May 6, 1895 – August 23, 1926
“A man should control his life. Mine is controlling me.”
by Leslie Scott and me
Rudolph Valentino: his name is synonymous with the classic romantic era of the old Hollywood. With his smoldering, exotic good looks he played roles that had women (and men)
swooning in dark theaters: The Sheik, Blood and Sand, The Young Rajah and, his last film, Son of the Sheik.
He came to America from his native Italy in 1913.
Hoping for a chance at that great American Dream, he began his life in his new county living in shabby immigrant neighborhoods and working odd jobs. Eventually, he found success dancing in nightclubs around Broadway. Dancing led to a job in the cast of a national dance tour and the national dance tour led him to Hollywood where he started getting bit parts in the new media of movies.
His big break came when scriptwriter June Mathis and director Rex Ingram wanted Valentino to play the lead in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Valentino’s popularity soared and he went from a five dollars a day extra to a $200,000 a movie star at the height of his career.
In 1923 he published a book of poetry, Day Dreams.
While traveling across country to promote his last movie, The Son of the Sheik, Valentino took ill. On August 15th 1926 he was rushed to Polyclinic Hospital for severe abdominal pains. X-Rays confirmed a large perforated ulcer. Surgery was performed to cleaned the abdomen cavity of the infection. Within days his gut was swollen, bruised and blotchy. Further X-rays were taken and revealed pleurisy and all hopes of recovery were lost.
Nurses wept as they attempted to make his final hours pleasant. A priest was called to perform the last rites. Crowds outside waited for word. Police had to form a ring around the hospital because of the thousands of mostly female fans besieging it.
Thing is, he probably would have survived if the surgeons weren’t so freaked out by the fact that “Valentino” was in their midst. They were terrified “being THE ONE to cut open Valentino”, that they procrastinated for several hours, dramatically worsening his condition. Technically, he may have been killed by his own celebrity.
His last words were spoken to Joseph Schenck, Chairman of the Board of United Artists, “Don’t worry Chief, I will be all right.” Last rites were given to Rudolph 10am.
At 12:10pm on August 23, 1926, The Great Lover died at age 31.
People flipped. Two women attempted suicide outside the hospital. In London, another took poison in front of a photograph of Valentino, while a boy in New York died on a bed covered with Valentino photos (drama queen). Valentino’s body was taken in a plain wicker basket covered in a gold cloth, to the Campbell funeral home in NYC.
The first funeral was in New York, and drew a crowd of 100,000 in what was describe as a “carnival setting”. More than 100,000 fans filed past his open casket at the Frank E. Campbell funeral home.
A spokesperson for the Funeral Home said in a statement, “Never before have so many persons tried to see a body. Mr. Valentino’s body is not being handled any differently than that of anyone else, excepting we are giving it special attention, and putting in an exceptionally great amount of time on it. The body arrived here at about two o’clock Monday afternoon, August 23rd, and we immediately began work on the embalming, keeping at it until the following morning, when it was placed on view until 1am.” Right then, no special treatment.
Valentino’s remains were described as, “dressed in a dinner jacket and heavy pancake make-up and mascara applied to his face. His mouth, still contorted in pain from his period in the hospital, was eased into a deductive smile.” He was in a bronze casket on a raised pedestal. There was a railing and a low, cushioned ledge where people could pray. One floral arrangement included 4000 red roses from Pola Negri, who swore they were engaged to marry.
There is a report that the actual body on display was not the real Rudolph Valentino.
“To save that idol from wear and tear, Valentino was substituted by a wax dummy for the body an artist was called in who was skilled at creating a perfect likeness. So while the real Valentino lay in peace in a cool, dark vault, the wax figure of Valentino took the brutal punishment from the hundreds of fans at the funeral parlor,” was quoted by a source.
When his body was transported to Hollywood, thousands stood by to see the train pass.
In Los Angeles there was an invitation only service
at the Good Shepherd Catholic Church,
where this card was distributed.
Another 80,000 crowded in and around the Hollywood Memorial Park. Bushels of flowers were dropped from a plane overhead, as he was carried into the Cathedral Mausoleum.
He was interred under the name Rodolfo Gugliemi Valentino in a ‘temporary’ gravesite in the Cathedral Mausoleum. Plans were made for an elaborate memorial including life size statues of Valentino from his various roles. Money, however, became a problem when his estate was found to be lacking and his temporary resting-place became permanent.
