New York Timeline (1915)

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Bonnie Glass photographed in 1915.

I don’t know why, but the years Rudolph Valentino spent in and around New York, from 1913 to 1917, fascinate me. Forty two or so months crammed with incident; six months of which are, apparently, an impenetrable void. I’ve already looked at his first weeks in: New York Timeline (1913). And his first full year in: New York Timeline (1914). So it’s now time to look at the following year. A period when it all appears to have gone well for him. Like the others, this post is titled: New York Timeline (1915).

January

Rodolfo Guglielmi, now known, professionally, as Rudolph, begins the year in the same pursuit he ended the previous one: dancing with Bonnie Glass. While he’s happy to have been able to turn his back on being a dancer for hire, at Maxim’s, he soon discovers that his new occupation isn’t, in any-way-shape-or-form, an easy one. The first weeks of 1915 are filled with gruelling rehearsals, followed by a nerve-wracking performance at the Winter Garden Theatre, and then nightly dancing with Glass, at her own establishment, Cafe Montmartre.

Jan3rd1915

the 3rd

Rudy, titled Mons. Rudolph, assists Bonnie at Rectors, on Broadway, at 48th Street. Also listed as performing that evening, at New York’s Greatest Restaurant Attraction, are ‘The Marvellous Millers’ The World’s Greatest Whirlwind Dancers, and Mudge and Terantino.

the 4th to the 23rd

During these days – it’s unknown when – the Rectors deal ends and the Cafe Boulevard deal begins. Preparations for the new venue are intensive.

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The Winter Garden Theatre in 1915.

the 24th

On Sunday, the 24th of January, the pair are amongst “17 acts”, at the Winter Garden Theatre, 1634 Broadway, Manhattan. One of “two modern dancing turns” – Clifton Webb and Eileen Molyneux are the other couple – they perform two dances. One, a Cakewalk (seemingly stolen from Mr. and Mrs. Seabury, according to Sime, reviewing for VARIETY), and another, which is “similar”. Their “opening music” is [The] Glow Worm. While their slot, is the penultimate one, right before the Headliner, Al Jolson. Jolson entertains the capacity crowd for 40 minutes, with four songs and several stories, and much silly and hilarious behaviour.

That same day newspapers report that the Cafe Boulevard grille will soon be opened as Cafe Montmartre. And: “Miss Glass will dance after the theatre nightly with her partner, Rudolph.”

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the 27th

On Wednesday, the 27th of January, after several weeks of preparations, Bonnie and ‘Rudolph’ appear, for the first time, at her new venture Cafe Montmarte, formerly the grille of Cafe Boulevard, at Broadway and 41st Street. The establishment has received a great deal of advance press attention due to it supposedly featuring an innovation — a female only bar.

Bonnie_Glass

Bonnie Glass was A Woman With A Past. Back in July 1910, while still Miss Helen C. Roche, she’d been named as ‘corespondent’, in the divorce of Mr. and Mrs. John H. Kimball. (Mr Kimball was a “young broker”.) Half a year later, at the start of 1911, while employed as a Hat Model, at Roxbury, Massachusetts, she eloped with a Harvard Senior, named Graham Glass Jr. Their quickie marriage was not looked upon favourably by the Groom’s wealthy parents. And, after his allowance was slashed to $5 a month, the marriage foundered, ending in divorce that December. During the next eighteen months it appears she moved to New York, renamed herself Bonnie Glass, and was at some point in the Zeigfeld Follies. By the end of 1913, she was being mentioned in THE NEW YORK CLIPPER, as being in a double act, with Lew Quinn. And, at the same time, was dancing with him at “Murray’s on 42nd Street”, for which they were receiving, presumably as a team, $500 per week. The next year, she built on her success, and first with Al. Davis, and then Clifton Webb, became an extremely important Exhibition Dancer.

Cafe Boulevard Inc. was in financial trouble at the start of 1915. And so I imagine the deal between Glass, and the owners, was something of an effort to modernise the venue, and bring in new and more fashionable customers.

