Posts Tagged With: Pola Negri
In 1923, Pola Negri was her own best publicity and her own worst nightmare. There is no denying her talent and there is only so far she could go. The reality in the acting profession is one day your on top of the world and another time your not. Being dramatic should be on the screen and not in real life. The truth is she was never good with money. This would become her downfall.
No matter how talented a player is, it takes a little luck to bring big success to the door. Under favorable circumstances it is remarkable with what speed a hitherto obscure performer can be elevated to the top of the ladder. One of the amazing peculiarities of the flicker world is that it takes only one successful production to raise a camera actor or actress from the lowest rungs of the ladder to the brightest heights. And once on the top it takes a long series of poor vehicles to shake em’ off the perch. Look into the movie hall of records and what do we find? Valentino, best example of all, played in several pictures without getting a ripple of interest, then suddenly had the break of luck to get in “The Four Horsemen” and become a sensation overnight. Betty Compton, Pola Negri, Nita Naldi, May McAloy. Many of the players have never lived up to the promise they gave in the photoplay which put them over the top, but they continue to reap the benefit of their ten-strike, nevertheless, verify there are many players being buffeted about from studio to studio grasping eagerly at small parts, who have the potentialities of being as great favourites as those now at the top if they could only make the connection with that big part in the right production.
Russ Columbo was born Ruggiero Eugenio di Rodolfo Colombo on 14 Jan 1908, in Camden, N.J., the 12th and final child of Italian immigrants Nicola and Giulia Perseri Colombo. Rudolph Valentino was born Rodolfo Pietro Filiberto Raffaello Guglielmi on 06 May 1895 in Castellaneta, Italy, the middle child to Italian and French parents Giovanni and Marie Berthe Guglielmi. Their life’s journey took them to Los Angeles where both found their way into motion pictures and instant fame. Russ Columbo was “discovered” by Silent Film actress Pola Negri who was once romantically involved with Rudolph Valentino. Russ Columbo was grateful for the employment opportunity that Pola provided. He composed many love songs to her and sang them over the air-waves of the radio world yet romance was not on the cards for them.
In 1926, Marion Davies had a conversation with Pola about romance. Marion Davies told Pola “there is no point in living like a nun. Come to my costume party dressed to represent the character you have most enjoyed portraying on the screen”. Pola Negri attended dressed in a Czarina costume from her movie “Forbidden Paradise”. The costume fitted perfectly and was all white and gold she looked like a queen. Rudolph Valentino disappointed in love attended the same party dressed in a matador costume from his movie “Blood and Sand”. Marion Davies costume party was a major success filled with the most famous movies stars of the day. The hostess was talking with a group of guests near the entrance to her home when she introduced her friend Pola to Rudolph Valentino. Pola recalls that exact moment “he was holding my hand and was taller than I imagined he would be. I felt as if my eyes were a camera focused on his life, and I remembered sharply all the things I read about him. That he was just separated from his wife Natacha Rambova. There was disillusion written all over his face. As if I saw him in a film now, he was motionless-stopped before me as suddenly as a heartbeat. I saw the hint of a dimple in his chin, his full sensitive lips partly opened. But his eyes held me they were wide set and so dark I could not see his pupils. My eyes met his and I thought you can hold me forever if you try. We danced a tango together and I was in his arms. I closed my eyes and we fell into the mad contagious rhythm. As if we had danced together always. We never missed a beat. The other couples on the floor stopped and watched us. The night seemed magical and I felt as though I was falling in love with him. The music stopped and without looking up again, without speaking I turned on my heel, and walked out of the ballroom to my waiting car and left the party. While walking up to my front door suddenly out of the shadows a man appeared and said why run away from something you know we both have tried to find all our lives. Before I could answer, I was in his arms”. There were rumors of an engagement, but it’s believed that Rudolph was looking for companionship and Pola was looking for publicity. On 23 Aug 1926, Russ Columbo was on the same movie set as Pola Negri. He was playing Dvorak’s Humoresque as background music and overheard the sad news, Rudolph Valentino just died so he stopped playing. Pola noticed there was no music and Russ Colombo was wearing a sad expression on his face. She asked what was going on and why did you quit playing? He told her the news and she fainted. Russ Columbo was asked about whether she fainted for real or publicity. Columbo said it was not faked but she truly did appear traumatic and was inconsolable over her loss. Months after his death, it was reported Pola Negri chose a tiger eye ring from Rudolph Valentino’s personal effects. According to Internet sources, Pola became deathly sick and it was said the ring was cursed. Supposedly, she gave this ring to Russ Columbo saying, “from one Valentino to another Valentino”. It is said, that the ring caused the untimely death of Russ Columbo from an accidental shooting.
