Rudolph Valentino

When the mention of the name Rudolph Valentino happens, it is mostly likely that the response received would be, The Great Lover and The Sheik. Valentino’s jaw-dropping appearance and great looks aside, he was also a very fine comedian, something that very few people realize. It was through Valentino that the now very common concept of “hot actors” such as Tom Cruise came about. (Stiff 2/23/02) Valentino was a fine actor, a film pioneer, and a film icon. (Hill 2/3/02)

Born May 6, 1895 in Castellaneta, Italy, to Giovanni and Beatrice Guglielmi, Rudolpho Alfonzo Rafaelo Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d’Antonguolla (Hill 2/3/02) couldn’t have imagined the fame that he would gain after coming to America and becoming Rudolph Valentino. The somewhat bi-lingual and intelligent son of an ex-calvary captain turned veterinarian and the daughter of a French surgeon, Rudolph enjoyed a comfortable middle-class childhood, with instances of mischief. (Stiff 2/23/02) Valentino’s father died when he was only 11, from malaria in connection with his biological research. (Hill 2/3/02) His father’s premature death, however, did not hinder his studies at a nearby agricultural college, and with his mother’s reluctant blessing he set sail for America in 1913. Valentino came to America on the S. S. Cleveland not as the poor immigrant boy of myth, but as an ambitious young man. (Stiff 2/23/02)

His arrival in New York City was less than a dream come true. Unable to find work that he wanted to do, he got a job lined up to be a gardener on a Long Island Estate, calling upon his agricultural knowledge. However, that fell through before it even started. (Stiff 2/23/02) Shortly there after an orchestra leader friend of his at Maxim’s got him a job as a dancer at the club. After Valentino’s short-lived dancing success at Maxim’s another friend of his, Bonnie Glass, needed a partner for a Vaudeville dancing specialty and called upon Valentino talent. The dancing duo opened at Rector’s, they were an immediate success, apparently Valentino’s luck had turned. Shortly there after came another dancing success with Joan Sawyer, but Valentino was sick of New York City, it held too many glum days for him. He wanted to head west. (Hill 2/3/02)

California brought continued new hope for Valentino, he even took a pay cut from $240 a week to $75 a week to be in John Cort’s production The Masked Model. However, before the tour completed Valentino quit and headed for his true destination of San Francisco. In California, however, Valentino’s bad luck found him again and he was forced to return to dancing in another Vaudeville act in Oakland California at the Orpheum Theatre. Valentino was then offered an opportunity to sell stocks and bonds of which he seized upon to try another escape from dancing. Within two weeks of his bond-selling career America entered World War One and the stock market began to turn somersaults. (Hill 2/3/02)

To do his part in the new war craze, Valentino tried to enlist first in the Italian channels and then in the British channels but was rejected by both due to his bad eyesight. Yet again Valentino’s bad luck was all around him. Another friend from Los Angeles tried to help him out, but nothing came of it. (Hill 2/3/02)

Again Valentino was forced to rely on his dancing talent to help him out. He danced at several prominent cafés in Los Angeles and hated it with all his heart. But this time his dancing skills would lead him to the success he yearned for. After dancing at the Alexandria in Los Angeles one day, he “danced” into the arms of Emmett J. Flynn, a film director. Valentino was offered $50 a week to be in pictures and he jumped at it! (Hill 2/3/02) His luck was to be for the better for the rest of his days, until his early death at age 31. (Stiff 2/23/02)

Valentino’s new luck came with his first picture, The Married Virgin, he played the stellar role-a “heavy”. Even with this new luck of Valentino’s came a let down, this picture was not released until 3 years after it was made. It was in the next films that followed that he worked closely with Paul Powell, film director, Valentino credits Powell with his screen acting technique. (Hill 2/3/02)

In the seven years that followed Valentino made 14 major films and emerged as a star in every one of them. Valentino held quite minor roles in seventeen films, consistently cast as the villain because of his Latin looks. “Although Valentino won the part of leading man in 1918’s A Society Sensation, his culminating bad-guy moment in 1919’s Eyes of Youth (appearing in only one reel), proved to be a major turning point in his career, somehow revealing the irresistible leading man lurking behind the cartonish curling lip. Valentino received his first real shot at stardom thanks to June Mathis, the intuitive screenwriter who urged that he be cast as Julio in Rex Ingram’s epic The four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921).” (Stiff 2/23/02)