The competitor establishments and competitor dancers at this time were: Chez Maurice, formerly Palais de Danse, Broadway and 50th Street, featuring Maurice (Mouvet) and Florence Walton; Castles in the Air, atop the 44th Street Theatre, featuring Mr. and Mrs. Vernon Castle; and the Persian Garden, at Broadway and 50th Street, featuring Ida Adams and Nigel Barrie.

February

Throughout the month, newspaper adverts inform New York’s populace, that the Cafe Montmartre is open for business. Every Thursday there’s a theme. On Thursday the 11th of February, there’s a Costume Dance, with prizes for “artistic costumes and graceful dancing”. The following Thursday the theme is Mephisto with “SPECIAL FEATURES”.

the 22nd and the 23rd

On Monday the 22nd, and Tuesday the 23rd of February, Glass and Guglielmi dance at B. F. Keith’s Colonial Theatre, at Broadway and 62nd Street. Bonnie appears with Rudy and another gentleman, at the 1,300 seat Music Hall style venue, and they’re supported by a “colored orchestra”. Glass’s facial expressions don’t impress in the same way her outfits do. (The second male partner is named simply: Casemello.)

February1915

the 25th

At Cafe Montmartre on the last Thursday of the month, Bonnie, assisted once again by Rudolph, dances a special exhibition dance.

It’s probable that the two appearances at the Colonial Theatre were part of a week long engagement.

1915

March

March is an interesting month. After briefly being, Montmartre at Cafe Boulevard, the name is for some unknown reason dropped completely, and the pair are performing daily at Cafe Boulevard. Then it’s announced Glass may take over the Persian Room in “the Winter Garden Building”. Next, Bonnie Glass’s, Bonnie Glass & Co., obviously including Rudy, is engaged to perform during the afternoon, at B. F. Keith’s Orpheum Theatre. And much else happens besides.

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the 13th

Following advertisements on the 9th and on the 11th, the one in the New York Tribune, on Saturday the 13th, for Cafe Boulevard, is the final one to feature Bonnie Glass assisted by Rudolph. The recent name changes – Cafe Montmartre to Montmartre to nothing – are a clue that all hasn’t been going too well recently between Glass and Cafe Boulevard, Inc.

Mar13th

Another advert, that same day, on Page Two of BROOKLYN LIFE, reveals that, from the following Monday, the 15th, Bonnie Glass, assisted by Rudolph and E. Casemello, will be doing matinee dances.

Palace

the 15th

On Monday the 15th of March, after their afternoon slot at the Orpheum, Bonnie and Rudy dance (at short notice) in the evening, at B. F. Keith’s Palace Theatre, when the regular performer is unavailable. Miss Glass closes the bill that night with “a series of modern dances”. In her final number she introduces two male partners (Rudolph and Casemello), which is considered, by Wynn, reviewing for VARIETY that week, to be “out of the ordinary”. For Wynn, Glass has improved since her debut the previous season. However, the reviewer feels that modern dancing is: “… gradually losing its vaudeville claims…” And Glass seemed “a bit tardy.” (She was probably a little tired.)

Contest

the 19th

On Friday the 19th of March, after performing at the Orpheum Theatre, Bonnie and Rudolph take park in a Cakewalk contest, at the New York Roof. The venue is very busy; their opponents are Dave Genaro and Ada Portser (the resident dancers it seems); and the competition judges are: Dave Montgomery, Frank Tinney and Dazie. The crowd are behind Genaro and Portser, but the three judges aren’t as certain. Eventually, however, they decide the winners are the residents, and the guest dancers the losers.

the 29th

On Monday the 29th of March, Bonnie Glass & Co. perform a “fancy routine” of “modern ballroom steps” at a particularly busy Palace Theatre, at Broadway and 47th Street. (The show was described as a Big Sunday Concerts on the 27th.)

As adverts this month show, Bonnie Glass, and her assistant Monsieur Rudolph, are under the direction of, or management of, a Mr. Myron S. Bentham; a very powerful and well-known theatrical agent at the time. Why Bentham – in February, he’d been involved in a serious punch-up, on Broadway, with rival Max Hart – is so forgotten is a bit of a mystery. His brief obituary, in THE FINAL CURTAIN, in The Billboard, on the 3rd of April, 1948, clearly states he was Valentino’s Agent. As well as also taking care of: Irene Bordoni, Ina Claire, Laurette Taylor, Helen Morgan, Alice Brady, Leon Errol, Mary Eaton and W. C. Fields.

