Paul Ivano, a cinematographer whose credits ranged from Rudolph Valentino films through some of television’s most popular series, has died. He was 83 years old. Mr. Ivano, who helped film the acclaimed chariot race in the silent-film version of ”Ben Hur,” died April 9 in the Motion Picture and Television Hospital, it was announced Thursday. He began as a photographer with the United States Army in his native France in 1918. Two years later he was named director for ”The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” the first of five films he made starring Valentino. Over the years, he frequently worked with Alla Nazimova, the silent-screen star, and with the directors King Vidor and Frank Borzage.
Monthly Archives: May 2016
One of the enduring mysteries of Long Island’s brief run as a capital of silent movie production is where exactly the 1921 blockbuster “The Sheik” was filmed. Was it, as local lore suggests, among the wind-swept Walking Dunes of Montauk, or along a five-mile stretch of beach near Amagansett, where a town historian, then 8, remembers playing with palm fronds left behind by the production company? Or, as some of you are already asking, do we really care? We do, if only because one of us spent a holiday weekend trying to find the answer. So head with me to Queens, where today’s Kaufman Astoria Studios serves film crews working on everything from “Sesame Street” to “Nurse Jackie.” Built in 1920, the building originally headquartered a conglomerate called Famous Players-Lasky, a merger of companies owned by film pioneers Adolph Zukor and Jesse Lasky and the flotsam of six other firms, including the George M. Cohan Film Corp. At the time, New York was still America’s film capital, having transformed Edison’s 1890s invention of the moving picture camera into the industry that today is known simply as “Hollywood.” But while studios in the boroughs and ’burbs were still cranking out hundreds of silent shorts, the shift was already on to Southern California, where filmmakers, Lasky among them, could count on 300 days of sunshine a year. Hollywood was also where a young Italian immigrant named Rodolfo Guglielmi had settled after middling success as a New York City taxi dancer and tango instructor. Rudolph Valentino, as he called himself, landed bit parts in several films, almost always as a swarthy gangster or other villain. His breakthrough role came in 1920, when Metro Pictures cast him as the lead in the epic war drama “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” The film became one of the first silents to gross seven figures – even topping Charlie Chaplin’s “The Kid” – and popularized both Valentino and the gaucho pants in which he appeared. A sudden star, Valentino demanded better pay and more control over the parts he played, but Metro refused the raise and cast him in a B-grade flick titled “Uncharted Seas,” then a pair of flops, “Camille” and “The Conquering Power.” In a fit of pique, Valentino quit Metro and signed on with Famous Players, lured by Lasky’s offer of a $50 raise and promises of bigger money to come. Valentino’s first film for the new studio was an adaptation of “The Sheik,” a popular bodice-ripper by British novelist Edith Maude Hull. Released in October 1921, “The Sheik” was panned by critics as pure camp – “Valentino depicts lust by widening his eyes and baring his teeth,” one said – but it was a runaway hit with American women fresh from the suffrage victory of the previous year. Film historians say it appealed perfectly “both to women’s fantasies of autonomy and their desire to be swept up in love’s protective embrace.” Largely avoided by male moviegoers, “The Sheik” still smashed attendance records at the Rivoli and Rialto chains in New York, drawing 125,000 in less than four weeks and quickly grossing more than $1 million. It also spawned a craze for all things Arab, including fashion, architecture and home décor. And at least one spoof, a Mack Sennett short called “The Shriek of Araby,” in which a cross-eyed Ben Turpin whisks away a baffled damsel on the back of a white dray horse. Valentino, of course, ended up as the James Dean of his time, dying of peritonitis in 1926 at the age of 31, after just four more films. Final words, to his brother: “I’m afraid we won’t go fishing together.” What, then, of the sands of eastern Long Island? Simple suburban legend, apparently.
