Rudolph Valentino – MovieActors.com
About Rudolph Valentino (1895 – 1926)
Rudolph Valentino was born Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d'Antonguella in Castellaneta, Apulia, Kingdom of Italy. His mother, Marie Berta Gabrielle (née Barbin; 1856–1919), was French, born in Lure in Franche-Comté. His father, Giovanni Antonio Giuseppe Fedele Guglielmi di Valentina d'Antonguella, was Italian; he was a veterinarian who died of malaria when Rodolfo was 11 years of age. He had an older brother, Alberto (1892–1981), a younger sister, Maria, and an older sister, Beatrice, who had died in infancy.
As a child, Rodolfo was indulged because of his exceptional looks and his playful personality. His mother coddled him, while his father disapproved of him. He did poorly in school and was eventually enrolled in agricultural school at Genoa, where he earned a certificate.
After living in Paris in 1912, he soon returned to Italy. Unable to secure employment, he departed for the United States in 1913. He was processed at Ellis Island at age 18 on December 23, 1913.
Arriving in New York City, Valentino soon ran out of money and spent time on the streets. He supported himself with odd jobs such as bussing tables in restaurants and gardening. Eventually, he found work as a taxi dancer at Maxim's. Among the other dancers at Maxim's were several displaced members of European nobility, for whom there was a premium demand.
Valentino eventually befriended Chilean heiress Blanca de Saulles who was unhappily married to prominent businessman John de Saulles, with whom she had a son. Whether Blanca and Valentino actually had a romantic relationship is unknown, but when the de Saulles couple divorced, Valentino took the stand to support Blanca de Saulles's claims of infidelity on her husband's part. Following the divorce, John de Saulles reportedly used his political connections to have Valentino arrested, along with a Mrs. Thyme, a known madam, on some unspecified vice charges. The evidence was flimsy at best, and after a few days in jail, Valentino's bail was lowered from $10,000 to $1,500.
The trial and subsequent scandal was well publicized, following which Valentino could not find employment. Shortly after the trial, Blanca de Saulles fatally shot her ex-husband during a custody dispute over their son. Fearful of being called in as a witness in another sensational trial, Valentino left town, joining a traveling musical that led him to the West Coast.
In 1917, Valentino joined an operetta company that traveled to Utah, where it disbanded. He then joined an Al Jolson production of Robinson Crusoe Jr. which was traveling to Los Angeles. By fall, he was in San Francisco with a bit part in a theatrical production of Nobody Home. While in town, Valentino met actor Norman Kerry, who convinced him to try a career in cinema, which was still in the silent film era.
Valentino, with Kerry as a roommate, moved back to Los Angeles and took up residence at the Alexandria Hotel. He continued dancing, teaching dance, and building up a following which included older female clientele who would let him borrow their luxury cars. At one point after the United States joined World War I, both Kerry and Valentino tried to get into the Canadian Air Force to fly and fight in France.
With his dancing success, Valentino found a room of his own on Sunset Boulevard and began actively seeking screen roles. His first part was as an extra in the film Alimony, moving on to small parts in several films. Despite his best efforts, he was typically cast as a "heavy" (villain) or gangster. At the time, the major male star was Wallace Reid, with a fair complexion, light eyes, and an All-American look, with Valentino the opposite, eventually supplanting Sessue Hayakawa as Hollywood's most popular "exotic" male lead.
By 1919, he had carved out a career in bit parts. It was a bit part as a "cabaret parasite" in the drama Eyes of Youth that caught the attention of screenwriter June Mathis, who thought he would be perfect for her next movie. He also appeared as second lead in The Delicious Little Devil (1919) with star Mae Murray.
Displeased with playing "heavies," Valentino briefly entertained the idea of returning to New York permanently. He returned for a visit in 1917, staying with friends in Greenwich Village, eventually settling in Bayside, Queens. It was there that he met Paul Ivano, who would greatly help his career.
While traveling to Palm Springs, Florida, to film Stolen Moments, Valentino read the novel The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez. Seeking out a trade paper, he discovered that Metro had bought the film rights to the story. In New York, he sought out Metro's Office, only to find June Mathis had been trying to find him. She cast him in the role of Julio Desnoyers. For the director, Mathis had chosen Rex Ingram, with whom Valentino did not get along, leading Mathis to play the role of peacekeeper between the two.