Pola Negri, film star and her husband pseudo Prince Serge M’divani celebrated Christmas with a Yule fire at the Crillon Hotel the fire being kindled with papers in the divorce case which they both agreed to drop a few days ago. “We intended to burn them ceremonially at our chateau said pseudo Prince. “But we couldn’t wait” So we burned them at the hotel. They were an eyesore to us, and we are so happy. M’divani and Miss Negri left later for the chateau to spend the holidays. They exchanged Christmas presents. The pseudo prince received two racehorses which are to form the nucleus of a racing stable and Miss Negri will she received a diamond and emerald necklace sources said was paid for by her money.
A cat may look at the Queen but a little chorus girl even though she may be one of Ziegfeld’s most glorified may not publicly make indiscreet remarks about a great movie star. This Marion Kay Benda, one of the follies beauties, discovered when, in an interview given immediately after the death of Rudolph Valentino she said “He was not engaged to marry Miss Negri, you’ll notice all the statements have come from her. He never denied any of them because he was too fine. He did think a great deal of her, but he had absolutely no intention of marrying her. I know. He often, in my presence, refused to speak to her on long distance telephone calls. “No one knew him as I did. He was the most wonderful person I have ever known. I can’t believe that he is dead. He was so fine, so wonderful, so sincere, and I know he liked me very much. He couldn’t stand “rounder’s” and his ideals were of the highest. In every sense of the word he was an artist.” A rumor was circulating at that time that Miss Benda and Valentino were secretly married a few weeks before, this the show girl denied. “Oh those things always are said” she complained. “People cannot understand being simply good friends. I’ve known Mr. Valentino for four weeks and I saw him a great deal. Often we hired a cab and drove through Central Park after the show and then there were early morning walks and talks.” It was in the company of Miss Benda that Valentino attended his last social evening. The two of them, accompanied by Buzz Warburton, jr. went to Texas Guinn’s Night Club on the evening preceding the star’s fatal operation. During Valentino’s illness there was a long procession of greater and lesser lights of the theatrical world calling at the hospital and leaving flowers, but all visitors were denied admittance to the sickroom. And it wasn’t of his companions in the night clubs and after-theater suppers that Rudolph spoke when he was strong enough to talk but of his friends in the movie world. Welcome enough, then, were the tempestuous Polish star’s long-distance telephone calls. The little chorus girl who believes that “no one knew him as I knew him” was evidently quite forgotten. Her change as a protégé of the famous sheik had been snatched from her, and the limelight of public interest shone on her only for a moment and then promptly turned in another direction. Stars in the movie world are the “clannish” on earth. They have their scraps and jealousies, rivalries and revenges in private life, just like other folks, but it is an unwritten law that those shall never be divulged for publication. One great consolation Miss Negri has, and that is that it was her image which floated across the mind of Valentino the last moment before he lost conscious contact with life. Dawn was just breaking in the sky when Dr. Meeker noticed that his patient was trying to say something. After a night of agony he was too weak to raise his voice above a whisper. The doctor placed his ear near the dying star’s lips and just managed to catch the words “Pola, Pola” if she does not come in time…tell her I think of her. Those were the last words Valentino uttered in English. From that time on, until he passed away at midday, delirium and coma alternated, and all the incoherent remarks which passed his lips were in the old mother tongue. This message was relayed by Dr. Meeker to Mary Pickford and from her to Norma Talmadge. The Polish actress received it in the Campbell undertaking rooms at the funeral of Valentino began. There was so much talk about whether Pola and Rudy were or were not engaged that finally the star herself denied it. “We were not formally betrothed,” she gave out the statement while enroute to Hollywood on the funeral train. “Rudy never believed in formal engagements neither do I”. “The reason the betrothal was never announced was that Rudy thought such an arrangement appeared too businesslike a proposition, and I agreed with him.” We frequently discussed our marriage plans for next April, and our closest friends knew of them. We thought our private lives belonged to us, and we did not want to make publicity of it. In a very clever composition contained in a book of poems in verse and prose which the late star published two years ago, he expressed a pessimistic viewpoint towards romance. Under the title “The Kaleidoscope of Love Synonyms and Antonyms,” he describes its birth, rise, fall, and disintegration. Is analysis runs as follows:
