|Birth name:||Rodolfo Alfonzo Raffaelo Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d'Antonguolla|
|Date of birth:||May 6, 1895|
|Birth location:||Castellaneta, Italy|
|Date of death:||August 23, 1926 (aged 31)|
|Death location:||New York City, New York, U.S.|
|Spouse:||Jean Acker (1919-1923)
Natacha Rambova (1923-1926)
Rudolph Valentino (May 6, 1895 – August 23, 1926) was an Italian actor. He was born Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Piero Filiberto Guglielmi in Castellaneta, Italy, to a middle-class family. He was introduced to acting after fleeing New York City following a number of legal difficulties and eventually traveling to San Francisco and meeting actor Norman Kerry, who urged him to pursue a cinema career. Valentino challenged the typical depiction of masculinity, the All American, fair, light-eyed man. His image was threatening and would cause other men to shun him and actors to refuse to work with such a character. His ominous image led journalists to regularly call his masculinity (and his sexuality) into question. In the 1920s, Valentino was known as a Latin sex symbol. Women loved him and thought him the epitome of romance.
Valentino was born to Marie Berthe Gabrielle Barbin (1856 - 1919), who was French, and Giovanni Antonio Giuseppe Fidele Guglielmi (1853-1906), a veterinarian from Castellaneta, Taranto, Italy. He had an older brother, Alberto (1892-1981), a younger sister, Maria. An older sister Beatrice had died in infancy.
As a child, Valentino was spoiled and troublesome. He did poorly in school and constantly had to transfer to avoid being failed. He would skip class or not pay attention. His mother eventually enrolled him in an agricultural school where he received a degree.
In 1912, he left for Paris where he spent less than a year before losing his money and asking his mother to send him funds to return to Italy. When he returned to Italy he was unable to secure employment and everyone was sure he would never succeed in life. His uncles decided he should be sent to the United States where they felt he could learn to be a man.
In 1913, Valentino left for New York City. He arrived with about $20,000 which he promptly wasted. After a period on the streets, he eventually supported himself with odd jobs such as bussing tables in restaurants, even trying his hand at gardening. Eventually he found work as a taxi dancer and instructor, and later as an exhibition dancer which was the craze at the time. He gained attention for his rendition of the Argentine tango.
Valentino enjoyed befriending many people of high society. He eventually befriended Chilean heiress Blanca de Saulles who was unhappily married to prominent business man John de Saulles with whom she had a son. Whether the two actually had a romantic relationship is unknown, but it is believed that Valentino was infatuated with her. Eventually the de Saulles divorced in a sensational divorce trial. Valentino decided to take the stand to support Blanca's claim of John's well known infidelity. Mr. de Saulle was not pleased with this and once the divorce was granted, he used his political connections to have Valentino arrested along with a Mrs. Thyme who was a known "madam" on vice charges (the exact charges are unknown). The evidence was flimsy at best (Valentino having been near the wrong place at the wrong time) and after a few days in jail, Valentino's bail was lowered from $10,000 to $1,500.
The scandal was well publicized along with the trial and Valentino found that as a result of the publicity no one would hire him and his old friends and acquaintances would no longer talk to him. Blanca de Saulles seemed to not even thank him for his testimony. Shortly after the trial, she fatally shot her ex-husband over claims of custody of their son. Another sensational trial began, with her being acquitted of murder charges, and Valentino's name was again in prominence though he was not involved with Mrs. de Saulles.
In part, he changed his name from Rodolfo Guglielmi to various variations of "Rudolph Valentino," partly to avoid association with the earlier scandal and partly because the Americans he met had trouble pronouncing Guglielmi. After the trial, he decided to move to Hollywood.
Valentino joined an operetta company that traveled to Utah where it disbanded. From there he traveled to San Francisco where he met the actor Norman Kerry, who convinced him to try a career in cinema, still in the silent movie era. At the time, Valentino had only acted in background scenes of a few movies in New York.
He began to play small parts in quite a few films. He was typically cast as a "heavy" (villain) or "gangster." At the time, the epitome of male masculinity was Douglas Fairbanks: fair complexion, light eyes, and an All American look. A leading man should never be too romantic (Fairbanks hated doing love scenes and rarely did them, let alone well.) Thus Valentino was the opposite and seemed "exotic." 
