Rumors that Alberto Valentino is being groomed to succeed his late brother, Rudolph Valentino, on the screen have been received. It is stated that-Gugiielmi has submitted to vain operation of plastic surgery. Alberto Valentino’s face, it is said, has been re-modeled on lines resembling those of the late screen idol, his bold and belting nose being altered to a classical shape. Guglielmi came to the US a year ago to attend his brother’s funeral
Monthly Archives: March 2014
Five wealthy women who still sigh over Rudolph Valentino today bought his fabulous hilltop home as a shrine. The middle-aged matrons from San Francisco paid 30,591 GBP for Falcon’s Lair where the sleek-haired sheik lived before he died in 1926. The house was sold by another Valentino fan, Gypsy Buys of San Francisco who also paid the same amount for it three years ago. She refused to give the names of the new buyers. The new owners said that they planned to restore the Spanish style mansion as a lasting memorial to the great lover. All that is left of the original furnishings is Valentino’s Venetian Bed.
Haydon Talbot was a talented writer in both Hollywood and on Broadway. He authored books and newspaper articles as well. When conducting research for this blog post, I literally had to dig deep through old newspaper articles to give you the reader a glimpse of what his life was like. I do know he was married more than one time and had one daughter from his first marriage. Here are a few which will give you an idea what a talented man he truly was.
On 21 Jul 1917, Hayden Talbot, has capitulated to the call of the motion picture. He was engaged this week, to write original stories jointly for the Bessie Barriscale Feature Corporation and the J. Warren Kerrigan Feature Corporation and will hereafter devote his time exclusively to these two organizations.
On 24 Nov 1917, Hayden Talbot a well-known journalist, foreign correspondent and playwright is the most recent addition to his newspaper experience. Talbot is well-known in the theatrical world, and has met with considerable success in the motion picture industry. Among Talbots plays are “The Little Joker”; “The Truth Wagon”; “O’Joe” produced by Oliver Morosco, at the Burbank Theater, Los Angeles with Walter Edwards, now a Triangle Director. He has also been entrusted with a picture called the “Alimony” which had just been purchased by the First National Exhibitors Circuit for release in December.
On 9 Jul 1921, Hayden Talbot, playwright, and now a writer for London newspapers, must furnish a bond of $10,000 before he can be released from Ludlow Street Jail, where he was sent on 9 June on an order, obtained by his former wife Mrs. Bernice F. Talbot, for unpaid alimony. Talbot pleaded guilty with the court to release him because he was sent here to interview public men, and had an appointment with the Secretary of State Hughes in Washington, DC. he said.
In late 1923, Hayden Talbot first met Michael Collins at the Gresham Hotel in Dublin, shortly after he had signed the Treaty with England. He states that in nine months of intimate association Collins was “the finest character it had ever been his good fortune to know”, and a friendship that Talbot valued more than any other he had ever made. Hayden Talbot wrote a book on Michael Collins.
This article wraps up our series of articles on Rudolph Valentino’s movie “The Married Virgin”.
Born on 31 Jul 1891, in Salt Lake City, Vera Sisson began her career in 1913 when she was 22 years old. A former extra, early silent screen actress Vera Sisson skyrocketed to fame opposite one of the era’s great matinee idols, J. Warren Kerrigan, with whom she did a series of popular outdoor melodramas in 1915-1916. Vera was a character actress who made a total of 79 Silent Films during her career. Her most famous role is when she played in “The Married Virgin” (1918), in which she appeared with a pre-stardom Rudolph Valentino. In 1921, Vera married Richard Rosson whose brother Hal Rosson, a cinematographer who was married to actress Jean Harlow. In 1953, Richard Rosson committed suicide. On August 6, 1954, at the age of 63, Vera died of a barbiturate overdose and is buried at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
Mae Murray, the glamorous, famous, and beautiful Hollywood icon who told the press, “Once you become a star, you are always a star!” was found destitute at the age of 75, aimlessly wandering the streets of St Louis, Missouri.
