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Rudy Valentino

Rodolfo Alfonzo Raffaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d'Antonguolla (1895–1926) Italian Actor and Executive Producer. Born in 1895 to a French mother and Italian father Rudolph Valentino grew up in Italy. His father died while he was young, and his mother spoiled him. He did poorly in school, and eventually ended up studying agriculture. After a stint in Paris he returned to Italy broke. Many times Valentino referenced something he did being the cause of being sent away. His journey to New York City took place just under 9 months before Jean Valentino would be born.

In New York City Valentino met with his Padrino (Godfather) Frank Mennillo who helped him secure a job and a place to live. Eventually Valentino was hired as a taxi dancer (someone who danced with various women in a café for 10 cents a dance). A good looking and gifted dancer he rose above the ranks and began performing for New York society elite. Infatuated and conducting an affair with married society woman Blanca de Saulles he testified in her defense during her divorce trial. Her husband John, a prominent businessman was not pleased and had Valentino arrested on vice charges that to this day are not clear (the records were wiped clean in the 1920s). After surviving this scandal Blanca shot her now ex-husband and Valentino left New York, hoping to avoid a new wave of scandal.

He ended up in San Francisco where his Padrino Frank Mennillo had since relocated to. He soon met Norman Kerry who suggested he try his hand at silent films. Valentino headed to Los Angeles on Kerry's advice, and began making the rounds at studios. A deeply exotic and alluring man his type was usually used for 'heavies' or villains. Eventually he eked out a living mostly co-starring in b-rated pictures.

During this time his mother died, devastating him. Hoping to recover from this shock he fell in love with fellow small time actress Jean Acker. Acker, a lesbian, was involved in a love triangle with powerful actresses Grace Darmond and Alla Nazimova. Valentino, unaware of her orientation, proposed. Acker accepted seeing it as a safe way out of her conundrum without ruining her career. The two were married at a party and after dancing all night headed for their hotel room. Acker locked Valentino out and the marriage was never consummated. Valentino, not understanding, sent her love letters for months begging her to 'forgive' him for whatever it was he had done, and to be his wife. Eventually it must have been explained to him because he moved on and the pair separated, though not divorced.

Soon after this Metro Executive June Mathis spotted him in a small part in the Clara Kimball Young film "Eyes of Youth". Mathis was in charge or writing and producing the epic film "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse". She chose the mostly unknown Valentino to play Latin lover Julio. Though executives were hesitant Mathis eventually got her way. She mentored Valentino and the two became close friends, and possibly were romantic at one time.

"The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" was a major success, launching Valentino into super stardom and giving him the image of a 'Latin Lover'. However his contract with Metro was not in his favor, and they quickly cast him in a b picture, "Uncharted Seas". This was followed by the Nazimova film "Camille" on which Valentino became close with the artistic director, Natacha Rambova. The two fell in love and moved in together, and soon a divorce was acquired from Jean Acker.

Without consulting any of his friends, let alone a lawyer, Valentino signed with Famous Players-Lasky again making a paltry salary. Famous Players cast him in perhaps his most famous role "The Sheik" in 1921. The Sheik was a cultural phenomena and much to Valentino's chagrin it was the image most associated with him. Ironically 5 years later it would also be his last film role.

Mathis eventually moved to Famous Players where she wrote "The Conquering Power" and "Blood and Sand" for Valentino. "Blood and Sand" was a major hit and the first pairing of Valentino with his most frequent co-star, vamp Nita Naldi. Valentino married Rambova during this time in Mexico, only to return to California and find he had a warrant for bigamy on his head. At the time the law stipulated one must wait 1 year between divorce and a new marriage, and one year had not passed since his divorce was finalized from Jean Acker. Valentino was thrown in jail over the weekend, with Mathis, George Fitzmaurice, and Thomas Meighan bailing him out on Monday. Famous Players-Lasky did nothing and ordered him back to work on "The Young Rajah". Rambova and Valentino were forced to separate with Rambova being sent to New York. Ironically she still worked on "The Young Rajah" designing costumes.

"The Young Rajah" was not a hit, and Valentino was furious over the whole situation. Famous Players-Lasky ordered him to start work on a new film, but he refused and started refusing his salary (despite the fact he was in debt and actually owed the studio money from helping with his divorce). The matter played out in the press and Valentino embarked on a "One Man Strike" from Famous Players-Lasky. Famous Players obtained a court order forbidding him to work at all, though this was eventually was reduced to just work in film. Valentino insisted his strike was not about money but for artistic control, indeed he turned down an offer of $7,000 a week...a huge improvement over his last salary.