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse was released in 1921 and became a commercial and critical success. It was one of the first films to make $1,000,000 at the box office, and remains to this day the sixth highest-grossing silent film ever.
Metro Pictures seemed unwilling to acknowledge that it had made a star. Most likely due to Rex Ingram's lack of faith in him, the studio refused to give him a raise beyond the $350 a week he had made for Four Horsemen. For his follow-up film, they forced him into a bit part in a B-film called Uncharted Seas. It was on this film that Valentino met his second wife, Natacha Rambova.
Rambova, Mathis, Ivano, and Valentino began work on the Alla Nazimova film Camille. Valentino was cast in the role of Armand, Nazimova's love interest. The film, mostly under the control of Rambova and Nazimova, was considered too avant garde by critics and the public.
Valentino's final film for Metro was the Mathis-penned The Conquering Power. The film received critical acclaim and did well at the box office. After the film's release, Valentino made a trip to New York where he met with several French producers. Yearning for Europe, better pay, and more respect, Valentino returned and promptly quit Metro.
After quitting Metro, Valentino took up with Famous Players-Lasky, forerunner of the present-day Paramount Pictures, a studio known for films that were more commercially focused. Mathis soon joined him, angering both Ivano and Rambova.
Jesse Lasky intended to capitalize on the star power of Valentino, and cast him in a role that would solidify his reputation as the "Latin Lover." In The Sheik (1921), Valentino played the starring role of Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan. The film was a major success and would go on to define not only his career but his image and legacy. Valentino tried to distance the character from a stereotypical portrayal of an Arab man. Asked if Lady Diana (his love interest) would have fallen for a "savage" in real life, Valentino replied, "People are not savages because they have dark skins. The Arabian civilization is one of the oldest in the world...the Arabs are dignified and keen-brained."
Famous Players produced four more feature-length films over the next 15 months. His leading role in Moran of the Lady Letty was of a typical Douglas Fairbanks nature; however, to capitalize on Valentino's bankability, his character was given a Spanish name and ancestry. The film received mixed reviews but was still a hit with audiences.
In November of 1921, Valentino starred alongside Gloria Swanson in Beyond the Rocks. The film contained lavish sets and extravagant costumes, though Photoplay magazine said the film was "a little unreal and hectic." Released in 1922, the film was a critical disappointment. Years after its release, Beyond the Rocks was thought to be lost, save for a one-minute portion. But in 2002, the film was discovered by the Netherlands Film Museum. The restored version was released on DVD in 2006.
In 1922, Valentino began work on another Mathis-penned film, Blood and Sand. Co-starring Lila Lee and Nita Naldi, Valentino played the lead, bullfighter Juan Gallardo. Initially believing the film would be shot in Spain, Valentino was upset to learn that the studio planned on shooting on a Hollywood back lot. He was further irritated by changes in production, including a director of whom he did not approve.
After finishing the film, Valentino married Rambova, which led to a bigamy trial. The trial was a sensation and the pair was forced to have their marriage annulled and separated for a year. Despite the trial, the film was still a success, with critics calling it a masterpiece on par with Broken Blossoms and Four Horsemen. Blood and Sand went on to become one of the top four grossing movies of 1922, breaking attendance records, and grossing $37,400 at the Rivoli Theatre alone. Valentino would consider this one of his best films.
During his forced break from Rambova, the pair began working (separately) on the Mathis-penned The Young Rajah. Only fragments of this film, recovered in 2005, still remain. The film did not live up to expectations and underperformed at the box office. Valentino felt he had underperformed in the film, being upset over his separation with Rambova. Missing Rambova, Valentino returned to New York after the release of The Young Rajah. They were spotted and followed by reporters constantly. During this time Valentino began to contemplate not returning to Famous Players, although Jesse Lasky already had his next picture, The Spanish Cavalier, in preparation. After speaking with Rambova and his lawyer Arthur Butler Graham, Valentino declared a 'One man Strike' against Famous Players.
