ferenc, a musician and producer.

He said he was born April 20, 1922, which made him 88an age that friends doubt, given that World War II refugees without papers often reinvented themselves.

A charter member of the Society of Loquacious Verbositiesa jokesters' fraternityhe was among Coconut Grove's most identifiable eccentrics, in snakeskin vests and boots, Hungarian accent intact.

He was one of the last living links to the Grove's untamed swingers-and-hippies past, which AIDS and commercialization ended in the 1990s.

Except at Sepy's.

An unrepentant playboy who led comely conquests to a Viking-ship bed, he was Miami's Hugh Hefner, ascots, silk smoking jackets and all.

``I am always fantastic,'' he once declared to The Miami Herald.

OOZING CHARM He boasted of romantic liaisons with Raquel Welch, Eva Gabor, Ava Gardner, Brigitte Bardot, Debbie Reynolds and Anita Eckbergwhose actor husband, Anthony Steel, punched him out publicly in 1957, after Sepy, with his nude sculpture of Eckberg, showed up in Playboy magazine.

Dobronyi also claimed combat-veteran status with the tiny Royal Hungarian Air Force during World War II, complete with a scary flaming parachute mishap; a death-defying post-war escape from the communists, and five wives.

Radiating Continental charm, ``he'd meet a rich, married woman on a ski slope and convince her to leave her husband and marry him,'' said lawyer Thorn McDaniel, who rents a cottage on Dobronyi's two-acre estate.

Dobronyi was photographed atop Mount Kilimanjaroand with myriad celebrities, including Joan Crawford, George Hamilton, Carmen Miranda, Frank Sinatra, Bjorn Borg, and Barry Goldwater, who once attended a Republican Party fundraiser at Dobronyi's home.

``You never knew when you walked into the place whether you'd meet a porn star or the president of a foreign country,'' said plastic surgeon Brad Herman, once a tenant.

Oozing a type of Euro-suave that certain young women found irresistible, Sepy enjoyed their attentions even as he acquired a pacemaker, fought diabetes and grew frail.

Old age ``didn't stop him at all,'' said friend Mel Stier, a Miami real-estate investor who, like other friends, thinks Dobronyi was in his 90s. ``There was an ongoing party at Sepy's every Saturday.'' Sometimes he'd don exotic tribal robes or Hungarian folk costumes to entertain at his homecompared, variously, to a charging bull, a ski slope, and a wavewhere wild beasts' heads lined the walls.

Whether Sepy, the big-game hunter, dispatched them personally or Sepy, the raconteur, made it up, didn't matter in his champagne-fueled orbit; the stories were part of the show.

Among the most beguiled spectators: female Miami Herald ``society'' columnists of the 1960s and '70s, who wrote incessantly of his African safaris, New Guinea tribal-war wounds, Swedish marriages, and Mexican divorces.

When Dobronyi became a U.S. citizen on Dec. 21, 1963, the Herald called him a ``refugee sculptor, once a flamboyant member of the international jet-set [who] off and on has claimed citizenship in Hungary, Sweden and Cuba.'' ALWAYS HUSTLING He was also, legitimately, a fine-jewelry maker, photographer, and importer of Asian and South Pacific artifacts.

Always hustling, he sold them from the house.

``His lifestyle was like Tupperware parties,'' McDaniel said. ``He'd call friends to come over, and he had a lot of exotic sculptures. It was as much buying this legendary character as the carvings.'' In the '60s, Dobronyi was married to New York heiress Amy Green Brown, his second wife. Ferenc was an infant, older brother Joe a toddler.

The couple's nine-year marriage ended in 1969 after a year's separation, making it Sepy's most enduring union.

Amy Brown was indeed rich and marriedto an IBM executivewhen she fell for Dobronyi, but it wasn't on a ski slope; it was in Havana.

