Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Rudolph Valentino: Teen Idol
Rudolph Valentino was born on May 6th, 1895 –and passed away on August 23rd, 1926. He was an Italian actor, known simply as “Valentino” and also considered the first pop icon in American history, and perhaps the first ever “Sex symbol“. Valentino was known as the “Latin Lover“. He starred in several well-known silent films including “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”, “The Sheik”, “The Eagle”, and “The Son of the Sheik”. He had applied for American citizenship shortly before his death. His death at age 31 caused mass hysteria among his female fans, further propelling him into icon status.
Valentino was born Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina D’Antonguolla in Castellaneta, Puglia, Kingdom of Italy. His mother, Marie Berta Gabrielle, was French, born in Lure in Lorraine. His father, Giovanni Antonio Giuseppe Fedele Guglielmi di Valentina D'Antonguolla, was Italian; he was a veterinarian who died of malaria when Valentino was eleven years old. He had an older brother, Alberto (1892 - 1981), a younger sister, Maria, and an older sister, Beatrice, who had died in infancy.
As a child, Valentino was reportedly spoiled and troublesome. His mother coddled him, while his father disapproved of his behavior. He did poorly in school and was eventually enrolled in agricultural school at Genoa, where he received a degree. After living in Paris in 1912, he soon returned to Italy. Unable to secure employment, he departed for the United States in 1913. He was processed at Ellis Island at age 18 on December 23rd, 1913.
The trial and subsequent scandal was well publicized, following which Valentino could not find employment. Shortly after the trial, Blanca de Saulles fatally shot her ex-husband during a custody dispute over their son. Fearful of being called in as a witness in another sensational trial, Valentino left town, joining a traveling musical that led him to the West Coast.
Valentino, with Kerry as a roommate, moved back to Los Angeles and took up residence at the Alexandria Hotel. He continued dancing, teaching dance and building up a following which included older female clientele who would let him borrow their luxury cars.
With his dancing success, Valentino found a room of his own on Sunset Boulevard and began actively seeking screen roles. His first part was as an extra in the film “Alimony”, moving on to small parts in several films. Despite his best efforts he was typically cast as a “heavy” (villain) or gangster. At the time, the major male star was Wallace Reid, with a fair complexion, light eyes, and an All American look, with Valentino the opposite, eventually supplanting Sessue Hayakawa as Hollywood's most popular “exotic” male lead. By 1919, he had carved out a career in bit parts. It was a bit part as a “cabaret parasite” in the drama “Eyes of Youth” that caught the attention of screenwriter June Mathis, who thought he would be perfect for her next movie. He also appeared as second lead in “The Delicious Little Devil” (1919) with star Mae Murray.
While traveling to Palm Springs, Florida to film “Stolen Moments”, Valentino read the novel “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” by Vincente Vlasco Ibanez. Seeking out a trade paper, he discovered that Metro had bought the film rights to the story. In New York, he sought out Metro's Office, only to find June Mathis had been trying to find him. She cast him in the role of Julio Desnoyers. For director, Mathis had chosen Rex Ingram, with whom Valentino did not get along, leading Mathis to play the role of peacekeeper between the two. “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” was released in 1921, becoming a commercial and critical success. It was one of the first films to make $1,000,000 at the box office, as well as the sixth highest grossing silent film ever. Valentino's final film for Metro was the Mathis-penned “The Conquering Power”. The film received critical acclaim and did well at the box office. After the film's release, Valentino made a trip to New York where he met with several French producers. Yearning for Europe, better pay, and more respect, Valentino returned and promptly quit Metro. After quitting Metro, Valentino took up with Famous Players-Lasky, a studio known for films that were more commercially focused. Mathis soon joined him, angering both Ivano and his soon to be second wife, Natacha Rambova, whom he met while filming “Uncharted Seas“.
After finishing the film “Blood and Sand“, Valentino married Rambova, which led to a bigamy trial. The trial was a sensation and the pair was forced to have their marriage annulled and separated for a year. Despite the trial, the film was still a success, with critics calling it a masterpiece and it went on to become one of the top four grossing movies of 1922, breaking attendance records, and grossing $37,400 at the Rivoli Theatre alone. Valentino would consider this one of his best films.
Valentino's reasons for striking were financially based. At the time of his lawsuit against the studio, Valentino was earning $1,250 per week, with an increase to $3,000 after three years. This was $7,000 per week less than what Mary Pickford made in 1916. He was also upset over the broken promise of filming “Blood and Sand” in Spain, and the failure to shoot the next proposed film in either Spain or at least New York. Valentino had hoped while filming in Europe he could see his family, whom he hadn’t seen in ten years.
Valentino went on to claim that artistic control was more of an issue than the money. He wrote an open letter to Photoplay magazine, titled “Open Letter to the American Public“, where he argued his case, although the average American had trouble sympathizing, as most made $2,000 a year. Famous Players made their own public statements deeming him more trouble than he was worth (the divorce, bigamy trials, debts) and that he was temperamental, almost diva-like. They claimed to have done all they could and that they had made him a real star. Other studios began courting him. Joseph Schenck was interested in casting his wife, Norma Talmadge, opposite Valentino in a version of “Romeo and Juliet”. June Mathis had moved to Goldwyn Pictures where she was in charge of the “Ben-Hur” project, and interested in casting Valentino in the film. However, Famous Players exercised their option to extend his contract, preventing him from accepting any employment other than with the studio. By this point Valentino was around $80,000 in debt. Valentino filed an appeal, a portion of which was granted. Although he was still not allowed to work as an actor, he could accept other types of employment.
In late 1922, Valentino met George Ullman, who would soon become Valentino's manager. Ullman previously had worked with Mineralava Beauty Clay Company, and convinced them that Valentino would be perfect as a spokesman with his legions of female fans.
The tour was a tremendous success with Valentino and Rambova performing in 88 cities in the United States and Canada. In addition to the tour, Valentino also sponsored Mineralava beauty products and judged Mineralava sponsored beauty contests. One beauty contest was filmed by a young David O. Selznick titled “Rudolph and His 88 Beauties”.
In 1919, just before the rise of his career, Valentino impulsively married actress Jean Acker who was involved with actresses Grace Darmond and Alla Nazimova. Acker got involved with Valentino in part to remove herself from the lesbian love triangle, quickly regretted the marriage, and locked Valentino out of their room on their wedding night. The couple separated soon after, the marriage was never consummated. The couple remained legally married until 1921, when Acker sued Valentino for divorce, citing desertion. The divorce was granted with Acker receiving alimony. She and Valentino eventually renewed their friendship. The two remained friends until his death.
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