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MAN BEHIND THE MYTH
 
He wore a slave bracelet given by his second wife Natacha Rambova. He was locked out of the room on his honeymoon night with first wife actress Jean Acker. He was a poor boy from Castellaneta,Italy born on 06 May, 1895. He was a graceful tango dancer, just a regular ,likeable guy .And his full Italian name was RODOLFO ALFONZO RAFFAELO PIERRE FILIBERT GUGLIELMI DI VALENTINO D’ ANTONGUOLLA. Whew! Hard to pronounce and even harder to spell. But he is known throughout the world as RUDOLPH VALENTINO, the Sheik, the passionate lover, the smoldering hero of the Silver Screen.

The young Rodolfo or Rudy (as he was popularly called), could not stand his boring,uneventful life in his hometown .So by 1913, he packed his bags to seek new adventures in America. Initially, he didn’t plan to be a movie star. He worked at various minor jobs to support himself. One day he discovered the profitability of the dance hall and eagerly studied ballroom dancing to augment his income. There he found out he had grace and style.His Mediterranean good looks suited his dancing abilities and he became very popular as a dancer and dance partner.
From there, he appeared in shows and later in the silver screen.But, in the beginning, his dark looks typecast him to play only villainous roles, until a young female writer came along and saw his potentials. June Mathis, one of MGM’s writers, had been keeping watch of the young Rudy and saw him fit for the part of “The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse”. This movie sealed his fate as a sex god . His long name was shortened to just Rudolph Valentino for dramatic effect and easy recall.

But if Rudy thought that everything would go well for him, he was mistaken. He became hopelessly lost among the throngs of shrieking, adoring mob of female fans. Everywhere he went, his clothes got torn, his hair pulled, his handkerchiefs and coat buttons stolen….His popularity gave him no peace. All he wanted was a home to come to when the day’s work is done.All he wanted was to have a wife who would love him for the nice person that he really was deep down inside. He dreamed of having a house with an orange grove in the backyard. Yet his 2 marriages were like a bad dream and a poor joke. Both marriages were never consummated. Both women were characterized as “butch” ,who were much stronger than him and who bullied him. Both marriages ended in divorce…and he was shattered.
Valentino placed a higher premium on love, rather than fame or fortune. He was the first one to criticize his own abilities as an actor. He never got a swell head. When his wife Natacha left him to pursue her own career, he was deeply saddened and went into depression..

When I was a child, I noticed how much he looked like my maternal uncle, Leopoldo Salcedo who later became a movie star himself and was quite popular in the Philippines during the 1930s to the 1950s. Even in the Philippines Valentino was the rage.My uncle wrote a fan letter to silent movie star Vilma Banky and enclosed his picture. Miss Banky urged him to go to Hollywood for he looked remarkably like Valentino. She told him, “you’ll make money here! But my mother’s family then ( 1920s) was so poor they could not afford to send my uncle to America. That’s how far flung Valentino’s popularity was in those days. Men everywhere emulated his clothes and hairstyle, his manners, his graceful dancing technique. The myth of Valentino as a swashbuckling, brutal yet tender lover was already etched in the minds and hearts of millions.

On 23 Aug, 1926, Valentino passed away in a New York hospital after 2 operations. He suffered from ruptured appendicitis complicated by peritonitis. He was 31 years old. There were some fans who committed suicide upon learning of his death. At least 2 women killed themselves surrounded by his photographs. In his wake and funeral, a mysterious lady wearing black,whose face was always covered with a black veil was everpresent and laid flowers on his gravesite during his death anniversaries. Some believed her to be Pola Negri, the actress who was smitten with Rudy but whom he hardly noticed. Yet, no one can really tell for sure.

Rudolph Valentino is now a household name. The fact that 80 years after his death, he is still remembered as a sex symbol and a silent movie star is already a testament to his personality and talent. Yes, he had talent and even though critics would say he was a “ham”, there were moments in his films when his languid ,slow ,deliberate movements (remember this was during the silent era when the body movements and gestures were emphasized due to lack of sound and dialogue ), showed that he knew how to carry it through!

The entire world mourned the death of Rudolph Valentino. But the poor boy from Italy died lonely and alone.

To quote author Joe Franklin as he described the atmosphere of the day, “The reaction from the whole nation-not just New York and Hollywood – was staggering; grief, hysteria, and an unbounded sorrow that moviegoers shared the world over. America put a black band around its sleeve and wiped away a tear. The Great Lover was gone. We have never seen his like since, and I doubt that we ever will.”

Sources:

Anger, Kenneth : HOLLYWOOD BABYLON ( 155-170). New York,USA: Dell Publishing Group Inc. 1975.

Franklin Joe: CLASSICS OF THE SILENT SCREEN (pp.235-238 ). New Jersey, USA. Citadel Press. 1959


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