Monday, March 16, 2015

Rudolph Valentino's Impact Lover Movie Idol

Valentino's Impact
Could he be such big a star today?
Valentino was the first
Sex Symbol

"George Washington may be the father of this country, Mary Pickford may be its sweetheart. But Valentino is its lover. ... Valentino has an almost perfect physical physique - a physique combining both beauty and strength: Apollo plus Dionysus. He is at once graceful and aggressively masculine.

"He is every woman's husband by proxy - the invisible Cavalier of the Boudoir. He is the Phantom Rival in every virtuous domestic establishment - the gallant courtier with whom every husband must bear comparison - the standard by which every wife measures her legal mate. And he is also the young lover's rival, the nemesis of every ardent swain, the third party on every honeymoon, the absent correspondent in every divorce proceeding."
-- Motion Picture 1923

Valentino is the Romeo of all ages....
1923 psychological profile
"He is less a shadow even though he is gone, than men who live in the world as flesh and blood, because he was all things to all women. He had glamour for all women. But he had also the wistful appeal of the boy whom all women want to mother, to scold a little perhaps, to soothe and console and cherish in their hearts. 

"He was a brother to girls who never had brothers or having them wished their brothers could be as Rudy was. He was the other son of all elderly women whose own sons had deserted them or disappointed them. He was the Sheik, the good comrade ... he was all those things to me and to all women."
-- Actress Pola Negri to whom he was said to be engaged at the time of his death.
Motion Picture Magazine
interview 1934

Julio's romance, "Do you promise to be good?"
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

In the early 1920s American society was changing. Women had gained the right to vote, they were entering the work force allowing greater financial independence. The Jazz Age influenced style. We had flappers on and off the screen.

Movies in general were sometimes seen as a threat to the home and family. What would we see on the screen? How would they influence the audience? What would happen in the dark at the movie theater? A push to censor films and keep them wholesome happened quickly.

Early Movie Idol Worship
"If you are an idol worshiper don't be ashamed. So was your great grandpa. Our pagan ancestors made idols out of wood and stone. To us in this enlightened age this seems a foolish waste of good building material. We make ours of celluloid. We picked models for their resemblance to the old Venuses and Apollos. Many would have passed for the wooden originals if they hadn't moved. Noting this, some genius called them 'movie idols.'"
-- Herbert Howe; New Movie Magazine 1931 

In the early silent films most leading male actors were all-American cowboys such as William S. Hart or Broncho Billy from out of Essanay Studios. There were other handsome dramatic actors such as Richard Barthelmess and the swashbucklers like John Barrymore and Douglas Fairbanks. Youngsters really loved their films. 

There were big stars from other countries, Ramon Novarro, Antonio Moreno and Sessue Hayakawa. But Rudolph Valentino was something different and special in his way. Valentino was the first Italian sex symbol, he was new and passionate and he seemed dangerous. 

"Italians in movies were always characters; villains and peasants, maybe a crime figure, maybe a thief. With few opportunities for Valentino in traditional Hollywood films he found work instead in romantic fantasies about faraway places. His Italian looks would stand in Indian rajas, Spanish bullfighters and most famously an Arab Sheik."
-- from the 2015 PBS documentary series, The Italian Americans

Quickly the first sex symbols appeared in movies. For women, there were the lady vampires, the vamps such as Theda Bara. Larger than life characters, temptresses.

"Nita Naldi's sex appeal is her raison d'ĂȘtre in pictures. What other quality could possibly account for the great vogue of Mack Sennett's bathing beauties, a year or two ago? Why does Mae Murray appear in a pearl breast-band and a tinseled loin-cloth and nothing else in at least one sequence in every picture? Because the men for years who for years have paid money to sit in the bald-headed row within squinting distance of the beautiful chorus girls now get a mental thrill out of a pair of alabaster shoulders in what are deftly termed society dramas of the screen."

Sex Appeal
Who would get the women's hearts pumping? Magazines were full of psychological and medical analyses. Is the screen hypnotizing you? Do the movies harm your eyes? How will they hurt our children? Alongside were ads to write for movies, contests to get into the movies, gossip and news about the stars. They were as unusual and suspect as they were enticing and exciting. Sometimes the doctors, scholars, censors and pundits went to the movies as part of their work, in the name of the public good. That was okay.

Audience members' hearts flutter at a Valentino kiss
Someone hooked up an audience reaction meter aka a love meter to test women's reactions when they saw Valentino kissing on screen. A 1920s newsreel caught their palpitations as they watched him kiss Vilma Banky.   

Fan Mail
In the early 1920s, Rudolph Valentino was the right man at the right time. He was born with the talent, determination and the looks. Those around him would control and mold his career. At one point the postage it took to send out photos in response to his fan mail was in excess of the actor's salary. One fan magazine suggested that fans tell the studio that Valentino deserved a raise!

They tried to explain why Valentino was as popular, as mesmerizing as he was. Why did American women worship him? Why did American men dislike him so? Some were able to pin their distaste for women's growing independence and for society's changing times onto Rudolph Valentino (a representation of what was wrong with movies in general). 