The fact that Bonnie and Rudy and E. Casemello were performing, at the Orpheum Theatre, in Brooklyn, raises the question: were they travelling there each day, or resident, somewhere, locally, during the engagement? Sadly there’s no answer to this question.

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B. F. Keith.

April

In April – almost the entire month it seems – Bonnie Glass & Co. have no engagements. Until, that is, the final week, when they perform at B. F. Keith’s Theatre, at Boston. Bonnie’s troupe is promoted as: “The Cleverest of Society Dancers and Tangoists!” And the offer is described as: “… a Cycle of Dances, Assisted by Cafe Boulevard Orchestra Seated Upon the Stage!”

the 26th

On Monday, the 26th of April, Bonnie Glass and Mons. Rudolph appear at B. F. Keith’s Theatre, at Boston.

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Rudy and Bonnie sometime in 1915. Possibly at Boston.

the 27th

The next day THE BOSTON GLOBE newspaper tells readers that: “Much applauded were the sprightly dances of Bonnie Glass, who tripped the latest wrinkles in the changing art, while an orchestra played on the stage.”

the 28th, 29th and 30th

Daily newspaper adverts show that Bonnie Glass & Co. perform daily for the delight of audiences at B. F. Keith’s Theatre.

May1915
Bonnie in the press with her Hound in May.

May

Through no fault of his own, Rudolph finds himself idle in May, due to the involvement of Bonnie in the Eugenia Kelly Scandal. The Boston engagement only just extends into the new month, however it seems he lingered there, before heading back to New York. A major development for him, and his family back in Italy, is the entry of the country into The Great War, on the side of The Triple Entente (Russia, France and Great Britain), on the 23rd.

the 1st

Advertisements confirm that ‘Mons. Rudolph’ continues to assist Bonnie at the B. F. Keith Theatre in Boston. However, no further ones suggest this was their final, or penultimate performance. (Making it a six or seven day stretch.)

the 2nd to the 21st

Due to his correspondence with his mother, and the timing of their respective messages, it appears that Rudy stayed at Boston after the engagement at the B. F. Keith Theatre was concluded. How long isn’t known.

the 22nd

On Saturday, the 22nd of May, 19-year-old Heiress, Eugenia Kelly (at the time estranged from her widowed Mother), appears in court in Manhattan. Arrested the previous night, by a Private Detective, at Penn. Station, and then released on bail, she’s charged with Incorrigibility. During the subsequent hearing, all sorts of embarrassing details emerge about the young woman’s behaviour, in the cabarets and dance halls of New York. How her enjoyment of cigarettes, late hours and wine, has driven a wedge between them, and led to Eugenia leaving to live with her sister. That her weekly allowance of $75 – almost $2,000 today – is, regularly, her mother testifies, wasted on “a coterie of men”. That her daughter had, so far, borrowed $5,000 from “loan brokers”. And that a string of pearls and diamonds that was a gift had gone missing. Under cross-examination, Mrs. Kelly is forced to admit that, she, too, often frequents cabarets and dance halls; that she drinks brandy and other liquors; and she had, on at least one occasion, subjected Miss Kelly to violence. (By slapping her face.)

the 23rd

More details emerge. Eugenia Kelly frequents up to five restaurants and late cafes each night, such as: the Beaux Arts, the Domino Room, [Cafe] Boulevard, the Kaiserhof and Maxim’s. And her “coterie” includes: Al. Davis, [‘Bunny’] Essler, ‘Jimmy’ Greenberg and ‘Dickie’ Warner. (Warner’s the man who invited Rudy to cohabit in 1914 and Davis and Greenberg are both dancers.) At a recent, raucous party, at the Kelly home, one of the gentlemen drank Mrs. Kelly’s brandy. Afterwards, Miss Kelly informed her mother that he was a drug user, and for $15: “… anyone …. could get all the drugs he or she wanted.”

