By the standards of President-for-Life Doe and many of his other clients, von Kloberg had a dignified end. Depressed after a failed reconciliation with his Lithuanian lover, he hurled himself from the Castel Sant' Angelo in Rome, the scene of Tosca's operatic suicide—although, unlike Tosca, he carried a magazine cover of himself with the first President Bush on the way down. Over the top in death as in life: "Tyrants' Lobbyist, Flamboyant To The End," said The Washington Post, "flamboyant" being the agreed euphemism. Perhaps it was the "flamboyance" that explained why he never clinched the deal with Robert Mugabe, the famously homophobic Zimbabwean strongman who has accused Tony Blair of being a "gay gangster" leading "the gay government of the gay United gay Kingdom," and prides himself on being able to spot "flamboyance" at 200 yards. But elsewhere among an African elite markedly antipathetic toward flamboyant Western gays, von Kloberg found many takers. He was the killers' queen. Mobutu awarded him Zaire's Order of the Leopard, and with decorations like that on your chest, flitting from one social event to another up and down the East Coast, you know that no one's likely to show in the same getup.
Few others worked so assiduously at turning totalitarian honors into gay kitsch. "I call it hardwear," he said at the Red Cross Ball in Palm Beach a few years back. "You can only wear four stars at a time, you can't repeat the same country, and you wear a star low on your jacket." He pointed to the next table, where the young male companion of an elderly lady had a star over his heart. "That gigolo over there is wearing it as a pin."
Larry Gelbart has an oft-quoted line about how if Hitler's still alive, he hopes he's on the road with a musical in trouble. Von Kloberg seemed like an addendum to the gag: if Hitler's musical was in trouble, this guy would be the press agent. He was a man with a foot in both camps, the military junta's camp and the screamingly camp. Even his name was oddly reminiscent of the faux Continentalism of Roger de Bris, director of Springtime for Hitler in the Mel Brooks hit The Producers. I don't know whether Roger's "de" was an affectation, but Edward's "von" voz. Edward J. von Kloberg III may have been the third Kloberg but he was the first "von" Kloberg, after a brief interregnum as the first "van" Kloberg.
The Almanach de Gotha touches were grafted on to make him sound more distinguished. He came to regret the hasty adoption of "van"—as in Dick van Dyke and other eminences—and decided that "von" was what he'd been looking for all along, and that he was, in fact, an authentic baron: "Baron Edward von Kloberg III," a "titled European in Washington," as The Washington Post once called him. Like Baron von Frankenstein, Baron von Kloberg favored black capes lined with red velvet when out on the tiles: von singular sensation, every little move he made. Like Van Johnson in In the Good Old Summertime, van Kloberg favored bow ties and straw boaters in the summer months. Did he mind being a flack for dictators? "Shame is for sissies," he said, in what would have made a good motto for most of his clients. They would have appreciated the whiff of self-invention, too.