Marie Adrienne Koenig was born of Austrian-Belgian parentage May 7, 1889, in Portsmouth, Virginia. Years later, she told everyone she was born Mae Murray, “On my father’s boat, whilst we were at sea.”
The imaginative and ethereal Mae also stated that a great-grandmother had raised her, placing her in several European convents. While in one of the churchyards, she told, she was punished for dancing in the gardens at night pretending to be a firefly and striking matches as she fluttered through the grounds.
In 1906, the stunning young performer made her Broadway debut in About Town. Murray then danced in three editions of the Ziegfeld Follies; in 1907 as the partner of the famous Vernon Castle, and alone in 1909 and 1915. The dazzling Murray also appeared in numerous other musical comedy roles and headlined performances in fashionable New York supper clubs.
Still in her teens, Mae married W.N. Shwenker Jr., the son of a millionaire. She got out of that marriage with some funds, and secured her second husband, producer Jay O’Brien, a stockbroker and Olympic bobsled champion known as the “Beau Brummel” of Broadway, and who proved to be helpful in Murray’s stage career.
Only days after their highly publicized wedding, and soon after her involvement with Rodolfo Guglielmi, a dancer billed as Signor Rodolfo who was later to become Rudolph Valentino, in the De Saules affair in New York in which Valentino’s socialite lover shot her husband to death for him, she dumped Jay and had the good fortune to marry Hollywood director Robert Z. Leonard. They lived in a beautiful apartment at 1 West 67th Street in New York. With this union she found her true destiny as a movie queen, and made her film debut in the east coast filmed To Have And To Hold (1916). Blonde and sensuous, standing five-foot-three with blue-gray eyes, the hideously arrogant Miss Murray was completely obsessed with her beauty.
She became famous for the extreme and unusual application of her lipstick, soon copied by millions of fans, and was widely known as “The Girl With The Bee-Stung Lips,” a title of which she tried to claim exclusive copyright. Often seen zipping through town in her custom-built Canary Yellow Pierce Arrow, the star was always opulently dressed and dripping in jewels. Once, reportedly, when purchasing some jewelry at Tiffany’s, she paid for it with tiny bags filled with gold dust.
In Hollywood, Murray’s films included The Right To Love (1920), The Gilded Lily (1921), The French Doll (1923), Jazzmania (1923), Circe The Enchantress (1924), and Fashions Row (1924). One critic wrote of her film Mademoiselle Midnight (1924) as “More of Mae Murray’s fuss and feathers thinly described as acting. This time Mae has her histrionic hysterics in Mexico. The general blurred impression given by the picture is this: Mae Murray-large mountains-Mae Murray-midnight love trysts-Mae Murray-a weird fandango by somebody described as a screen star-Mae Murray-cowboys having spasms-Mae Murray.”
The public loved her. The exquisite and elaborate costuming she insisted upon often brought her movies in way over their budget. Yet, Mae Murray danced her way to even greater heights of fame in Erich Von Stroheim’s The Merry Widow (1926). During the filming, their artistic differences and verbal brawls became an infamous Hollywood legend. She often referred to her director as “that dirty little Hun,” which she brazenly called him in front of a thousand extras magnificently dressed for a ballroom scene.
One day, her co-star John Gilbert walked off the set during one of his own disputes with Stroheim, and the tenuous Murray chased after him to the parking lot while wearing nothing at all but her shoes. Also during filming, the very young Joan Crawford often watched and studied Murray intently, learning how to be a star. The Merry Widow became MGM’s first big box office hit. The movie was extraordinary, with lavish production values and gorgeous photography. Mae Murray gave the best performance of her career, and then toured the nation holding lucrative performances of her Merry Widow Waltz. She followed this film success with Valencia (1926).
One of Murray’s glamorous screen rivals, Gloria Swanson, married the Marquis Henri de la Falaise de Coudray, and became royalty. This infuriated Murray, who wanted to become royalty too. Dumping her third husband, Murray found and married broke Ukrainian Prince David Mdivani in 1926. His royal status in his native Georgia was never truly established.
