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Rudolph Valentino: A Silent Star Gone Too Soon

People from the world over end up in Hollywood some way or another, and some of them hit it big. Some are known for their hysterical performances, while others are known for their portrayal of serious action on the big screen. Though the film industry has evolved immensely over the last century, the traits good actors possess have more or less remained the same.

One thing that always helped an actor achieve stardom in Hollywood was their looks. Harold Lloyd was told he was too handsome to continue doing comedy. And there was William S. Hart whose dashing looks helped his cowboy persona on screen. Rudolph Valentino was basically the same when it came down to it, and he gathered a cult following due to his looks.

Who Was Rudolph Valentino? 

Who Was Rudolph Valentino

Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filiberto Guglielmi di Valentina d’Antonguella, professionally and more commonly known as Rudolph Valentino, was an Italian actor based in the United States. He was known to have starred in several popular films in the silent era, and was also a sex symbol in the 1920’s. He was affectionately known as “The Great Lover”, the “Latin Lover”, and “Valentino”.

Early Life 

Early Life 

Rudolph was born is Castellaneta, Apulia, Kingdom of Italy on the 6th of May, 1895 to French mother Marie Berthe Gabrielle Barbin and Italian father Giovanni Antonio Giuseppe Fedele Guglielmi di Valentina d’Antonguella. Even as a young boy Rudolph was known for his good looks. His mother loved him but his father was disapproving of him. Rudolph lost his father at the age of 11, and never got to know his older sister who had died in her infancy.

Rudolph never did well in school, and was later enrolled in agricultural school in Genoa. He earned a certificate from there and then moved to Paris. He returned to Italy in 1912 and, after failing to find a job, left for the “land of opportunity” the following year. Arriving in New York City, Valentino went about doing the odd job here and there to earn himself a living. He worked as a bus boy for Murray’s, a tango dancer for restauranteur Joe Pani, and a taxi dancer for Maxim’s Restaurant-Cabaret.

The Beginnings Of His Career

The Beginnings Of His Career

Rudolph had befriended a Chilean heiress by the name Blanca de Saulles. When Ms. Saulles divorced her husband, Rudolph Valentino stood by her side at the trial. This resulted in Ms. Saulles’ ex-husband using some political connections to have Rudolph imprisoned. However, no solid charges ever came forward and Rudolph’s bail was considerably lowered. Rudolph struggled to find employment after his well-publicized arrest, and when Ms. Saulles murdered her husband shortly after, Valentino left town with a travelling musical in fear of being called in as a witness.

In the year 1917 Rudolph found himself in Utah; having had travelled there with an operetta company that had disbanded. He then travelled to Los Angeles with an Al Jolson production of Robinson Crusoe Jr. His travels didn’t end there, and after some time he found himself in San Francisco. It was here when Valentino met Norman Kerry, an American actor. Norman convinced Valentino to try his hand at cinema and the pair moved back to Los Angeles as roommates.

Valentino continued to dance as well as teach people to dance. His dancing gained him fame and he soon had his own room on Sunset Boulevard. At this time Valentino began actively seeking screen roles. His first ever part in a film was as an extra in “Alimony”. Though he tried hard to be cast as a hero for once, he usually got roles as a villain while producers cast more “American looking” men as the leads in films. It wasn’t until 1919 that screenwriter June Mathis saw his part in “Eyes of Youth” and decided to seek him out for her next film.

Discovering Valentino

Discovering Valentino

Rudolph had been getting tired of playing gangsters and heavies on screen, and visited New York City again in 1917. There he met Paul Ivano, someone who would greatly influence Valentino’s career going forward. When Valentino read the novel “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”, he sought a trade paper. Upon discovering Metro Pictures Corporation had bought the film rights to the story, he sought their office. And then he met screenwriter June Mathis, who had been trying to find Valentino to cast him in the film.

“The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” released in 1921 and was wildly successful; being one of the first ever films to gross $1,000,000 at the box office. Because of director Rex Ingram’s lack of faith in Valentino however, Metro Pictures refused to give Valentino a raise, and forced him to play a part in a B-film called “Uncharted Seas”. Valentino worked on films “Camille” and “The Conquering Power” for Metro before finally quitting the company.

Rudolph Valentino joined Famous Players-Lasky which would later be known as Paramount Pictures. June Mathis followed by quitting Metro Pictures as well. Valentino was cast in the film “The Sheik”. Released in 1921, the film was a critical success and cemented Valentino’s image as the “Latin Lover”. He worked on other films in the following months; “Moran of the Lady Letty” which got mixed reviews but was popular with audiences and “Beyond the Rocks”, which was a critical disappointment. In 1922 however, Valentino began work on “Blood and Sand”, a film that was very successful and was called a masterpiece on par with “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”.

Valentino’s Strike 

Valentino’s Strike

Angry over how much he made, and the fact that “Blood and Sand” was not shot in Spain and instead in Hollywood, Rudolph Valentino went on a strike against Famous Players-Lasky. In 1922, Valentino refused to accept paychecks until the dispute was solved. Famous Players-Lasky sued him in return. Famous Players-Lasky, realizing he was a valuable asset, upped his salary immensely soon after. But with Variety having erroneously announced the increase as a new contract, Valentino rejected the offer.

Famous Players-Lasky, angry with Valentino’s behavior, called him more trouble than he was worth. As other studios began to try to employ him however, Famous Players-Lasky extended his contract, forcing him to remain with them. As Valentino continued to spiral into debt, he filed an appeal, a portion of which was granted. Effective from then on, he could accept employment as long as it was not as an actor.

The Following Years 

The Following Years 

George Ullman became Rudolph Valentino’s manager, and convinced Valentino to go on tour with Mineralava Beauty Clay Company. Valentino and his wife performed in 88 cities across the United States and Canada, and the tour was a huge success. Soon after, a contract was negotiated with Famous Players-Lasky, and Valentino played in “Monsieur Beaucaire”, which was a failure. Valentino played in one final film for Famous Players-Lasky; “A Sainted Devil” in 1924. That film too ended up as a disappointment. Valentino played in a few more films, and soon got into a contract with United Artists where he worked on a further few unspectacular films. It wasn’t until 1926, when “The Son of the Sheik” released, that Valentino was seen in another successful film.

Valentino’s death at the ripe young age of 31 caused quite a stir among his large fanbase, which mostly consisted of women. Valentino had been hospitalized for some time after he had collapsed due to appendicitis and gastric ulcers. Though it was initially believed that he would make a full recovery, his condition soon worsened. Doctors chose to withhold that information, and on the 23rd of August, 1926, Valentino died a few hours after having chatted to doctors about his future. His death strengthened his status as a cultural film icon.


Every actor has their ups and downs. Many fall into depression and then recover, while others try to cling to the old fashioned way of doing movies as the audience evolves. Whatever it may be however, many do find some modicum of success even after a few tumbles. It’s sad that Valentino was taken from us so soon. There is no doubt he could have starred in a lot of future successful films. After all, 31 is still an age where many actors are finding their footing.

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