1923 – Mr and Mrs Rudolph Valentino appear at the Valentino Mineralava Beauty Contest in Kansas City
Any girl in Kansas City can go to the Convention Hall and enter the Valentino Mineralava Beauty Contest. A contest will be held of the prettiest girls in KC and Mr. Valentino will choose one who will get a prize and later have a chance with beauties from other cities to be Valentino’s new leading lady in his next picture. The charm of a perfect skin may come by chance and afterwards for a certain length of time be held by the inconsistent method of artifice, which however in the end will prove injurious. Valentino is the principal enthusiast of MINERALAVA in this country. He discovered by experience his skin was suffering from wearing effects of an outdoor life and from the clogging of the pores caused by grease paint he is obliged to use before the camera. In this day and age, no man is ashamed to borrow a suggestion from a woman. Mr. Valentino noticed his wife’s purity of complexion and learned she made a habit of the use of MINERALAVAs BEAUTY CLAY. “To my astonishment I discovered upon applying, myself a few applications of MINERALAVA said Mr. Valentino, that it became ever so quickly a necessity that I cannot do without”. “An athlete keeps in trim by daily exercise in a gymnasium. This adds to his self-respect, even if he is not in active training for a contest. It is the same way with folks in everyday life. People should have enough respect for their personal appearance to give a few minutes each day to the use of MINERALAVA, the one perfect nature remedy for the skin-strain of our modern existence. “After the prettiest girls in the different cities have been selected one of whom will be chosen to the be leading lady of my next picture, I am going to insist they keep their skin perfection by the constant use of MINERALAVA. by during this they will be following the example of Julia Sanderson, Majorie Rambeau, Irene Bordoni, Billie Burke, Marion Davies, Nazimova, Leonor Ulric and others. Valentino dolls to be given as beauty contest prize on display at Owl Drug CO 11th and Walnut.
CONVENTION HALL Personal Appearance RODOLPH VALENTINO in dances accompanied by his wife Winifred Hudnut alias Natacha Rambova. Holders of reserved seat tickets will have the privilege of dancing until midnight. Mr. Valentino will present a beautiful silver loving cup to the most graceful couple of dancers. Prices include tax.
Arena Balcony, Reserved $1.65
Dance Floor $1.65
Upper Balcony, Not Reserved $1.10
In 1918, little known author Edith Winstanley Hull penned her first novel called The Sheik – an equivalent to Fifty Shades of Grey for the era, it was a racy tale about female sexuality and dared to be bold in a time when women still wore ankle long tunics. Playwright Jo Denver rediscovers the author and captures the time in the theatre’s new play The Making of a Great Lover. Co-directed by Michelle Connelly, the period production depicts Edith’s life as the wife of a small town English pig breeder who returns from WWI to find the woman he left behind has changed – it also follows the rise of Italian actor Rudolph Valentino as the great lover. “It’s a real exciting show; it’s full of intrigue and lots of fun. It’s also a bit sexy in places too,” says Michelle. “Edith sat down when her husband was away at war when she was left alone in her big home, breeding pigs with her young daughter Cecil, and she decided that she would empower women. So she wrote an amazing book, The Sheik, which eventually rocketed Rudolph Valentino to stardom in the movie adaptation. “The book written at that time probably caused more of a stir than the Fifty Shades of Grey series has now.” Michelle says Edith changed the way that women thought about sex. “She opened up a dialogue that’s been going on ever since I guess, about women’s passion and the right of women to take control of the bedroom and to let their men know what they liked.” When Rudolph Valentino starred in the silent movie also called The Sheik, it became a worldwide sensation. “That’s where Rudolph Valentino got his moniker The Great Lover,” says Michelle. Fascinated by people like Edith and Rudolph, playwright Jo Denver revelled in putting the two together on stage in The Making of a Great lover. “The way that Jo put it together is very innovative. There’s wasn’t much biographical information about the family. But when Jo was finalising the play and calling for auditions, one of the decedents of Edith, who happens to live in Tully in North Queensland, contacted the Lind Theatre and was put in touch with her, so the decedents came along to our opening night and were able to fill in some of the gaps,” says Michelle. With close to capacity shows every night, Michelle says the artistic talents of others have helped to make the play shimmer. “Professional photographer Darren Smith has been very very kind to lend his time and his incredible talent to put the gorgeous images together and it’s been a great marrying of the minds because Anne Grant and Ngaire Tombs are two incredible seamstresses and costume designers – so those two worked tirelessly on ensuring that every single piece of costume you see in the show was absolutely true to the period. And then Darren was able to come in and look at the characters in their full costumes and create beautiful, quite sumptuous photos of the show in action,” says Michelle. “It’s been critical to the great audiences we’ve been seeing since we started, and there’s no doubt that the images have really helped to frame people’s expectations and let them know that what they’re coming to see is unique.” You can see The Making of a Great Lover at the Lind Theatre, Nambour on the Sunshine Coast.
