Remembering Rudolph Valentino: The Sex Symbol Whose Premature Death Caused Mass Hysteria And A Riot
His name was Rodolfo Alfonso Rafaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina D’Antonguolla but by the time he died at the age of 31, Rudolph Valentino would have completely transformed America’s idea of sex and the art of seduction.
Born in 1895 in Italy, Valentino came to the United States in 1913. All of 18, the young Valentino went on to support himself by doing odd jobs – by the time he found fame in Hollywood, the Italian had worked as a gardener, taxi dancer and had associations with unhappy, wealthy women who paid handsomely for the company of such a good-looking, exotic young man.
The movies shot during Hollywood’s silent film era were filled with one type of American hero – the Douglas Fairbanks-esque man with light eyes and a fair complexion. Valentino, on the other hand, was the exact opposite and far more refined. His smooth skills on the dance floor, long eyelashes, brooding demeanour and slicked-back hair found immense favour with the ladies. The men, however, thought of him as too much of a dandy – an image that Valentino would fight throughout his life.
By the time Valentino shot for The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, he had already carved a niche for himself in Hollywood as the exotic villain. The film went on to make $1,000,000 at the box office and instantly changed the course of the 26-year-old’s life. When he went on to act in The Sheik that year, Valentino could not possibly have guessed the incredible fame that was to follow. The women went mad – a star had been born.
During a street interview in 1922, women who were asked their opinions on Valentino found him to be “triumphantly seductive” while the men (jealous, no doubt, about the effect that the ‘Italian lover’ seemed to be having on the ladies) naturally didn’t take well to him. Even as the American man walked out of the theatres screening his movies, they emulated his look which came to be known as the “Vaselino”.
His personal life was also the subject of major speculation – while there aren’t any credible stories regarding his sexuality, many considered him to be a closeted bisexual. His refined mannerisms and elegant features often led people to make disparaging remarks about his masculinity. Till date, speculation is rife regarding his relationship with Ramón Novarro, his roommates Paul Ivano and Douglas Gerrad and poet Jacques Hébertot.
Despite such whispers, Valentino was attached to some of the most beautiful women of that time, Natacha Rambova and Pola Negri. During his wake, Negri fainted multiple times and declared that she and Valentino were engaged. According to History.com, around 100,000 mourners lined the streets outside the church where his funeral services were being conducted and dozens of his fans attempted suicide. According to media reports, many fans smashed windows leading to a full-scale riot. The New York police were flooded with calls from inconsolable fans and for years after his death, multiple ‘ladies in black’ would mysteriously appear at his tomb and leave a single red rose.
(Picture credits: Wikimedia Commons)