Rudolph Valentino

Rudolph Valentino

Rudolph Valentino was an Italian actor who performed in American cinema. He was the preeminent male sex symbol of the silent film era. His nickname was "The Great Lover."

Early days

Rudolph Valentino was born Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Piero Filiberto Guglielmi di Valentina d'Antoguolla, in Castellaneta, Apulia, Italy, on May 6, 1895. Coincidently, he was born the same year cinema was invented. His father was a veterinarian; his mother doted on him extensively. He had an older brother, Alberto, and a younger sister, Maria. His father died when Rodolfo was 11 years old.

He was expelled from numerous schools, but finally obtained a diploma in the Science of Farming from the Academy of Agriculture. After school, Rodolfo went to Paris, learned to dance, and returned home broke. In December 1913, he took his inheritance and sailed for New York City.

After arriving in New York, Roldofo used up his inheritance, then endured a spell of poverty. He took odd jobs until he found work as a taxi dancer and instructor — gaining attention with his Argentine tango. Valentino later joined an operetta company that traveled to Utah and disbanded there.

He then found his way to San Francisco, California, and met actor Norman Kerry. Kerry persuaded him to try for a career in cinema, which was still in the silent era. He took Norman's advice and moved to Hollywood to pursue a career in film. Rodolfo won a small dancing part in Alimony in 1917. He performed half a dozen other small parts in films — always as the villain.

Movies and marriages

In 1919, Roldofo married actress Jean Acker. Their marriage was rumored never to have been consummated; they divorced in 1922. He then met scriptwriter June Mathis, who was impressed by a role in which she had seen him. Mathis persuaded director Rex Ingram to cast him in the lead role of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, in 1921. It was the industry's first million-dollar production, which saved Metro Studios and made Rudy a star — with his cinema name, Rudolph Valentino.

In 1921, Valentino was given his iconic role in the movie The Sheik. He met Natacha Rambova, a costume designer, while filming Uncharted Seas the same year. They became romantically involved and were married on May 13, 1922, in Mexicali, Mexico. He was arrested for bigamy, since his divorce from his first wife was not finalized. The couple remarried a year later.

In 1922, Blood and Sand was released, which further established Valentino as the leading male star of the era. A dispute with Paramount Pictures in 1923 resulted in an injunction that prohibited him from making films with other producers. To ensure that his name would remain in the public eye, Valentino set off on a national dance tour. He also traveled to Europe during this time, which included a memorable visit to his native town.

Valentino managed to negotiate a new contract in 1925 with United Artists. The document stipulated that his wife not be allowed on his movie sets — her presence had apparently delayed an earlier production. The couple separated shortly later. Valentino then had an affair with actress Pola Negri. During that time, he appeared in two of his most successful films, The Eagle (1925) and The Son of the Sheik in 1926, which was a sequel to The Sheik.

A heartthrob interrupted

On August 15, 1926, Valentino collapsed at the Hotel Ambassador in New York City. He underwent surgery for a perforated ulcer. The surgery went well and he seemed to be recovering, when peritonitis set in and spread throughout his body. He died on August 23, 1926, at the age of 31.

The streets of New York were lined with an estimated 100,000 people who wanted to pay their respects at Valentino's funeral. Fans attempting to enter the funeral home caused a near riot. His funeral Mass in New York was celebrated at Saint Malachy’s Roman Catholic Church. Pola Negri collapsed in hysterics as she hovered over his coffin.

Valentino's body was taken by train across the country, and a second funeral was held on the West Coast. It was interred in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery of Hollywood, California.

The actor has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and, in 1994, he was honored with his image on a United States postage stamp designed by the noted caricaturist, Al Hirschfeld.

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