Q.-What feelings have been inspired by the hundreds of telegrams, letters, and phone calls that have reached you, not only from friends, but from girls and young women you have never met?
A.- I feel grateful, so grateful, and feel my inability to reply all the kindness extended to me. They have helped me mentally to overcome my sickness.
Q.-What was your mental reaction to serious illness? Were you afraid of death?
A.-All I wanted was relief-anything to get rid of the terrible pain. Death would have been better than to have stood it longer.
Q.-What was your favorite screen character among the parts you played? Did you visualize any of them in your illness?
A.-The part I like best was my role in Blood and Sand. If I had died, I would have liked to be remembered as an actor by that role-I think it my greatest.
Q.-When you are able to eat full meals again, what do you want most?
A.-Food? Ugh! The thought of food is nauseating, obnoxious to me. Don’t mention it.
Q.-How are you going to pass the time when you go away to Maine to recuperate?
A.-I am going to do like the prize fighter-get in condition as soon as possible.
Q.-For whom was your first thought when you realized you were seriously ill?
A.-For my brother Alberto and my sister Maria-for them were my first thoughts.
Q.-Did the fact that your illness was prophesied by an unknown woman who called at your rooms here increase your interest in psychic phenomena?
A.-Perhaps. My interest in such matters has always been that of the average well-read person. I hope now to learn more about the subject one day.
The year brought death once again to a fire conscious city. On the evening of November 21, 1921, a standing room audience was viewing Rudolph Valentino in “The Sheik” at the Rialto Theater, 86 College Street. Suddenly the two-story brick and wood building was the scene of panic. Prior to the flickering movie, the audience, including 200 Yale students, had witnessed a stage show in which an incense burner was used, apparently to create “atmosphere,” for the Valentino movie. A blaze erupted back stage, then shot out onto the stage. Memory of the catastrophe was still fresh, and the year was not out when fire hit a two-story wood building at 882 Whalley Avenue, just five months after the Westville Fire District came into the city. Two days later, on December 1, 1921, at 9:27 p.m., a spark reportedly ignited rubber cement at the Seamless Rubber Company, Hallock Street, resulting in a loss of $145.
Her phone number in 1945 was Circle 6-6728.
I am a girl-American born and of Scotch descent. My grandparents came to America from Glasgow, Scotland, and grandfather became a minister (Presbyterian). Mother was the youngest of nine children and was born in New York. Dad came from New York also; his parents were of Scotch and English stock. I was born in Detroit, July 1, 1913. I have one brother. Stating us in order of birth, we are: Mary, 16, and Edward, 12.My religious denominations have been varied. Mom put me in the cradle-roll of a Congregational Church, but I have been a member of the Lutheran, Presbyterian, Christian Science, and Methodist Episcopal churches. All of which indicates that either I’m very broad-minded religiously or unable to make up my mind. The latter is more plausible. Was a member of a Camp Fire Girls group for several years and was greatly interested in its activities. I reached the second rank in the organization. My mother has no occupation. One calls her a housewife, I guess, but she isn’t home enough for that. She travels in the winter and fall. Dad is a Lawyer. My real father is dead. He died when I was very young. His work was in the appraisal business. My clearest picture of him is playing his violin. He played beautifully. Mother plays the piano and when she accompanied him I used to listen for hours. I love music. . I have tried to remember the first time that I went to a movie. It must have been when I was very young because I cannot recall the event. My real interest in motion pictures showed itself when I was in about fourth grade at grammar school. There was a theater on the route by which I went home from school and as the picture changed every other day I used to spend the majority of my time there. A gang of us little tots went regularly. One day I went to see Viola Dana in “The Five Dollar Baby.” The scenes which showed her as a baby fascinated me so that I stayed to see it over four times. I forgot home, dinner, and everything. About eight o’clock mother came after me-frantically searching the theater. Next to pictures about children, I loved serials and pie-throwing comedies, not to say cowboy ‘n’ Indian stories. These kind I liked until I was twelve or thirteen; then I lost interest in that type, and the spectacular, beautifully decorated scenes took my eye. Stories of dancers and stage life I loved. Next, mystery plays thrilled me and one never slipped by me. At fifteen I liked stories of modern youth; the gorgeous clothes and settings fascinated me. My first favorite was Norma Talmadge. I liked her because I saw her in a picture