A-Adoration, Anticipation, Affinity, Arguments
B-Beauty, Bliss, Bitterness, Bondage
C-Caresses, Circumstances, Confidence, Charm
D-Desire, Delusion, Dreams, Divorce
E-Ecstasy, Engagement, Ego, End
F-Fascination, Forgetfulness, Flatter, Faith
G-Gossip, Gratitude, Gifts, Goodbye
H-Happiness, Honor, Heartache, Hell
I-Intuition, Irony, Idolatry, Integrity
J-Jealousy, Joy, Justice, June
K-Kisses, Keepsakes, Knowledge, Kismet
L-Lips, Loneliness, Logic, Longing
M-Marriage, Morality, Money, Man
N-No, Nearest, Novelty. Never
O-Opposition, Own, Offering, Opulence
P-Passion, Promise, Pride, Proposal
Q-Quality, Quest, Queries, Quarrels
R-Romance, Reveries, Realization, Remembrance
S-Sympathy, Sacrifice, Shame, Settlement
T-Thoughts, Truth, Temper, Tears
U-Unkindness, Understanding, Uncertainty, Unfaithfulness
V-Virtue, Vanity, Vows, Vengeance
W- Wisdom, Wishes, Wedlock, Woman
X-The unknown love
Y-Youth, Yearning, Yes, Yawn
Z=Zenith, Zest, Zeal, Zero
So he described in 26 versions the span between the alpha and the omega of the little game of love. In real life, Valentino was as much the great lover as he was on the screen, but he failed to domineer over the ladies he wooed and won without the air of the scenario writer to chasten their independence of spirit. Jean Acker, his first wife, went “on the road” in vaudeville very shortly after their marriage, and it was not until a few weeks before the star’s death that they were reconciled. Natacha Rambova, her successor, also insisted on putting her career first, and, in spite of many reported attempts to adjust matters, this marriage too went on the rocks. Had Valentino Married Pola, would their union have been any more permanent? At the time the exotic Natacha Rambova left her famous husband, ostensibly on a “vacation from matrimony” she was asked if a divorce were in the offering. “I don’t know,” she answered. “There will simply have to be some sort of adjustment. And frankly I haven’t the least idea how we can arrange matters so that we can live together without constant irritation cropping up. “My husband wants me to give up work and devote myself to the home. If I did that, what should I do with all my idle hours?” We have servants who are much more capable of running the house than I am. I have always worked all my life I have had the urge to create. I cannot give this up it is part of myself”. So Natacha Rambova sailed to Paris. At the finish of his picture Valentino came to New York. He as was his habit, refused to commit himself beyond giving more or less of a repetition of what his beautiful wife had said. He was seen a lot in the company of Mae Murray, who had just returned from Paris, where she had obtained a divorce from Bob Leonard, the Broadway matchmakers got busy, but both denied any romantic attachment. Miss Murray intimated that reconciliation with her former husband might be possible; Valentino was less frank, but those who looked wisely declared that the Valentino-Rambova frayed romance was on the verge of a renaissance. As things turned out, the little follies girl was quite correct in her statement that Rudy and Pola were not engaged. However, she spoke out of her turn and was set down.
Pola Negri’s story from rags-to-riches-to rags story reads like an E True Hollywood Story. Pola was a wealthy woman when she arrived in America in the early 1920’s. In 1927, she married a fake prince named M’Divani who stole all her money and ended up dead broke like her fellow silent actress Mae Murray. In the 1930’s -1940’s would see Pola touring Vaudeville circuits to earn money to pay for her medical bills. She would return to Germany and continue making motion pictures there. After WWII Pola came back to America and did whatever work she could to continue to survive. In 1950, she turned down Billy Wilder’s invitation to play Norma Desmond in the movie Sunset Boulevard. Pola’s saving grace was a wealthy Texan named Margaret West who was from a prominent family in San Antonio, Texas. Both Margaret and Pola became friends in the early 1930’s. Margaret who was not hurting for money did what she could for her friend while both were living in California.