The headline producing ceremony included Rudolph Valentino, who died that same year, and his paramour, sultry star Pola Negri, Mae’s other screen rival, as matron of honor. Not to be outdone by Princess Mae, and not so long after the professed love of her life died, Negri married David’s equally broke brother Sergei in 1927 and became Princess Pola, as well as Princess Mae’s sister-in-law. The two Princesses were completely committed to the important cause of showing the world they were above mere mortals.
With Prince David, Murray had a son named Koran. Princess Mae was rarely photographed without her head swung way back, looking down her nose at her adoring husband and fans. She stated to the press, “I’ve always felt that my life touches another dimension.” When her marriage went bad, her doctor told her, “You live in a world of your own.”
Mae’s sweet Prince became her manager, took over her finances and insisted she walk out on her MGM contract to work independently. Soon, she found it difficult to get any roles at any studio. Sound film hit Hollywood. Her final movie was Bachelor Apartment (1931) with Irene Dunne, and the world was not pleased when it heard her voice.
By 1933, she was broke, ordered by the court to sell her opulent Playa del Rey estate to pay a judgement against her. Prince David now found her useless, and they soon divorced. In 1934, Murray declared bankruptcy. By September of 1936, she lost custody of Koran, and the former movie temptress was spending several nights sleeping on a park bench in New York, where she was arrested for vagrancy. The owners of the 67th Street residence where she resided luxuriously years before allowed her to live in the maid’s room of the building.
In 1950, back in California, Mae Murray was asked her opinion of the great film Sunset Boulevard, which starred her old rival from the silent film days, Gloria Swanson. Mae stated, “None of us floozies was ever that nuts.” Ironically, Mae was the nuttiest of them all. Walking down Sunset Boulevard with her head thrown back even further than she had done in her youth, Mae created a smoother jawline, watching the sky as she carelessly moved towards treacherous curbs and posts.
At the numerous charity balls she would attend, Mae Murray would ordain the orchestra to play the theme song from The Merry Widow soundtrack, waltzing to it by herself until all the elegant guests left the floor. In 1959, a biography of her life appeared, The Self Enchanted by Jane Ardmore, but the public was not interested. In 1961, she appeared on a television program where she stated that the only present day movie star who matched the talents of her time was the handsome Steve Reeves, famous for playing Hercules.
In 1964, living off charity and devoted friends, the poor deluded Murray continually traveled by transcontinental bus from coast to coast on a self promoted publicity tour, hoping for a comeback in movies. On the last of these excursions, she lost herself during a stopover in Kansas City, Missouri, and wandered to St. Louis. The Salvation Army found her and sent her back to her small Hollywood apartment near the Chinese Theatre, paid for by actor George Hamilton..
Mae Murray’s millions of dollars had been spent during a bitter life filled with lawsuits over salary agreements, damages, divorces, and bankruptcies. Some of Mae’s old friends made sure the still regally dressed and bejeweled star spent her last days in peace at the Motion Picture Country House where she often told the nurses, “I am Mae Murray, the Princess Mdivani,” and died in peace March 23, 1965.
During the height of the depression of the 1930’s, which had wiped away many fortunes, Mae Murray gave an interview, lucidly describing the Gods and Goddesses of her Hollywood days. “We were like dragonflies. We seemed to be suspended effortlessly in the air, but in reality our wings were beating very, very fast
“Valentino said there’s nothing like tile for a tango!” — Norma Desmond to Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Mrs. John McMillan is having an affair, unknown to her husband and her stepdaughter Mary, with fortune hunter Count Roberto di San Fraccini. Overhearing a man threaten her husband with exposure for his connection with a murder unless he agrees to pay a huge sum of money, Mrs. McMillan conceives of a scheme with her lover the Count to acquire Mary’s dowry. Roberto informs Mary that in return for her hand in marriage, he will save her father from life in prison. Although desperately in love with Douglas, a young engineer, Mary agrees to the sacrifice, entering into a marriage in name only. Roberto continues his affair with Mrs. McMillan until, during an automobile ride, an accident occurs and she is killed. Roberto, fearing that he may be blamed, runs away. Mary then secures an annulment of her marriage to Roberto, thus freeing her to marry Douglas, the man she loves
The Married Virgin is an American film drama first released in 1918, directed by Joseph Maxwell. The film was scored by Brian Benison. It stars Vera Sisson, Rudolph Valentino, Frank Newburg, Kathleen Kirkham, Lillian Leighton, and Edward Jobson. It has also been released under the title: Frivolous Wives. It is a Maxwell Production, distributed by General Film Company. Film Length is 1 hour and 11 minutes.