where she wore ruffly hoop-skirts which greatly attracted me. My favorites have always been among the women; the only men stars I’ve ever been interested in are Tom Mix, Doug Fairbanks and Thomas Meighan, also Doug McLean and Bill Haines. Colleen Moore I liked for a while, but now her haircut annoys me. My present favorites are rather numerous: Joan Crawford, Billie Dove, Sue Carol, Louise Brooks, and Norma Shearer. I nearly forgot about Barbara LaMar. I really worshiped her. I can remember how I diligently tried to draw every gown she wore on the screen and how broken-hearted I was when she died. You would have thought my best friend had passed away. Why I like my favorites? I like Joan Crawford because she is so modern, so young, and so vivacious! Billie Dove is so beautifully beautiful that she just gets under your skin. She is the most beautiful woman on the screen! Sue Carol is cute ‘n’ peppy. Louise Brooks has her assets, those being legs ‘n’ a clever hair-cut. Norma Shearer wears the kind of clothes I like and is a clever actress. I nearly always have gone and yet go to the theater with someone. I hate to go alone as it is more enjoyable to have someone to discuss the picture with. Now I go with a bunch of girls or on a date with girls and boys or with one fellow. The day-dreams instigated by the movies consist of clothes, ideas on furnishings, and manners. I don’t day-dream much. I am more concerned with materialistic things and realisms. Nevertheless it is hard for any girl not to imagine herself cuddled up in some voluptuous ermine wrap, etc. The influence of movies on my play as a child-all that I remember is that we immediately enacted the parts interesting us most. And for weeks I would attempt to do what that character would have done until we saw another movie and some other hero or heroine won us over. I’m always at the mercy of the actor at a movie. I feel nearly every emotion he portrays and forget that anything else is on earth. I was so horrified during “The Phantom of the Opera” when Lon Chaney removed his mask, revealing that hideous face, that until my last day I shall never forget it. I am deeply impressed, however, by pathos and pitifulness, if you understand. I remember one time seeing a movie about an awful fire. I was terrified by the reality of it and for several nights I was afraid to go to sleep for fear of a fire and even placed my hat and coat near by in case it was necessary to make a hasty exit. Pictures of robbery and floods have affected my behavior the same way. Have I ever cried at pictures? Cried! I’ve practically dissolved myself many a time. How people can witness a heart-rending picture and not weep buckets of tears is more than I can understand. “The Singing Fool,” “The Iron Mask,” “Seventh Heaven,” “Our Dancing Daughters,” and other pictures I saw when very young which centered about the death of someone’s baby and showed how the big sister insisted on her jazz ‘n’ whoopee regardless of the baby or not – these nearly killed me. Something like that, anyway; and I hated that girl so I wanted to walk up to the screen and tear her up! As for liking to cry-why, I never thought of that. It isn’t a matter of liking or not. Sometimes it just can’t be helped. Movies do change my moods, but they never last long. I’m off on something else before I know it. If I see a dull or morose show, it sort of deadens me and the vim and vigor dies out ’til the movie is forgotten. For example, Mary Pickford’s movie-“Sparrows”-gave me the blues for a week or so, as did lil Sonny Boy in “The Singing Fool.” The poor kid’s a joke now. This modern knee-jiggling, hand-clapping effect used for accompanying popular music has been imitated from the movies, I think. But unless I’ve unconsciously picked up little mannerisms, I can think of no one that I’ve tried to imitate. Goodness knows, you learn plenty about love from the movies. That’s their long run; you learn more from actual experience, though! You do see how the gold-digger systematically gets the poor fish in tow. You see how the sleek-haired, languid-eyed siren lands the men. You meet the flapper, the good girl, ‘n’ all the feminine types and their little tricks of the trade. We pick up their snappy comebacks which are most handy when dispensing with an unwanted suitor, a too ardent one, too backward one, etc. And believe me, they observe and remember, too. I can remember when we all nudged one another and giggled at the last close-up in a movie. I recall when during the same sort of close-up when the boy friend squeezes your arm and looks soulfully at you. Oh, it’s lotsa fun! No, I never fell in love with my movie idol. When I don’t know a person really, when I know I’ll never have a chance with ’em, I don’t bother pining away over them and writing them idiotic letters as some girls I’ve known do. I have imagined playing with a movie hero many times though that is while I’m watching the picture. I forget about it when I’m outside the theater. Buddy Rogers and Rudy Valentino have kissed me oodles of times, but they don’t know it. God bless ’em!
