Rudolph Valentino (born May 6, 1895 - died August 23, 1926) was a silent film actor. Born in Italy, Valentino immigrated to the United States in 1913, where he settled in New York and became a professional dancer. In September 1916 Valentino was arrested in connection with a blackmail and extortion scheme. Although the police records of that arrest have since disappeared, some biographers have alleged that Valentino was a participant in a "badger game", which is a confidence game. Other biographers suggest that he was an unwitting dupe who had no criminal intent but was picked up on the scene of a crime committed by others.
At about the same time, Valentino gave court testimony in the divorce case of a prominent socialite, Bianca De Saulles. When Bianca De Saulles was later arrested and charged with murdering her husband, Valentino moved to Hollywood. Some biographers have suggested that among the reasons for the move was to avoid any guilt by association or bad publicity from the De Saulles murder case.
In Hollywood Valentino initially had small roles as an extra, and then was able to land a few leading man roles in poorly budgeted movies. Valentino's breakthrough to star status came when he landed the lead in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, a World War I film based on the popular novel by Vicente Blasco-Ibanez.
The Sheik, released in 1921, would become Valentino's signature role, the role for which he is still remembered today. Along with the discovery of King Tut's tomb, and the promotion of the Arab campaigns of World War I by T. E. Lawrence (also known as "Lawrence of Arabia"), The Sheik helped foster the Arabic craze of the 1920s, and for years to come "hip" young men of the time would be known as "sheiks", and their girlfriends as "shebas" (referring to the Queen of Sheba). The Sheik was tremendously popular despite a fairly absurd story line, and Valentino would eventually reprise the role in Son of the Sheik.
Valentino went on to star in many more films, notably including the bullfighting epic Blood and Sand, and The Eagle.
Valentino married actress Jean Acker in 1919, but the marriage was a failure, and they were divorced two years later. Lurid speculation at the time and since has suggested that the reason for the marriage's failure was a relationship between Acker and the notorious lesbian dancer Alla Nazimova. Valentino went on to have a strong professional relationship with Nazimova (appearing opposite Nazimova in the film Camille), and his second wife Natacha Rambova, was also a protégé of Nazimova's. Nazimova herself was a fixture in the Hollywood community, and among other things would be the godmother of Nancy Davis, the film actress and future Republican First Lady (as Nancy Reagan).
Valentino's death, probably from peritonitis, at the youthful age of thirty-one, led to one of the most elaborate and riotous funerals in New York City history, with hourly radio bulletins and huge crowds. In a typical Hollywood touch, Valentino's burial crypt (in Los Angeles) was for decades visited each year on the anniversary of his death by a mysterious "Lady in Black", whose identity has never been revealed.
- ↑ Jazz Age Slang
- ↑ Colacello, Bob (2004) Ronnie & Nancy: Their path to the White House - 1911 to 1980, Warner Books, p. 38
Walker, Alexander (1976) Rudolph Valentino, Penguin Books