Director Joseph Maxwell, Fidelity Pictures
Screenplay/Story Hayden Talbot
Cast Vera Sisson, Rodolfo di Valentini, Frank Newburg, Kathleen Kirkham, Edward Jobson, Lillian Leighton
Plot – Rudolph Valentino’s first film as a leading man where he plays Count Roberto di Fraccini, a fortune hunter having an affair with the wife of a wealthy older businessman. In order to save her wealthy father from disgrace and a possible prison sentence, a daughter agrees to marry the gigolo who’s been blackmailing him. What the daughter doesn’t know, however, is that the gigolo is actually in cahoots with her father’s new wife, a conniving schemer who plans to fleece her new husband for everything he has, then flee the country with her lover.
Paul Poiret was the favorite clothing designer of Natacha Rambova who felt he understood her as no one else did when it came to making clothes that favored her flamboyant personality.
In 1879, Paul Poiret was born in Paris he interned at Jacques Doucet who was a famous couturier of the time. In 1901, he was hired by the famous Worth House of Design. In 1903, he set up his own Atelier of Poiret. In the early 1900’s which was considered one of Poirets influential periods in fashion he was interested in “The Orient” Russian and Cubism. Poiret claimed to have been a Persian prince in a previous life. Significantly, the first Asian-inspired piece he ever designed, while still at Worth, was controversial. A simple Chinese-style cloak called Confucius; it offended the occidental sensibilities of an important client, a Russian princess. To her grand eyes it seemed shockingly simple, the kind of thing a peasant might wear; when Poiret opened his own establishment such mandarin-robe-style cloaks would be best-sellers This had a great impact on Natacha’s own aesthetic which is what she became known for. In 1913, he came to NY and was a clothing designer to Cecille B. Demille. In 1923, Natacha first visited his Atelier which was documented in a Photoplay magazine article. His clothing displayed vibrant colors which managed to capture her personality. In Jan 1924, during another visit to his salon, Rudolph Valentino was quoted as saying that “he is the one costumier in Paris best suited to Natacha’s style, even temperament. We went to one or two other places and looked at their models, but for the most part they were wishy-washy things of pastel shades, with oddments of flowers here and there. Natacha cannot wear that sort of thing. She is not at all the type. She looks best in vivid colors, no one color over another, but all colors that are violent and definite. Scarlet’s, vermilions, strong blues, empathic greens, and loud voiced yellows”. Natacha’s next visit was Aug 1924; she came by his Atelier to pick up some dresses that she had ordered. In 1925, she staged a media event when she traveled from Los Angeles to Paris to pose for photographer James Abbe at famous clothing designer Paul Poiret’s salon. She modeled a pearl-embroidered white velvet gown and a chinchilla cloak, and declared Poiret her favorite couturier. In 1929, Poiret closed his Atelier because his aesthetics conflicted with modernism even though his designs back in the early 1900’s were advanced for the times. In 1944, Paul Poiret died in poverty virtually forgotten. However, through research a new generation has come to appreciate his genius in costume design. In 1927, when Natacha Rambova because a clothing designer in her own right, she did use Paul Poiret as an inspiration but with her own dramatic touch in the clothing that she designed.