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In other reports it’s disclosed that the person who alerted the mother to her daughter’s behaviour was Bonnie Glass. Who’d telephoned her, to tell her she was consorting with Glass’s former dancing partner, and lover, Al. Davis/Albert J. Davis; a married man, with a young son. (On Tuesday, the 25th, in THE SUN,  it’s reported that an eye-witness, Frank Richards, formerly a Waiter at Reisenweber’s, Bustanoby’s and Murray’s, had seen both Bonnie and Al. arguing with each other about Eugenia.)

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the 24th

On Monday, the 24th of May, the day of the reopening of the case (after adjournment at the weekend after a motion for dismissal was denied), an in-depth interview with Dickie Warner, conducted the previous day, Sunday, is published in the New York Tribune. In it he verifies it was indeed Bonnie Glass “who was in our crowd” that “tipped Ma off”. That it was Ma Kelly who introduced him – Warner – to Eugenia Kelly two years before. And after speaking with Eugenia on the telephone (parts of the conversation on Dickie’s side being included), that: “There are a lot of prominent names to be brought into this thing yet. The whole story has not been told. But this is all I can tell you for now.”

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A lively, interesting cartoon from the 25th. Has anybody here seen Kelly? is added top right.

the 25th

On Tuesday, the 25th of May, after much scandalous detail, the day before, in court, and more threatened, a reconciliation is achieved between mother and daughter. (This will, not surprisingly, prove to be temporary.) Yet the dismissed case will almost immediately spark something of a crack down. And in subsequent days newspapers are filled with further revelations, and details of how the authorities plan to prevent young, and often wealthy women, being targeted by unscrupulous men.

We no longer see E. Casemello as a second dancer in the Bonnie Glass & Co. adverts and reviews from this point.

It’s while he’s in Boston that Rudy writes and sends his mother a postcard, telling her that he’s there for the first time, doing well, and enjoying himself. Late in May he received a postcard from his mother written in French. After a few general lines she unburdens herself about Italy’s entry into the European conflict. Writes of her worries for Jules – a cousin? – and his older brother Alberto. And tells him she often looks at the photograph he’s sent to her of himself. (This is believed to be the only surviving communication from his time in New York.)

The Eugenia Kelly Affair, which predated a similar scandal, the Blanca de Saulles Affair, by a whole year, gives us invaluable insight into Rudy’s environment, in the years 1914 and 1915. Involvement of persons he knew – Glass, Warner, Davis and others – means that the whole thing was very close to him. If, not so close, it turns out, that he himself was involved; as he was to be, in 1916, with Mrs. de Saulles.

June

For the entire month, according to VARIETY, Bonnie and Rudolph are part of the revue, A Midnight Fantasy, at Castles in the Air, on the roof of the 44th Street Theatre.

July

The first half of July seems to be quiet for Rudy. I saw nowhere any engagements for his Employer, Bonnie, or for him, probably due to the heat. Later in the month they begin a spell at B. F. Keith’s Palace Theatre.

Jul25th

the 26th

On Monday, the 26th of July, in the evening, Bonnie and Rudolph perform at B. F. Keith’s Palace Theatre, at Broadway and 47th Street. Their billing is a respectable third, behind Headliner, The International Star of Song, Grace La Rue, and Nat M. Wills, The Happy Tramp. It’s a hot Summer night. So hot, that the theatre is providing free palm leaf fans, and “delicious lemonade”. Bonnie Glass and Mons. Rudolph dance “entertainingly” just before the intermission. Miss La Rue’s repertoire doesn’t impress a critic at VARIETY as much as her “new wardrobe” does.

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Grace La Rue.

In later years, in My Vaudeville Years, Grace La Rue would reveal how, at about this time, late July/early August, she encountered Rudy backstage all hot and bothered. According to La Rue he constantly mopped his brow and suffered from wilting shirt collars. As there wasn’t a mirror in his dressing room she supplied him with hers. And recalled his telling her: “I am too soft. I haven’t danced enough. And besides, I must lose a little weight.” You can hear Grace singing A Tango Dream, in 1914, here. And there’s an extremely detailed biography on YouTube here.