The grave was owned by June Mathis, the woman often described as having discovered him. When he died, Mathis offered her crypt as a temporary place of entombment until the appropriate personal mausoleum for him was built. Mathis died the following year of a heart attack, and Valentino was moved into the vault which was intended for her husband, which of course is where her remains remain today.
On the one-year anniversary of his death, a woman brought flowers to Valentino’s grave. She was dressed all in black, complete with a long veil. This “Lady in Black” has kept up this tradition throughout the years. Here is a picture of her in 1963.
The most popular theory of her identity is a supposedly terminally ill young girl Valentino had visited in the hospital. They made a pact: whoever died first would visit the grave of the other every year on the anniversary. The girl got better. Valentino became ill. When he died, she kept the promise, passing on the honor to the next generation of The Lady in Black. She, as well as many well-meaning impostors, can be seen today. There is even a black lady, dressed in white. Hilarity ensues. The original Lady In Black is now identified as Anna Maria De Carrascosa – and she was killed by a bus. Her daughter Estrillita Di Regil took on the role.
Almost daily, she would show up at the crypt, and weep. Loudly. Honestly, she was crazier than a box of frogs. I met her. Crazy fo real. Thanks to Barry Patraw for this great snap of her insane ass. In March of 2005, I paid a visit to Rudy, and found his plaque, and that of June Mathis, gone.
They are out being cleaned.
Yesterday – In contemplation
We dreamed of love to be
And in the dreaming
Wove a tapestry of Love
Today – We dream our dreams awake
Coloring our Romance
With all the glory
of a flaming Rose
Tomorrow – What awaking lies before us;
In shreds perchance,
Or mellowed – glorified
By Loves reflection?
– From Day Dreams,
a book of poetry
by Rudolph Valentino
A Memorial statue by Roger Nobel Burnham was unveiled dedicated in DeLongpre Park in May of 1930. There is a bust,
and a plaque.
Supposedly these statues were to adorn a proper mausoleum for Valentino, but that was never to be, and they spend eternity in a shitty little crack ho park.
Falcon Lair was built in 1924 for Valentino.
Behind these gates
are 4700 sq feet, 13 rooms.
It was purchased in 1998 for just under 3 million by a Florida architect. It’s on 4 acres in Benedict Canyon. Doris Duke had Napoleons original war room installed in Falcon Lair. Doris bought the house from a man named Robert Balzer, a wine critic. He was friends with Gloria Swanson, who was friends with Duke, and Swanson invited Duke to the house, she flipped for it and bought it. I tell ya, if Doris had it in her, she could have grabbed a lawn chair and a six pack, and watched the first night of Helter Skelter go down, right across Benedict Canyon.
This is a shot of the house
through the gates the way I found it last August 18th.
It was being gutted, and virtually destroyed.
You could make out the crest,
near the garage.
Here is a picture of the garden.
The original stables still stand, on the street below. Its been made into a private home now,
with the address of 10051 Cielo Drive. You can still see where they would tie up horses.
Sound familiar? Sharon Tate’s address was 10050.
When Valentino sent letters, he used this stationery,
and this is the silly new mailbox at Falcon Lair.
Jean Acker, who was Married to Valentino from 1919-1923, died on August 16, 1978.
She kept that name and had a pet named Bunky.
Valentino had a dog named Kabar, and both these animals are buried in the Los Angeles Pet Cemetery.
My friend Melissa adds: In the 1960’s, Valentino’s home town of Castellaneta, Italy started making noise about dragging back the remains of their number one son. Fortunately, his brother, Alberto (who along with his wife are entombed in the Abby of the Psalms),
was still living, reminded Castellaneta that not only had Rudolph become an American citizen, but had no intention of permanently returning to his native soil, dead or alive. And that he, as Valentino’s closest living heir, would not give permission to move his brother’s body anywhere outside of his adopted homeland.
About 2 years ago, I got caught up in an EBAY frenzy, and was bidding on this piece of sheet music,
that I didn’t really even want, but now am glad to own. It was written upon the death of Valentino.
Nearby Hollywood Forever Cemetery is Hollywood High School, who’s athletic team is called the “Sheiks.”
As opposed to the rubbers.
My Dad gave me an ashtray that he got when he was a kid, from some furniture store in Detroit.
Doris Duke lived and died in Falcon Lair. Well, there is a can of worms I’ll try to address one day.
At Paramount Studios, they named this building after Valentino.
Benicio Del Toro totally has the Valentino thing going on, don’t you think?