In 1959, both mutually decided to travel to Margarets hometown of San Antonio Texas. Upon their arrival they lived at the Menger Hotel, San Antonio, Texas. The Menger Hotel, is one of the state’s oldest and best-known hotels, was opened by William Menger on Alamo Square in San Antonio on January 31, 1859. They stayed there for 2 years while Margaret’s home in Olmos Park was under construction. Pola fell in love with the city. Eventually both friends traveled between her Rafter S ranch in Zavala County and her San Antonio home until her death in 1963. Margaret West left her estate to Pola who lived in the city till her death in 1987.
Ralph Rogers, is a dark, florid man of 45 behind whose quiet, brown eyes are the memories of two decades ago when he led a more colorful life as body-guard, valet, chauffeur for the late Rudolph Valentino. He was the late film lover’s companion the night Valentino won 450,000 francs and broke the bank at Monte Carlo. He was with him in an automobile crash near Hollywood when those who rushed to the scene stole bits of the shattered Valentino car as souvenirs, forgetting the begrimed, bleeding victims of the crash. He was aboard ship with him when Benito Mussolini warned the late Rudy by wireless not to put foot on Italian soil with immediate induction in the army as an alternative. He spent three hectic years trying to save his boss from girls and women who besieged him for autographs, sometimes tearing at his clothes, even snipping hairs from his dog for mementos. One night while enroute from Europe to America aboard the Vaterland, later the Leviathan, women banged on the doors of once was the Kaisers Suite demanding the public appearance of Valentino who wanted only to be left alone to sleep. In some European Capitals the besieged Valentino had to employ the utmost diplomacy to shoo away an occasional princess, baroness, or countess. All this, and more besides are among the memories of Ralph Rogers, 110 Monmouth Street here when he is not engaged in the operation of his small Italian restaurant on Broad Street, Shrewsbury. His getting the job as Valentino’s man Friday was by accident. Rogers was employed in the main showrooms of the Isotta-Frachini Company, New York City. His boss was a chap named D’Annunzio son of the famous Italian poet and patriot. Valentino drove an Isotta and had dropped in wit the problem of getting a man to go to Europe with him to drive the car. D’Annunzio suggested Ralph Rogers. Rogers accepted but in the back of his mind he figured he might get the chance to visit his relatives in Sorento. “We toured Europe the days and nights were always exciting and interested. But Valentino was never interested too greatly in women perhaps they annoyed him too much. In Europe it was very bad the way they kept after him. During the years from 1923-1026 when I was with him, I know of only one woman Valentino seemed to care anything about and that was Pola Negri. In my humble opinion she was the only girl Valentino seemed to really care for. The night Valentino broke the bank at Monte Carlo I was beside him most of the evening. I say it was 450,000 francs he won it may have been 500,000 or 550.000. I can only remember that I had to carry the money out in a bag to the car and that the place closed down tight, turning all the guests away. It was very bad night for the old gambling house. Papers all over the world were full of the story the next day. “While we were in France, I mentioned to Valentino I had relatives in Sorrento. He told me to take his car and drive there and to spend as much time as I liked. He was a wonderfully democratic fellow, very generous and very understanding. He was what you might say a ‘swell guy’ all around”. When we arrived back in New York disembarking from the Vaterland Valentino told me he would like to keep me and asked would I be willing to be employed by him instead of going back to my old job. He said we got along so well he would not like to see me go. I decided I would remain with him. “Out around the Pacific coast when women couldn’t get close enough to Valentino in his car they would actually shinny up to the roof of the car and peer in at him. He had his troubles with the women. Ralph Rogers never saw Valentino when thougsands streamed into Campbell Funeral Parlor to view the late film idols body. “Just as in life” Rogers says, the crush of women was too great. I stood outside and looked. I saw those women lineup for blocks. I shook my head with the memory of a real fine fellow I would never see again. Up to a year ago, Ralph Rogers was still wearing pajamas Valentino had given him. He Loved fine pajamas said Ralph. He had them by the dozen and they were made of the finest materials, personally made for him to last a life time. They did for him, and lasted another 20 years for me. The last pair I abandoned just about a year ago.