Might June and July be when Valentino travels to and from Mineola at Long Island to learn to fly? He certainly had enough free time!

NewBrighton

August

After perhaps a fortnight to a month at the Palace Theatre, Bonnie Glass & Co. switch to the New Brighton Theatre, at Coney Island, New York. (See image above.)

the 20th

VARIETY details, on Page Thirteen, that Bonnie Glass & Co. will be performing from the 23rd at the [New]Brighton [Theatre].

the 23rd

On Monday, the 23rd of August, Bonnie and Rudolph begin an engagement of unknown length at the New Brighton Theatre, at Coney Island, New York.

the 28th and the 29th

The Eugenia Kelly Affair bubbles up once more in the press. And Bonnie is mentioned.

September

Rudy’s September of 1915 is a far cry from his September of 1914. He’s earning a good weekly salary. Can afford fine clothes. And is living in pleasant accommodation. It will be a busy four weeks, that see him opposite Bonnie, first in New York, then in Washington. His trip to the capital and back and his stay there being his first.

the 6th

On Monday, 6th of September, Labor Day, Bonnie and Rudolph perform at B. F. Keith’s Colonial Theatre, at Broadway and 62nd Street, as joint “headliners”, alongside: Nat Wills, Howard and McCane and Odiva. It’s a Gala Reopening. And the others on the bill are: (Laura) Burt & (Henry) Stanford, (Geo.) McKay & (Ottie) Ardine, Tower & Darrell, Jim & Betty Morgan, and Ariel Buds.

Keiths

the 20th

“EXTRA ADDED STAR, The Broadway Danseuse Classed With the Castles, Bonnie Glass, Assisted by Mons. Rudolph and Her Famous Sherbo Orchestra” performs at B. F. Keith’s Theatre, in Washington, D. C.

the 21st, 22nd, 23rd, 24th, 25th and 26th

Bonnie and Rudy appear, Monday to Saturday, in the 2:15 and 8:15 p. m. shows. And, Sunday, in the 3:00 and 8:15 p. m. shows. And their slot is in the first half of the show at some point before the intermission. They receive praise, on the 21st, in The Washington PostThe Evening Star and The Washington Herald. The glowing reviews reveal their repertoire is: “… a military dance, an old-fashioned cakewalk …. and a Spanish number.”

the 27th to the 30th

Bonnie Glass & Co. either travel from Washington, D. C., back to New York, New York, or go from Washington D. C. directly to Buffalo, New York, in order to be at Shea’s Theatre there, to rehearse, and be ready to perform early in October. (The 27th to the 4th would be enough time to go back to Manhattan and then head Upstate.)

the 29th

An advertisement in THE BUFFALO EVENING TIMES, alerts citizens to the fact Bonnie Glass will be appearing at Shea’s Theatre, on October 4th. (On this occasion she’ll be the main attraction.)

October

So far, working with Bonnie, has taken Rudy to Boston, to Washington, and now Buffalo. Perhaps he sent another postcard to his mother telling her that he was near the border with Canada. Certainly it was an experience for him to be so far North. The excursion is not followed by any others in October. And the rest of the month is a bit of a blank when it comes to the whereabouts of either Bonnie or Rudolph.

Sheas

the 4th

Bonnie Glass assisted by Mons. Rudolph opens at Shea’s Theatre for a week-long series of afternoon and evening performances.

the 5th

On Tuesday, the 5th of October, a piece in THE BUFFALO EVENING TIMES, praises not only Bonnie, but also Mons. Rudolph and her ten piece orchestra. In the review, titled in capital letters, BONNIE GLASS SCORES TRIUMPH WITH SHEAGOERS, Rudy’s mention goes as follows: “She has brilliant support in Mons. Rudolph, who strives, in an unselfish way, to give all the credit to his fair partner.” (The punctuation is mine.)

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the 7th

In the middle of their week long engagement at Shea’s Theatre, Bonnie Glass’s Sherbo Orchestra can’t resist making a little money on the side. An advert., in THE BUFFALO COMMERCIAL, on Thursday, the 7th (see above), reveals they appear at The Lafayette’s Mahogany Room to accompany dancers there.

