Oh Rudy! I had known about him for quite some time before I actually got around to watching him on film. About 3 years ago, my family moved out of our house and we were going through stuff in the attic and came across some of my grandmother's stuff. My grandmother was born in 1907 so she was around during the boom of silent film. We found in her possessions sheet music from films with Shirley Temple, Dolores Costello, and Rudolph Valentino (And also one that was published in 1912 about the Titanic disaster). I wish she were still alive today so we could talk about silent film and her childhood, but she passed away 5 years before I was born.
Anyway, I have had the the opportunity to visit Rudy's grave at least 5 times and every time I am there, I still feel in awe of where I am standing. I was standing in front of the screen's greatest lover. I have left him kisses many times as well. I am excited to visit him again in May when I head back to California.
He was born Rodolfo Alfonzo Raffaello Pierre Filiburt Guglielmi di Valentina d'Antonguolla on May 6, 1895 in Castellaneta, Italy. His parents were Giovanni and Marie Guglielmi (His father died when he was 11 and his mother died in 1919). He had an older brother, Alberto, and a younger sister Maria.
As a child, Rudy was quite spoiled, mostly by his mother. He went back and forth between Paris and Italy until he finally left for the United States in 1913 at age 18.
While living in New York City, he soon began to run out of money and had to find ways to support himself. He waited tables for awhile and eventually got a job as a taxi dancer. While working this job he found himself embroiled in a scandal involving an older woman and her husband. Blanca de Saulles was a frequent customer of Rudy's. Whether or not they were anything but dancing partners is unknown, but either way, they were good friends. When Blanca decided to divorce her husband, Rudy was by her side. Both sides fired allegations of infidelity, but neither had any merit. Blanca's husband even had him arrested, but thankfully he only spent a few days in jail. Right before the trial, Blanca shot and killed her husband after arguing about custody over their son. Rudy soon fled to the U.S. to avoid further scandal.
He soon was travelling between San Francisco to Los Angeles acting in various stage shows and eventually going back to dancing for awhile. He moved to Sunset Boulevard and began pursuing a career in film. He made his debut on screen as an extra in 1917's Alimony.
Because of his "exotic" looks, he was cast as villain roles. He was not very happy with being pigeon-holed, so he pushed harder for more solid roles.
In 1921 he appeared in the smash hit Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. The problem was that the studio heads didn't really see Rudy as a star so they continued to place him in B movies.
He really found his niche when he starred in The Sheik in 1921. It led to other big films such as Beyond the Rocks with Gloria Swanson and Blood and Sand with Nita Naldi.
Like most actors then and now, he soon became unhappy with his financial situation and his studio. So, he went on strike. The problem was his lawsuit was met with a counter suit from Famous Players because Rudy owed THEM money. He didn't back down and neither did the studio. When they saw that other studios were shopping around for options for Rudy, they extended his contract making it impossible for him to work.
Unable to find work on screen, he had to find another venture in order to earn money. One thing he did was to sponsor beauty pageants. One was actually filmed and there clips available of it online to watch (I am not 100% sure if the full film is available on VHS or DVD).
Under a new contract, Rudy finally returned to the screen in 1924. The film was not a success and the fancy period costumes just made the film appear a little to outlandish.
He appeared in a few more films until he returned to the image the public wanted to see...the image he hated, the sheik. He began shooting the film in early 1926 even with his health failing him. Rudy needed the money to pay off his mounting debts, so he continued to film.
On August 15, 1926, he collapsed in New York City and was shown to be suffering from appendicitis and gastric ulcers. He had surgery to correct the problem, and although the surgery went well, Rudy himself wasn't feeling at all better. Six days later he developed pleurisy in his left lung, but two days later he was awake and talking to doctors. Sadly, he soon lapsed into a coma.
Rudolph Valentino passed away on August 23, 1926 at the age of 31.
Because he passed away in New York, Rudy had two funerals. The first was held at the Frank Campbell Funeral Home on August 24th. And man oh man, I am sure that was a sight in itself! Thousands of people lined the streets, windows were smashed, riots ensued. There have been rumors over the years that people actually committed suicide after hearing of his death, but they are just rumors. The one odd publicity stunt was a man showing up dressed as a Fascist guard, who was supposed to have been sent by Mussolini. No. Also, there were rumors that the body laid out was not Valentino, but a decoy. Again, false.
