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Valentino: Q&A with Author Allan Ellenberger

Rudolph Valentino Funeral death The Valentino Mystique

Rudolph Valentino death, funeral, and legacy discussed in new book: The Valentino Mystique

Allan R. Ellenberger's meticulously researched The Valentino Mystique: The Death and Afterlife of the Silent Film Idol (McFarland & Company) describes in great detail the circumstances surrounding Rudolph Valentino's death and funeral in 1926. The star of the blockbusters The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, The Sheik, and Blood and Sand was only 31 years old.

In The Valentino Mystique, Allan – I've known him for quite some time – also discusses the aftermath of the Valentino's death, including the suicides, funeral riots, fights over the estate, and Pola Negri's countless fainting spells. Negri, a top Paramount star in the mid-'20s, used to claim that only death prevented Valentino from marrying her.

Rudolph Valentino is back in Beyond the Rocks

Rudolph Valentino is currently back in the public eye following the discovery of the 1922 melodrama Beyond the Rocks, in which he plays Gloria Swanson's love interest. Beyond the Rocks had its 21st-century premiere in Amsterdam, and is scheduled to be shown at the Cannes Film Festival in the spring.

In addition to The Valentino Mystique, Allan Ellenberger has also written books on Ramon Novarro and Margaret O'Brien, in addition to Celebrities in Los Angeles Cemeteries: A Directory.

The Valentino Mystique author Allan Ellenberger answers five questions about silent film star Rudolph Valentino, who would have turned 111 years old yesterday. Valentino died at the height of his fame in 1926.

1 - Valentino was a personality - but was he an actor?

I believe that he was. He gives good performances, especially in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Blood and Sand, and The Eagle, among others. There were times, however, that he was inclined to overact, such as his eye-popping performance in The Sheik. But overall I don't believe he could have achieved that level of popularity with his fans had he only been a pretty boy.

 

2 - In your book, The Valentino Mystique: The Death and Afterlife of the Silent Film Idol, you discuss in detail Valentino's death, his funeral, and its aftermath. Are those stories about women killing themselves true?

To this day, a lot of Valentino enthusiasts will tell you that many distraught fans took their own life upon hearing the news of the Sheik's death. One story revolves around a young Parisian elevator operator who was reportedly found nude on a hotel bed surrounded by photos of Valentino. In 1996 a short film called Taxi Dancer was made that supposedly told this story.

One documented suicide attempt took place on the Lower East Side of New York two months after Valentino's death. On Halloween morning a twenty-year-old mother of two was found gravely wounded on the floor of her apartment surrounded by photos of Valentino. She told police that she wanted to join her idol in death but had unsuccessfully consumed iodine and took two shots at herself. She was arrested for violating the Sullivan law (she had a .22-calibre pistol in her possession without a permit) and was taken to the prison hospital ward.

The truth is that there is only one suicide that can be directly linked to Valentino. That occurred in London two days after the actor's death. Peggy Scott, a 27-year-old actress, was found dead from poison in a friend's flat, again, surrounded by photographs of Valentino and letters reportedly written to the young woman from the actor. Scott left several suicide notes expressing tremendous grief over Valentino's death.

 

3 - At the funeral, Pola Negri, then a major film star, tried to steal the limelight from Valentino's body. Is it true that they were having an affair right before he died? Or was that all a publicity stunt?

Negri and Valentino were having an affair before his death, but it was not an exclusive relationship. Valentino dated other women at the same time he was seeing Pola, mainly when he was traveling outside of Hollywood. However, the “publicity stunt” - at least in many people's minds - came about after Valentino's death and her so-called “performance” at the two funerals. Pola claimed that she and Rudy were engaged to be married but no one else was privy to this information, including Valentino's manager and close confidant, George Ullman. That didn't look good for Pola. Many believed that the actress went too far with her emotions over Valentino's death, and that possibly hurt her career.

 

4 - Do you believe that Valentino would be as well known today had he died in the 1960s or 1970s?

Probably not. With some exceptions, there is something about dying young in Hollywood at the height of popularity that seems to assure lasting fame. Look at James Dean, Marilyn, and Elvis - all still very well-known today, but could the same be said had they died a natural death at old age? Had Valentino lived, he probably would have been affected by the coming of sound pictures and been limited in his film performances because of his accent. But it is always possible that he could have followed Greta Garbo and Ramon Novarro, and continued in leading roles. Whatever scenario his life would have followed, I doubt that his fame would continue with the same intensity that some fans now hold him up to.

 

5 - What would you say is Valentino's legacy?

Sadly, I believe that Valentino's legacy is his death. While he left behind several good films such as The Four Horsemen, Blood and Sand, and the recently discovered, Beyond the Rocks, it is his death and the way he is memorialized today that people remember the most. Each year on the anniversary of his death, crowds still gather at his crypt to venerate him. What other star of any generation can say that?

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6 Comments to Valentino: Q&A with Author Allan Ellenberger

  1. Fannie

    I tried to watching his films & found them incredibly boring. I could not make it through 4 horses of the apocalypse was so fossil-awful that I gave up at part 3. I cannot even recall what I watched, it was that boring. blood and Sand was insipid and I watched it all through the end. I have not seen Ty Power's version yet but I expect it to be much superior.I do wonder if Tyrone was a fan of his. somehow I want to sat yes. I did not understand any mystique at all Hids Sheik in the bedsheet was laughable with the over acting that you described. Charlie Chaplin, I get it. RV? Explain to me what you like in his terribly boring movies & unremarkable acting & near invisible & comatose screen presence.

  2. Fannie

    I Hit back browser and found my comment here so why did it land on the Alfred Hitchcock page? all I did was hit submit. This is really weird. The legend Tyrone Power surpassed that of Valentino. Ty was more talented and even more handsome. every year Fabs gather at his tomb for a celebration. they are film screenings daughter Romina and sometimes Taryn attend. I haven't met anyone who can tell you what Rodolfo looks like no one has ever seen one of his films. many people can name several of tyrone movies And have seen a few!
    I only know RV because I found old reels of his Sheik movies in my grandfather's attic. don't know if they are worth anything but will try to sell.

  3. Sandra Laramy

    Valentino will NEVER be replaced. He will never come again in the actors of today.

    Rudy was of an era that will never be again - the “trash” of today in TV and Movies.

  4. Detscan

    I've been searching for a copy of Valentino's The Eagle-uncut. Does one exist in the U.S.? The two scenes I am aware of that have been cut from available copies are, 1) Valentino tutoring Banky outdoors under a tree, and 2) Valentino massaging Banky's neck after he has done so for her father. If not on a complete issue, do you have any idea at all where these scenes can be viewed? Thanks.

  5. natasha

    Valentino is much underrated today. Peole should watch his movies before putting him down. He could be a very accomplished actor. Just look at him in The Four Horsemen or The Son of the Sheik. Two very different roles and he excels in both.

  6. Mirianne

    Oh, Valentino was so beautiful!!