November

It’s difficult to see where Rudy is dancing this month — perhaps because he wasn’t. When we look at where Bonnie is we don’t see her performing anywhere. So perhaps she was resting and getting ready for a busy December.

the 4th

A story about Glass, that gives a flavour of the times, appears in the New York Tribune. According to the writer, an admirer of hers: “… has commissioned a Fifth Avenue jeweller to enamel and stud with gems the shell of a small tortoise…” destined to be her pet at: “… her beautiful house in Fifty-second Street.”

the 17th

In his column, New-York-Day-By-Day, in The Washington Herald, O. O. McIntyre writes about the rumour that Vernon Castle and Irene Castle are thinking of retiring from the exhibition dancing sphere. Vernon, McIntyre discloses, heading to Europe to fight by the 1st of January. And Irene, he reveals, planning to: “… spend the winter at their country home near New York.” Bonnie Glass too, he tells the reader, will also be quitting: “… the tango life.” Her own excuse being that she’s planning: “… to marry a very prominent Kentuckian…” (If she was it didn’t happen.)

the 19th

News, in VARIETY, of Bonnie recently importing an Hawaiian Orchestra, from Honolulu, to use “in connection with her dancing.”

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December

Bonnie Glass returns to establishment dancing – at Cabaret Mondain at 121 West 45th Street – for the first time since exiting Cafe Boulevard in the Spring. Rudy, now Signor Rodolfo, dances with her there in the afternoons. In these closing weeks, he looks back on a better year than the previous one. Even if there have been ups and downs he’s become a confident performer. And in the first half of 1916 he’ll become an even more confident and notable performer than he’s been in 1915.

the 5th

On Sunday, the 5th of December, Bonnie and Rodolfo’s dancing, at Cabaret Mondain, is promoted in a column titled WHERE TO DANCE, in THE SUN newspaper.

the 9th

“Miss Bonnie Glass Assisted by Signor Rodolfo” continue to perform at Cabaret Mondain. The host is Mr. A. Nelson Fysher, of Chez Fysher, a famous Parisian cabaret transported to the USA. And Glass is advertised as interpreting Mr. Fysher’s melodies.

the 11th

O. O. McIntyre gives his readers, and us, a great description of Chez Fysher, at Cabaret Mondain, again in his New-York-Day-By-Day column, in The Washington Herald. It is, he writes: “… the new Broadway cabaret deluxe…” A place: “… where racket and rush are tabooed and low lights, lower voices and tender silences obtain.” Mr. Fysher McIntyre explains: “… sings his own songs in French every evening…” And customers dance, drink champagne, smoke cigarettes, and eat chicken sandwiches. Importantly, the fashionable establishment is frequented by serious trendsetters; people like: “… Baron and Baroness de Meyer, Diamond Jim Brady, Miss Amy Gouraud, Mae Murray and Prince Troubetzkoy. (For me this is probably the place that both Murray and Troubetzkoy first encountered Rudy.)

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the 12th to the 30th

We assume, that in this busiest of periods, for restaurants and bars and hotels, etc., that Bonnie Glass and Rodolfo Gugliemi continue to perform at Cabaret Mondain, as part of the Chez Fysher cabaret. This assumption is supported by an ad. in The New York Times, on the 27th, that features an oval image of Glass, and gives details of a THE DANSANT, or Tea Dance, daily, from 4:30 to 6:30 p. m. Miss Glass, it says, is assisted by Rudolph.

the 31st

Bonnie – Beautiful Queen of Rhythmic Flowing Line and Winner of the Palace Medal for Dancing – and Rodolfo end 1915 performing at B. F. Keith’s Colonial Theatre, at Broadway and 62nd Street. The pair head the bill, in ‘DANCES OF THE DAY-AFTER-TOMORROW’, at a place where they were just part of the line-up at the start of the year. Glass is further described in adverts as: Cleverest, Most Fascinating Ballroom Dancer of the Period.

A story appears, in VARIETY, that Bonnie Glass is being considered for the role, currently being played by Madge Kennedy,  in Fair and Warmer. The proposition, from Selwyn & Co., is to try her out, just once, in the original cast, to see if she can be sent on the road in a secondary company. (This doesn’t transpire.)

