Post by Graveyardbride on Sept 7, 2016 0:30:26 GMT -5
August 23, 1926: The Death and Return of Rudolph Valentino
The year 1925 found screen idol Rudolph Valentino (born May 6, 1895) heavily in debt and having little choice but to star in a sequel to The Sheik, a role he despised. The Son of the Sheik – based on Edith Maude Hill’s romance novel of the same name – premiered July 8, 1926, at The Million Dollar Theater in Los Angeles. Immediately thereafter, Rudy and his agent, George Ullman, set off on a cross-country tour to promote the film which was scheduled for nationwide release September 5, 1926.
By the time the two reached New York, the city was in the midst of a heat wave. They checked into the Ambassador Hotel and on Sunday, July 25, Valentino made an appearance at the Mark Strand Theater at 1579 Broadway, where The Son of the Sheik was premiering. The temperature was close to 100°, but the crowd took no heed as they formed a double line stretching all the way to 8th Avenue. As the superstar exited the movie palace, women clawed and ripped at his clothing, snatching his handkerchief and tearing off his necktie, the buttons on his coat and even his cufflinks. When he finally reached the relative safety of the car, one crazed woman jumped onto the running board and attempted to enter the vehicle. Such was the appeal of the “Latin Lover.”
But not everyone was obsessed with the brooding star of the silent silver screen. Some news reporters dismissed him as a one-dimensional character who capitalized on his good looks. Actually, nothing could have been farther from the truth. In fact, Valentino was a highly intelligent, cultured gentleman, fluent in five languages, a voracious reader, a lover of art and an accomplished equestrian. But while women swooned, finding the dark, sensuous actor irresistible, and many men attempted to emulate his slick-backed hair and mannerisms, there were a few journalists who considered him a “dandy,” criticizing his wristwatch, slave bracelet and flamboyant dress, which they considered effeminate. Photoplay published an article wherein Herbert Hove wrote: “The movie boys haven’t been the same. They're all racing around wearing spit curls, bobbed hair and silk panties. ... This can't keep up. The public can stand just so many ruffles and no more.”
The rumors that Valentino was more a pansy than a stud stemmed from his two disastrous matrimonial escapades. His first marriage to Jean Acker, a lesbian whom he took as his wife in 1919, lasted only six hours. The marriage was never consummated and a divorce was granted. As soon as Rudy received the interlocutory decree, he and Natacha Rambova drove across the border to Mexico, where they were pronounced man and wife May 13, 1922. Unfortunately, Valentino didn’t understand American law and soon discovered he and Jean Acker weren’t divorced and wouldn’t be until the decree absolute was entered, which wouldn’t happen until the following year. As a consequence, the movie star was jailed for bigamy and he and Natacha were forced to live apart until they could legally marry. Worse, to avoid further legal repercussions, he was forced to falsely claim he and Natacha never consummated their marriage either. One unconsummated marriage people might understand, but two? Many were convinced the Lothario of the silver screen wasn’t much of a lover. As soon as the decree absolute was issued, Rudy and Natacha married for the second time on May 14, 1923.
Gloria Swanson and Valentino co-starred in the 1922 film, Beyond the Rocks, and the two remained friends. It was she who told him about a property high in the Hollywood hills overlooking Los Angeles and when he saw the 16-room, Spanish/Mediterranean house, it was love at first sight. Natacha was somewhat less enthralled, even though her husband gave her free rein to decorate their new home as she pleased in her favorite Art Deco/Art Nouveau-influenced style, asking only that she allow him a “masculine” study and business office. To Rudy, the estate was heaven: there was room enough to accommodate his horses and dogs, as well as the children he wanted. He signed the papers in 1925 and christened his new abode “Falcon Lair” in tribute to the screenplay, The Hooded Falcon, written for him by his beloved wife. Valentino was busy making preparations for the film, but because of cost overruns – a result of the star’s lavish spending on costumes and other items – combined with the fact studio executives found Natacha’s constant meddling insufferable, the project was shelved. Rudy was disappointed, but this was the least of his worries: Natacha didn’t want children and in short order, she was gone, leaving Valentino once again garbed in the contrived costume of an Arab sheik.