By 1919, he had carved out a career in bit parts. It was a bit part as a "cabaret parasite" in drama The Eyes of Youth that caught the attention of the powerful screenwriter June Mathis who thought him perfect for her next movie.
Mathis cast Valentino as a male lead in her next film The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which was directed by Rex Ingram. Ingram and Valentino did not get along and it was up to Mathis to constantly keep the peace. Released in 1921, the film was a commercial and critical success and made Valentino a star, earning him the nickname "Tango Legs." It also led to his iconic role in The Sheik and The Son of the Sheik.
Blood and Sand, released in 1922 and co-starring Lila Lee along with the popular silent screen vamp Nita Naldi, further established Valentino as the leading male star of his time. However, in 1923, Valentino became disenchanted with his small salary ($1,200 a week when several major stars made $10,000 a week) and his lack of creative control (he wanted to film in Europe and have better sets and costumes). He went on a "one man strike" against Famous Players-Lasky and refused to show up on set. In turn, Famous Players-Lasky sued him which resulted in an injunction which prohibited Valentino from making films or doing any other service not for the company. The latter half was later overturned stating Valentino should be able to make a living some way.
To ensure that his name remained in the public eye, Valentino, following the suggestion of his new manager George Ullman, embarked on a national dance tour, sponsored by a cosmetics company, Mineralava, with Rambova, a former ballerina, as his partner. During the show, the couple would dance, a beauty contest would be held, and Valentino would have a chance to talk against the studio followed by a promotion of the products. The tour was a success making him about $7,000 a week. During the same period, he published a book of poetry called From Day Dreams, and had his biography serialized in a movie fan magazine.
On May 14, 1923, while in New York City, he made his first and last musical recording, consisting of "Valentino's renditions" of Amy Woodforde-Finden's "Kashmiri Song" featured in The Sheik and Jose Padilla's "El Relicario," used in Blood and Sand. The recording was shelved for unknown reasons until after his death.
During this time period he also traveled to Europe and had a memorable visit to his native town. Back in the United States, he was criticized by his fans for his newly cultivated beard and was forced to shave it off.
In 1925, Valentino was able to negotiate a new contract with United Artists which included the stipulation that his wife Natacha not be allowed on any of his movie sets (it was perceived that her presence had delayed earlier productions such as Monsieur Beaucaire). Shortly thereafter, he separated from Rambova and started dating actress Pola Negri. Around this time, he mended many personal and professional relationships which had been damaged because of Rambova; including his relationship with his "Little Mother" June Mathis.
During this time, he made two of his most critically acclaimed and successful films, The Eagle, based on a story by Alexander Pushkin, and The Son of the Sheik, a sequel to The Sheik, both co-starring the popular Hungarian-born actress, Vilma Bánky (with whom he had a brief relationship prior to his involvement with Negri).
Ever since the de Saulle trial in New York when his masculinity had been slandered in print, Valentino had been very sensitive with the way he was perceived. Women loved him and thought him the epitome of romance. However, American men were very threatened and would walk out of his movies in disgust. With the Fairbanks type being the epitome of manhood, Valentino was seen as a threat to the All American man. Thus journalists would constantly call his masculinity into question: his greased back hair, his clothing, his treatment of women, his views on women, and whether he was effeminate or not. Valentino hated these stories and was known to carry the clippings of them around and criticize them. 
The Chicago Tribune reported in July, 1926 that a vending machine dispensing pink talcum powder had appeared in an upscale hotel washroom. An editorial that followed used the story to protest the feminization of American men, and blamed the talcum powder on Valentino and his sheik movies. The piece infuriated Valentino, who happened to be in Chicago at the time, and the actor challenged the writer to a duel and then a boxing match. Neither challenge was answered. Shortly afterward, Valentino met for dinner with the famed journalist H.L. Mencken for advice on how best to deal with the incident. Mencken advised Valentino to "let the dreadful farce roll along to exhaustion," but Valentino insisted the editorial was "infamous." Mencken found Valentino to be likable and gentlemanly and wrote sympathetically of him in an article published in the Baltimore Sun a week after Valentino's death:
|“||It was not that trifling Chicago episode that was riding him; it was the whole grotesque futility of his life. Had he achieved, out of nothing, a vast and dizzy success? Then that success was hollow as well as vast — a colossal and preposterous nothing. Was he acclaimed by yelling multitudes? Then every time the multitudes yelled he felt himself blushing inside … The thing, at the start, must have only bewildered him. But in those last days, unless I am a worse psychologist than even the professors of psychology, it was revolting him. Worse, it was making him afraid …
Here was a young man who was living daily the dream of millions of other men. Here was one who was catnip to women. Here was one who had wealth and fame. And here was one who was very unhappy.
