Saturday, May 6, 2017

Born Today May 6: Rudolph Valentino


Valentino's full birth name was the staggering Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d'Antoguolla!  He was born in Castellaneta in the Puglia region of Italy to a French mother and Italian father (hence some of his names being French).  Initially he enrolled in an agricultural school in Genoa, where he earned a certificate; but then moved to Paris for a while.  He briefly returned to Italy, but was unable to find work; so he left for the United States in 1913 at the age of 18.  He entered the U.S. at Ellis Island on Dec. 23, as so many had before him and so many would after him.  After spending time in odd jobs and enduring a bout of homelessness in New York, he landed a job as a dancer at Maxim's. After legal troubles stemming from his involvement as a witness during a divorce trial and subsequent events this brought on, Valentino joined a traveling show to avoid being called as a witness again.  This is what lead him to the west coast.  While still in New York he appeared in his first movie, a "vamp" film directed by none other than D. W. Griffith in 1914:  The Battle of the Sexes, as a dance extra. In fact, Valentino was in several films while living in New York, a subject not written much about--many of them products of the first "Hollywood:" Fort Lee, NJ. The first film that he was in out west in Hollywood came in 1918 with A Society Sensation, a short comedy drama.  After this, he languished somewhat, accepting bit parts as they came along [indeed he had become so tired of scrounging for work in live performances that he had returned to New York for a time].  During this period of time, he was credited with variations on his name, it was not until 1919 that he was first credited with the name for which he would become ultra-famous.  This came with Eyes of Youth.  Valentino continued on it bit parts until 1921, when by a strange set of events he got a major role in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  The film was a huge success, being one of the very first films to gross more than $100,000 at the box office and catapulted Valentino into into stardom.  Despite this, the studio system--in the case it was Metro Picture (the "Metro" in our current MGM)--wouldn't give him any kind of credit for his being the major reason for the film's success and would keep him on paltry pay and treat him as second rate actor.  His next two films for Metro gained attention of other producers; he quit Metro and signed with Famous Players-Lasky.  It was this production studio that placed him in the role that he so well known for The Sheik.  Valentino was now a super-star and Hollywood's premiere "Latin Lover."  Sadly, he would only star in 10 more films, his last being, ironically, The Son of the Sheik, in 1926. On the 15th of August in 1926 he collapsed either inside or outside the Hotel Ambassador in New York City and was quickly hospitalized.  Diagnosed with appendicitis and gastric ulcers, her underwent emergency surgery, which may have actually hastened his death.  After surgery, he developed peritonitis, an infection surrounding the sack that encases in inner organs, this then lead to an infection surrounding the sack around his left lung.  The condition was fatal.  Despite his terminal condition, his doctors did not inform him of his immanent death; right up to his last moments of consciousness, he was reportedly speaking of recovery and future plans.  There are conflicting reports about how much he actually knew--because at one point he was given last rights; however this would not have been uncommon in those days, without doctors being totally honest about medical severity.  He died of the infection on 23 August; he was just 31 years of age.  He was such a superstar that an estimated 100,000 people came out to the street where the funeral home that had his body on display was located.  It was also reported, but not confirmed, that several distraught fans committed suicide upon learning of his death. What probably killed Rudolph Valentino became known as "Valentino's syndrome," a condition in which perforated ulcers were/are mistaken for acute appendicitis.  Despite that he died so young, his fame was so vast, that even today he is one of the only silent film actors still known to younger generations. His funeral mass was held in New York, but his interment occurred in what is know known as the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.  He was placed in the mausoleum under his partial name "Rudolfo Guguliemi Valentino."  His estate was left to his surviving siblings.

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