But it was the Chicago Tribune that made Rudy’s Italian blood boil that summer when, on July 18, the paper published an unsigned editorial entitled “Pink Power Puffs,” in which the writer accused Valentino of being responsible for a face-powder dispenser in a public men’s room: “A powder vending machine! In a men's washroom! Homo Americanus! Why didn't someone quietly drown Rudolph Guglielmo, alias Valentino, years ago? ... 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? ... Hollywood is the national school of masculinity. Rudy, the beautiful gardener’s boy, is the prototype of the American male.”
Valentino was incensed and Oscar Doob, The Son of the Sheik press agent, suggested he challenge the “Pink Power Puffs” writer to a duel. Rudy penned a seething letter to the Tribune’s competitor, The Chicago Herald-Examiner, saying: “To the man (?) who wrote the editorial entitled ‘Pink Powder Puffs’ in Sunday’s Tribune, I call you in return, a contemptible coward and to prove which of us is a better man, challenge you to a personal test.”
Dueling being illegal, the actor challenged his critic to a boxing match, after which he approached his friend Jack Dempsy for a few tips. Apparently, the “beautiful gardener’s boy” wasn’t bad because Dempsy told Frank O’Neill, boxing writer for The New York Evening Journal, who offered to take the anonymous writer’s place, “Valentino’s no sissy, believe me. ... He packs a pretty mean punch.” This rather silly exchange resulted in a match on the roof of The Ambassador Hotel, in which Valentino decked the larger O’Neill, proving he was no “poof.”
Though he exercised and appeared to be the picture of health, the film star drank and smoked 40 to 50 cigarettes a day. For weeks that summer, he had been complaining of “nervous indigestion” for which he took copious amounts of bicarbonate of soda. Most assumed his health complaints were a manifestation of the pressures of promoting his new film, the breakup of his marriage to Natacha Rambova, his debts and the attacks on his manhood. When he was seen in clubs and speakeasies until the wee hours of the morning, his friends dismissed it as nothing more than a man attempting to drown his sorrows. Then one evening during dinner with Norma Talmadge and Joseph Schenck, Rudy admitted to having “a terrible pain” in his right side and declared, “Do you know, I believe I’ve got appendicitis.” Schenck advised him to either “go to a doctor or forget about it.”
Finally, on Sunday, August 15, the pain became debilitating and Valentino collapsed at the hotel. Ullman sent for Dr. Paul Durham and after examining the star, the physician realized his condition was serious. Even so, it was four hours before an ambulance was called. When at last he was transported to New York Polyclinic Hospital, doctors diagnosed appendicitis, necessitating immediate surgery. Dr. Harold J. Meeker opened the actor’s abdomen, discovered the diagnosis was wrong and that his patient was suffering from a perforated ulcer. But there was a much more serious problem: infection. There were no antibiotics in 1926 and all Meeker could do was clean the abdominal cavity as best he could and hope for the best. Following surgery, Rudy was moved to a private 8th-floor suite to recover from the ether, after which he vomited blood.
From August 16 onward, Valentino was feverish, unable to eat and in obvious discomfort. Doctors administered injections of narcotics for pain and vitamins to maintain his strength. At the end of the day on August 19, Ullman released the following statement from Rudolph Valentino:
“I have been deeply touched by the many telegrams, cables and letters that have come to my bedside. It is wonderful to know that I have so many friends and well-wishers both among those it has been my privilege to meet and among the loyal unknown thousands who have seen me on the screen and whom I have never seen at all. Some of the tributes that have affected me the most have come from my ‘Fans’ – friends – men, women and little children. God bless them. Indeed I feel that my recovery has been greatly advanced by the encouragement given me by everyone.”
As the days passed, his fever increased and he was moaning and panting in an attempt to breathe. Nurses fought back tears as they tended their famous patient and doctors ordered heavier doses of narcotics to ease his anguish. Although he was weak and in what must have been agony, for the most part, the stricken idol suffered in silence.
