Apr 1923 – Valentino Embraced Akron

Those dark eyes burned with passion. Women melted beneath the smoldering gaze. The Sheik was the silver screen’s great lover, a hot-blooded rogue who raided desert caravans and captured tender hearts. In the flickering light of silent-movie theaters, young girls stared and swooned. Matinee idol RudolphValentino didn’t understand the fuss. “Did you ever see a smooth-shaven sheik?” he asked an Akron audience. “I will never play a sheik again until I can play the role of a real Arab. “The Hollywood heartthrob made a high-profile visit to Akron during a self-imposed exile from the movie business in 1923. Locked in a salary dispute with Paramount, Valentino and his second wife, Natacha Rambova, the most envied woman on earth, began an 88-city dancing tour. The couple earned $7,000 a week to present tango exhibitions as a promotion for the Mineralava Beauty Clay Co. With only a three-day notice, Valentino scheduled two shows on April 8, 1923, at the Akron Armory. Concerts at 2 and 8 p.m. Sunday featured Joe Sheehan’s Orchestra, the Royal Quartet, Sophie Tucker’s Jazz Band and Valentino’s nine-piece band.  Dance Exhibition Tickets sold for $1, $1.50, and $2 at the Portage Hotel, Dales Jewelry and South Main Gardens. In addition, Mineralava sponsored a contest to find the most beautiful girl in Akron. The winner would have a chance to appear in Valentino’s next picture. Young women gathered at Union Depot to witness the arrival of a private railroad car carrying Valentino and Rambova, as fans lined College Avenue his car halted on a sidetrack. InsideValentino wore red-and-yellow pajamas and autographed photos at a desk. Rambova wore orange-and-black pajamas and sealed envelopes. It wasn’t every day that Akron got to see a sex symbol in pajamas. The couple lowered the shades, got dressed and invited local journalists, apparently all female, into the car for a chat. “Seen at a range of two feet, the idol of flapperdom is just an ordinary young man, rather good-looking and unexpectedly serious,” Akron Press reporter Ruth Rees noted. An unnamed “girl reporter” for the Akron Evening Times described the actor’s personal appearance as “the highest degree of physical perfection” and “all and even more than my conception of him demanded.”  Speaking with an Italian accent, Valentino told the writers that his ambition was to make movies that men would want to see. He seemed uneasy with fame, and a little melancholy. “I want to play in good pictures,” he said. “I can’t generalize about what I want to do more than that because I want to play in a variety of roles. I want to play in pictures that men will like There are only two pictures which I have made that I am at all happy about. They are The Four Horsemen and Blood and Sand.” That comment seemed to stun the journalists. What about The Sheik, his most famous role? “My God, no,” he said. “The Sheik is his sore spot,” Rambova said. “Mentioning ‘sheik’ to him is just like waving a red flag.” “Why, I didn’t even look like a sheik in it,” Valentino fumed. “I was a drawing-room hero.” Despite the exploits of his screen character, the great lover confided to his Akron listeners that the feminine mind was a complete mystery to him. “Any man who says he understands women is either a fool or a liar,” he said. “He only thinks he knows.” The Valentino’s boarded a waiting taxi and traveled to the armory on South High Street. More than 1,500 people attended each show. Newspaper reviews were mixed and divided along gender lines. The women were more forgiving. Valentino’s band performed two songs before Valentino and Rambova, dressed in South American garb, re-created the tango from The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Their dance, which lasted four minutes, “was graceful and pleasing,” the Evening Times noted Valentino presented a trophy to West High School sophomore Genevieve Street, 16, who won Mineralava’s contest as Akron’s most beautiful girl. Valentino ended his Akron show with a short talk on why he had decided to stop acting. “I wanted better pictures,” he said. “Seventy-five percent of the pictures produced by the industry by its cut-and-dry factory methods are a brazen insult to the American intelligence.” He referred to most of his films as travesties and apologized for betraying the public trust. He criticized producers for taking advantage of actors. The Valentino segment of the program lasted only 15 minutes. “After each performance, the crowd sat in a stupor for minutes wondering whether Valentino meant it or was just kidding them when he bid them a ‘fond and affectionate good night,’ ” the Beacon Journal reported. As it turned out, the girls along College Avenue got to see more of the actor than the paying customers. Valentino and Rambova returned to their railroad car and rolled out of town enroute to Rochester, N.Y. It was the last time the great lover ever set foot in Akron. Following the tour, Valentino made up with Hollywood and resumed acting. Monsieur Beaucaire (1924) and The Eagle (1925) were successful movies. “I do not owe my screen success to any company or publicity campaign, but to the American public,” he had told Akron.

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