When silent movie star Rudolph Valentino died in 1926, his death sparked off riots and a number of women committed suicide. Throughout his short acting career, Valentino endured much negative media speculation about his sexuality and had an often troubled private life. His death at an early age contributed to his iconic status and also cemented his legacy in Hollywood. Today, Valentino is still fondly remembered as one of the greatest stars of the silent movie era.
Rodolfo Pietro Filiberto Raffaello Guglielmi, better known by his screen name, Rudolph Valentino was a Hollywood silent movie star famous in the 1920s. Born in Castellaneta, Italy on May 6, 1895, Valentino moved to America in 1913 aged eighteen. Initially, he struggled to find work and ended up living on the streets. He worked as a gardener, a dishwasher, a waiter, and then as a taxi dancer at Maxim’s Restaurant-Cabaret, where older wealthy women happily paid for the pleasure of his company.
Around this time, Valentino befriended a Chilean heiress named Blanca de Saulles, who was unhappily married to a successful businessman, John de Saulles. Following their divorce, Valentino testified at a custody hearing on behalf of Blanca, claiming that he had evidence that John de Saulles had been engaged in multiple affairs, including with a dance partner of his. John de Saulles then used his connections to have Valentino jailed for a few days on bogus vice charges, which, while untrue, still damaged Valentino’s reputation to the point that he found it difficult to get work.
When Blanca later shot her husband, Valentino decided to avoid the impending trial, and left New York for Hollywood to pursue an acting career, and changed his name to Rudolph Valentino. However, Valentino’s exotic good looks made him stand out among an era of a more rugged and therefore considered more masculine Hollywood contemporaries, which resulted in him being cast in a series of smaller roles, mainly as villains.
Valentino received his big break when he landed the leading role of Julio in the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. The movie was released in 1921 and went on to be massively successful. It was one of the first films to gross $1 million. However, despite the success of the movie, Valentino’s exotic looks proved too much of an issue for the studio executives, and they refused to offer him a pay rise or any other starring roles. Valentino ultimately broke ties with them and began working for a different film studio, Famous Players-Lasky.
Rudolph Valentino publicity photo for Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. thevintagenews.comValentino was cast in the lead role in the movie The Sheik, which proved to be another hit and the role for which the actor is best remembered. Valentino’s went on to star in Blood and Sand, The Eagle and The Son of the Sheik. Valentino’s unique good looks and his starring role in romantic dramas won him the affections of millions of women and earned him the reputation as “The Great Lover” of the silent movie era.