Rudolph Valentino fought a long battle against innuendo about his masculinity right up until he died. But now he seems to have won.
With the Roaring Twenties in full swing and the first talkies on the horizon, Hollywood’s booming film industry already had its share of bankable stars—Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, Douglas Fairbanks, Buster Keaton. But in the summer of 1926, an Italian immigrant named Rodolfo Alfonso Rafaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina D’Antonguolla would join them. Known as the “Latin Lover,” Rudolph Valentino would, by summer’s end, single-handedly change the way generations of men and women thought about sex and seduction. It’s sad Valentino never live to see that autumn. And it’s sadder that he spent his final weeks engaged in an indecorous feud with an anonymous editorialist who had questioned his masculinity and blamed him for America’s “degeneration into effeminacy.”
Born in Castellaneta, Italy, in 1895, Valentino arrived at Ellis Island in 1913, at the age of 18. He lived on the streets and in Central Park until he picked up work as a taxi dancer at Maxim’s Restaurant-Caberet, becoming a “tango pirate” and spending time on the dance floor with wealthy women who were willing to pay for the company of exotic young men.
Valentino quickly befriended a Chilean heiress, which might have seemed like a good idea, but she was unhappily married to a well-connected businessman named John de Saulles. When Blanca de Saulles divorced her husband in 1915, Valentino testified that he had evidence that John de Saulles had been having multiple affairs, including one with a dance partner of Valentino’s. But his refined, European and youthful appearance at the trial had some reporters questioning his masculinity in print, and John de Saulles used his clout to have the young dancer jailed for a few days on a trumped-up vice charge. Not long after the trial, Blanca de Saulles shot her husband to death over custody of their son, and Valentino, unwilling to stick around for another round of testimony and unfavorable press, fled for the West Coast, shedding the name Rodolpho Guglielmi forever. In California, Valentino began landing bit parts in films and, as he did in New York, building a clientele of older wealthy women who would pay for dance instruction. So charming was the young Italian that he would often show up at movie auditions driving fancy cars his clients had lent him. Impulsively, he married actress Jean Acker, but a regretful (and lesbian) Acker locked him out of their hotel room on their wedding night. She quickly sued for divorce. By 1921, Valentino was starring in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which became one of the highest-grossing films of the silent era. Also that year, he was cast as Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan in The Sheik—another wildly successful film, which would define Valentino’s image as a brooding but irresistible lover. It was an image he would despise. In 1922, a writer named Dick Dorgan opined, in Photoplay magazine, opined that , “the Sheik is a bum Arab, that he is really an Englishman whose mother was a wop or something like that.” Valentino was infuriated by the insult to his mother and tried to have Dorgan banned from the studio. He also swore he would kill the writer if he saw him. The magazine apologized and promised some favorable pieces in the future, but a few months later, it published Dorgan’s “A Song of Hate,” in which he railed against Valentino’s “Roman face,” his “patent leather hair,” and his ability to make women dizzy. The article was somewhat good-natured—a common man’s jeremiad against a guy who danced too well and was too good-looking—but Valentino resented its references to his long eyelashes and the earrings he wore in films. Valentino’s next few films performed erratically at the box office, and contract disputes with various studios forced him out of the movie business for a time. In 1922, he married Natacha Rambova, a costume designer, artistic director and occasional actress, but stood trial on bigamy charges because he hadn’t yet divorced Acker. He and Rambova had to have their marriage annulled; in March 1923 they remarried legally. To make money until he was free to sign a new studio deal (and to pay off Acker), Valentino joined a dance tour throughout the U.S. and Canada. Sponsored by Mineralava beauty products, Valentino and Rambova performed as dancers and spokespersons, and Valentino judged beauty contests. He returned to films with the title role in Monsieur Beaucaire in 1924, under a new contract with Ritz-Carlton Pictures. Although the Louis XV drama was fairly successful, Valentino had to wear heavy makeup and ruffled costumes in an overtly feminized role. The actor, ever sensitive about his masculinity, was determined to be more careful about the roles he chose. He and Rambova would divorce in 1925, leading to public speculation that Valentino was a homosexual and that he had been engaged in “lavender marriages” of convenience to hide it. There is no definitive evidence in any credible biographies written of the two that either Valentino or Rambova was gay; rather, the speculation reflected contemporary sterotypes and prejudices, and was no doubt inspired by Valentino’s personal style and refined European tastes. Simply put, the man dubbed the “Latin lover” by the studios seems to have sought long-term relationships with women.
