Rudolph Valentino

Rudolph Valentino was born Rodolpho Alfonzo Raffaelo Pierre Filibert di Valentina d'Antonguollo May 6, 1895, to middle class parents. He came to New York to seek his fortune in 1913 at 18 years of age, not knowing exactly what he was going to do. Although he worked as a taxi dancer and a gardener, funds were so low that at times he slept on a bench in Central Park. While in New York, he had the opportunity to dance with Mae Murray who had not yet realized her film fame, either. In 1917 he went to Hollywood where he lived day to day trying to get a foothold in the movies. He was given a small part in "Alimony" (1918) which was followed by several other small roles, many of which were as villains, due to his "foreign" appearance. He got a role in "Out of Luck" (1919) starring Dorothy Gish. She tried to convince D.W. Griffith to sign Valentino, but without success. By this time, Mae Murray was making her way in pictures, and she got her old dancing partner from New York a couple of roles in her films. In 1919, he wed actress Jean Acker, but they reportedly did not even spend their wedding night together. Over the years, many theories have been suggested for their hasty marriage and even more sudden split, but no one seems to know for sure. Valentino's biggest break came that same year when he got the part of a gigolo in Clara Kimball Young's "Eyes of Youth." He continued to appear in small roles until 1921 when screenwriter June Mathis, who had befriended the young man, got him a role in Rex Ingram's "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse." Fans, and women in particular, took notice of his erotic tango and sexy eyes. Critics agreed that he had given a commendable performance. After completing his next film, "Uncharted Seas" (1921), he costarred with Alla Nazimova in her eccentric version of "Camille" (1921). It was during the making of this film that he met his future wife, Natacha Rambova (real name, Winifred Hudnut), who designed the bizarre sets and costumes. He signed a contract with Paramount and was given another chance to work under Rex Ingram when he co-starred opposite Alice Terry in "The Conquering Power" (1921). Although Valentino was enjoying an appreciable popularity, it was his next film, "The Sheik" (1921), that defined the star and established him as the idol of female fans everywhere. Paramount cast him in two unremarkable films in 1922, "Moran of the Lady Letty" and "Beyond the Rocks" opposite Gloria Swanson. He married Rambova on May 13, 1922. This caused a messy run-in with the law since he was not officially divorced from Acker, but, after a short stay in jail, all was resolved, and his and Rambova's marriage was deemed legal. His next film, "Blood and Sand" (1922) was a big hit with the fans, but a subsequent venture, which he and Rambova pressed for, "The Young Rajah" (1922), was not. After this, Paramount refused Valentino and Rambova artistic control, and he walked out on his contract. Unable to work for another studio, he and Rambova signed for a cross-country tour for Mineralava cosmetics in which they danced before packed houses. After a few months, he went back to Paramount in a more agreeable manner, much to Rambova's dismay, and soon was once again making pictures. His next, "Monsieur Beaucaire" (1924) was a period picture with Valentino in a powdered wig, and fans rebelled, causing the picture to flop. "A Sainted Devil" (1924) cast him as a macho Argentine, much more to the fans liking. The movie was a success. He made "Cobra" in 1925, a modern-day love story. Although he and Rambova wanted Paramount to film their pet project, "The Hooded Falcon," they refused, and Valentino left the company to sign with United Artists. This may have contributed to the separation of Valentino and Rambova in mid-1925. The two were later divorced. His first film for United Artists was "The Eagle" (1925) in which he played a Russian Zorro-like character. Co-starred with Vilma Banky, the film was great tongue-in-cheek escapism and a big success at the box office. During this time, he began a romance with Pola Negri. His next project was a remake of his biggest hit, "The Sheik," aptly named "Son of the Sheik" (1926). The film had all the elements that fans wanted to see from their idol -- sex, adventure, excellent horseback riding, fights, and torrid love scenes with Vilma Banky, carrying on their success in "The Eagle." While Valentino was in New York promoting the film, he was taken to Polyclinic Hospital on Aug. 15, 1926, after collapsing with a ruptured appendix and perforated ulcer. Although it seemed for a time he was going to recover, he had a sudden relapse and died Aug. 23. "Son of the Sheik" went on to be a resounding success, and Valentino's legend was assured making him one of two or three of the most remembered stars from the silent era.

Selected films of this star available for viewing:

All Night (1918)

Eyes of Youth (1919)

The Conquering Power (1921)

The Sheik (1921)

Moran of the Lady Letty (1922)

Beyond the Rocks (1922)

Blood and Sand (1922)

Monsieur Beaucaire (1924)

The Eagle (1925)

Cobra (1925)

Son of the Sheik (1926)

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