“It was my inspiration of artists, in my dressing of theatrical pieces, that I served the public of my day”..Paul Poiret, Clothes Designer to Natacha Rambova
“But if ever my belief in myself should utterly fail me. If the day should come when my struggle for my individual Right should wear me threadbare of further effort, then I should come to a garden place where the sky would ever be blue above me, where my feet would press soil as vernal and virgin as I could find, where, below me, under white cliff’s, the sea could sing me its immemorial lullaby. I think, there must, at one time or another, have been sailors in my family. For the sea pounds in my veins with a tune I still remember and I know that I could not have remembered it in this life I have lived”.–Rudolph Valentino
Rudolph Valentino— than whom there is not one more soul stirring— is ‘not’ handsome in the strict sense of the word. The back of his head is too straight up and down, and unless the camera gets him at just the right angle, his nose is too, broad for beauty. Yet he is the screen. idol of the feminine world. Ask half a dozen women why they find Valentino charming, and you will receive half a dozen different answers. A prominent screen artist in Los Angeles recently said: ‘I think Valentino is perfectly fascinating.’ ‘He looks as if you couldn’t believe a word he said to you. ‘Those gorgeous eyes, ‘another will say ‘Dark and enigmatic, like dull coal smoldering, yet ready to leap suddenly into passionate flame. They are undoubtedly part of his lure.’ Sometimes he looks like a small boy who is being abused, so that every woman wants to pat his shiny head and comfort him. Still, she knows perfectly well that he is .not, a small boy, and that it would be rather like patting dynamite-which, of course, makes him very fascinating.
It’s late August 1923, Deauville, France and there is a huge excitement in the air regarding the arrival of Rudolph Valentino and his new bride Natacha Rambova. Seems that they are going to be stopping off in town for a quick visit and everyone is simply talking about them. It is a belated honeymoon they have already seen the sights in London and Paris. They will be arriving in three cars the first for the luggage, the second for secretaries and the last for the Valentino’s and their guests. They are staying in a villa rather than a hotel that is wise for privacy. That night the Valentino’s arrive at the Casino, take drinks, dinner, visit the baccarat rooms and watch the cabaret but are rather aloof and do not mingle much. Needless to say they cause a huge flutter. But gossip spreads like wild fire as usual. People are saying ‘they are in ill humour and not happy with the weather or their accommodation. They are also disappointed with the Casino, upset with the food and rather disdainful of all of us. Mrs. Valentino apparently has her nose stuck in the air and was heard to ask ‘where is the fashionable crowd?’ I can see no smart women and no smart men.’
“Auntie and my sister have arranged to sit together in the back seat of the car so that they may not know the worst that the road (and again my driving!) has to hold for them. Natacha says that I am either neurotic about my prowess at the wheel, or else that I have a guilty conscience, else I would not dwell so constantly upon it. I tell her that my record speaks for me. I have nothing to say.” –Rudolph Valentino
Unluckily, all this took place in the United States, where the word honor, save when it is applied to the structural integrity of women, has only a comic significance. When one hears of the honor of politicians, of bankers, of lawyers, of the United States itself, everyone naturally laughs. So New York laughed at Valentino. More, it ascribed his high dudgeon to mere publicity-seeking: he seemed a vulgar movie ham seeking space. The poor fellow, thus doubly beset, rose to dudgeons higher still. His Italian mind was simply unequal to the situation. So he sought counsel from the neutral, aloof, and seasoned. Unluckily, I could only name the disease, and confess frankly that there was no remedy – none, that is, known to any therapeutics within my ken. He should have passed over the gibe of the Chicago journalist, I suggested, with a lofty snort – perhaps, better still, with a counter gibe. He should have kept away from the reporters in New York. But now, alas, the mischief was done. He was both insulted and ridiculous, but there was nothing to do about it. I advised him to let the dreadful farce roll along to exhaustion. He protested that it was infamous. Infamous? Nothing, I argued, is infamous that is not true. A man still has his inner integrity. Can he still look into the shaving-glass of a morning? Then he is still on his two legs in this world, and ready even for the Devil. We sweated a great deal, discussing these lofty matters. We seemed to get nowhere.