The addition of disapproval often adds attention and attraction. It made Valentino's flame shine that much brighter. What was he doing that was so naughty anyway? Women wanted to have a look. Publicity departments had a field day building his reputation. Women would sit through an entire picture to savor just one elusive Valentino smile. 

Rudolph Valentino with Nita Naldi Blood and Sand
A fine figure of a man...
"Mother used to blush when father mentioned his woolen underwear. Now she gets a kick out of the kinematized BVDs of Valentino as in the dressing-room scene of Blood and Sand. ... It wasn't his dramatic ability that made Rudolph Valentino the idol of American womanhood, practically overnight. And Valentino is a superb actor, at that. 

"It was his sex appeal, whether you will admit it or not, you women who go to see his pictures five and six times as he crushes the heroine (the heroine who might be you!) to his breast, the fact that he makes you sigh blissfully at his romantic ardor. For this very reason many men do not like Valentino. Men never like to see a man more skilled in the art of love-making than they themselves. ...

"There is a perfectly good economic reason for the beach scenes where the strapping hero poses in a one-piece suit; for bedroom scenes the costume pictures where skin-tight trousers display a shapely thigh and slender waist. Valentino you remember has late appeared in snug toreador costumes in Blood and Sand in tight knee britches in The Sheik and a few strings of pearls in The Young Rajah."
-- The Sex Best Sellers, Screenland 1923

Valentino draped in pearls
The Young Rajah 1922
And here we thought showing men in tight pants was such a 1970s thing? Well, not really. Though it brought him fame and wealth, Valentino ultimately wasn't happy with how he'd been packaged. He looked forward to breaking out of the Latin lover, or what he sometimes called the lounge lizard stereotype. He looked toward his future and wanted to be more than a caricature. He was trying to assimilate. It was said by the end of his life at age 31, he'd already lost much of his Italian accent.

Job Opening: National Lover
"Valentino would not be the national lover unless the country was in sore need of such a lover. The very intensity of the emotion Valentino has aroused reveals how great a lack of adequate lovers there is in America. No nation creates a symbol for a thing which is prevalent in the flesh. ...

"Why then should there be a need for a romantic idol in a country where there are so many able-bodied men? Why should the American women create a symbol of the ideal lover in the person of Valentino when there are any number of willing males, that is potential realities, on every hand? 

"The answer is simply that American men are not lovers. .... They are too busy, there are too many demands for their energy for them to devote themselves to the finer things in life. They give their wives a fur coat as a consolation prize for time and romance. European men are far better versed in the game of love and the art of love making than American men. They have or take more leisure."

Those who are the first, the first to attain an incredible height often leave a lasting impact. Before Marilyn Monroe, it was Jean Harlow for whom they coined the term Blonde Bombshell. Were Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford the first Hollywood super couple? How does Pickfair stand up against Brangelina? Greta Garbo and John Gilbert were another hot screen couple of the 1920s.

Valentino's sudden death and his funeral was so traumatic that many afterward are still compared to his. Perhaps most notably we think of James Dean's. There are too many to list. Huge stars who left us too young, too suddenly, left us wondering what might they have done.
To this day the actor is identified with a role which unfortunately he felt was poorly directed and one that he personally did not like.

"Mr. Valentino was not happy with The Sheik. He called it 'an error.' Speaking of how he was directed in the film, 'What nonsense it was!'"  He said his performance including the eye rolling did not ring true to his character. 

"Mr. Valentino declared one of his greatest problems was 'to live down' his reputation as a 'sheik' a character which he repudiates."  
-- Picture Play August 1922; The Owosso Argus-Press February 1923

For what it's worth, The Sheik is a film that contemporary audiences may not like as much as others. Don't start and stop with that film if you want to get a real sense of Rudolph Valentino. The Son of The Sheik gets a better reception.

Even though an article is to include his wife, Natacha Rambova, the writer swoons over Valentino. "The interviewer is confused, frankly, rattled. One has heard so much about this man and dreamed so much more that when one finally is in The Presence, words simply desert or worse still, mutiny and intelligent questions become chaotic stammerings. Yes, one is a little excited."
-- Motion Picture Classic December 1923

Valentino: Dangerous Man
The desire for that seductive, dangerous romance is nothing new. The fact that it's illicit makes it all the more tempting. Rudolph Valentino was given some of the first bad boy roles. 

While Italian actors continue to be cast in roles as gangsters, it has to be noted that there are positives and negatives to the allure, the ongoing stereotype of taking those parts. There are often box office dollars there and the iconic Godfather Trilogy shows us that. 

Valentino stars alongside Brando and Pacino?
Rudolph Valentino would have only been in his 70s when the first Godfather film came out, perfect for a role in that film. Brando was in his forties and relative newcomer, Al Pacino was thirty-two. Valentino could've played Pacino's grand-dad? (In the story, Vito Corleone's father had been killed, but Valentino's age was right.) Who knows? "Just when I thought I was out of the picture business, they pull me back in....."

