6 May 1945 – Rudolph Valentino 50th Birthday “He Still Wows Them”

Today is Rudolph Valentinos 50th birthday. Two decades ago, this silent Sinatra of the 1920’s was sweeping the flappers and their mothers and their maiden aunts into wild frenzies of rapture. And he is not doing so badly today. Leaving NY Museum of Modern Art after one of its Valentino revivals not long ago a middle-aged woman noticed behind her in the crowd was a young girl with stars in her eyes. Smiling the woman asked “How did you like him”? “He’s out of this world!” moaned the girl rapturously. Hadn’t you seen him before? No, I replied I came here to laugh, but she shook her head baffled. “He sends me – he simply sends me”. With young girls of the 1960’s and 1970’s fall under the sway of any movie idol of the 1940’s as they came under Valentino’s way? Sinatra and Van Johnson fan clubs are many today. Although careful to state that “we most emphatically do not consider Valentino a saint”, a group of women in London founded on 23 Aug 1927, a Valentino Association “to perpetuate the memory of a great film artist in a worthy and dignified manner”. The association has members all over the world, and its activities are devoted to good works and the occasional revivals of Valentino films. A revival organization, the Valentino Memorial Guild, also of London likewise has a world membership. The guild, which invariably refers to Valentino as “Rudy”, sends a wreath to his grave annually, buys his photographs, sponsors revivals of his films and gives parties in his honor at which Guild members recite poems from his book, “Day Dreams” or sing “Kashmir Love Song” and indulge in other appropriate activities. These are the only two of the Valentino Organizations which appear to flourish in many parts of the world. One founded, in Budapest “to cherish the memory and promote the spirit of Rudolph Valentino” announced as its first rule “members are obligated to think of Valentino at least once a day”. Until gasoline rationing cut mileage, the Hollywood Cemetery reported that hundreds visited his grave every 23 Aug and that number increased yearly. The caretaker reports that cars from the Lone star state seemed to be in the majority. What this proves about the deep heart of Texas heretofore always considered lustily masculine he did not state. Valentino was not, like Van Gogh and the poet Homer appreciated only after he died. His short life was gay and romantically adventurous, the last five years of it crowned with adulation as is given few mortals. At the age of 17, with an “agriculture diploma” Valentino left his small home town to spend on the French Riviera and at Monte Carlo his share of his father’s estate. When his legacy was exhausted he set his course westward with a trunk full of clothes from Paris and several thousands of dollars. He arrived in New York late 1913. He could speak almost no English and was unfamiliar with the customs of the country. But in any language he was a romantic adventurer and it was not long before his nest egg was gone and all he had to show for it was his development into a fine dancer. This was the great period of Irene and Vernon Castle and the dancing craze that swept the country. Valentino fitted into it perfectly. When his money was gone he went on dancing professionally although he did make a short miserable try as a gardener. But dancing was more congenial and more lucrative. He became a café dancer and was the dancing partner of Bonnie Glass then Joan Sawyer. Later he went on the road in a small part in musical comedy and by degrees made his way out west first to San Francisco and then to Hollywood. There he found a few jobs as an extra in the films and after a dancing engagement in a Pasadena Hotel he began to receive bit parts. He played opposite Mae Murray, Carmel Myers but gained little attention except from one woman the famous scenarist June Mathis. About that time, Miss Mathis was turning the celebrated Blasco Ibanez novel “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” into a picture and the rest was true cinematic history. Valentino was an instant success, not only with the public but even with the movie critics. He made several good pictures, two or three excellent ones and two that could not have been worse or more popular. But to those who remember or have recently seen revivals of “Four Horsemen” “Monsieur Beaucaire” or “Blood and Sand” Valentinos claim to subtle and effective pantomime seems justified There are a few lapses into crudity in his first movie. Psychologically the answer to the Valentino riddle is utterly simple: Valentino believed as genuinely and as unreservedly in romance as did any and all of his followers. Not as a Cellini, a Don Juan or a Casanova, but with a simple-hearted faith that made him consider romance with all its trappings the most important business of life. In all sincerity he made such statements as “In my country men are the masters and I believe that women are happier so. It is the way it should be”. Psychiatrists speak of Sinatra as a phenomenon of the love hunger of women whose men are at war. Twelve million able-bodied men were not out of the country when Valentino became first in the hearts of his adopted country-women. It is doubtful that he could have become an idol during a period like the present. He was never a substitute or reminder of another man. By some strange alchemy of trans-identification, he became the man himself. Through the years hundreds of poems published particularly in pulp magazines, have been dedicated to the memory of Rudolph Valentino born 6 May 1895, in the little town of Castelianeta, Italy. Perhaps one, written ten years after his death, gives the flavor of all:

To Valentino in Spirit Land
Gold shot with fire, Song of love on a silver lyre, gone! But the thread of remembered delight weaves through the dull stuff of day and night. My pattern of bright embroidery! That is what Valentino meant to millions of women and perhaps millions yet to come. Not just the perfect lover the perpetual lover

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