George Wehner is an unknown to most individuals who do not know a lot about Rudolph Valentino and Natacha Rambova. This article focuses on George how he was introduced to Natacha and the role of good friend he played in her life.
Starting in 1921, after the death of his father George Wehner did a minor stint in vaudeville that occupied most of 1922. Wehner spent much of the rest of the decade focused on promoting his reputation as a medium; those efforts culminating in the publication of his autobiography in 1929. Perhaps Wehner’s most advantageous connection became the Richard Hudnut family. Wehner had been introduced to the designer, Natacha Rambova, in 1925 by her mother (Hudnut’s third wife) and he had begun leading regular weekly séances for them and their friends. He was invited to travel with Rambova and her entourage to Europe in 1926. This trip provided Wehner with numerous opportunities to further his psychic career, but he reached the apex of his fame when he foretold the death of Rambova’s estranged husband, Rudolph Valentino, after the film star was hospitalized. He went on to console the grieving Rambova in a series of séances following Valentino’s death, in which he enabled Rambova to communicate with the spirit of the late actor. These incidents were widely publicized by Rambova in serial installments in the New York Graphic, which also were published in book form. It was Rambova who introduced Wehner to noted occult writer, Talbot Mundy, and his wife, Dawn Allen, in 1927. Mundy took an extreme interest in Wehner’s work, encouraging the publication of, and providing the introduction to, Wehner’s volume of memoirs in 1929. Wehner’s increasingly erratic behavior, however, soon would alienate Mundy, who later repudiated his belief in Wehner’s authenticity as a medium. By the early 1930s, Wehner appears to have abandoned “spiritual mediumship” as a profession and turned to writing fiction, as well as painting, as a career alternative. He exhibited his watercolors at galleries in New York City during the mid-1930s, alongside the work of close friends, Margrete Overbeck (who, as a high school student, had designed the official Denver city flag) and Katherine Winterburn. Wehner also began to compose music quite prolifically, turning out orchestral pieces, ballet scores and other works for the stage. Among his performed compositions from this period were songs used in concerts by Ernestine Schumann-Heink and Maria Maximovitch; ballets for Katya Sergava and Alexis Rotov; and symphonic pieces put on by the WNYC Concert Orchestra and the New York City Symphony Orchestra in 1940 and 1941. Throughout the 1940s, Wehner maintained a feverish work pace. He also began to regularly attend the Cantonese Theatre of New York. Classical Chinese theater and music would have a profound influence on his later works for the stage, such as the opera, The Mark of Kings (1961). Wehner began to work on an epic novel, The Bridge of Fire, which apparently never was published. His financial situation was eased considerably in his later years when Winterburn left the composer a bequest of money after her death. In 1949, Wehner purchased a former rooming house at 69 Cranberry Street in Brooklyn Heights, where he would live and work for the next twenty years. Wehner’s musical output became even more prodigious. During the last two decades of his life, he composed the music and wrote the librettos for fourteen operas. Several of these works, including The Amiable Beast, So Sings the Bell, and The Wild Swan were presented by the Heights Opera Company, under the direction of George O’Farrell, in concerts at parks throughout New York during the summer of 1961. In 1964, the same company produced Into the Silence at the New York World’s Fair, in addition to a Central Park performance. The following year, the Amato Opera Theater staged the American premiere of Three Days After. Wehner also created new ballet scores later in life. The Cockfight (1959), with a scenario by Romana Kryzanowska, was performed at a workshop that featured her son, Paul Mejia, then a student at the School of American Ballet. Wehner continued to compose nearly up until the time of his death. He had begun work on a new opera, inspired by Hiroshige’s The Fifty-Three Stages of the Tokaido, and had completed the first act before being taken seriously ill. Wehner passed away at Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn on January 12, 1970.