Rudolph Valentino, Manuel Reachi and Pola Negri at a costume party.
Late in 1921, our advertising copywriters took off their gloves, spit on their hands and hammered out some remarkable advice to the public. By this time all readers over forty, and doubtless most of those under, will have guessed the rest. The picture was, of course, The Sheik, with Rudolph Valentino. Top billing went not to Valentino but to the leading lady, Agnes Ayres. Valentino was twenty-six years old and had been in Hollywood for several years, dancing as a professional partner and sometimes playing bit movie parts, chiefly as a villain. Recently he had gained attention as a tango-dancing Argentine in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, made by another company. When we hired him for The Sheik we expected that he would perform satisfactorily, but little more. We certainly did not expect him to convulse the nation. Valentino was as strange a man as I ever met. Before going into his personality, however, it would seem worthwhile, taking into account what happened afterward, to review The Sheik. The story was taken from a novel of the same title by Edith M. Hull, an Englishwoman. After publication abroad the book became a sensational best seller in America. We paid $50,000 for the screen rights, a very large sum for the time, with the idea that the novel’s popularity would assure the picture’s success. The story gets underway with Diana Mayo (Agnes Ayres), a haughty English girl visiting in Biskra, remarking that marriage is captivity. Since Diana is a willful adventurous girl who dislikes the restraining hand of her cautious brother, one knows that trouble is brewing the moment she spots Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan (Rudolph Valentino) and their eyes meet. The distance between them is roughly 150 feet, yet she quails, to use understatement, visibly. One might have thought he had hit her on the head with a thrown rock. There was nothing subtle about film emotion in those days. Learning that non-Arabs are forbidden at the fete the Sheik is holding in the Biskra Casino that night, Diana disguises herself as a slave girl and wins admission. The Sheik discovers her identity as she is about to be auctioned off along with other slaves. He allows her to escape, but later that night appears under her window singing “I’m the Sheik of Araby, Your love belongs to me. At night when you’re asleep into your tent I creep. Valentino moved his lips hardly at all when he sang. As a matter of fact his acting was largely confined to protruding his large, almost occult eyes until vast areas of white were visible, drawing back the lips of his wide sensuous mouth to bare his gleaming teeth, and flaring nostrils. But to get back to the film story. Next day, the Sheik attacks Diana’s caravan and packs her off to the desert oasis camp. Though he regards her as his bride, she fends off his advances. Yet it is soon apparent that she is falling in love with him. After a week of virtual slavery Diana begins to like it at the camp. Then she learns that Raoul de Saint Hubert, a French author and friend of the Sheik is coming to visit. Ashamed to be found in her slave like condition by a fellow European, Diana stampedes her guard’s horse while riding in the desert and makes a dash for freedom. Her horse breaks a leg and she staggers across the sand toward a distant caravan. This is the caravan of the dread bandit Omair (Walter Long). Omair makes her a captive for plainly evil reasons. But soon the Sheik having been informed of Diana’s escape by the stampeded guard, attaches the caravan and rescues her. The French author (Adolph Menjou) rebukes the Sheik for what seems to him a selfish attitude toward the girl. Next day while Diana and the Frenchman are riding in the desert, Omair swoops down, wounds the author, and carries the girl off to his strong-hold. The Sheik gathers his horsemen and rides to the rescue. Meanwhile at the strong-hold, Omair pursues the “white gazelle” as he calls Diana, around and around a room in his harem house. One of the bandit’s wives is fed up with him, has advised Diana to commit suicide rather than become the brute’s victim. But Diana, having faith in the Sheik, fights gamely The Sheik and his horsemen assault the strong-hold’s walls. Once inside, the Sheik bests Omair in a hand-to-hand struggle. But at the moment of victory, a huge slave hits him a terrible blow on the head. For some day’s he lies at deaths door. Now the Frenchman tells Diana the true story of the Sheik. He is no Arab at all, but of English and Spanish descent. When a baby he was abandoned in the desert. An old sheik found him, reared him, had him educated in France, and eventually left him in command of the tribe. And so the story draws to a happy ending. The Sheik recovers and the two lovers set off for civilization and marriage. The