Born: Rodolpho Alfonzo Raffaelo di Valentina d'Antonguolla in Castellaneta, Italy, 6 May 1895. Education: Attended a military academy; Royal Academy of Agriculture. Family: Married 1) Jean Acker, 1919 (divorced 1922); 2) Natasha Rambova, 1922 (separated 1925). Career: Left home for Paris, 1912, and emigrated to the United States, 1913; worked at odd jobs, then a dancer in dance halls, clubs and musicals; worked as extra in films on the east coast, and then in Hollywood; 1921—enormous hit in film The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse , then The Sheik . Died: Of peritonitis in New York, 23 August 1926.
My Official Wife (Young)
Patricia (L. and T. Wharton—serial)
Alimony (Flynn); A Society Sensation (Powell); All Night (Powell)
The Delicious Little Devil (Leonard); A Rogue's Romance (Young); The Homebreaker (Schertzinger); Virtuous Sinners (Flynn); The Big Little Person (Leonard); Out of Luck (Clifton); Eyes of Youth (Parker)
The Married Virgin ( Frivolous Wives ) (Maxwell); An Adventuress (Balshofer); The Cheater (Otto); Passion's Playground (Barry); Once to Every Woman (Holubar); Stolen Moments (Vincent); The Wonderful Chance (Archainbaud)
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Ingram) (as Julio Desnoyers); Uncharted Seas (Ruggles) (as Frank Underwood); Camille (Smallwood) (as Armand); The Conquering Power (Ingram) (as Charles Grandet); The Sheik (Melford) (as Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan)
Moran of the Lady Letty (Melford) (as Ramon Laredo); Beyond the Rocks (Wood) (as Lord Bracondale); Blood and Sand (Niblo) (as Juan Gallardo); The Young Rajah (Rosen) (as Amos Judd)
Monsieur Beaucaire (Olcott) (title role); A Sainted Devil (Henabery) (as Don Alonzo de Castro)
Cobra (Henabery) (as Count Torriani); The Eagle (Brown) (as Vladimir Dubrovsky)
Son of the Sheik (Fitzmaurice) (as Ahmed)
How You Can Keep Fit , New York, 1923.
Day Dreams (verse), New York, 1923.
My Private Diary , Chicago, 1929.
The Intimate Journal of Rudolph Valentino , New York, 1931.
"Woman and Love," in Photoplay (New York), March 1922.
"An Open Letter from Valentino to the American Public," in Photoplay (New York), January 1923.
"My Life Story," in Photoplay (New York), February-April 1923.
"My Trip Abroad," in Pictures and Picturegoer , July 1924-October 1925.
"What Is Love?" in Photoplay (New York), February 1925.
Newman, Ben-Allah, Rudolph Valentino , Hollywood, 1926.
Rambova, Natasha, Rudy: An Intimate Portrait , London, 1926.
Ullman, George, Valentino as I Knew Him , New York, 1927.
Peterson, Roger, Valentino, The Unforgotten , Los Angeles, 1937.
Arnold, Alan, Valentino , London, 1952.
Oberfirst, Robert, Rudolph Valentino: The Man behind the Myth , New York, 1962.
Shulman, Irving, Valentino , New York, 1967.
Predal, René, and Robert Florey, Rudolph Valentino , Paris, 1969.
Lahue, Kalton C., Gentlemen to the Rescue: The Heroes of the Silent Screen , New York, 1972.
MacKenzie, Norman, The Magic of Rudolph Valentino , London, 1974.
Botram, Noel, and Peter Donnelly, Valentino, The Love God , London, 1976.
Walker, Alexander, Rudolph Valentino , London, 1976.
Hansen, Miriam, Babel and Babylon: Spectatorship in American Silent Film , Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1991.
Richards, Scott, The Reincarnation of Rudolph Valentino, Palm Springs, 1994.
Pelle, Marie P., Valentino's Magic , New York, 1998.
Naldi, Nita, "Rudolph Valentino," in Photoplay (New York), June 1924.
Tully, Jim, "Rudolph Valentino," in Vanity Fair , October 1926.
Smith, Frederick, "Does Rudy Speak from the Beyond?" in Photoplay (New York), February 1927.
Lambert, Gavin, "Fairbanks and Valentino: The Last Heroes," in Sequence (London), Summer 1949.
Huff, Theodore, "The Career of Rudolph Valentino," in Films in Review (New York), April 1952.
Card, J., "Rudolph Valentino," in Image (Rochester, New York), May 1958.