From the day he entered the hospital, newspapers had reported Valentino’s condition and crowds gathered outside, eager for news of the Italian heartthrob. On the evening of Monday, August 20, Rudy’s condition worsened. His fever remained steady, but his abdomen was swollen, bruised and blotchy and an x-ray confirmed pleurisy (inflammation of the pleura, the double-layered membrane lining the rib cage) had set in. His breathing became more labored and the pain so intense he could no longer stifle his moans. Dr. Meeker advised his patient of the gravity of his situation and a priest was called. Valentino confessed and was granted absolution, but was too weak to take communion. By Tuesday morning, the doctors were administering morphine, but either he wasn’t receiving an amount sufficient to relieve his pain, or the drug wore off, for the star grasped the rails of his bed and clenched his teeth. Finally though, he closed his eyes and whispered, “Maman ....” (Valentino’s devoted mother had died seven years earlier in 1919.) Physicians ordered additional morphine and this time, the drug brought a brief respite to his suffering. He also called out to Natacha Rambova, but she was in Europe and could not be by his side. However, she and her former husband had been exchanging loving telegrams and she believed they had reconciled.
The intense heat increased as the sun rose ever higher in the cloudless sky and there were so many well-wishers gathered outside the hospital that Valentino could hear them from his open window. But he didn’t seem to be disturbed because the yells and catcalls had been replaced by hushed murmurs as though his fans knew the man they idolized didn’t have long to live. When Dr. Meeker proceeded to close the blinds, Valentino, in one of his few moments of lucidity, stopped him. The star then fell into a semi-comatose state, rousing only to writhe in pain as the infection spread the poison throughout his body. By this time, the doctors knew death was inevitable and they joined Ullman, who was openly weeping, in the corridor. Again the priests were called and this time, they administered Extreme Unction.
A little before noon on Wednesday, August 23, Meeker wiped his patient’s face and neck with a cool cloth. The man on the bed, perspiring profusely and wracked with pain, was hardly recognizable as the famous Rudolph Valentino, the seductive star who instilled lust in women. Then, as two priests knelt at the foot of the bed praying for his soul, the actor’s body stiffened in a spasm of intense pain, his eyes fluttered open, then closed, and the Latin Lover entered immortality.
The Funeral. A crowd of what was estimated to be at last 100,000 turned out to pay their final respects to The Sheik. Newspapers reported suicides by fans who felt they couldn’t live without the man they had come to love and the windows of the Frank Campbell Funeral Home were broken by crazed citizens attempting to force their way inside. On August 24, there was disorder in the streets the entire day and into the night and a reserve unit was called in to assist in excess of a hundred mounted officers in addition to those uniformed policemen lining the streets. Inside the mortuary, Pola Negri, the actress who claimed to be Rudy’s fiancée, collapsed in a fit of hysteria over the coffin. This wasn’t the only drama, four actors had been paid to perform as an Italian Blackshirt honor guard, the implication being that Benito Mussolini had sent them to look after an honored countryman. The funeral mass itself was held at St. Malachy’s Roman Catholic Church at West 49th and Broadway.
Following the funeral, Valentino’s body was transported to the West Coast by train and a second funeral took place at the Catholic Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills. In life, the actor had made no death arrangements and June Mathis, a friend, offered her crypt on a temporary basis until an elaborate memorial, befitting a person of Rudy’s stature, could be constructed. Ms. Mathis died the following year and Rudy was placed in the adjoining crypt. To this day, the two remain interred side-by-side at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
Valentino left his estate to his brother, sister and Natacha Rambova’s aunt, Teresa Werner, who shared what he had originally bequeathed to his wife.
Valentino’s Ghost. If the stories are true, Valentino’s apparition is one of the most active of all time. Both he and Natacha dabbled in the occult, holding séances and using automatic writing to communicate with the dear departed when they were together. Following his death, Ms. Rambova claimed to have been in contact with her former husband’s spirit and told people Rudy refused to believe he was dead.