Suddenly it dawned on me – I was too dull or it was too hot for me to see it sooner – that what we were talking about was really not what we were talking about at all. I began to observe Valentino more closely. A curiously naive and boyish young fellow, certainly not much beyond thirty, and with a disarming air of inexperience. To my eye, at least, not handsome, but nevertheless rather attractive. There was some obvious fineness in him; even his clothes were not precisely those of his horrible trade. He began talking of his home, his people, his early youth. His words were simple and yet somehow very eloquent. I could still see the mime before me, but now and then, briefly and darkly, there was a flash of something else. That something else, I concluded, was what is commonly called, for want of a better name, a gentleman. In brief, Valentino’s agony was the agony of a man of relatively civilized feelings thrown into a situation of intolerable vulgarity, destructive alike to his peace and to his dignity – nay, into a whole series of such situations.
It was not that trifling Chicago episode that was riding him; it was the whole grotesque futility of his life. Had he achieved, out of nothing, a vast and dizzy success? Then that success was hollow as well as vast – a colossal and preposterous nothing. Was he acclaimed by yelling multitudes? Then every time the multitudes yelled he felt himself blushing inside. The old story of Diego Valdez once more, but with a new poignancy in it. Valdez, at all events, was High Admiral of Spain. But Valentino, with his touch of fineness in him – he had his commonness, too, but there was that touch of fineness – Valentino was only the hero of the rabble. Imbeciles surrounded him in a dense herd. He was pursued by women – but what women! (Consider the sordid comedy of his two marriages – the brummagem, star-spangled passion that invaded his very death-bed!) The thing, at the start, must have only bewildered him. But in those last days, unless I am a worse psychologist than even the professors of psychology, it was revolting him. Worse, it was making him afraid.
I incline to think that the inscrutable gods, in taking him off so soon and at a moment of fiery revolt, were very kind to him. Living, he would have tried inevitably to change his fame – if such it is to be called – into something closer to his heart’s desire. That is to say, he would have gone the way of many another actor – the way of increasing pretension, of solemn artiness, of hollow hocus-pocus, deceptive only to himself. I believe he would have failed, for there was little sign of the genuine artist in him. He was essentially a highly respectable young man, which is the sort that never metamorphoses into an artist. But suppose he had succeeded? Then his tragedy, I believe, would have only become the more acrid and intolerable. For he would have discovered, after vast heavings and yearnings, that what he had come to was indistinguishable from what he had left. Was the fame of Beethoven any more caressing and splendid than the fame of Valentino? To you and me, of course, the question seems to answer itself. But what of Beethoven? He was heard upon the subject, viva voce, while he lived, and his answer survives, in all the freshness of its profane eloquence, in his music. Beethoven, too, knew what it meant to be applauded. Walking with Goethe, he heard something that was not unlike the murmur that reached Valentino through his hospital window. Beethoven walked away briskly. Valentino turned his face to the wall.
Legend has it that Charlie Chaplin, Rudolph Valentino and Douglas Fairbanks once raced each other down Hollywood Blvd, with the loser having to pick up the dinner tab at Musso and Frank’s
Years ago, after the closing night of a play I was appearing in, I decided to drive to Los Angeles to see a college friend. I rented a car and took the scenic route south, driving along State Route 1, a highway that rims the Pacific coast. It was a long and thrilling day trip, driving around the scenic mountain curves, ragged rocks, and through stretches of redwood forests. By the time I reached Hearst Castle and finished a tour in the late afternoon, I knew I would not complete the journey to Los Angeles that day, and was recommended a hotel further south in Santa Maria.
It was an old, historic inn located inland on the hot, dry stretch of a valley at the base of the Sierra Madres. The interior of the hotel lobby and meeting areas were decorated as if it were a pub in the English countryside, with dark wood paneling, somber rugs, oversized chairs, stained-glass windows and brass chandeliers. The management of the hotel had decided to play up its celebrity prestige—guests used to stop here en route to Hearst Castle from Los Angeles—and silent film movie-star memorabilia decorated the walls and the guest rooms were named after many who had stayed at the hotel: Charlie Chaplin, Marlene Dietrich, Jean Harlow and Douglas Fairbanks.