Mencken, H. L., "On Hollywood—and Valentino," in Cinema Journal (Evanston, Illinois), Spring 1970.
Schickel, Richard, "Rudolph Valentino," in The Movie Star , edited by Elisabeth Weis, New York, 1981.
Slide, Anthony, "Ivano and Valentino: A Unique Partnership," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), August 1985.
Studlar, Gaylyn, "Discourses of Gender and Ethnicity: The Construction and De(con)struction of Rudolph Valentino as Other," in Film Criticism (Meadville, Pennsylvania), vol. 13, no. 2, 1989.
James, C., "Critic's Notebook: Sex Icon Once, Oddity Now," in New York Times , 8 November 1991.
Varga, J., "Valentino: First of the Red Hot Lovers," in Hollywood: Then and Now , no. 7, 1991.
Vazzana, E., "Retrospective at the American Museum of the Moving Image Honors Valentino," in Classic Images (Muscatine), January 1992.
Lambert, Gavin, "Rudolph Valentino: The Sheikh 's Leading Man at Falcon Lair," in Architectural Digest (Los Angeles), April 1994.
Golden, Eve, "The Greatest Star: Rudolph Valentino," in Classic Images (Muscatine), May 1995.
Drohojowska-Philp, Hunter, "Historic Neighborhoods: Whitley Heights," in Architectural Digest (Los Angeles), April 1996.
Buck, C.M., "The Symbol of Everything Wild and Wonderful," in Blimp (Graz), Fall 1996.
Valentino , directed by Lewis Allen, 1951.
Legend of Valentino , television movie directed by Melville Shavelson, 1975.
Valentino , directed by Ken Russell, 1977.
The Legend of Valentino , documentary, 1983.
* * *
To sustain an image as the world's greatest lover is not an easy task in life; to continue that image after death is even harder. Yet Rudolph Valentino contrived to be a legend in his lifetime and, thanks to the ministrations of his fans and a life that was both contradictory and confused, he continues as one of the few immediately recognizable giants of the silent screen more than 50 years after his death.
Because Valentino's performances are not major artistic achievements, his career can only be discussed in relation to his private life, a stormy one which certainly helped keep him in the public eye. As a great lover, the star's personal life presents a number of problems, including a first marriage to a lesbian who left her husband on their wedding night for another woman. His second marriage was to the domineering Natasha Rambova who engineered her husband's interest in spiritualism and influenced Valentino's screen performances. Valentino took an almost masochistic pleasure in conforming to her every whim. Blood and Sand at times mirrors the actor's real life, as Nita Naldi (who looks as tempestuous and as Continental as Rambova) seduces the young bullfighter (Valentino), while very much in command of the lovemaking process. It was Rambova who selected Monsieur Beaucaire for Valentino, a role which demanded that the star be overly made-up to the point of looking effeminate, and so dandified in his attire that the clothing symbolizes his almost slavelike place in her household.
Through it all, Valentino remained remarkably docile and unaffected; only when a journalist accused him of being effeminate and sporting a slave bracelet did the actor respond with anger. He seemed happy to give his fans whatever he felt they would enjoy. He would strip to the waist in Monsieur Beaucaire , offer a little sadistic pleasure in Son of the Sheik through being viciously whipped, appear in only the briefest of shorts in The Young Rajah . In one promotional short he titillates the audience by sitting in his car and beginning to disrobe, until at a crucial moment in the proceedings he recognizes the presence of the camera and discreetly draws the blinds.
Valentino was not a great actor. Only in the two features directed by Rex Ingram, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and The Conquering Power , does he display any real ability to lose his identity in the characters he is portraying. In only one other feature, Moran of the Lady Letty , does Valentino emerge as a masculine hero, strong and virile. Otherwise the actor is strictly a personality; indeed in Blood and Sand and Monsieur Beaucaire he is little more than a clotheshorse. Certainly his performances are not without their moments of fun; his forceful seduction of Agnes Ayres in The Sheik is memorable, as is his tongue-in-cheek playing throughout Son of the Sheik . A great on-screen lover Valentino is certainly not—not by today's standards and almost certainly not by the standards of his day. There is, however, one exception, a memorable moment in Monsieur Beaucaire in which he makes love to Doris Kenyon. The emotional intensity between these two is so extraordinary that after 60 years it is still an erotic experience.
By a curious quirk of fate, Valentino's most entertaining film, Son of the Sheik was also his last. Had he survived into sound he would certainly not have attained legend status; through his death he became immortal. As one of his leading ladies, Alice Terry, aptly remarked, "The biggest thing Valentino ever did was to die."