During this time to keep afloat Valentino wrote a book of poetry, gave interviews, and eventually accepted an offer to promote Minervala Beauty Clay via a dance tour. He also hired former Minervala advertising man George Ullman to be his business manager. The tour was a major success and afterwords he and his wife visited Europe. When they returned he signed with Ritz Carlton, though he still owed 2 films to Famous Players. His comeback picture, "Monsieur Beaucaire" was a French action comedy. Rambova had a major hand in the production, and when the film flopped she was blamed. His next film an artistic Latin Lover feature "A Sainted Devil" also did not fair well. Now free from Famous Players he and Rambova set upon creating their dream project "The Hooded Falcon".

The Hooded Falcon was a disaster, with double the advanced budget spent on costumes alone. After asking Mathis to write a script for the film Valentino, Rambova, and the directer felt it not up to par. Informed by George Ullman, Mathis promptly refused to have anything to do with Valentino or Rambova. She ran off and eloped with an Italian cameraman. She would not make up with Valentino until a few months before his death. Eventually The Hooded Falcon was scrapped, and the duo's contract terminated with Ritz Carlton. They had made only one film, a quickie named "Cobra" which also did not perform well.

At this time Valentino and Rambova's marriage became strained. Rightly or wrongly Rambova was blamed for his failures in the press. Reportedly children was another issue: Valentino desperately wanted children, while Rambova did not. Ironically the only person to dispute this was Ullman, who constantly feuded with Rambova. A contract from United Artists was offered to Valentino, giving him all sorts of freedoms and a good salary. It has long been said Rambova was stipulated via contract to not be on set or have any involvement in his films with UA, but that is untrue. Rambova was still miffed and Valentino and Ullman offered to finance a film for her that became "What Price Beauty?"

She had an affair with her cameraman causing Rudy to vow he would kill the man. Only George Ullman could dissuade them. Divorce papers were drawn up and Rambova left for New York. The press assumed she had left then announced the divorce out of the blue, when in reality both knew during their final kiss that a divorce was in the works. Rambova eventually obtained her divorce in France.

Valentino was despondent, and contemplated suicide, especially as he was unable to obtain custody of Jean which he tried around this time. He became reckless during this time, almost killing himself in various car accidents. Work began on The Eagle in 1925, pairing him with Vilma Banky. The two became good friends, but it's unlikely they were lovers. The Eagle was a success, and work began on Son of the Sheik, a sequel to the first film. Son of the Sheik was also a success, but sadly Valentino did not live to see much of it.

Rudy was not mourning the loss of Rambova however. He was dating Mae Murray and Pola Negri concurrently, as well as several other beauties. This only ended when Mae wed a Mdivani (Pola would later marry his brother.)

Valentino had been ill for several months, but refused to see a doctor. In August 1926 the pain was so bad a doctor was called, and he was transferred to a hospital in New York City. He had ulcers, which were operated on. Everyone believed he would be fine, and doctors gave optimistic reports. Valentino himself thought he would recover soon, he asked to be moved back to his hotel with a nurse to attend to him. The doctors refused. A few days after the surgery Valentino took a turn for the worse, his lungs were filled with fluid and infection had set in. He died on August 23rd, 1926 at the age of 31 with Frank Mennillo and George Ullman at his side. Everyone was shocked, and though there had been celebrity deaths before his, the public's reaction was extremely intense.

George Ullman was the executor of his estate. Hoping to help keep Valentino's name in the papers long enough to promote Son of the Sheik (Valentino's estate was $3 million in debt, leaving no money to take care of his affairs or even bury him) he decided to allow a public viewing. However the viewing became a madhouse, and Ullman pulled the plug abruptly. A funeral was held in New York. The body was transported across the country to Los Angeles where another funeral was held, and Valentino was buried. June Mathis had a row of crypts at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. She offered to loan Valentino one of her crypts. However she died herself in 1927, and Valentino was moved into what would have been her husband's crypt. In the 1930's, Mathis' husband sold the crypt to the Valentino family, Valentino lies in the 'borrowed' crypt to this day.

There were many plans for memorials and statues after his death, however Mathis' death, and the Great Depression put an end to these. Today about 60% of Valentino's films still survive, including his most noteworthy ones. He's still remembered as The Great Lover of the Silver Screen.


Ranked #80 in Empire (UK) magazine's "The Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time" list. [October 1997]

In 1923 he recorded two songs, "Kashmiri Love Song" (from The Sheik) and "El Relicario" (from Blood and Sand) for Brunswick Records. Both recordings still exist and have been released on the CD "Rudolph Valentino: He Sings & Others Sing About Him".

