If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn't part of ourselves doesn't disturb us. ~~~Hermann Hesse
Rudolph Valentino, The Conquering Power
Everyone knows I'm a sappy Rudolph Valentino fan. In this girl's opinion, he was...hell, he still is...one of the most beautiful men in the history of film.
I've studied him extensively, read just about every biography ever written about him. Did you know he was an accomplisehd poet, that a collection of his poems (link here) is available even today?
To know anything about him is to know he was also---quite apart from his smoldering, exotic screen persona---a very down-to-earth, congenial person.
If one's knowledge of him is only limited to the connection between him and his legendary sex symbol status, they might not be aware that he just happened to be a victim of a very public attack against his sexuality---a target of malicious bullying.
On July 18, 1926, an anonymous author posted an editorial in the Chicago Tribune, directly ambushing Valentino and pinning the demorilzation of the world'd masculinity on the film star.
Here is the astonishing editorial in its entirety.
A new public ballroom was opened on the north side a few days ago, a truely handsome place and apparently well run. The pleasant impression lasts until one steps into the men's washroom and finds there on the wall a contraption of glass tubes and levers and a slot for thre insertion of a coin. The glass tubes contain a fluffy pink solid, and beneath them one reads an amazing legend which runs something like this: "Insert coin. Hold personal puff beneath the tube. Then pull the lever."
A powder vending machine! In a men's washroom! Homo Americanus! Why didn't some one quietly drown Rudolph Guglielmo [sic] , alias Valentino, years ago?
And was the pink powder machine pulled from from the wall or ignored? Itwas not . It was used. We personally saw two "men"-- as young lady contributors to the Voice of the people are wont to describe the breed-- step up, insert coin, hold kerchief beneath the spout, pull the lever, then take the pretty pink stuff and put it on their cheeks in front the mirrior.
Another member of this department, one of the most benevolent men on earth, burst raging into the office the other day because he had seen a young "man" combing his pomaded hair in the elevator. But we claim our pink powder story beats his all hollow.
It is time for a matriarchy if the male of the species allows such things to persist. Better a rule by masculine women than by effeminate men. Man began to slip, we are beginning to believe, when he discarded the straight razor for the safety pattern. We shall not be surprised when we hear that the safety razor has given way to the depilatory.
Who or what is to blame is what puzzles us. Is this degeneration into effeminacy a cognate reaction with pacifism to the virilities and the realities of the war? Are pink powder and parlor pinks in any way related? How does one reconcile masculine cosmetics, shieks, floppy pants, and slave bracelets with a disregard for law and an aptitude for crime more in keeping with the frontier of half a century ago than a twentieth-century metropolis?
Do women like the type of "man" who pats pink powder on his face in a public washroom and arranges his coiffure in a public elevator? Do woman at heart belong to the Wilsonian era of " I didn't Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier"? What has become of the old "caveman" line?
It is strange social phenomenon and one that is running its course not only here in america but in Europe as well. Chicago may have its powder puffs; London has its dancing men and Paris its gigolos. Down with Decatur; up with Elinor Glyn. Hollywood is the national school of masculinity. Rudy, the beautiful gardener's boy, is the prototype of the American male.
Hell's bells. Oh, sugar. --Chicago Tribune, July18, 1926
This horrific attack enraged Valentino to the point he even challenged the cowardly author of the article to come forward, make himself known. The film star staged a very public boxing match with the composer, to prove to the public that he indeed was not a pink powder puff, that he was a man.
The penman of the editorial never showed his face.
Valentino's sexuality has been a seat of hot debate for over 86 years. Whether he truly was homosexual or bi-sexual, no one will ever know. The man himself, though, found it important to be considered masculine, not to be judged by his appearance, his jewelry, his make-up or his hair, his love god persona. Or---most importantly---for his remarkable looks.
This attack, like so many of its kind, had a dramatic effect on Valentino. Historians claim the fury this ignited inside him which never ceased to boil, was the ultimate cause of his death from a perforated ulcer in August, 1926. I agree.
I always wondered about the coward who posted the editorial. What did he/she think when Valentino succumbed to the poisoning in his system from this ulcer's perforation? Did they feel any guilt, or were they happy that the 'Pink Powder Puff' passed on?
Did they realize they'd failed miserably when their hate-filled tirade did not stop the fashions trends, when men continued to sleek their hair with pomade and wore more jewelry than ever? What a sad loss of time and energy, to have done so much damage for so little impact on society. A whisper of a roar blowing in the wind.
To show you just how much this attack bothered the film star, do you know what his first words just out of surgery for the perforated ulcer? Did I behave like a pink powder puff or like a man?
The whole tragedy of Valentino---dead at 31 years old---is bad enough for me, makes my heart ache. But to know that question was the first thing on his mind after waking from surgery just twists the sad knife even more.
I'd never really thought about his expererience as a classic case of bullying before, but it is---after all---exactly that. And it's sobering to think just how long hatred has manifested itself in such forms. Forever. And forever.
An entity so aged and powerful seems impossible to ever conquer. But I refuse to believe it can't be done.