My room on the second floor, however, had been named after a local politician, with a window that opened out onto an interior courtyard that was shared by several rooms. As I drew the curtains closed, I noticed that the window was unlocked, and I bolted and tested it to make sure it was secure.
After a long shower and a change of clothes, I was hungry and headed downstairs to the hotel’s restaurant, but a wedding reception was in progress in one of the banquet rooms, so I settled in at the bar where it was quieter, ordered a drink and something to eat. From where I was seated I could see the other end of the bar and, as the summer daylight stretched its last breath out, the details of one of the customers seated alone near the door became more distinct. He was tall and slender, probably in his late twenties, and he had a sleek, elegant look about him—slicked-back black hair, a light stubble of beard, a strong sloping nose with flaring nostrils, and a prominent chin, and he was wearing a white shirt open at the collar with an unraveled bowtie draped around his neck. Because of his attire, I took him to be part of the wedding party. I shifted and squirmed on my bar stool, hoping he might notice me, but he seemed distracted and vacuous, intent on downing his drink, and I lost sight of him when a gentleman sat beside me at the bar and began to complain about the noise of the piano in the other room.
An hour later I stumbled up to my room, slipped out of my clothes and into a T-shirt and sweatpants. I considered watching television for a while, but I couldn’t find the remote control, so I flipped off the light and pulled back the curtains to look out at the courtyard.
It was empty and unused. The moon was high and strong and it gave my room an eerie blue glow and I drew the curtains together so only a small ray of light came into the room.
I was in a deep sleep when the knock at the door woke me. As I groggily got out of bed, I thought it might be the guy from the bar, come knocking for some companionship instead of handing out more complaints.
I flipped on the light and opened the door but no one was there. I was confused, bewildered and disappointed, the brighter light of the hall was exasperating, and I tried to brush the annoying disturbance away as the immature hijinks of one of the wedding guests. But as I moved to close the door I felt something move through me that felt like an ice-cold wind. A chill ran up my spine and along my arms.
The door closed and I turned back to the room and flipped off the overhead light. The moonbeam fell across the carpet again. That was when I saw him. The slick, black-haired handsome man I had seen earlier at the bar. He was substantive and real and I could not figure out how he had made it around me and into the room without my noticing him. He stood visible in the ray of moonlight and looked as if he were posing for a photograph, his nostrils slightly aflare. As my eyes moved from the window back to the man he began to dematerialize, as if he were on an episode of Star Trek and Scotty was beaming him to another place.
My heart was racing and I sat on the edge of the bed to gather my wits. What would the front desk think of me if I called them and told them I had just seen a ghost? Instead of reporting the incident, I drank a glass of water, checked that the window was secure and the courtyard was still empty, then went back to bed.
I spent the remainder of the night restless, tossing, sweating, fighting an erection as if someone had curled around me, locked me into a hold, and was trying to alternately smother or arouse me. There was a digital clock beside the bed that I watched change minute by minute. Sometime in the early morning I drifted off to sleep, because when I woke the sunlight striped the floor as it split between the curtains.
I rolled over and noticed the curtains were moving. The window was unlocked and opened and a breeze was coming into the room. I sat up in bed and looked quickly around the room to see if anything was missing. Nothing seemed disturbed—my wallet was in place, the car keys were where I left them. But in the center of the floor, exactly where I had seen the apparition the night before and where the ray of sunlight now hit the carpet, was a shiny silver object. I got out of bed and picked it up. It was a ring. Silver with a flat top and an engraved insignia. The sizing was small—it would only fit on my pinky finger. I didn’t immediately associate the ring with the ghostly vision I had seen the night before. At the time I found it, I was more concerned that I might have been robbed while I slept.