In early 1926, Valentino joined United Artists at the urging of Chaplin and Fairbanks. Mired in debt, he was practically forced into making a sequel to The Sheik. Though women continued to swoon over him, and some men imitated his mannerisms and slick-backed hair (they became known as “Vaselinos”), many more men grew skeptical of the foreign-born actor. Fairbanks was dashing and unquestionably masculine, but Valentino, with his dandy clothes, his wristwatch and a slave bracelet? Photoplay published yet another piece, this one by Herbert Howe, that described Valentino’s his influence on leading men after his stellar tango in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse like this: “The movie boys haven’t been the same,” Howe wrote. “They’re all racing around wearing spit curls, bobbed hair and silk panties.… This can’t keep up. The public can stand just so many ruffles and no more.” But it was the Chicago Tribune that really set Valentino off. On July 18, 1926, the paper ran an unsigned editorial under the headline “Pink Powder Puffs” that blamed Valentino for the installation of a face-powder dispenser in a new public men’s room on the city’s North Side:
A powder vending machine! In a men’s washroom! Homo Americanus! Why didn’t someone quietly drown Rudolph Guglielmo , alias Valentino, years ago?… Do women like the type of “man” who pats pink powder on his face in a public washroom and arranges his coiffure in a public elevator?… Hollywood is the national school of masculinity. Rudy, the beautiful gardener’s boy, is the prototype of the American male. Valentino seethed at the editorial’s insinuations and ridicule. Since The Son of the Sheik was about to open, Oscar Doob, the film’s press agent, suggested that Valentino challenge the “Pink Powder Puffs” writer to a duel. Valentino sent his dare to the Chicago Herald-Examiner, the Tribune’s competitor: “To the man (?) who wrote the editorial headed ‘Pink Powder Puffs’ in Sunday’s Tribune, I call you in return, a contemptible coward and to prove which of us is a better man, challenge you to a personal test.” Noting that a duel would be illegal, Valentino said he would be happy to settle things in a boxing ring. And while Doob was immensely pleased with the publicity, he had no doubt that Valentino was “burned up” about the editorial. “It’s so unfair. They can say I’m a terrible actor if they like, but it’s cowardly and low to hold me up as a laughing stock and make fun of my personal tastes and my private life,” Valentino told a Herald Examiner reporter. “This man calls me a ‘spaghetti-gargling gardener’s helper.’… As for being a gardener’s helper, I specialized in college in landscape gardening because in Italy, that is as fine an art as architecture or painting.”The Tribune editorial writer did not come forward, but the actor traveled to New York and arranged to have boxing lessons from his friend Jack Dempsey, the heavyweight champion. Valentino was actually quite fit, and Dempsey tried to help, getting in touch with sportswriter Frank “Buck” O’Neil. “Listen, O’Neil,” Dempsey told him, “Valentino’s no sissy, believe me…. He packs a pretty mean punch.”