Valentino's reasons for striking were financially based. At the time of his lawsuit against the studio, Valentino was earning $1,250 per week, with an increase to $3,000 after three years. This was $7,000 per week less than Mary Pickford made in 1916. He was also upset over the broken promise of filming Blood and Sand in Spain, and the failure to shoot the next proposed film in either Spain or at least New York. Valentino had hoped while filming in Europe he could see his family, whom he had not seen in ten years.
In September of 1922, he refused to accept paychecks from Famous Players until the dispute was solved, although he owed them money he had spent to pay off Jean Acker. Angered, Famous Players in turn filed suit against him.
Valentino did not back down, and Famous Players realized how much they stood to lose. In trouble after shelving Roscoe Arbuckle pictures, the studio tried to settle by upping his salary from $1,250 to $7,000 a week. Variety erroneously announced the salary increase as a "new contract" before news of the lawsuit was released, and Valentino angrily rejected the offer.
Valentino went on to claim that artistic control was more of an issue than the money. He wrote an open letter to Photoplay magazine, titled "Open Letter to the American Public," where he argued his case, although the average American had trouble sympathizing, as most made $2,000 a year. Famous Players made their own public statements deeming him more trouble than he was worth (the divorce, bigamy trials, debts) and that he was temperamental, almost diva-like. They claimed to have done all they could and that they had made him a real star.
Other studios began courting him. Joseph Schenck was interested in casting his wife, Norma Talmadge, opposite Valentino in a version of Romeo and Juliet. June Mathis had moved to Goldwyn Pictures, where she was in charge of the Ben-Hur project, and interested in casting Valentino in the film. However, Famous Players exercised its option to extend his contract, preventing him from accepting any employment other than with the studio. By this point Valentino was approximately $80,000 in debt. Valentino filed an appeal, a portion of which was granted. Although he was still not allowed to work as an actor, he could accept other types of employment.
In late 1922, Valentino met George Ullman, who would soon become Valentino's manager. Ullman previously had worked with Mineralava Beauty Clay Company, and convinced them that Valentino would be perfect as a spokesman with his legions of female fans.
The tour was a tremendous success with Valentino and Rambova performing in 88 cities in the United States and Canada. In addition to the tour, Valentino also sponsored Mineralava beauty products and judged Mineralava sponsored beauty contests. One beauty contest was filmed by a young David O. Selznick, who titled it Rudolph Valentino and His 88 Beauties.
When Valentino returned to the United States, it was to an offer from Ritz-Carlton Pictures (working through Famous Players), which included $7,500 a week, creative control, and filming in New York. Rambova negotiated a two-picture deal with Famous Players and four pictures for Ritz Carlton. He accepted, turning down an offer to film an Italian production of Quo Vadis in Italy.
The first film under the new contract was Monsieur Beaucaire, wherein Valentino played the lead, Duke of Chartres. The film did poorly and American audiences found it "effeminate." The failure of the film, under Rambova's control, is often seen as proof of her controlling nature and would later cause her to be barred from Valentino sets. Valentino made one final movie for Famous Players. In 1924 he starred in A Sainted Devil, now one of his lost films. It had lavish costumes but apparently a weak story. It opened to strong sales but soon dropped off in attendance and ended up as another disappointment.
With his contract fulfilled, Valentino was released from Famous Players but still obligated to Ritz-Carlton for four films. Valentino's next film was a pet project titled The Hooded Falcon. The production was beset with problems from the start, beginning with the script written by June Mathis. The Valentinos were dissatisfied with Mathis's version and requested that it be rewritten. Mathis took it as a great insult and did not speak to Valentino for almost two years. While Rambova worked designing costumes and rewriting the script for Falcon, Valentino was persuaded to film Cobra with Nita Naldi. Valentino agreed only on condition that it not be released until after The Hooded Falcon debuted.
After filming Cobra, the cast of The Hooded Falcon sailed for France to be fitted for costumes. After three months, they returned to the United States, where Valentino's new beard, which he had grown for the film, caused a sensation. "I opened once a paper and I tell you what was in. It was Rudolph Valentino with a beard upon his chin. My heart stopped off from beating and I fainted dead away, and I never want to come to life until the judgement day," was soon printed in Photoplay. The cast and crew left for Hollywood to begin preparations for the film, but much of the budget was taken up during pre-production. Due to the Valentinos's lavish spending on costumes and sets, Ritz-Carlton terminated the deal with the couple, effectively ending Valentino's contract with Ritz-Carlton.