I slipped the ring into a small, top pocket of my knapsack I rarely opened, intending to hand it over to the front-desk clerk when I checked out. But that good intention slipped by me because I quickly forgot about it.
The ring stayed in the top pocket of my knapsack for years, forgotten, snug in its upper berth, traveling with me to London, Zurich, Tokyo and other not-so-far-off destinations. I only discovered it again when my boyfriend Kurt and I were in Fort Lauderdale and I was emptying the knapsack so that I could use it to carry a towel to the beach. Kurt looked at the ring, smirked and said, “What Cracker Jack box did this come from?”
I explained how I came to find the ring. Kurt thought my ghost sighting was hogwash. Kurt was all numbers; he managed a brokerage office and was also something of an elitist snob, but he could accurately assess the financial value of any item and he dismissed the pinky ring as cold, cheap steel. We were in the last throes of our relationship and to annoy him, I slipped the ring on my small finger and wore it for a few days, until we returned to New York and I noticed the metal had made my skin turn a sickly greenish-black. I placed the ring in a small ceramic bowl in the bedroom of my Chelsea apartment where I kept a set of formal cufflinks and shirt studs and only discovered it again one night when I was dressing for a formal-attire Halloween dinner party. I slipped on the pinky ring and during cocktails that evening, I told a small group of men my story of finding it only after witnessing a ghost the night before.
A young man said, “You might be the last person to boast that he slept with Rudolph Valentino.”
I laughed and replied that that was highly unlikely, but he reached into his pocket and pulled out his cellphone and took a picture of my hand with the pinky ring. I had never associated my ghost and cheap treasure with a celebrity phantom, but the young man said that Valentino had often been a guest at Hearst Castle and my description of the ghost seemed to match the actor’s. I found this young man charming and throughout the evening, in the various positions we found ourselves, he asked me in his most delightful bedroom voice about the name of the inn, the room number I had stayed in, what time of year I was visiting and on and on.
A week or so later, the young man emailed me evidence of Rudolph Valentino wearing the ring in several movie stills and publicity photos. I downloaded the pictures to my computer and saw it was a perfect match to the pinky ring I had in my possession. The engraving was unmistakable. Valentino is wearing the ring in photos with actresses Gloria Swanson and Agnes Ayres, in a portrait with his dog and beside a camel on the set of The Son of the Sheik, his final film. Valentino died at the age of 31, roughly the same age as the ghostly man I had seen. And the legendary actor in the photos looks exactly like the phantom I had seen in the bar and in my hotel room. The young man who had helped me discover this was a blogger and he said he wanted to write about my night with the ghost of Valentino. He contacted the owner of the hotel where I had stayed years before and discovered that several other guests had reported seeing a ghost in the room I had stayed in and that Valentino had been a frequent visitor to the inn. The blog post about the gay man who had slept with the ghost of Valentino went viral. I was more famous than I could possibly imagine, though I gratefully remained unnamed in the post.
Flash forward a few more years to when a reality TV producer contacted the blogger about Valentino’s ghost and the blogger gave the producer my name as the source of the haunting. When the producer called, I told her there wasn’t much to say about the ghost. I saw him; he disappeared. I shivered and sweated through a night with an erection that would not end. I could not even admit if Valentino—or his ghost—was a good kisser.
But the producer pressed on and asked if I would consider loaning the ring to film an episode of the TV show. I told her I no longer had it. And that was true. One morning not long ago I noticed it was gone—it wasn’t in the ceramic bowl. I remember looking around to see if anything else was missing from my apartment, but nothing was. Since I had last seen the ring I had had many visitors to my apartment: boyfriends, tricks, dates, even a hustler or two. Now, discovering and wearing the ring seems like a feverish dream I might have made up in my youth, and I wonder if my night with Valentino was something I had cooked up just to get attention. Only I am not that sort of guy. Instead, I imagine another man wearing that ring now—someone handsome, sleek, elegant, then one morning finding the ring cheap and tawdry and tossing it away. Something for the next man to find.