Rita Jenrette: Texan Playboy Model Turned Italian Princess

Princess Rita Jenrette Boncompagni Ludovisi left her stately Italian villa — Casino dell'Aurora — for the last time in April 2023 as paparazzi snapped photos. With her four white bichon frise dogs trailing behind her, she headed to a waiting car. The Italian courts had finally forced her to leave the massive palazzo — the most expensive house in the world valued at $533 million that features a ceiling painted by the famed Renaissance artist Caravagio, according to the Daily Mail.

"I feel like I'm in a surreal movie," she told the press (via Forbes), "like Sartre's 'No Exit.'" It had been a contentious and public fight with her step-children following the death of her husband Prince Nicolo Boncompagni Ludovisi in 2018 that led to this moment. Before finding her real-life prince, she'd already lived quite the life: Washington insider, an aspiring singer-songwriter, Playboy model, actress, born-again Christian, and real estate broker who once worked on a multi-million-dollar deal with Donald Trump.

Born into money

Princess Rita Jenrette Boncompagni Ludovisi was born Rita Carpenter in November 1949 to C. Hunt Carpenter, who made a fortune in the insurance business, and Reba Garlington, who came from a rich cattle family. She was born in San Antonio and moved with her family to Austin when she was 11. At the University of Texas, she studied history and political science — graduating in 1971 — before joining the Peace Corps, where she taught children in Micronesia. She later returned to the university for her graduate degree.

Rita, who was interested in politics, began working for the Republican Party of Texas, and after a short-lived first marriage, she left Austin for a position on the Republican National Committee in D.C. — head of opposition research. But when she began dating a Democrat — Rep. John Jenrette Jr., of South Carolina — her employer was none too pleased. "A month after I moved in with John, my boss at the RNC called me into his office and delivered an ultimatum: either quit seeing John the Democrat or quit my job," she wrote in The Washington Post in 1980. "Too stubborn to let anyone dictate to me, I quit my job."

Political wife

In September 1976, Rita Carpenter and Rep. John Jenrette Jr. were married in a brief civil ceremony that was interrupted when his beeper went off, per the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. That night, John left his new wife to fly back to South Carolina for political reasons. Rita would soon learn that being a politician's wife wasn't always fun. She would also learn that being married to a hard-partying and philandering husband was even worse. But before she learned the truth, she attempted to become a singer-songwriter and wrote a number of songs, including one called "John's Song" about her love for her husband. That soon changed.

"I knew the honeymoon was over when I rolled over one morning to find John's side of the bed unruffled," she recalled in The Washington Post. "After a rampaging search of the house in Myrtle Beach where we were staying, I found him: drunk, undressed and lying on the floor in the arms of a woman who I knew was old enough to be his mother." Still, she stayed with John, but in February 1980 a massive scandal broke that helped seal the fate of the couple's already shaky marriage.

An FBI sting and My Capitol Secrets

On February 2, 1980, news broke about a long-running FBI sting operation known as ABSCAM that nabbed seven members of Congress on public corruption charges, including Rep. John Jenrette. The FBI secretly recorded the congressman discussing accepting $100,000 with undercover FBI agents pretending to be representatives for an Arab sheik who needed help immigrating to the U.S. "I've got larceny in my blood," the congressman told the men (via CBS). "I'd take it in a goddamned minute." A jury convicted John of conspiracy and violating the federal anti-bribery statute. He ended up serving just over a year in prison.

In 1981, Rita and John Jenrette split in an acrimonious divorce that spilled onto newspaper pages — and even onto live TV when John called up the "Phil Donahue Show" when Rita was a guest and had a shouting match with her. She also put out a tell-all book about Washington D.C. called "My Capitol Secrets," which laid bare the behind-closed-doors sleaziness of the city's elite.

Playboy Model and B-movie actress

Before her divorce, Rita Jenrette stood by John as he faced federal charges. It was then that she also appeared in Playboy for the first time. Rita did it, she said, in order to raise funds for her then-husband's defense, according to The Cincinnati Post. But in a 1985 interview with The Washington Post, she admitted there was more to it. "It was like saying, 'Okay all you people who were always worried about how I was dressed, I'll show you,'" she told the newspaper.

She appeared in the magazine a second time in 1983. She also moved to Los Angeles hoping for a Hollywood career — starring in an episode of "Fantasy Island" and in several B movies, including "Zombie Island Massacre" — and dated the actor Dan Aykroyd. Then, in 1985, she became a born-again Christian and began attending Norman Vincent Peale's Manhattan church. (Peale is best known today for his runaway best-selling self-help book "The Power of Positive Thinking.")

Italian Princess

Rita Jenrette then became a high-powered New York City real estate broker and handled the $800 million sale of the General Motors Building to Donald Trump in 1998. In 2002, she met Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi through mutual friends. The two married in 2009, and she became Princess Rita Jenrette Boncompagni Ludovisi. After her husband's death in 2018, the legal battle for Casino dell'Aurora began, ending with the forced sale of the estate to be divided between the heirs.

"It's illegal," she complained in a video (per the Daily Mail). "I think that it's a travesty, this is a brutal ending and unnecessary. Someone said it's because I'm a woman and I'm American." As Princess Rita exited the villa for the last time, escorted out by ​​Carabinieri — Italy's federal police — and warily eyed by one of her stepsons there to witness her departure (per the New York Post), it was anybody's guess what the 73-year-old princess' next act would be.