public, especially the women, mobbed the theaters, and it was not very long before the psychologists were busying themselves with explanations. The simplest, I gathered, was that a surprisingly large number of American women wanted a mounted Sheik to carry them into the desert. Doubtless, for only a short stay, as in the case of Diana, after which they would be returned to civilization in style. Adult males were inclined to regard The Sheik with some levity. But the youths began to model themselves on Valentino, especially after he had appeared in Blood and Sand for us. In the latter picture, playing a Spanish bullfighter, he affected sideburns, sleek hair, and wide bottomed trousers. Soon thousands of boys and young men had cultivated sideburns, allowing their hair to grow long, plastered it down, and were wearing bell-bottomed pants. Lads in this getup were called “sheiks”. Thus two of Valentino’s roles were combined to get a modern sheik. As audience today viewing The Sheik laughs at the melodramatic story, the exaggerated gestures, and Valentino’s wild-eyed stares and heaving panting while demonstrating his affection for Diana. Yet some of the impact of his personality remains. He created an atmosphere of otherworldliness. And with reason, for there was much of it about him. Valentino born Rodolph Guguliemi in the village of Castellaneta in southern Italy of a French mother and an Italian father. When 18 he went to Paris and a year later migrated to New York City. It is known that he worked as a dishwasher, landscape gardener, paid dancing partner or gigolo. After a couple of years, he secured occasional vaudeville work as a partner of female dancers of more reputation than his own. Improvident by nature with expensive tastes, Valentino lived from day to day as best he could. All his life he was in debt, from $1. To $100,000, according to his status. Being fully convinced that a supernatural “Power” watched over him he did not worry. Mortal men found this power of Valentino’s hard to deal with. We raised his salary far above the terms of his contract. That seemingly only whetted the power’s appetite. It became downright unreasonable after Blood and Sand, with the lads of America imitating Valentino and women organizing worshipful cults. Evidently the power had mistakenly got the notion that we had agreed to make Blood and Sand in Spain any rate the idea crept into Valentino’s head. He became dissatisfied with his dressing quarters, wishing to be surrounded, apparently in the splendor of a powerful sheik of the dessert. Valentino rarely smiled on the screen and off, and I cannot recall ever having seen him laugh. It is true he could be charming when he wished. In dealing with a lady interviewer for example, he would give her a sort of look as if aware of something quite special in her, and treat her in an aloof but nevertheless cordial manner. On the other hand, he could be extremely temperamental. Harry Reichenbach, the public relations genius who had reversed Sam Goldwyn’s buzzer system, was now working for us. One day he called at Valentino’s dressing room to discuss publicity matters. “Does he know you”? a valet inquired. “Well”, Reichenbach replied “he used to borrow two or three dollars at a time from me and always knew to whom to bring it back”. The valet went away but soon returned with a word that his master was resting. It was my custom, as it had been in the old Twenty-sixth Street Studio, to go out on the sets every morning when in Hollywood. This provided an opportunity to get better acquainted with the players and technicians. Besides putting me closer to production, I hoped that such visits would make everybody feel that the business office was more than a place where we made contracts and counted money. The fact was that we kept as close tabs on the human element as on box-office receipts. Also, I was secretly envious of those who had an intimate hand in production, and, making myself inconspicuous, often watched activities. One day, I was privileged to see a Valentino exhibition such as I had been hearing about. He was arguing with an assistant director what about I did not know, and did not inquire. His face grew pale with fury, his eyes protruded in a wilder stare than any he had managed on the screen, and his whole body commenced to quiver. He was obviously in or near, a state of hysteria. I departed as quietly as I had come. The situation grew worse instead of better, and finally Valentino departed from the studios, making it plain that he had no intention of returning. We secured an injunction preventing him from appearing on the screen for anybody else. This did not bother him very much. He went on a lucrative dancing tour and was able to borrow all the money he needed. Valentino was married but the relationship had not lasted long, although it was still in technical force. Now he