After Valentino challenged the Tribune's anonymous writer to a boxing match, the New York Evening Journal boxing writer, Frank O'Neill, volunteered to fight in his place. Valentino won the bout which took place on the roof of New York's Ambassador Hotel.
The 'Powder Puff' comment bothered Valentino so much that it was reported as he lay dying he asked the doctor, "Am I a powder puff now Doctor?." The doctor reportedly replied, "No sir, you've been very brave."
In 1919, as his career had yet to take off, Valentino married Jean Acker. Acker was a bit actress who was mainly cast as a favor to her lesbian lover Alla Nazimova. The three had become friends and Valentino appeared to be oblivious to Acker's orientation. Acker was caught in a love triangle with Grace Darmond and Nazimova; both of which threatened to destroy her career if she left either of them. Seeing a chance to escape unscathed, Acker married Valentino.
The marriage was never consummated, with Jean locking him out of their hotel suite on their first honeymoon night. She later fled to Darmond's where Valentino pleaded with her to give him a chance to no avail. Instead of divorcing, the couple remained legally married until 1921, when he filed for divorce so he could marry Natacha Rambova.
At the time, the divorce trial was caused a sensation due to Valentino's new star status. Valentino found it embarrassing to have to charge desertion and Acker's refusal to consummate the marriage. The divorce was granted with a decent alimony going to Acker. Despite her antics and use of the name "Mrs. Valentino" (a name she had no legal right to), she and Valentino eventually renewed their friendship until his death. She made regular visits when he was on his death bed and was reportedly one of the last people he saw just before he died.
Valentino first met Natacha Rambova, a costume designer and art director who was a protégé of Nazimova, on the set of Uncharted Seas in 1921. The two also worked together on the Nazimova production of Camille, by which time they were romantically involved. They married on May 13, 1922, in Mexicali, Mexico. This resulted in Valentino being jailed for bigamy since he had not been divorced for a full year (which was the law in California at the time). He spent the night crying that Natacha was his legal wife and he should not be there. Days passed and his studio at the time, Famous Players-Lasky, refused to post bail. Eventually, a few friends including June Mathis were able to post the cash bail.
Still having to wait the year or face the possibility of being arrested again, Natacha and Valentino lived in separate apartments in New York City, each with their own roommates. In 1923, they legally remarried.
Many of Valentino's friends did not like Rambova and found her controlling. During his relationship with her, he lost many friends and business associates including June Mathis. Toward the end of their marriage, Rambova was banned from his sets by contract. One of the few people who supported her was a then-unknown actress named Myrna Loy, whom she had discovered and had cast in the film What Price Beauty? She said that Rambova was unfairly criticized. The end of the marriage was bitter, with Valentino bequeathing her one dollar in his will. The money and property he originally intended for her instead went to her Aunt Theresa whom they both adored. Despite popular rumors, Natacha was not a lesbian. She and Valentino had an active sexual life, attested to by many friends. Paul Ivano (their roommate through much of their dating) stated that one night, Valentino ran out in a panic thinking he had killed her during an all night session of love making; when in fact she had just passed out and was revived with cold water by Ivano.
Valentino's sexuality has been the subject of much speculation over the years. It has been suggested he was in homosexual relationships with his roommates Paul Ivano and Douglas Gerrad; as well as Norman Kerry, openly gay French actor Jacques Herbertot and Andre Daven. However, Ivano maintained that it was completely untrue and he himself as well as Valentino were heterosexual. Herbertot's claims seem to be strictly fantasies (as no real proof backs them up) and Kerry, Daven and Gerrad were just friends. No real evidence exists to show Valentino had any romantic male relationships.Many of the rumors seem to stem from the company he kept; as many in his circle of friends were well known to have loose attitudes towards sexual experimentation.
Shortly before his death, Valentino was dating Pola Negri. The relationship seemed to be to save his "great lover" reputation since his divorce from Rambova. Upon his death, Negri made a scene at his funeral, claiming they had been engaged. The engagement claim has never been proven. Many of Valentino's friends claimed that he had never gotten over the divorce from Rambova.