Asked where his father got the money to underwrite his later lavish lifestyle, Ferenc said, ``Mostly from my mother,'' who paid alimony and financed the ``charging bull'' house. She died in 1989.

Located in the Grove's exclusive Ye Little Wood section, in its heyday, the house featured animal-skin rugs, Dobronyi's artwork, world-travel artifacts, and a dubious yet ubiquitously displayed family crest.

In the driveway: luxury cars such as the rare French Facel Vega, a Rolls Royce Corniche, an Excaliburand a Cadillac convertible with a nude female torso painted on the front passenger-side door.

A 1980 Herald description of his underground wine cellar noted bottles stored in sections of ceramic pipe, and what he called ``the world's largest collection of hotel-room keys.'' Womens' under garments adorned some bottles``souvenirs,'' he would explain.

Dobronyi hosted Hungarian goulash parties where ``they sat around and told jokes for hours,'' said Richard Booth, whose late father, Richard ``Bootsie'' Booth, was Dobronyi's best friend; a succession of European lovelies; celebrities like Errol Flynn and Lena Horne; topless-barmaid Christmas parties, and the cast of Deep Throat.

Scenes in the 1972 porn classic were filmed there, as were scenes from the Tony Rome films, LennyDustin Hoffman's Lenny Bruce biopicand a nameless 1973 porno that yielded eight film-crew vice arrests. They were trespassing, Sepy told police.

NECESSARY ILLUSION Deep Throat star Linda Lovelace apparently returned for interactions of a more personal nature, so noted in her 1973 autobiography.

As the Herald reported, Lovelace ``extolled his physical properties'' after ``a brief, but somewhat ecstatic encounter with Sepy in his bedroom.'' Sepy was shockedshocked!at Lovelace's indiscretion, and promised to provide ``better names for references.'' ``I just don't like this low-class way of talking about sex,'' he groused. ``It destroys the whole illusion; whether it's a secretary or a duchess, there must be illusion. If I don't get that, there's nothing.'' His father ``had a pretty good sense of what he was doing. He wasn't just a party guy, but he knew how to get himself in the circles so that opportunity would become available,'' Ferenc said.

Hence, he drank surprisingly little, eschewed drugs, and stayed in control.

After the war, ``he was very poor, and he figured out how to get out of that by creating the Sepy character,'' Ferenc said. ``People loved that character and wanted him around.'' The tradeoff was his family.

``I wanted a normal, traditional life, and I didn't get it,'' said Joseph Dobronyi, a Wall Street investment manager who was 7 when his parents split. His father ``was proud of us but showing us off, like, `This is my American wife and kids and I done good,' he said. ``But he doted on his [four] grandchildren.'' ``He was not father material,'' added Ferenc, lead guitarist for the band Pollo del Mar. He was very generous with other people and would make connections for other people, and I know he has lots of friends who absolutely swear by his good nature.'' He was a faithful friend, said Richard Booth, a Southern Wine & Spirits executive.

``He was with my father on [Bootsie's] 85th birthday last year in the hospital, two weeks before he diedgiving him champagne.'' In 1969, Sepy married third wife Anette Nordquist, a statuesque Swedish blonde. Two years later, the Herald reported that at 8:12 a.m. on July 1, 1971, Dobronyi became the first person in Miami to file for a no-fault ``dissolution'' under a revised state divorce law effective at midnight.

In 1977, he wed Playboy Bunny Rita Lino, in Stockholm.

At 19, she was three years older than Josephand 36 years younger than Sepy. They split within months.

Sepy took the boys skiing in Aspen, Vermont and Chilewhere he kept a chaletand on interesting field trips.

``In 1969, we drove to North Carolina in his Thunderbird,'' son Joe recalled. ``On the way north, we saw Apollo 11 launch from the beach . . . That night, we stayed at a doctor's office,'' not because anyone got sick, but because Sepy knew the man and it was free.

SOME OF THE TRUTH In later years, Ferenc interviewed his father and thinks he heard some of the truth.

