26 Aug 1922 – An Interview in Verse with Rodolf Valentino

“A barbered woman’s man”-yes, this is how I’ve rated Valentino in my mind “Too sleek, too handsome and too satisfied with flapper adulation to take rank with a real artist, or to be a man of brains or with a sound ability. So many men dislike him. It may be because the women rave about his looks. Call him “the perfect lover” and such things, though we men find confession difficult. Foster antagonism in the rank and file who lack pronounced good looks or subtle charm and bungle at our wooing.

He can act, oh, I’ve admitted that, reluctantly, and with a measure of conceited pride because I picked him as a winner when he played just heavies. In one Holubar Production that’s forgotten these two years this Valentino made a striking thing out of a thankless part and I’m still puffed over my prophecy that he would rank with the big stars of filmdom and be cast not as the villain, but in hero roles. Who else recalls the play a shoddy work named “Once to Every Woman”? Then there came his gradual rise to stardom. Ibanez’s “Four Horsemen” amply justified my faith and in “Camille” despite Nazimova’s monopoly of footage and absurd twisting of the plot to force her own close-ups into the pictures tag, Rodolph’s “Armand” was the compelling, memorable part.

“The Sheik” came next. In human kindness lets all forget that stale absurdity that desert chieftain played with strut and fret of some vain college freshman showing off. A further slump: no actor in the world could make acceptable the foolish male lead in “Beyond the Rocks” Elinor Glyn’s Boob-bait, derided even by the boobs. A long list of offenses, but amends has handsomely been made in “Blood and Stand”. With his mixed record coursing in any thoughts I went with odd expectancy to meet this Valentino. Manikin or man, creative artist, or a handsome fool with mere screen value in his mobile face, who wins or falls according to the plot and cleverness of his director which was I to meet? And then I saw the man I’d traveled to the Lasky lot to find. Decked in fantastic costume and rich jewels and made up like a Rajah of the east. He stood beside the door of a huge stage. Watching the prop men busy at their tasks; earrings of pearls as large as half-grown plums, anklets of pearls, a headdress richly set with rough-cut stones, and gems of many kinds embroidered on a scanty silver cloth which half concealed his torso and his loins, body and arms and legs and back and face were stained a walnut brown. His eyes were black with kohl, and vivid rouge was on his lips.

“The final scenes; were just about to shoot” he quietly explained. The low-pitched voice was pleasant to my ear. I found his grasp when shook hands was firm and masculine. He chose his words in an attractive way and spoke them with precision and that clip which foreigners of culture often use when trying to conquer accent. Was I wrong about this man? In some way he had made my prejudice seem foolish almost cheap. For he was obviously not the type of sleek lounge lizard I had thought to meet. No flapper’s hero, tea-hound kind of chap. “Oh, Blood and Sand you liked it”? With a flash of pride that lacked conceit or vanity. He showed his pleasure when I praised his work rated the film to head the little list of real achievements among shadow plays he sobered quickly. “What about the end”? Isn’t the note just right? The man must die; conceive, then, that for weeks I had to fight against a happy ending! Tragedy, some folks here said would cost the firm much cash. So we must have the wounded matador promise his wife he will not fight again then vision endless years of happiness and clam security. They even took the footage for that ending, and there is talk of tacking on that awful happy stuff for small town showings. Isn’t that a crime?

Mindful of ancient hokum’s, and of how “Dream Street” was ruined by DW Griffith with a tag showing a baby rolling on the floor before his doting parents, I inquired “did they, perhaps, propose to show you tamed; slayer of bulls, lover of stately dames, rocking a cradle”? Or some final shot of a village street and you and your young wife pushing a baby carriage down the walk? “Not quite that bad he smiled, “thought you and I have often seen such endings. I can’t think the public likes that rot. No ancient art is more severely handicapped by rules and trite conventions than the cinema. In less than twenty years there has been built a Chinese wall of foolish precedents and set beliefs. Because some certain play five years ago, made money by the barrel therefore, all other plays are twisted now made to conform to this plan or to that. You saw the Sheik? He shuddered then, and shrugged expressive shoulders. “What an awful thing”. Now my idea of that young Arab’s part was not to rant around. A travesty of temperament is what they made me do. It could have been worthwhile, though for I felt it should be played with deep restraint reserve and when the big scenes came that desert son. Instead of showing Latin tendencies and giving his emotions a clear sweep should have been stoical withdrawn his soul behind his eyes. I would have played the part as though at every crisis he retired within himself just as an Arab goes into his tent and drops the flap shuts out the public gaze from private, sacred things.

With easy grace and smooth, unstudied walk he left me then to face the camera. “No barbered woman’s man” I told myself. “Has thoughts like these. I had him sized up wrong. Upstage? Conceited? Spoiled by his success? I loitered until lunch time, and I smiled at my mistaken estimate and vowed to make amends in print. Consider this despite his great success, his mounting fame, his income a doubling that of many kings his head’s so little turned that all that day on the great lot where hundreds greet the man, from prop-boys to directors not a soul said “Mr. Valentino”. It means much that to the folks he works with day by day this star is known as Rudy nothing more.

 

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