was in love with a beautiful girl named Winifred O’Shaughnessy. Her mother married Richard Hudnut, cosmetics manufacturer, and Winifred sometimes used his surname. She preferred, however, to be known as Natacha Rambova, a name of her own choosing. She was art director for Alla Nazimova, the celebrated Russian actress who was one of our stars. Like Valentino, Natacha believed herself to be guided by a supernatural power. They were married before Valentino’s divorce decree was final, and he was arrested in Los Angeles for bigamy. He got out of that by convincing authorities that the marriage was never consummated, and the ceremony was repeated as soon as legal obstacles were cleared away. Natacha Rambova appeared, as Valentino’s business agent wrote later, “cold, mysterious, oriental.” She affected Oriental garb and manners. Yet she had served Alla Nazimova competently, was familiar with picture making, and we felt she would be a good influence on Valentino. At any rate she brought him back to us. Now, as it turned out, we had two powers to deal with. She was the stronger personality of the two, or else her power secured domination over his. It was our custom to give stars a good deal of contractual leeway in their material. Natacha began to insert herself into the smallest details and he backed her in everything. His new pictures, Monsieur Beaucaire and The Sainted Devil, were less successful than those which had gone before. The Valentino cults continued to blossom, but his publicity was not always good. Newspapers poked fun at the sleek hair and powered faces of the “sheiks”. The situation was not helped when it became known that Valentino wore a slave bracelet. Many people believed it to be a publicity stunt. But the fact was that Natacha Rambova had given it to him. Any suggestion that he discard it sent him into a rage. A book he published, titled Day Dreams caused raised eyebrows. Both he and his Natacha believed in automatic writing and it seems that the real author was his power, or the combined powers, working through him. An item titled “Your Kiss” is a good sample.
Your kiss A flame Of Passions fire, The sensitive Seal Of love In the desire, The Fragrance of Your Caress; Alas At times I find Exquisite bitterness in Your kiss.
We did not care to renew Valentino’s contract, particularly since he and his wife wanted even more control over his pictures. He made arrangements with a new company, founded for the purpose, and work was begun on a film titled variously The Scarlet Power and The Hooded Falcon, dealing with the Moors in early Spain. Author of this story was Natacha Rambova. After the two had spent 80,000 traveling in Europe for background material and exotic props, the story was put aside. Another Cobra, was substituted with Natacha in full charge. It did poorly and the venture with the new company was at an end. Joseph Schenck was now handling the business affairs of United Artists, and he took a chance with Valentino being careful to draw the papers in a manner keeping decisions out of the hands of either Valentino or Natacha. Valentino accepted the terms, though reluctantly. Not long afterward the couple separated and Natacha sued for divorce. United Artists filmed The Son of the Sheik, which as it turned out, was the celebrated lover’s final picture. Valentino’s publicity became increasingly less favorable. He called his Hollywood home Falcon Lair, which opened him to some ridicule. The fun poked at the “sheiks” increased as the title of his new picture became known. He was in Chicago when the Chicago Tribune carried an editorial headed “The Pink Powder Puffs”. One of the editorial writers, it seems, had visited the men’s rest room of a popular dance emporium and there was a coin device containing face powder. Many of the young men carried their own powder puffs, and the could hold it under the machine and by inserting a coin get a sprinkle of powder. The editorial, taking this situation as its theme, viewed the younger male generation with alarm. Most of the blame was placed on “Rudy” the beautiful gardener’s boy, and sorrow was expressed that he had not been drowned long ago. IN an earlier editorial the Tribune made fun of his slave bracelet. Valentino’s “face paled, his eyes blazed, and his muscles stiffened” when he saw it according to the later account of his business manager. Seizing a pen, Valentino addressed an open letter “To the Man (?) Who Wrote the Editorial Headed “The Pink Powder Puffs” he handed it to a rival newspaper. “I call you a contemptible coward” Valentino had flung at the editorial writer, inviting him to come out from behind his anonymity for either a boxing or wrestling contest. After expressing hope that “I will have an opportunity to demonstrate to you that the wrist under the slave bracelet may snap a real fist into your sagging jaw,” he closed with “Utter Contempt”. That