Not long after the Latin Lover’s untimely demise, a friend of Falcon Lair’s caretakers was staying in the house while visiting Los Angeles. Late one night, as she sat writing letters, she heard footsteps. She looked out into the corridor and no one was there, but she saw doors opening and closing, the knobs turned as if by unseen hands. Later, she wondered why Valentino’s two Great Danes – excellent watchdogs that raised a ruckus if a stranger set foot on the property – didn’t so much as whimper while “something” was walking around opening and closing doors. Then it hit her: dogs don’t bark at their owners.
Jules Howard, a diamond broker, purchased Falcon Lair for $145,000, but, curiously, never lived there. Instead, he rented the place to various tenants and it wasn’t long before rumors spread that Rudy never left the building. In 1930, Harry Carey, who had just returned from Africa, rented Falcon Lair and moved into the house with his wife and two sons. “Our friends insisted to us the house was haunted and advised against moving in,” he said at the time, “but the stables were too good to pass up – you know I still have my horse – so, we moved in anyway.” After family members were kept awake by tapping noises, banging windows and howling winds, he remarked, “Africa was wild, but our first several nights in the house were wilder.” As a result, he began searching for a rational explanation for the phenomena and discovered a maze of electrical wires, various devices, etc. for creating ghosts. It seems a former caretaker had held séances in the house and took measures to make certain the spirits appeared. Though the props explained most of the “hauntings,” they didn’t explain everything. “... there is something strange and spooky about the place,” Carey told The Los Angeles Times. “In spite of all we found out, when our lease expires, we’re going back to the wide open spaces of the ranch.”
The next owner was Juan Romero, an art dealer, who bought the property for $18,000 in 1934, but spent little time in the home. In 1945, Ann Harding, the actress, and her husband purchased the estate, but sold it the following year to the very rich Mrs. Gerald “Gyspy” Buys, a Valentino afficionado. It was her intention to restore Falcon Lair to its former glory. On May 6, 1948 – what would have been The Sheik’s 53rd birthday – Gyspy held a séance in his beloved mansion on the hill. Some of those present insisted Valentino made his presence known and one participant saw the actor appear at a window.
In 1951, the estate was purchased by Robert Balzar, however, he, like some of his predecessors, never lived in the house, instead, choosing to rent it to movie stars and others who required a temporary domicile.
Gloria Swanson rented Falcon Lair for a time in 1953 and on one occasion, invited her friend, Doris Duke, the tobacco heiress, for tea. Ms. Duke, like Rudy Valentino before her, fell in love with the Benedict Canyon estate overlooking Beverly Hills. She liked the property because it was relatively private – a place where she could retreat from public life. She purchased Falcon Lair in April 1953 and proceeded to remodel and redecorate the dwelling and added an apostrophe to its name, calling it “Falcon’s Lair.”
Bernard Lafferty, the butler to whom Ms. Duke left most of her fortune, revealed to friends that both he and his employer sometimes felt Valentino’s presence and, on occasion, there was the unmistakable scent of cigarette smoke in parts of the house where no one had been smoking. Lafferty particularly recalled a warm spring evening in the late 1980s shortly after he was hired. He drove up to Falcon Lair just as it was growing dark and was shocked to see a man wearing what appeared to be light-colored riding britches near the entrance to the mansion. But when he looked again, the gentleman was nowhere to be seen. He questioned members of staff, but no one was visiting and the employees who worked outside had gone home hours earlier. Lafferty felt it his duty to mention the incident to Ms. Duke and was surprised when she smiled and commented the man was probably Rudolph Valentino, admitting she had seen him too and was happy he was still around. According to Lafferty, she said the star’s “visits” were much more frequent during her first few years in the house.
Valentino’s ghost also haunted the Falcon Lair stables – one stable worker walked off the job and never returned after encountering the spirit of his former master petting one of his horses. For many years, people passing Falcon Lair told of seeing a man who looked a lot like Rudolph Valentino and many were shocked when they learned he once lived in the house.
