Friday, 6 May 2011

Happy Birthday, Valentino!

Ah. I knew some excuse would come along for me to write about one of my most beloved fantasy men. My favorite actor. One of the handsomest men in my world’s menagerie of gorgeous hunks.

Rudolph Valentino. The original gorgeous hunk. The original heart throb. The man who put the word Latin in Latin Lover. The sleek, brooding panther who invented “bedroom eyes”. The young film idol who rode onto the screen in 1921 and put the word “sheik” into the world’s vocabulary, making the word an icon that symbolized exotic passion and smoldering eyes. The first Great Lover of the Silver Screen.

Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Piero Filiberto Guglielmi was born on this day, in 1895, in Castellaneta, Italy. Today is his 116th birthday. So—Happy Birthday, Valentino!

I’m not going to go into a lengthy biography. I only want to dedicate a birthday card to the man who came to the United States in 1913, as a kid of 18. The kid who, by the age of 26 became the biggest male sex symbol in history by shocking the world with his exotic, erotic tango scene in Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

The story behind this legendary role was the stuff dreams were made of—a proverbial but true “rags to riches” story.

A powerful screen writer, June Mathis, by chance spotted him in a miniscule role in a film and knew she’d found “her” man for the role of Juan Gallardo in the much-anticipated production of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse—the role that every big-name movie star vied for, including Douglas Fairbanks. She used her weight to get the unknown, dark-skinned kid in the lead role for the film; her hunch paid off. Rudolph went to bed the night of the premier as a nobody immigrant kid from Italy—a bit part player, usually cast as a “heavy” because of his dark coloring—and woke up a sensation with the face that would launch women’s hearts to romantic depths until this very day.

The primo celebrità of all time was born.

When he played the role of Ahmed Ben Hassan in The Sheik, bringing to life the sweltering sexuality of Edith Hull’s novel of the same name, he only cemented his standing as the greatest screen lover of all time. A position which, in my mind, has never been usurped.

Rudolph Valentino. You might have never seen one of his films. But very few can hear the name and not immediately summon a vision of romance. Even if you can’t place his face, you know when you hear the name Valentino that it means romance, it means sensuality, seduction. You just know it. Your mind is immediately swept to black lace and tangos, blacker than black hair, hypnotic eyes, kisses on the palms of hands, romance under the desert stars, lips speaking silent words of passion, tuxedoes, swank grace, feline masculinity.

Behind the bigger than life veneer, though, stood a man who actually was very simple and very much in awe of his sex symbol status. A man who loved good books and owned an extensive library. A man who loved poetry (even had a book of beautiful poems published, titled Daydreams, which you can buy here), good music, art, and who knew several languages. An extremely educated man. He loved animals. He loved to work on cars. He fenced, rode horseback with the skill of a seasoned equestrian (did most of his own riding in his films, even the dangerous scenes). He loved to cook, especially for friends in his own home. He was a man whose real life was a far cry from the sizzling persona on the screen—a sweet, decent, loving man. A man who wanted desperately to shake his “sheik” image and find serious roles—he was, in fact, a very good actor.

He separated from his wife, Natacha Rambova, in 1925. Their parting at the train station was a highly publicized event—a photo journalist feeding frenzy. Photos still remain of their parting kiss as she stood on the train steps. They were to never meet again in life.

On August 15, 1926, during a stop in New York City for a promotional tour for his final film (tragically, no one could know it was indeed to be his last film), The Son of the Sheik, Valentino was stricken with an attack caused by a perforated ulcer. He was hospitalized in New York and lingered until August 23, then succumbed to complications of this condition.

His passing affected the public in a way unlike anything the world had ever seen. Public pandemonium ensued. At only 31 years old, The Great Lover was dead. Over 100,000 mourners packed the streets in New York where his body lay in state. His body was returned to California to be interred, where it still remains, in Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

I’m not sure why I’m doing this tribute to him. I have nothing to add that isn’t already common knowledge. I suppose I do so, wishing that those who only think they know who Rudolph Valentino is would stop for a moment to know him. Watch a silent film. You’d be surprised how beautiful his films are—how really interesting silent films are in general. A world of art that should be explored, where treasures of the senses wait, ready to delight.

So, happy birthday, Rudolph Valentino. You would have been 116 years old today. My, my. But, as tragic as your too-early death was, it served to forever stamp the picture of your youth, at the height of your beautiful life, forever in my mind.


Julie Lynn Hayes said...