Valentino had no children though he did desperately want them (especially evident in his poem Babies). He dreamed of having the traditional wife and mother, though he dated women who were quite the opposite (Acker and Rambova being feminists with careers). One of the biggest issues of his and Rambova's marriage was her desire not to have children. Nita Naldi a close friend, claimed Rambova illegally terminated up to three pregnancies while married to Valentino, though there is no way to verify this. Whether Naldi's story is true or not, Rambova was determined to remain childless.
Throughout his life, Valentino had a love of animals. He was an accomplished rider since boyhood, and owned several horses. He and Rambova spoke of opening a zoo and socialized with animal trainers. They had two Great Danes, a large gopher snake, and a green monkey. From their trainer friend, Rambova purchased a lion cub named Zela for him. Valentino loved Zela but eventually had to give her to a trainer outside of town when she bit a stranger who happened to be a private eye hired by Jean Acker to prove the couple was cohabiting.
Valentino also loved to cook, especially simple dishes like spaghetti and meatballs. According to friends, his love of cooking was more intense than his romantic life.
On August 15, 1926, Valentino collapsed at the Hotel Ambassador in New York City. He was hospitalized at the Polyclinic in New York and underwent surgery for a perforated ulcer. He told his manager George Ullman to contact Rambova, who was in Europe. Upon hearing of his condition, she responded back, and they exchanged loving telegrams, and she believed a reconciliation had taken place. The surgery went well and he seemed to be recovering when peritonitis set in and spread throughout his body. He died eight days later, at the age of 31.
An estimated 100,000 people lined the streets of New York City to pay their respects at his funeral, handled by the Frank Campbell Funeral Home. The event was a drama itself: actress Pola Negri collapsed in hysterics while standing over the coffin, windows were smashed as fans tried to get in, and Campbell's hired four actors to impersonate a Fascist Blackshirt honor guard, which claimed to have been sent by Benito Mussolini. It was later revealed as a planned publicity stunt. The New York Graphic printed a ghoulish fake composed photograph on its front cover purporting to show Valentino in his casket, before the body actually reached the funeral home.
Valentino's funeral mass in New York was celebrated at Saint Malachy's Roman Catholic Church, often called "The Actor's Chapel," as it is located on West forty-ninth Street in the Broadway theater district, and has a long association with show business figures.
After the body was taken by train across the country, a second funeral was held on the West Coast, at the Catholic Church of the Good Shepherd. Not having a resting place of his own, Valentino's old friend June Mathis offered her crypt for him in what she thought would be a temporary solution. However, she died the following year and Valentino was placed in the adjoining crypt. The two are still interred side by side in adjoining crypts at the Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery (now the Hollywood Forever Cemetery) in Hollywood, California.
Valentino left his estate to his brother, sister, and Rambova's aunt Teresa Werner. He was around $100,000 in debt at the time of his death. Ullman organized an auction of his positions and home to pay the debts.
His Beverly Hills mansion, called Falcon Lair, was later owned by heiress Doris Duke until her death there in 1993. The building was then stripped down to the frame and resold. As of 2007 the remaining structure is still standing.
After his death many of his films were reissued to help pay his estate. Many were reissued well into the 1930s (long after the demise of silent film). Several books were written including one by Rambova. Several songs including one by Acker entitled 'There's a new star in heaven tonight' were written and best sellers.
Over the years a woman in black carrying a red rose has come to mourn at Valentino's grave usually on the anniversary of his death. Several myths surround the woman though it seems the first woman in black was actually a publicity stunt cooked up by press agent Russel Birdwell in 1928. Several copycats have followed over the years.
Valentino's image as a great lover has lasted long past his death. In popular culture the term 'Valentino' has come to represent a good looking ladies man. Several pop culture items have referenced Valentino over the years.
The life of Rudolph Valentino has been filmed a number of times for television and the big screen. The most notable of these biopics is Ken Russell's 1977 film, Valentino, in which Valentino is portrayed by Rudolf Nureyev. An earlier feature film about Valentino's life, also called Valentino, was released in 1951 and starred Anthony Dexter as Valentino. The short film "Daydreams of Rudolph Valentino," with Russian actor Vladislav Kozlov as Valentino, was presented at Hollywood Forever cemetery on August 23, 2006, marking the 80th anniversary of Rudolph Valentino's death.
Valentino was also supposed to have acted, at the beginning of his career, in the following films:
All links retrieved August 31, 2019.
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