Rudolph Valentino shot to stardom in 1921 with the release of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, The Conquering Power and The Sheik. He had already appeared in over twenty films, mostly in smaller roles (often as a villain) and with varied spellings of his name in the credits. He made seven pictures in 1919 alone. Of these, all but three were lost. Delicious Little Devil is one of the three existing Valentino efforts from 1919. He does play a romantic role in the film but is fourth billed — as Rudolpho De Valentina.
The name above the title in Delicious Little Devil is Mae Murray. The former Ziegfeld Girl had known Valentino in their New York days and lobbied for him to have the part in Delicious Little Devil. It helped that Murray’s husband, Robert Z. Leonard, was the director of the film. Or at least it seemed to help at first; later on, by Murray’s account, there was tension between Valentino and Leonard. She attributed the problem to jealousy, recalling how she and Valentino often danced between takes. In fairness, Leonard did cast Valentino opposite Mae again, in Big Little Person (1919) – but this time his role was an unsympathetic, two-timing fianc.
Robert Z. Leonard had himself been a silent actor, appearing in over 100 films before turning director for The Master Key (1914). He met Murray on 1916’s The Plow Girl. A few years, and several films later in 1918, they married. Leonard would direct Murray in twenty plus movies and they would form their own production company called Tiffany Productions. In 1924, Leonard directed Murray in Mademoiselle Midnight (1924) for MGM. This film kicked off a thirty-year association between Leonard and the studio. Unfortunately the Leonard-Murray relationship wasn’t so long-lived. The couple divorced in 1925 after seven years of marriage.
Another, even shorter union occurred in 1919 after Delicious Little Devil’s release. That was the year Valentino married actress Jean Acker in one of the shortest celebrity marriages on record. The couple wed on November 5 after a two-month courtship but the marriage only lasted a reported six hours. As the story goes, Acker and Valentino quarreled and she locked him out of their hotel room on their wedding night. They separated but the divorce wasn’t finalized until March 1923. In the meantime, Valentino met and eloped with former ballerina turned set designer Natacha Rambova in May 1922. He was charged with bigamy when it was discovered that he was not yet divorced. And Acker sued for the right to call herself his wife – literally. Acker was credited in the 1923 film The Woman in Chains as “Mrs. Rudolph Valentino.” Valentino remarried Rambova in 1923 after his divorce was granted. And he and Acker eventually reconciled, becoming friends before his 1926 death.
As for Delicious Little Devil, Valentino’s fourth billing would eventually come into dispute. Later, after he’d become famous, the studio wanted to reissue Delicious Little Devil and several other early Valentino pictures. The idea was to ride the wave of Valentino’s popularity by playing up his smaller roles in these films – to perhaps even add some new titles and to change the order of billing. But Mae Murray protested and demanded to retain her star billing. She was unfazed by Valentino’s newfound success and assured in her own stardom, remarking, “once you become a star, you are always a star.”
Director: Robert Z. Leonard
Screenplay: John B. Clymer, Harvey F. Thew
Cinematography: Allen G. Siegler
Cast: Mae Murray (Mary McGuire), Harry Rattenbury (Patrick McGuire), Richard Cummings (Uncle Barnley), Rudolph Valentino (as Rudolpho Valentina, Jimmy Calhoun), Ivor McFadden (Percy), Bertram Grassby (Duke de Sauterne).