Joseph de Bicske Dobronyi was born in the Hungarian town of Bicske, where the family had once been landholders, entitling his father to call himself ``Baron,'' Ferenc said.

``My wife and I went there with him in 1990 and saw the remnants of his childhood home, a castle on a hilltop that was down to the foundations.'' Sepy grew up there as the only child of a young widow.

``He was drafted into the air force because he flew gliders,'' Ferenc said.

In a video posted on YouTube by Las Vegas photographer Richard Anderson, a longtime friend, Sepy describes bailing from a fighter plane with his scarf aflame, causing not only scars on his throat but a hole in his parachute.

He explains how after the war, he and friends got Soviet border guards wasted on schnapps, and fled to Austria.

From there, he ``walked'' to Denmark, then made his way to the 40,000-acre Swedish estate of a cousin who married royalty and lived in a castle.

He studied jewelry making in Stockholm before heading to Cuba, where he met Ernest Hemingway on New Year's Eve 1946. ``He got a job working for the film commissioner of Cuba,'' Ferenc said. ``He read scripts and picked up movie stars from the airport. They'd all want to know what the local Cuban action was, so he got to know Havana.'' Old tourist literature credits Dobronyi with founding The Cuban Art Center in 1951 ``as a cooperative attempt to provide a broader audience for the artists of Havana and the island and to stimulate the sale of their works.'' Peter Moruzzi's Havana Before Castro: When Cuba Was a Tropical Playground, describes how Sepy helped shape the famous hangout, La Bodeguita del Medio.

It took ``a raffish Hungarian expatriate named Sepy Dobronyi to convince owner [Angel] Martinez to convert his store into a tavern in 1951,'' Moruzzi writes.

`POLITICALLY AWARE' Retired Herald editor Fred Sherman met Dobronyi there, and they became fast friends.

``He was quite politically aware,'' Sherman said, so when Fidel Castro took power, Sepy packed up his Oldsmobile convertible and hopped the Key West ferry out of Havana.

In Miami, Sepy became ``one of the first to import Balinese art,'' Ferenc said. ``When I was with him in Bali in '87, people bowed down to him . . . He'd been there about 25 times, and at the hotel he had the presidential suite. He was a real king there.'' In 1980, thieves helped themselves to some of Sepy's collection, including 120-pound ivory elephant tusks, two Nepalese temple lion statues, six Tibetan yak-wool rugs, and brass-plated nude sculptures of Bardot and Welch.

He offered an unusual reward for their return: a round-the-world trip with ``guaranteed fun at every stop.'' No one, apparently, collected.

Sepy married his fifth wife on Oct. 5, 1999, a few days before her 28th birthday. They divorced three years later. Today, she is Eszter Anderson of Las Vegas, married to photographer Richard Anderson, who'd been shooting layouts for years at the Ye Little Wood house.

Years later, Herman, the plastic surgeon who occupied a cottage on the estate while going through a divorce, was in Havana on a medical mission.

Having heard all the stories, he went for a drink at La Bodeguita. An elderly bartender took him to a back room, where faded pictures of Sepy with celebrities covered the walls.

``He was not a bull-er,'' Herman said.

``He didn't have to be.'' Friends plan to gather at noon Sunday to celebrate Sepy Dobronyi's life.

For details and tributes, visit Facebook.com/SepyDobronyi. To watch video interviews, visit YouTube.

NOTICE: A gathering Sepy's friends will be held Sunday June 6th at 12 noon In Miami at the Great House (clubhouse) at Quayside which is at 107th Street and Biscayne Blvd. Contact Mel Stier for more details. melstier@comcast.net Please join this page and share your memories and photos of Sepy.

"I think he is already chasing some beautiful women in heaven! :)" - Aneta Wisniewska

Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/06/05/v-print/1665816/grove-eccentric-baron-sepy-joseph.html#ixzz0q4xcATun
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