Doris Duke died at Falcon Lair in 1993 and the estate was bulldozed in 2006. Now all that remains of Valentino’s beloved home are the garage and surrounding wall. Even the wrought iron gates have been replaced.
Another location where the idol of the silver screen attempts to get into bed with women is Room 210 – though it is Room 221 that has a star and Valentino’s name on its door – of the Santa Maria Inn in Santa Maria, California, which was one of his favorite getaway spots. Female guests in 210 have reported feeling the presence of a man in the room after they turn out the lights and a few have felt someone sit down on the edge of their bed. One woman came out of the bathroom and for a brief moment, actually saw Valentino lying on the bed as though waiting for her. Another felt The Sheik’s soft, cool “spirit kiss” on her check as she was falling asleep.
Many have reported encountering the Latin Lover’s dark shade pacing back and forth on the veranda at Casa Valentino, located a 3125 Beach Drive in Oxnard, California, where, it is claimed, Rudy lived while filming The Sheik. But no one knows for certain the movie was filmed at this location. Some say the outdoor scenes were done at Santa Barbara and others, including Gregg Niemann in Palm Spring Legends: Creations of a Desert Oasis, insist exterior scenes were shot in Palm Springs. According to other sources, the desert scenes were actually filmed at a place called the “Walking Dunes” in East Hampton, New York, not far from the Famous Player Astoria Studios in Queens, where most of the movie was made. Additionally, like Valentino Place, records suggest 3125 Beach Drive wasn’t built until after Rudy’s death.
The Musso and Frank Grill at 6667 Hollywood Blvd. is haunted by a young fellow bearing a striking resemblance to Rudy Valentino. The slightly transparent gentleman in white shirt, tan slacks and tie has been known to smile at women as they enter or leave the ladies’ room before vanishing into thin air. When Rudy had dinner at Musso and Frank’s, he often rode his horse from Villa Valentino (where he lived before purchasing Falcon Lair – Villa Valentino was razed long ago) and tied the animal outside. The Sheik has also been seen astride a white horse, riding at breakneck speed through the surf and sand at Will Rogers State Beach. Some witnesses of this particular phantom swear Rudy has a blood-red rose clenched in his teeth. Given Valentino’s love of horses, is it any wonder he continues to ride in the hereafter?
According to local ghost-hunters, De Longpre Park at 1350 N. Cherokee Avenue in Los Angeles is a hotbed of paranormal activity. There are two statues in the park dedicated to Valentino’s memory, and one of them, entitled “Aspiration,” was created to adorn his elaborate tomb that was never built. Some attribute the movie star’s unrest to the fact he was interred in a borrowed crypt and has never had a resting place of his own. The corpses of at least two women have been discovered at the foot of the Art-Deco statue: one committed suicide and the other was murdered.
One of the most mysterious Valentino hauntings takes place at the Los Angeles Pet Cemetery, 5068 N. Old Scandia Lane in Calabasas, California. This is where Rudy’s Great Dane, Kabar, is buried and people claim to have seen the huge animal’s shade padding about the graveyard. Others have heard the panting of an invisible dog and a few insist they’ve felt an invisible canine lick their hands.
Ladies in Black. On August 23, 1927, the first anniversary of Valentino’s death, a veiled lady in black, carrying a single, long-stemmed red rose, appeared at The Sheik’s crypt. At the time, there were those who dismissed the incident as some sort of publicity stunt, but every August 23rd thereafter, she returned. No one knew her identity, but in 1974, a woman named Ditra Flame came forward and admitted she was the lady in black. She said that as a young girl, Rudy visited her at the hospital when she was ill and told her she would outlive him by many years, but when he died, he wanted her to visit his grave site and talk to him so he wouldn’t be lonely. She promised she would and did so until 1954 when several other veiled women began appearing at the dead star’s crypt. She resumed her visits in 1977 and continued until 1984 when she joined him in death. In the 1970s, Spanish actress Estrellita del Regil donned a black dress and veil and began visiting Valentino’s grave because of her mother’s lifelong infatuation for the handsome actor. To this day, on the anniversary of his death, black-clad women appear at Valentino’s resting place and long-stemmed red roses still adorn his crypt.