“Cut the crap,” O’Neil told him. “I don’t buy it, and neither does anyone else.” O’Neil then volunteered to take on Valentino in the ring, and the actor quickly agreed to fight him the following afternoon on the roof of the Ambassador Hotel. The next morning, reporters arrived at Valentino’s suite, only to see him decked out in an “orchid bathing suit and lavender lounging robe.” “I’m going back to Chicago and I’ll have satisfaction,” Valentino told them, still incensed over the “Pink Powder Puffs” editorial. Privately, reporters marveled at Valentino’s bulging biceps and wondered what the star would do if he found out the editorial writer was a woman. Valentino and O’Neil met on the roof, with reporters and photographers attending, and despite O’Neil’s promise that he would not hurt the star, he popped Valentino on the chin with a left. The actor responded by dropping his larger opponent with a left of his own. Somewhat stunned, Valentino apologized and helped the writer to his feet.“Next time Jack Dempsey tells me something, I’ll believe him,” O’Neil told reporters. “That boy has a punch like a mule’s kick. I’d sure hate to have him sore at me.”Actress Pola Negri claimed to be engaged to Valentino at the time he died. Still, the match proved nothing, and in the coming days, Valentino continued to fume about pink powder puffs. The more he mentioned the editorial to reporters, the more he invited the judgment that he must be hiding something. Valentino even met with the writer H.L. Mencken for advice, but when Mencken told him to ignore the taunts, the actor ignored him instead. Mencken would later write, “Here was a young man who was living daily the dream of millions of other young men. Here was one who was catnip to women. Here was one who had wealth and fame. And here was one who was very unhappy.”
In late July, Valentino attended the New York premiere of The Son of the Sheik. The temperature was close to one hundred degrees, but a mob of thousands formed around the theater, and as Valentino tried to make his way out of Times Square they ripped at his clothes. He escaped sufficiently intact to read about the melee in the next morning’s New York Times review of his film. More important to Valentino, however, was that the review said the film was full of “desert rough stuff and bully fights” and “leaves no doubt” about his masculinity. Referring to the “Pink Powder Puff” editorial, the reviewer warned any writer to think twice before accepting Valentino’s challenge, as “the sheik has an arm that would do credit to a pugilist and a most careless way of hurling himself off balconies and on and off horses. One leap from a balcony to a swinging chandelier is as good as anything Douglas Fairbanks ever did.”
The film was a hit, and the whispering about the star’s masculinity began to fade. As the sheik, he still appeared to be wearing eye shadow, and perhaps his lips bore a slightly darker stain of rouge, but after all, he was in show business.
Two weeks later, Valentino collapsed in his suite at the Ambassador and was taken to a hospital. After emergency surgery for a ruptured appendix, his doctors were hopeful he would recover. Then he developed pleuritis in his left lung and was in severe pain. At one point, he asked a doctor, “Am I still a pink powder puff?” Some reporters and readers were convinced that the actor’s hospitalization and the daily updates on his condition amounted to yet another publicity stunt. But on August 23, Rudolph Valentino slipped into a coma and died just hours later, surrounded by hospital staff.
On the news of his death, more than 100,000 people gathered on the streets in chaos outside the Frank Campbell Funeral Home. Flappers tore at their own clothes, clutched at their chests and collapsed in the heat. The New York Police Department tried to bring the order to the mob, and there were reports of despondent fans committing suicide. Inside the funeral home, four Black Shirt honor guards, supposedly sent by Benito Mussolini, stood nearby in stark tribute to the fallen star. (It was later learned that the men were actors, hired by the funeral home in, yes, a publicity stunt.)
The Polish actress Pola Negri, who had been having an affair with Valentino, fainted over his coffin. Upon reviving, she announced that she was to have been his third wife and quickly claimed the role of the dead star’s “widow.” For the funeral, she sent a massive floral display with thousands of blood-red roses surrounding white blooms that spelled out “POLA.” His body traveled back to the West Coast on a funeral train, and he was laid to rest in Hollywood.
The hysteria following Valentino’s death did not abate, and when The Son of the Sheik was released nationally months later, it was acclaimed as one of his best movies—a swan song of masculinity. Rumors that he actually died by the gun of a jealous husband or scorned lover kept the tabloids in business. And for decades, a veiled woman in black arrived at Valentino’s Hollywood tomb on the anniversary of his death to place twelve red roses and one white one on his grave. Once it was learned to be yet another press agent’s stunt, competing ladies in black began arriving at the tomb, knocking roses to the ground as they scuffled for position in front of newspaper photographers.
Whether the quality of Valentino’s voice would have killed his career in talkies is a subject of endless debate. Some say his accent was too thick, others who knew him well say his rich, husky baritone would only have helped him reach even greater heights of fame. But nearly a century after he arrived on these shores, his very name remains tantamount to a male seducer of women. In that sense, his work outlasted the biases of his time