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07 May 2017

Exported to the USA: Rudolph Valentino

Rudolph Valentino (1895-1926) was Hollywood's ultimate 'Latin Lover'. The Italian-born American actor starred in several well-known silent films including The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), The Sheik (1922), Blood and Sand (1922), The Eagle (1925), and The Son of the Sheik (1926). His early death at age 31 caused mass hysteria among his fans and propelled him into iconic status.

Rudolph Valentino
French postcard by Cinémagazine-Edition, Paris. Photo: James Abbe.

Rudolph Valentino and Natacha Rambova
With Natacha Rambova. French postcard by Cinémagazine-Edition, no. 129. Photo: James Abbe.

Rudolph Valentino in Blood & Sand
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4987/2, 1929-1930. Photo: Paramount. Publicity still for Blood and Sand (Fred Niblo, 1922).

Rudolph Valentino in The Son of the Sheik (1926)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3373/1, 1928-1929. Photo: United Artists. Publicity still for The Son of the Sheik (George Fitzmaurice, 1926).

Delicious Little Devil


Rudolph Valentino was born Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d'Antonguella in 1895 in Castellaneta, Apulia, Kingdom of Italy. He had a French mother, Marie Berta Gabrielle née Barbin, and an Italian father, Giovanni Antonio Giuseppe Fedele Guglielmi di Valentina d'Antonguella, a veterinarian who died of malaria when Rodolfo was 11.

Unable to secure employment, the 18-years-old Rodolfo departed for the United States in 1913. In New York, the handsome young man supported himself as taxi dancer (someone who danced with women for 10 cents a dance), among other occupations. In 1917, Valentino joined an operetta company that travelled to Utah, where it disbanded.

He then joined an Al Jolson production of Robinson Crusoe, Jr. which was travelling to Los Angeles. By fall, he was in San Francisco with a bit part in a theatrical production of Nobody Home.

While in town, actor Norman Kerry, helped Valentino land a few minor roles in films and by 1919 the young Italian was typecast as a shifty-eyed Latino villain.

He appeared as second lead in The Delicious Little Devil (Robert Z. Leonard, 1919) with Mae Murray. He was credited as as Rudolpho De Valintine.

During this period he married small time actress Jean Acker. Acker was a lesbian, involved in a love triangle with actresses Grace Darmond and Alla Nazimova, and the union with Valentino didn't last long.

Rudolph Valentino and Alice Terry in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 748/1. Photo: Bafag. Publicity still of Rudolph Valentino and Alice Terry in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Rex Ingram, 1921) with Alice Terry.

Alla Nazimova and Rudolph Valentino in Camille (1921)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 831/1, 1925-1926. Photo: British American Films / Balag. Collection: Didier Hanson. Publicity still for Camille (Ray C. Smallwood, 1921) with Alla Nazimova.

Alla Nazimova and Rudolph Valentino in Camille (1921)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 831/2, 1925-1926. Photo: British-American-Films A.G. (Bafag). Publicity still for Camille (Ray C. Smallwood, 1921) with Alla Nazimova.

Rudolph Valentino in  Blood and Sand (1922)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1090/5, 1927-1928. Photo: Paramount-Film. Publicity still for Blood and Sand (Fred Niblo, 1922).

Rudolph Valentino in Blood and Sand (1922)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4685/1, 1929-1930. Photo: Paramount. Publicity still for Blood and Sand (Fred Niblo, 1922).

Unique brand of sexual charisma


Finally in 1921, Rudolph Valentino's star potential was realised by screenwriter June Mathis, who convinced director Rex Ingram to cast Valentino as Julio Desnoyers in The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse (1921). A sensation was the scene in which he dances a sensual tango.

The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse became a critical success, and was one of the first films to make $1,000,000 at the box office. It remains to this day the sixth-highest grossing silent film ever.

Valentino's unique brand of sexual charisma scored an immediate hit with the public, but Metro failed to capitalise on their new personality. For his follow-up film, they forced him into a bit part in a B-film called Uncharted Seas (Wesley Ruggles, 1921). On this film, Valentino met his second wife, Natacha Rambova.

Rambova, Mathis, Ivano, and Valentino began work on the Alla Nazimova film Camille (Ray C. Smallwood, 1921), based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas fils. Valentino was cast in the role of the idealistic young Armand, who falls in love with the older courtesan Camille (Nazimova). The film, mostly under the control of Rambova and Nazimova, was considered too avant garde by critics and the public.

Valentino then accepted an offer at Famous Players-Lasky, forerunner of the present-day Paramount Pictures. Here he co-starred with Agnes Ayres in The Sheik (George Melford, 1922), a role that would solidify his reputation as the ‘Latin lover’. Hal Erickson at AllMovie: “Despite the film's shortcomings, Valentino's magnetic personality permeated every frame, firmly establishing him as a star of the first rank.”

Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino in Beyond the Rocks (1922)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 1091/1, 1927-1928. Photo: Paramount-Film. Publicity still for Beyond the Rocks (Sam Wood, 1922) with Gloria Swanson.

Rudolph Valentino in The Young Rajah (1922)
Dutch postcard, 1924. Publicity card to promote The Young Rajah (Phil Rosen, 1922), which was presented in the Asta Theatre in The Hague, The Netherlands. Rudolph Valentino was in this film credited as Rodolph Valentino. The Young Rajah was reportedly a lost film, but a few years ago the last forty minutes of a nitrate print were discovered. Paramount used stills and trailers to reconstruct the film and did according to reviewer Ischlake on IMDb a very commendable job.

Rudolph valentino in Monsieur Beaucaire
French postcard by Édition Cinémagazine, no. 164. Photo: Rudolph Valentino in Monsieur Beaucaire (Sidney Olcott, 1924).

Rudolph Valentino in A Sainted Devil (1924)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1766/2, 1927-1928. Rudolph Valentino in the American silent film A Sainted Devil (Joseph Henabery, 1924).

Rudolph Valentino and Helen d'Algy in A Sainted Devil (1924)
German postcard for Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 1787/2, 1927-1928. Photo: Famous Players-Lasky Corporation. Publicity still for A Sainted Devil (Joseph Henabery, 1924) with Helen d'Algy.

Pink powder puff


Rudolph Valentino was rushed by Paramount from one film to another. He starred alongside Gloria Swanson in Beyond the Rocks (Sam Wood, 1922), but it was a critical disappointment.

Valentino began work on another Mathis-penned film, Blood and Sand (Fred Niblo, 1922), co-starring with vamp Nita Naldi. Valentino played the bullfighter Juan Gallardo. He initially believed the film would be shot in Spain, and was upset to learn that the studio planned on shooting on a Hollywood back lot.

After finishing the film, Valentino married Rambova, which led to a sensational bigamy trial. The pair was forced to have their marriage annulled and separated for a year. Despite the trial, the film was still a success. Blood and Sand went on to become one of the top-four grossing movies of 1922, and Valentino considered this one of his best films.

Valentino took a two-year sabbatical, devoting his time to writing and publishing poetry. He returned to the screen in such disappointing productions as Monsieur Beaucaire (Sidney Olcott, 1924) and Cobra (Joseph Henabery, 1925). A columnist for the Chicago Tribune, characterised the actor as a 'pink powder puff'. Valentino angrily challenged the writer to a fistfight, but the waspish scrivener refused.

Valentino divorced his second wife Natasha Rambova and formed his own production company, playing virile leading roles in The Eagle (Clarence Brown, 1925) and Son of the Sheik (George Fitzmaurice, 1926), two of his best films.

A few months after completing Son of the Sheik, he was hospitalised in New York with a perforated ulcer. Complications quickly set in, and on 23 August 1926, the 31-year-old actor died. Nearly 80,000 hysterical women, including actress Pola Negri, crowded into Campbell's Funeral Parlour in New York.

Rudolph Valentino in The Eagle (1925)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1500/3, 1927-1928. Photo: United Artists. Publicity still of Rudolph Valentino in The Eagle (Clarence Brown, 1925

Rudolph Valentino in The Eagle (1925)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 3372/1, 1928-1929. Photo: United Artists. Publicity still of Rudolph Valentino in The Eagle (Clarence Brown, 1925).

Rudolph Valentino in The Eagle (1925)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3677/1, 1928-1929. Photo: United Artists. Publicity still of Rudolph Valentino and Louise Dresser in The Eagle (Clarence Brown, 1925).

Rudolph Valentino in The Eagle (1925)
French postcard by A.N., Paris, no. 172. Photo: United Artists. Publicity still of Rudolph Valentino in The Eagle (Clarence Brown, 1925)

Vilma Banky, Rudolph Valentino
French postcard by Europa, no. 235. Photo: United Artists. Publicity still for The Son of the Sheik (George Fitzmaurice, 1926) with Vilma Banky.

Rudolph Valentino in The Son of the Sheik (1926)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1534/3, 1927-1928. Photo: United Artists. Publicity still for The Son of the Sheik (George Fitzmaurice, 1926).

Rudolph Valentino in The Son of the Sheik (1926)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3678/2, 1928-1929. Photo: United Artists. Publicity still of Rudolph Valentino in The Son of the Sheik (George Fitzmaurice, 1926).

Sources: Hal Erickson (AllMovie), Wikipedia, and IMDb.

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