What a lovely tribute to a lovely man! Thank you so much for painting this portrait of him. I would love to see one of his films, read more about him as well. Do you know of any good biographies?

Happy Birthday, Handsome!

C. Zampa said...

Good morning, Julie! Thank you!
There are many bios of him out there...some are a little liberal with facts...but the best one, the one I love the most, is 'Dark Lover" by Emily Leider. For starters. There is also a really good one, 'Madame Valentino' by Michael Morris, which centers more on his relationship with his wife. It's lovely.

Warning....he was a beautiful man with a bittersweet life.

Harlie Williams said...

Good morning and that was a very touching tribute to him. I've never seen his movies but my mother and aunt still talk about him all the time. He was a very good looking man and when he's names comes up I do think romance.

Happy Birthday!

Harlie Williams said...

Love the pictures, too.

Julie Lynn Hayes said...

Thank for the recommendation! I saw that listed at my library, and now that you have told me it's good, I've requested it. Also they have a copy of Son of the Sheik and Camille. Those should be good starts!

I love to read biographies of actors, especially of past eras. They give us glimpses into people we don't often get a chance to see, having been overshadowed by more current stars.

Did you ever write your sheik novel? You should!

C. Zampa said...

Hey, Harlie, lady! Thank you for visiting! I guess he's my favorite of all time..and was such a beautiful man, on screen and in person, inside and out.

Thank you!

C. Zampa said...

Oh, I'm excited that you're going to get to see the films, Julie!

I think The Son of the Sheik is my favorite film of his. Of course, you know how funny the silents can come across, and this is no exception...LOL. But he is heavenly in it, just a dream.

And I think you'll enjoy the bio. I love to read about the stars, too!
My favorite auto-bio of all time is 'Swanson on Swanson", Gloria Swanson's autobiography. I mean...what a woman.

Let me know what you think of the films!

Cherie Noel said...

Valentino was a rare beauty in both spirit and form. It is no wonder his name lives on as a emblem of potent male sexuality.

Brava, Carol, for bringing him to our attention today, and allowing us the chance to wish the man and his memory a very happy day of birth. I thank the fates for allowing him to grace this world at all. I'm not surprised he was taken early from this life...the Gods ever chose to bring that which is brightest and best close to themselves, yes?

C. Zampa said...

Hello, Cherie, sweetie! You're allowed a break from edits to wish Rudy a happy birthday! LOL...
Thanks for stopping by!

Yes, I agree with you. A bright, bright star that will never fade. Such sadness in his life,to have a family life, children, love from a woman. And I hope, wherever he is, he has lots of bambinos!

Thank you, sweetie, Hugs.

C. Zampa said...

Hello, Cherie, sweetie! You're allowed a break from edits to wish Rudy a happy birthday! LOL...
Thanks for stopping by!

Yes, I agree with you. A bright, bright star that will never fade. Such sadness in his life,to have a family life, children, love from a woman. And I hope, wherever he is, he has lots of bambinos!

Thank you, sweetie, Hugs.

Sarah Ballance said...

Your love shines through, Zampa. Lovely tribute.

C. Zampa said...

Hello, Sarah Ballance! And hugs!
Thank you!

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Wow, you out did yourself, dear Carol. Just think how many readers who didn't know Valentino do now. I remember my first introduction. It was a 1975 TV movie with Suzanne Pheshette and Franco Nero called The Legend of Valentino. It was afterwards that I went to the library and searched for everything I could find on Valentino. I was starstruck!

Nero and Valentino had so much in common.

Anonymous said...

What a lovely tribute to him, Carol!

Happy Birthday, RV.

Marie Rose Dufour said...

What a lovely tribute to an iconic actor. ;)

C. Zampa said...

Joylene, hello and hugs!
Oh, I wish I could turn everyone on to Valentino! But, hey. I hadn't had a crush on him all my life. I just happened to watch 'Camille' on TCM one Valentine's day and...I never got over him. LOL.

And I have that Franco Nero film where he's Valentino!

Thanks, lady, for visiting!

C. Zampa said...

Thank you, anonymous! And thank you for sharing his birthday with me!

C. Zampa said...

Thank you, Marie Rose! Oh, 'iconic' sure is the word for him, isn't it?

Janice Seagraves said...

Hi Carol,

I haven't seen a Valentino movie in ages, but your making want to look one up, lol.

A very nice tribute.


C. Zampa said...

Hello, Joyce!
I think, I'm going to get out my Rudy films and watch some of him myself. Sigh.
Thanks for visiting!