Today is National Silent Movie Day and to celebrate this wonderful global event, I am contributing the following article “Rudy’s Influence on the Silent’s” to the National Silent Movie Day Blogathon. I would like to thank both “Silentology Blog” and “In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood Blog” for hosting this event.
In 1913, Rudolph Valentino’s arrival to this country with not much money from his transatlantic crossing and unable to speak English he did doing what he could to survive. Oftentimes, he faced homelessness, went hungry or swallowing his pride by taking lowly paying jobs. By doing so, he made just enough money to help with everyday expenses such as food, a roof over his head, or being able to take a shower. As job opportunities came and went it seemed at certain times life would knock him down. However, life always takes you places for a reason and it’s important to note, he learned a valuable lesson from each experience he faced. As time moves on he finds that living in New York was not working out. So, his friend Norm Kerry suggested a bright future awaits both of them in California and they made their way across the country to Los Angeles and an unknown future. Living in a new city, a determined Rudolph Valentino went on casting calls to all the major movie studios to no avail and found there were no immediate job opportunities in the motion picture industry for a virtual unknown. Eventually he found work as a movie extra and his enthusiasm was garnering him notice. In 1919, after making the movie “Eyes of Youth”, with Clara Kimball Young, it is written in Hollywood history that June Mathis, Metro Studio Executive noticed the talented actor and wanted him a virtual Hollywood unknown for the starring role in “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”. Although it took some time for her to to persuade studio bosses that he was box office gold and in the end motion picture history was made. From the first moment he appeared on the silver screen it was an immediate love affair with a movie going public. His smoldering good looks and romantic visage a global audience was forever ensnared and life as he knew it changed. What endeared him to a movie going public was his rags to riches story. He achieved the American dream as a hopeful immigrant in this melting pot country and his success gave every other immigrant hope for their own success story. The public was mesmerized by him and immediately wanted to know his life story. Every movie in which Rudolph Valentino appeared he was a dedicated professional. While his roles called for dramatic scenes often requiring physically dangerous stunts, he performed many on his own. There were times, he had contractual disagreements with several movie studios, However, everything always worked out for him in the end.
In the 1920’s and beyond, Valentino had enormous influence both in the fashion world and on film. His personal style was ahead of its time and always immaculately turned out. He had extravagant taste in clothing and wore nothing, but the best labels of the day and his style was always duplicated. Professional men wanted to know his style choices and what grooming products he bought. In a NY Times article, Valentino briefly grew a beard for a film and the degree of public outcry was overwhelming. Fans wrote asking him to shave, and the Master Barber’s Association threatened to boycott his films for the damage he was doing to their business.
Valentino was a consummate professional and one of the first actors in Hollywood who fought for creative content control over any movie he would appear in and better pay this battle resulted in a well-publicized feud launched against his employer Famous Players-Laskey Studio. In 1923, during a well fought court battle he struck a new deal that gave him exactly what he wanted. But his next films were not a financial success, and the blame was placed on his second wife Natacha Rambova. The newly formed United Artists Studios brought Rudolph Valentino on board and in the contractual agreement it was noted they did not want her on set and kept out of sight. In 23 Aug 1926, Rudolph Valentino died in New York City while promoting his final film “Son of the Sheik”. His influence on the silent’s is well noted and documented by Hollywood Movie Historians for the ages. His memory lives on through social media, books, films and the annual memorial service at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. In a 21st century global community, Valentino’s work has garnered a new generation of fans that appreciate him and in the end, Silent Film Star Rudolph Valentino was one of the most profound actors of the era. His influence on the Silents will forever be known.