A portion of Irving Boulevard in Hollywood, California, was renamed Rudolph Valentino Street in 1978.

Considered to be the first male sex symbol of the cinema during the silent era.

Published a thin volume of sentimental poetry titled "Day Dreams" in 1923. The book sold hundreds of thousands of copies. In 2010 it was reprinted by 1921 PVG Publishing with a foreword by Evelyn Zumaya.

For many years on the anniversary of Valentino's death, a mysterious woman, dressed all in black, was seen laying a wreath of flowers on his grave. Her identity was never established.

Following his untimely death, a bogus, composite photograph of Valentino ascending up to heaven was released for sale, and was snatched up by his legion of fans.

His father was Italian his mother was French. Valentino spoke at least 4 languages fluently (English, Spanish, French, Italian) and may have spoken more.

Pictured on one of ten 29¢ US commemorative postage stamps celebrating stars of the silent screen, issued 27 April 1994. Designed by caricaturist Al Hirschfeld, this set of stamps also honored Clara Bow, Charles Chaplin, Lon Chaney, John Gilbert, Zasu Pitts, Harold Lloyd, Theda Bara, Buster Keaton, and the Keystone Kops.

Valentino and Jean Acker had one of the shortest celebrity marriages on record - six hours. After courting for just a few days, they impulsively married November 5 1919, but Jean locked him out of their hotel room later that night after a spat. They separated, and their divorce was finalized in 1922. Ironically, after their divorce, they became good friends.

At the time of his death, Valentino was severely in debt, and his heirs could not afford a burial plot for him. June Mathis, friend and screenwriter of Rudy's hit films The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921) and Blood and Sand (1922), graciously agreed to temporarily loan him a space in her family crypt at Hollywood Park Cemetery so he could be interred upon his body's arrival in Los Angeles following a coast-to-coast funeral train ride from New York. Mathis died the following year and Valentino's body was moved into her husband's space. He is still interred there today as all memorial plans fell through during the depression.

A few months before Valentino's death, a Chicago newspaper columnist attacked his masculinity in print, referring to him as a "pink powder puff." A lawsuit was pending when Valentino was fatally stricken. One of his last questions to his doctor was, "Well, doctor, and do I now act like a 'pink powder puff'?" His doctor reportedly replied, "No, sir. You have been very brave. Braver than most."

At the height of his popularity, Valentino went on a brief sojurn in his native Italy to visit friends and family and, in general, to get a much-needed rest. When he returned to Hollywood, friends asked him if he'd been mobbed by fans while on vacation. Valentino said no, explaining that, "over there, I look like every other Italian fellow on the street."

He is responsible for bringing the Argentine Tango to America, first performing the famous dance in his film The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), and later in a successful American national dance tour with his wife, Natacha Rambova, who, like Valentino himself, was once a professional dancer.

He was voted the 32nd Greatest Movie Star of all time by Entertainment Weekly.

Worked as a dishwasher, taxi dancer, and gardener before starring in The Son of the Sheik (1926).

Is mentioned in the The Bangles hit song (written by Prince) "Manic Monday".

Had an Irish Wolfhound named "Centaur Pendragon" and a Great Dane named 'Kabar'.

Was paired with Nita Naldi in four movies: Blood and Sand (1922), A Sainted Devil (1924), The Hooded Falcon (1924) and Cobra (1925).

In the 1930s, Sheik Condoms, named after his most famous role, were introduced and feature Valentino's silhouette on the packaging for years.

Is mentioned in the The Bongos song "Apache Dancing": "We like to tango like Valentino".

The Rudolph Valentino Film Festival, held in Los Angeles, CA was created in his honor.

In 2009 The Rudolph Valentino Society was created to honor his legacy.

In 2009, a novel, based on the idea of Rudolph Valentino living to the age of 110 was published as, "Conversations with Rodolfo" by Hala Pickford.

In 2011, 'Affairs Valentino' by Evelyn Zumaya was released by The Rudolph Valentino Society. The biography drastically repaints the life of Valentino with newly found court documents, accounting ledgers, and unpublished memoirs and memories by his manager George Ullman and Godfather Frank Mennillo.

His name was mentioned once in Herbie Rides Again (1974).

Personal Quotes[]

To generalize on women is dangerous. To specialize in them is infinitely worse.

Women are not in love with me but with the picture of me on the screen. I am merely the canvas upon which the women paint their dreams.

A man should control his life. Mine is controlling me.