was in Aug 1925 Valentino came on to New York, and I was surprised to receive a telephone call from him inviting me to lunch. “It is only that I would like to see you” Valentino said “No business”. I would have agreed in any circumstance, but I was sure that he was telling the truth about not coming with a business proposition, since he was well set with United Artists. “Certainly, I answered where”? “The Colony” I had already guessed his choice since The Colony was probably New York’s most expensive restaurant. He liked the best. We set the time. Valentino and I had barely reached The Colony when it became apparent that every woman in the place having the slightest acquaintance with me felt an irresistible urge to rush to my table with greetings. Though overwhelmed, I remained in sufficient command of my senses to observe the amenities by introducing each to Valentino. He was 31 at this time, apparently in the best of physical condition, and, in this atmosphere at least was relaxed. I do not know whether his divorce decree was yet final, but Natacha Rambova was in Paris. Recently, Valentino’s name had been linked with that of Pola Negri one of our major stars. “I only wanted to tell you,” Valentino said after things had quieted down, “that I’m sorry about the trouble I made – my strike against the studio and all that. I was wrong and now I want to get it off my conscience by saying so”. I shrugged, “It’s water over the dam. In this business if we can’t disagree, sometimes violently, and then forget about it we’ll never get anywhere. You’re young. Many good years are ahead of you.” And so we dropped that line of talk. Valentino truly loved artistic things. He spoke of his ambition, when the time of his romantic roles was over, to direct pictures. I had the feeling that here was a young man to whom fame and of a rather odd sort had come too rapidly upon the heels of lean years, and he hadn’t known the best way to deal with it. “Telephone me any time”, I said as we parted, and we’ll do this again. I enjoyed myself”. And I had. A day or two later I picked up a newspaper with headlines that Valentino had been stricken with appendicitis. At first it was believed that he was in no danger. But he took a turn for the worse, Joseph Schenck and his wife Norma Talmadge came to our home to wait out the crisis. Schenck was bringing encouraging reports from the hospital, when suddenly there was a relapse. Valentino died half an hour past noon on August 23, 1925. It was a week to the minute since our meeting for lunch. I, for one, was stunned by the hysteria which followed Valentino’s death. In London, a female dancer committed suicide. In New York, a woman shot herself on a heap of Valentino’s photographs. A call came through to me from Hollywood “Pola Negri is overwrought, and she’s heading to New York for the funeral”. “Put a nurse, and a publicity man on the train,” I said, and “ask Pola to guard her statements to the press”. After Pola’s arrival, my wife and I called at her hotel to offer condolences. Though very much upset, she intended to remain in seclusion as much as possible. Valentino’s body was laid in state at Campbell’s Funeral Home at Broadway and 66th Street, with the announcement that the public would be allowed to view it. Immediately, a crowd of 36,000 mostly women gathered. Rioting described as the worst in the city’s history began as police tried to form orderly lines. Windows were smashed. A dozen mounted policemen charged into the crowd time and time again. After one retreat of the crowd, 28 women’s shows were gathered up. Women then rubbed soap on the pavement to make the horses slip. The funeral home was now barred to the public. Those who got in had nearly wrecked the place by snatching souvenirs but next day another crowd gathered when news spread Pola Negri was coming to mourn. She was spirited in through a side door. Word came out that she had collapsed at the bier, which she had and for some reason it excited the crowd. On the day of the funeral 100,000 persons, again mainly women lined the street in the neighborhood of the church in which it was being held. I was an honorary pallbearer, along with Marcus Loew, Joseph Schenck, Douglas Fairbanks, and others from the industry. Natacha Rambova was not present, being still abroad. But Valentino’s first wife Jean Acker, collapsed, and Pola Negri heavily veiled, was for many moments on the point of swooning once more. As the funeral procession left the church, the throngs fell silent except for subdued weeping of many of the women. The body was sent to Los Angeles for burial. The Valentino Cult, I am told, is still in existence. At any rate, enough women visit his grave every year to have provided the grave keeper with enough material for a book about them.
Adolph Zukor (1953). The Public is Never Wrong, Chapter 17, Putnam Publishers, New York.