In the 1940s, even though some female movie goers loved it, the actor James Mason was trying to shake his image. He was thought to be a dangerous lover after he made films such as The Seventh Veil.  A Burns and Allen OTR radio episode spoofed the attraction of being dominated by the dangerous man when Mason appeared as their guest. Gracie said, "Some women dream of being covered in diamonds. I dream of being covered in bandaids."

There has always been the attraction to the suave otherworldly vampire. Look at the Twilight series with Bella Swan and vampire Edward Cullen. Replicas of Bella's wedding dress were hot sellers. Fifty Shades of Grey, the book and the movie are big news.
Herbert Howe 1931 article,
Movie Idols, types and the need to worship

A trip to the beach....

Would he be such a star today?

Manic Monday
The Bangles, 1986
lyrics excerpt...

"Six o'clock already
I was just in the middle of a dream
I was kissin' Valentino
By a crystal blue Italian stream
But I can't be late
'Cause then I guess I just won't get paid
These are the days
When you wish your bed was already made...."

A 1933 magazine asked, Could the sheik win hearts today? Again he was still associated with that persona, that character.

"The fickle feminine public no longer wants one man on the screen to have all their worship but chooses to divide it among the reigning stars with voice appeal.... each with his particular flair, special following. And yet, they admitted that There had never been a successor to Valentino. There had never been an actor whose death caused the outpouring of emotion of Valentino's. 

"Cortez, Raft and LaRue are the villain-you-love-to-touch-you type and when they're heroes they have a darkly sinister quality of brooding or actual mystery that gets the girls who like to guess and wonder about the facts of life and the factors therein."

They were right. There could never again be one person who could so captivate the country. He had everything including the right timing. His story was similar to that of Jean Harlow and Elvis Presley. Had he lived, I believe  he would have grown and evolved as an actor. He may not have continued to be the one and only but chances are he would still be a star.

"I do not want to go on in these Great Lover roles. People will soon get tired of them. Perhaps they are tiring already I must make a decided change." 
-- Rudolph Valentino 

His films continue to bring in royalties to his estate. Then and now people visit Castellaneta, Italy where he was born. There's a list of places reputed to have visits from Valentino's ghost not the least of which would be his grave and his former homes. There are seances or you can host your own.
Actor Rudolph Valentino 1925 Pillow
Actor Rudolph Valentino 1925 Pillow
Change the photo on other side?
He'll rest with you ClassicOldPhotos

"I know Rudolph Valentino would still be great to-day if he had lived.  It is my opinion that Rudy had not even reached the zenith of his career when death came. He was always studying always preparing. Rudy was not merely a handsome fellow with melting eyes and an unusual amount of sex-appeal. He had a whimsical flair for comedy and a depth of understanding for emotional drama that no one on the screen except perhaps Leslie Howard possesses to-day." 

-- Director Sidney Olcott 1935

There were and are many movie idols after him. In the 1930s they tried to get Clark Gable and a new actor named Cary Grant to take on remakes of Valentino films. They refused hoping that the studios wouldn't force them to do it. Others such as George Raft were regularly compared to Valentino. Generations of actors were compared to Gable and Grant, too. Was the handsome and brooding Al Pacino some kind of new Valentino? Fine as they are, why not let all of them have their own identities. Not one can be replaced.

In the 1960s, when girls saw the Beatles in movies such as A Hard Day's Night they screamed at the movie screen.

I found articles from the 1920s through to the 2000s that asked what would happen if he were alive today, who might be the next or the current Valentino. But why are we asking?

Though they do keep asking the question, the end of a 1934 article pretty much puts it into perspective. Why even ask what would happen if he were alive. The fact that millions of people attend memorials, hold seances, watch/go to see his films, still talk about him, compare others to him.... "Valentino is alive to-day!"

Motion Picture magazine sums it up;
Valentino lives on

 This article is part of the Great Valentino Blogathon
Rudolph Valentino would be 120 in 2015
Born May 6, 1895

Related Pages of Interest:

Strange Experiences at Valentino's Grave Rudolph Valentino's ghost is said haunt his grave site

The Lady and The Ghost of Valentino Rudolph speaks to his wife from beyond

Falcon's Lair: Rudolph Valentino's legendary Haunted Mansion

Valentino speaks about, "When I Come Back;" Prophetic discussion as Rudolph and Natacha are leaving on their honeymoon

James Mason on the Burns and Allen Radio Show Gracie Allen, James Mason, the Cats, a Chair and a Whip 

The Death of Jean Harlow 'Goodnight, my Dearest Darling'    

Several of his films are available to rent or stream through Amazon. Some are free through Amazon Prime.

Early 20th Century Women Movie Theater Owners Female Movie Theater Owners, Managers, Exhibitors


  1. This was such a great post for the Valentino Blogathon. Thanks so much for including it!

  2. Beautiful tribute!

  3. I'm having a 2nd Annual Valentino Blogathon and I'd love for you to join in.


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