During the filming of Monsieur Beaucaire, both Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks approached Valentino privately, due to his contract with Ritz Carlton, about joining with United Artists. Valentino's contract with United Artists provided $10,000 a week for only three pictures a year, plus a percentage of his films. The contract excluded Rambova from production of his films and the film set. Valentino's acceptance of the terms caused a major rift in his marriage to Rambova. George Ullman, who had negotiated the contract with United Artists, offered Rambova $30,000 to finance a film of her own. It became her one and only film, titled What Price Beauty? and starred Myrna Loy.
Valentino chose his first UA project, The Eagle. With the marriage under strain, Valentino began shooting and Rambova announced that she needed a "marital vacation." During the filming of The Eagle, rumors of an affair with co-star Vilma Bánky were reported and ultimately denied by both Bánky and Valentino. The film opened to positive reviews, but a moderate box office.
For the film's release, Valentino travelled to London, staying there and in France, spending money with abandon while his divorce took place. It would be some time before he made another film, The Son of the Sheik, despite his hatred of the sheik image. The film began shooting in February 1926, with Valentino given his choice of director, and pairing him again with Vilma Banky. The film used the authentic costumes he bought abroad and allowed him to play a dual role. Valentino was ill during production, but he needed the money to pay his many debts. The film opened on July 8, 1926 to great fanfare. During the premiere, Valentino was reconciled with Mathis; the two had not spoken in almost two years.
In 1919, just before the rise of his career, Valentino impulsively married actress Jean Acker, who was involved with actresses Grace Darmond and Alla Nazimova. Acker became involved with Valentino in part to remove herself from the lesbian love triangle, quickly regretted the marriage, and locked Valentino out of their room on their wedding night. The couple separated soon after, and the marriage was never consummated. The couple remained legally married until 1921, when Acker sued Valentino for divorce, citing desertion. The divorce was granted with Acker receiving alimony. She and Valentino eventually renewed their friendship. The two remained friends until his death.
Valentino first met Winifred Shaughnessy, known by her stage name, Natacha Rambova, an American silent film costume and set designer, art director, and protégée of Nazimova, on the set of Uncharted Seas in 1921. The two worked together on the Nazimova production of Camille, by which time they were romantically involved. They married on May 13, 1922, in Mexicali, Mexico, which resulted in Valentino's arrest for bigamy since he had not been divorced for a full year, as required by California law at the time. Days passed and his studio at the time, Famous Players-Lasky, refused to post bail. Eventually, a few friends were able to post the cash bail. He was also investigated for a possible violation of the Mann Act.
Having to wait the year or face the possibility of being arrested again, Rambova and Valentino lived in separate apartments in New York City, each with their own roommates. On March 14, 1923, they legally remarried at the Lake County Court House in Crown Point, Indiana.
Many of Valentino's friends disliked Rambova and found her controlling. During his relationship with her, he lost many friends and business associates, including June Mathis. Towards the end of their marriage, Rambova was banned from his sets by contract. Valentino and Rambova divorced in 1925. The end of the marriage was bitter, with Valentino bequeathing Rambova one dollar in his will.
From the time he died until the 1960s, Valentino's sexuality was not generally questioned in print. At least four books, including the notoriously libelous Hollywood Babylon, suggested that he may have been gay despite his marriage with Rambova. For some, the marriages to Acker and Rambova, as well as the relationship with Pola Negri, add to the suspicion that Valentino was gay and that these were "lavender marriages."
Such books gave rise to claims that Valentino had a relationship with Ramón Novarro, despite Novarro stating they barely knew each other. Hollywood Babylon recounts a story that Valentino had given Novarro an art deco dildo as a gift, which was found stuffed in his throat at the time of his murder. No such gift existed. These books also gave rise to claims that he may have had relationships with both roommates Paul Ivano and Douglas Gerrad, as well as Norman Kerry, openly gay French actor Jacques Herbertot and André Daven. However, Ivano maintained that it was untrue and both he and Valentino were heterosexual. Biographers Emily Leider and Allan Ellenberger generally agree that he was most likely straight.