After he appeared tangoeing through a barroom scene in one of his films, providing some publicity for the dance itself, Valentino’s character transformed. Due to his extensive dancing experience in New York City Valentino tended to move with a grace unlike an other actor of his time, or since then for that matter. It was this grace that won the attention of Dorothy Gish who, in 1919, persuaded D.W. Griffith to cast Valentino in Out of Luck. This film proving to be a turning point for Valentino, after The Four Horsemen, Valentino was no longer a heavy or a gigolo. Valentino transformed himself into a romantic charismatic character and brought with him sex appeal to the screen. (Stiff 2/23/02)

With his “new look” Valentino was then cast in The Sheik (1921), it was this film that established Valentino’s reputation as The Great Lover. It was his role in The Son of The Sheik (1926) that cemented this title. Arguably, however, Valentino did not see himself as a very good actor and actually viwed the Sheik” films as silly. Despite Valentino’s sometimes lack of concentration in romantic scenes, due to his thinking that they were silly, the audiences still adored him. This adoration was helped along by Valentino’s publication of a book of his poems, Day Dreams (1923), that sent admirers into the bookstores to get a copy of their “great lover’s” book. (Stiff 2/23/02)

After completing his last film, The Son of the Sheik, Valentino has began a travel across the country to publicize it. Due to several bad reviews from a reporter in Chicago and being heartsick over his failed marriage to Natacha Rambova, Valentino seemed not to care for his own well being. Under much stress Valentino began to develop ulcers, and he refused to give his body the rest it required, he was in increasingly more and more pain. (Hill 2/3/02)

On August 15, 1926 George Ullman arrived in Rudy’s hotel room at the Ambassador to find him doubled over in pain and spitting up blood. Ullman had him rush to Polyclinic Hospital to be diagnosed. X-rays were performed and it is made clear that there was a large perforated ulcer in the abdominal cavity surrounded be several other ulcerated areas, there was also an infection that would spread if surgery was not performed. With no other alternative, Valentino had surgery, the entire abdominal cavity was cleansed and closed up. From the 16th to the 20th of August, Valentino was found to be in great pain and unable to eat. On the 20th Valentino awoke in considerable pain and was unable to breathe, he was given ether to sleep. Later that day Valentino awoke, again, and smiled for the first time- he was not in pain. (Hill 2/3/02)

Valentino’s condition continued to worsen as his abdominal cavity became swollen and bruised and blotchy looking. Further x-rays were administered and the doctors’ worst fears were confirmed, pleurisy had set in and all hope for recovery was lost. Painkillers were continuously administered and in one of his few lucid moments he agreed to see a priest. Valentino made confession, was given absolution, but was too weak to take communion. (Hill 2/3/02)

Early in the morning of August 23rd Valentino was given more morphine to ease the suffering, it only helped for a little while. “Valentino grasps the rails of his bed, wracked with pain, weak he still fights on with clenched teeth, moans escaping his lips only when he can no longer hold his composure.” More morphine is continued to be administered. (Hill 2/3/02)

Valentino’s final hours are spent in a comatose state, his body writhing in pain from the massive infection. The doctors are now faced to wait for the inevitable. A Priest is called for yet again and the dying man is given Extreme Unction. Crowds outside his hospital window wait for the inevitable moment to come. Emaciated, Rudy moans one last time, his body spasms and then stiffens wracked with pain. “His eyes flutter open for the briefest moment, his head falls back on the pillow at rest.” (Hill 2-2, Last Days Cont’d) Cause of death is Peritonitis from a perforated ulcer and a ruptured appendix. (Grave 2/21/02)

Rudolph Valentino’s body was taken to Campbell’s for preparation. He was later buried in Hollywood Forever in Hollywood California, Cathedral Mausoleum #1205. (Grave 2/21/02)

The Great Lover and The Sheik, Valentino was a charming, smooth, and charismatic American actor from small-town Italy. Once Valentino made his break in the film industry he had the eye of America on him right up until his dramatic death in New York City. Valentino was a fine actor, a film pioneer, and a film icon. (Hill 2/3/02)

Works Cited

  1. “Find a Grave.” Valentino, Rudolph., (2/21/02)
  2. Fitzmaurice, George, dir. Son of the Sheik. With Rudolph Valentino and Vilma Banky. Blackhawk Films, 1926
  3. Hill, Donna. “Rudolph Valentino.”, (2/3/02)
  4. Stiff, Lee Ann. “Rediscovering Rudolph Valentino.”