A second funeral was held in Beverly Hills. Because Rudy never made any plans for his burial, he was loaned a crypt by a friend (June Mathis...I will get to her later...). It was supposed to just be temporary until a lavish shrine was built for him, but it never came about. He is still in the same crypt at Hollywood Forever some 80 years later.
|Vilma Banky and Valentino|
The Latin Lover was married twice...and to two reported lesbians...which is just fantastic. His first marriage was to actress Jean Acker in 1919. She regretted the marriage right after apparently because she locked him out of their suite (Which...I am sorry...locking Rudolph Valentino out?! I don't think so!). They remained married for two years though, and eventually divorced in 1921. With as much as she acted like she disliked Rudy, Jean went on to be billed as "Mrs. Valentino." They eventually reconciled and were friends until he passed away.
Second was Natacha Rambova. She was a good friend (and perhaps lover) of Alla Nazimova. They married in 1922 which resulted in Rudy's arrest for bigamy. He had not been divorced from Jean Acker for over a year as California law required. His friends eventually posted bail. Rudy and Natacha waited and waited and were finally legally married in 1923.
Natacha was not very popular among those close to Rudy. She was quite controlling and was eventually banned from his movie sets when she tried to put in her two cents about everything. The two also wore matching "slave" bracelets. They eventually divorced in 1925.
|Valentino and Natacha Rambova|
At the time of his death, he was involved with Pola Negri. Pola stated that they were even engaged, but apparently that was news to everyone else. She made a huge scene at his funeral, fainting every five seconds, throwing herself on his coffin, crying hysterically...etc. Apparently his last words were about her.
June Mathis has been credited as the one who discovered Valentino. She had seen him in earlier films and pushed for him to be cast in Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The two had a long lasting friendship. He looked to her a mother figure. They had a falling out after Natacha Rambova interfered into their friendship. She wanted to have complete control over Rudy, not June. They reconciled after the Rambova divorce. She died a year after Rudy at age 38 of a heart attack. Instead of moving Rudy, she was placed in the crypt next to him.
Even now, there has been dispute about whether or not Rudy was gay. It was rumored that he was involved with his past roommates Paul Ivano and Douglas Gerrad, although Ivano denied this.
How about "The Lady in Black"? Throughout the years, a woman dressed all in black arrives at his tomb with roses on the anniversary of his death. The original Lady was a woman by the name of Ditra Flame. The rumor was that when Ditra was a little girl and sick in the hospital, Rudy came and visited her. He reported told her that she would outlive him and that she should come visit and talk with him after he died because he didn't want to be alone (This is her story, it hasn't, to my knowledge, ever been verified). She died in 1984, and her headstone names her as "The Lady in Black."
There is another woman who claims to be the original Lady, Marion Benda. She was a former Ziegfeld girl who claimed that she had a relationship with Rudy and even had a child by him. Another is Estrellita del Regil, a woman who began coming by his grave in the 1970s and stopping in the 90s. She said her mother was long lost love of Rudy's. The third is Vicki Callahan, who was merely a fan of his. She took over the role willingly.
In 1923, Rudy recorded a song called "Kashmiri Love Song." It is the only recording of his voice. It's pretty cool to hear actually. He had a deep voice and a thick accent. He also published a book of poems that same year called "Daydreams."
Like many silent film stars, he had his own beautiful mansion named "Falcon Lair." There is a really cool documentary called "Valentino" that offers a virtual tour of the mansion as it would have looked when Rudy lived there. It's a really cool documentary, check it out!
The Chicago Tribune blamed the new effeminate nature of American men on Valentino, calling him a "powder puff." This pissed him off royally and he challenged the reporter to a boxing match. Another journal reporter from New York volunteered to fight in place of the anonymous Tribune writer...and lost.
"I really believe I was happier when I slept on a park bench in Central Park than during all the years of the 'perfect lover' stuff." ~ Rudolph Valentino