Further supposed evidence that Valentino was gay are documents in the estate of the late author Samuel Steward indicating that Valentino was a sexual partner of his. However, evidence found in Steward's claim was subsequently found to be false, as Valentino was in New York on the date Steward claimed a sexual encounter occurred in Ohio.
Shortly before his death, Valentino was dating Ziegfeld Follies showgirl Marion Wilson Benda while also involved in a relationship with actress Pola Negri. Upon his death, Negri made a scene at his funeral, claiming they had been engaged, in spite of the fact that Valentino had never mentioned this engagement to anyone himself.
On August 15, 1926, Valentino collapsed at the Hotel Ambassador, Park Avenue, New York. He was hospitalized at the New York Polyclinic Hospital and an examination diagnosed him as suffering from appendicitis and gastric ulcers, requiring an immediate operation. (His condition is now referred to as "Valentino's syndrome:" perforated ulcers mimicking appendicitis.) Despite surgery, Valentino developed peritonitis. On August 18, his doctors gave an optimistic prognosis and told the media that unless his condition changed for the worse, there was no need for updates. However, on August 21, his condition did change for the worse, as he was stricken with a severe pleuritis relapse that developed rapidly in his left lung due to his weakened condition. The doctors realized that he was going to die, but as was common at the time with terminal patients, decided to withhold the prognosis from the actor, who believed that his condition would pass. During the early hours of Monday, August 23, Valentino was briefly conscious and chatted with his doctors about his future. He fell back into a coma and died a few hours later, at the age of 31.
Rudolph Valentino's movie credits include...
|1914||My Official Wife||Extra|
|1914||The Battle of the Sexes||Dance extra|
|1916||The Quest of Life||Extra|
|1916||The Foolish Virgin||Extra|
|1918||A Society Sensation||Dick Bradley|
|1918||All Night||Richard Thayer|
|1918||The Married Virgin||Count Roberto di San Fraccini|
|1919||The Delicious Little Devil||Jimmy Calhoun|
|1919||The Big Little Person||Arthur Endicott|
|1919||A Rogue's Romance||Apache dancer|
|1919||The Homebreaker||Dance extra|
|1919||Virtuous Sinners||Bit part|
|1919||Out of Luck/Nobody Home||Maurice Rennard|
|1919||Eyes of Youth||Clarence Morgan|
|1920||Stolen Moments||Jose Dalmarez|
|1920||An Adventuress||Jacques Rudanyi|
|1920||Passion's Playground||Prince Angelo Della Robbia|
|1920||Once to Every Woman||Juliantimo|
|1920||The Wonderful Chance||Joe Klingsby|
|1921||The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse||Julio Desnoyers|
|1921||Uncharted Seas||Frank Underwood|
|1921||The Sheik||Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan|
|1921||The Conquering Power||Charles Grandet|
|1922||Moran of the Lady Letty||Ramon Laredo|
|1922||Beyond the Rocks||Lord Bracondale|
|1922||Blood and Sand||Juan Gallardo|
|1922||The Young Rajah||Amos Judd|
|1924||Monsieur Beaucaire||Duke de Chartres/Beaucaire|
|1924||A Sainted Devil||Don Alonzo Castro|
|1925||Cobra||Count Rodrigo Torriani|
|1925||The Eagle||Lt. Vladimir Dubrovsky|
|1926||The Son of the Sheik||Ahmed/The Sheik|
Memorable Quotes by Rudolph Valentino
“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.”
[after his divorce from Jean Acker] “[after his divorce from Jean Acker] She said she was my soul mate, but she proved to be my check-mate!”
“I am beginning to look more and more like my miserable imitators.”
“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.'”
Things You May Not Know About Rudolph Valentino
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 sojourn 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 had 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 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.
In 1923 he recorded two songs, "Kashmiri Love Song" (from The Sheik (1921)) and "El Relicario" (from Blood and Sand (1922)) 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.
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.