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Rudolph Valentino Was a Chic Sheik

Rudolph Valentino Was a Chic Sheik
August 24
11:46 2015

Hollywood – the world – was stunned on Aug. 23, 1926 when screen legend Rudolph Valentino died at 31.

Valentino grew up in Castellaneta, Italy. He attended military school, but he was rejected from the service.


Rudolph Valentino

In 1912, Valentino went to Paris, but he failed to find work there. He ended up begging on the streets until he made his way to New York City the following year.

But New York found him living hand-to-mouth. He took odd jobs – including as a nightclub dancer.

Valentino joined a national touring production, but it folded in Utah. The young performer then made his way to San Francisco where he resumed his dancing career. In 1917, Valentino set his sights on Hollywood.

At first he appeared in small roles – often as a villain. Studios couldn’t figure out how to cast him. Then screenwriter June Mathis noticed him and thought he’d be perfect for the lead in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921).” But Mathis had to work hard to get the Metro studio to agree to sign Valentino. The man destined to become “The Great Lover” was sometimes rejected for roles because he “looked too foreign.” But any doubt the studio had soon disappeared.

Valentino stole female hearts when he danced the tango in his first scene. The movie was a smash hit. Valentino was a star – and overnight became the first Latin Lover.

Women fainted at the sight of Valentino in his next movie, “The Sheik” (1921). There had been a couple of Hollywood sex symbols before him, but Valentino eclipsed them all.

Valentino’s image as a sex symbol got a bump in 1922, when he was arrested for bigamy. He had divorced his first wife, Jean Acker, in 1921 but failed to wait a full year before remarrying. He paid a fine.

His second wife was domineering and took over managing Valentino’s career. She chose roles for him, which made him appear effeminate.

Valentino suffered a backlash from his fans, who didn’t like the change.

The studios soon went back in the roles that had made him famous. In 1926 he filmed The Son of the Sheik, which would become his biggest moneymaker.

But Rudolph Valentino would not live to see it.

Despite his screen image as a great lover, Valentino was not so successful in his personal life. His first wife locked him out of her room on their wedding night. The brief marriage was never consecrated.

His second wife, Natasha Rambova nearly destroyed his career.

Then there was that whole sex symbol thing. Women were constantly going into hysterics when they watched him on the screen. It seemed like every woman wanted Valentino.


John Barrymore

So, naturally, men hated him.

Thanks to Rambova’s effeminate roles his masculinity was questioned. After one newspaper columnist called him a “pink powderpuff” Valentino challenged him to a fight.

It wasn’t just ordinary men who feared that Valentino would steal their women; Hollywood stars were not immune.

Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., was he biggest movie star in the world during Valentino’s rise to stardom. The home he shared with hi second wife, Mary Pickford, was known as Pickfair, and it was the center of Hollywood’s universe.

Major stars – such as Charlie Chaplin and John Barrymore – often visited there.

Pickfair’s doors were open to everyone … well, not quite everyone. Valentino showed up once and Fairbanks and some of the other male stars made it clear to Valentino that he was not welcome. (This story was told to the author by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.)

On a promotional tour for The Son of the Sheik, Valentino became ill. He was taken to a New York hospital, where he had surgery on August 15, 1926, to treat acute appendicitis and ulcers.

In the days after his surgery, Valentino developed an infection known as peritonitis. The 31-year-old actor’s health quickly began to decline.

His devoted fans swamped the hospital’s phone lines with calls for the ailing star.

Valentino died on August 23, 1926. His last words were, “Don’t worry, chief, I will be all right.”





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