Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Rudolph Valentino

Rudolph Valentino (born Rodolpho Alphonso Rafaello Piero Filiberto Guglielmi 1895-1926) was one of the first great stars of the (silent) screen; starring in films such as The Four Horsemen of The Apocalyse (1921); in which he danced a slow tango magnificently with Alice Terry, in fact introducing that dance to a North American and European audience; completing its journey from the slums of Argentina. What makes the scene so remarkable to watch is not just their consummate mastery of the dance but the fact that Alice Terry, young though she was, tragically died before the film was even released. The other famous films are The Sheikh and Son of the Sheikh. Although they are all over-acted in a wide-eyed, over-demonstrative way and even though the footage is black and white and old and crackling, it is still possible to see the star that briefly shone. Rather like Cary Grant, even now, most people have heard of Rudolph Valentino and even recognize him. The suggestion that his voice was unlikely to have carried him into the age of the talkies is wholly unsupported by the recordings that exist of it, including him singing A Kashmiri Love Song in a pleasing baritone. The feverish, on-screen adulation which he inspired was not reflected in his personal life. Twice married and twice divorced, he did not seem to find and keep any woman; indeed, he said: ‘Women are not in love with me; I am just the canvass upon which they paint their dreams.’ When he died, at 31, of peritonitis, following an operation for a gastric ulcer, the public mourning was great and the streets of New York were lined with hundreds of thousands of weeping mourners; albeit that this outpouring was encouraged by the studio, which had yet to release his last film. The anniversary of his death is still marked at the mausoleum where he was entombed in a vault originally reserved for the husband of his friend June Mathis. The vault was, at first, ‘borrowed’ and later quietly bought by his estate. Legend has it that he was buried still wearing the platinum slave bracelet and watch given to him by his second wife, set designer Natacha Rambova. For many years, following his death, a mysterious ‘lady in black’ used to appear at this annual ceremony.

He was not, in fact, originally, the poor Italian boy of popular fancy but the son of a veterinary surgeon. Owing to his French mother, he spoke French as well as Italian and also learned English and Spanish and had some knowledge of German. The catalogue of the sale of his effects, following his death, shows that he had an extensive library and many valuable, even museum quality, antiques - especially furniture, doors, paintings, arms and armour (which he brought from his European tours), as well as the latest motor cars and four Arabian horses. Everything was sold off for a song to pay debts, following his death. His life was a far cry from following the cult of ignorance which governs the tastes and values of most modern celebrities. His former house (in a Spanish style) Falcon Lair, above Beverly Hills, has, fairly recently, been stripped of most of the cladding materials and the site will probably become a ‘condo’ - in the best modern taste.

In the photograph, he is shown with a swooning Vilma Banky. The dance scene from The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is available on You Tube but don't make the mistake of thinking that the dancing in the opening of the scene is Valentino!


  1. This pacy blog is packed with info and amusement. It has become a part of my day. Well done. Justin Bloch.

  2. That's very pleasing. Much of the material derives from surplus and tangential pieces that I have done as I have written the books.