Valentino’s Cursed Ring. There is a persistent story that Rudy purchased an unusual cat’s eye ring in San Francisco, despite the shop owner’s warning that it was cursed. He wore the ring while filming The Young Ralph, which flopped miserably, leading the star to believe the ring was, indeed, jinxed. He put it away and did not wear it again until the summer of 1926 when he left on his tour to promote The Son of the Sheik.
Following his death, Rudy’s close friends were allowed to choose an item belonging to the star as a memento and Pola Negri picked the cat’s eye ring. Almost immediately, she began having rotten luck. First, she was widely criticized for marrying Serge Mdivani, a Georgian prince, in May 1927 after her performance at Valentino’s funeral, at which she hysterically proclaimed Rudy to have been the love of her life and they were engaged to be married. Then she suffered a miscarriage and was ill a long time thereafter. To compound her woes, Mdivani was squandering her fortune on dubious business ventures. By 1931, the lady was back in Hollywood and the following year, met singer Russ Columbo, who was billed as “Radio’s Valentino” because of his resemblance to the late film star. In 1934, she presented Columbo the cat’s eye ring, saying, “From one Valentino to another.” A few days thereafter, on September 2, 1934, Columbo was shot under peculiar circumstances while visiting the home of Lansing Brown.
Joe Casino, a friend of Columbo’s, was the next owner of the cat’s eye and he was run down and killed by a truck. The ring was then passed to Del Casino, Joe’s brother (or cousin), who never wore it, instead displaying it in a glass case. One night his house was broken into by James Willis, a sneak thief, and as Willis was running from Casino’s home, police shot and killed him. One of the items found on his person was Valentino’s ring.
In 1938, Del Casino loaned the ring to film director, Edward Small, who was planning a movie documenting the late Latin Lover’s life. Jack Dunn, a 21-year-old champion British ice-skater-turned-actor was to play the role of Rudolph Valentino and wear the cat’s eye ring in the film. Small presented the ring to Dunn on the day the young actor was beginning his first venture into filmdom in The Duke of West Point, after which he would begin working on Small’s movie. But it was not to be, for while wearing the cursed ring, Dunn contracted tularemia, a rare disease spread by rabbits, and died July 16, 1938.
Following Dunn’s death, the ring was allegedly returned to Del Casino, who relegated it to a bank vault. There are tales that the bank was robbed, caught on fire and suffered other calamities while the ring was on the premises, but such hasn’t been verified. Today, some contend The Sheik’s cat’s eye ring is still locked in the vault of a Los Angeles bank, while others claim it is in the possession of a New York barber. A few insist that after Dunn’s death, the cursed object disappeared and its whereabouts remain unknown.
Today, Rudolph Valentino remains one of the most-recognized names in the United States. Even those who know nothing about the Roaring 20s superstar’s life, death, or afterlife, are familiar with his name. By any measure, this is quite an achievement for a man who died at age 31. But it cannot be denied that he suffered more than his fair share of bad luck. Was it all because he failed to listen to the warning of an obscure shopkeeper and bought a ring that sealed his fate?
Sources: The Valentino Mystique: The Death and Afterlife of the Silent Film Idol by Allan R. Ellenberger; Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino by Emily W. Leider; Donna Hill, Falcon Lair; “The Death of Rudolph Valentino”; Richard Carradine, CreepyLA; Hollywood Ghosts: The Famous Phantoms of Filmdom by Richard Senate; My Love for Old Hollywood; The Daily Mail; Jenny Paschall and Ron Lyon, The Express; Hadley Meares, “Prisoners of Fame: Falcon Lair, Rudolph Valentino, Doris Duke and the Cult of Celebrity Death,” Departure Columns, January 14, 2016; Duke University; A Grave Interest; Ryan Stevens, Skate Guard, February 19, 2015; and Falcon Lair: The Rudolph Valentino Page.