For me, as with McIntyre’s revelation in November, this seems to indicate unease on the part of Bonnie Glass, against a backdrop of recent reports and reviews which have predicted the end of Exhibition Dancing. We might wonder how Rudy felt about her putting herself forward for other work, or, being considered for it. And where such a move would leave him, if she did indeed secure anything different.


I hope you enjoyed reading this post. As always, the sources are available to anyone who contacts me, if they’re not already embedded into the text, or added as an image. This latest timeline will be followed by others looking at the years 1916 and 1917. And there will be standalone posts for his 1916 arrest and also the missing half year. See you all in September!

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At the Villa d’Or

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Plage de Juan-les-Pins by Claude Monet.

According to Max Saunders, in his Ford Madox Ford biography, Ford Madox Ford: A Dual Life: Volume II: The After-War World (1996), in the July of 1925, Jean Rhys, the Writer, left Paris on what she’d been told was a fast train, but actually turned-out to be a slow one. Her ultimate destination: The Azure Coast or Cote D’Azur/Costa D’Azur (aka The French Riviera). Specifically: Juan-les-Pins.

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Jean Rhys sometime in the Twenties.

The reason for her uncomfortable journey, in the heat of Summer, was a commission to assist a wealthy American woman, a Mrs. Winifred Hudnut, with writing a book about reincarnation and furniture. (It was, it appears, Mrs. Hudnut’s firm belief, that: “… happiness could be reached by living in the same costumes and decors of your previous lives.”) That Rhys was unable to type, or take shorthand, and wasn’t in-any-way-shape-or-form acquainted with the twinned subjects, doesn’t seem to have made much difference. And her stay of about eight weeks or so, at the Hudnut’s impressive mid. Nineteenth Century mansion, Chateau de Juan les Pins, was a fairly pleasant one. Her Hostess, and Host, Dickie Hudnut (cosmetics and fragrances Tycoon, and step-father to Natacha Rambova, the second wife of Rudolph Valentino), taking excellent care of her. Or so it seemed.

It turned out the first project and a second – Mrs. Hudnut required Miss Rhys to ghost write a book of fairy tales too – never reached fruition, due to her being paid a pittance, or the uninvited attentions of Mr. Hudnut, or both. (Natacha’s ‘Uncle Dickie’ apparently enjoyed kissing her on the way to and from the Casino at Monte Carlo each weekend.) And Jean Rhys returned to the French capital and the arms of her Lover Ford Madox Ford. However, the experience wasn’t wasted. And just two years later, in 1927, Rhys published a collection of stories titled: The Left Bank and Other Storiesfeaturing, as the twentieth tale, At the Villa d’Or. A compact yet richly detailed, thinly veiled look, at not just the Hudnuts themselves, but also life at their gorgeous sanctuary.

Penguin

I’d known about At the Villa d’Or for quite some time and had been unable to access it anywhere. Both the 1927 collection, and a 1987 publication by Penguin, Jean Rhys the Collected Short Stories, eluded me. And the story was absent from any other published selection. So I was extremely pleased, last year, to learn that Penguin Modern Classics had issued a reprint of the Eighties book in 2017. Having now read it, it in my opinion gives invaluable insight into two important people in Rudy’s life, as well as his possible favourite home from home. The six page story takes us beyond the passages devoted to the chateau in biographies. Just as it brings to life surviving images. We see them before us. Hear them speak. And get a good sense of their inclinations.

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Left to right Margaret Dinwoodey, Teresa Werner, Natacha Rambova, Rudolph Valentino, Winifred Hudnut and Richard Hudnut.

Of course it was necessary under the circumstances for Rhys to make some serious alterations. Jean herself becomes Sara (Cohen) of Montparnasse (a singer rather than an author). Mrs. Winifred Hudnut and Mr. Richard Hudnut become Mr. and Mrs. Robert B. Valentine. Paul Ivanovitch the artist – another guest in 1925 – becomes Yvan Pauloff. And one of the important servants becomes Charles. Though Uncle Dickie, as Bobbie Valentine, was transformed into The Boot-Lace King, he talks to her, as Sara, about “the curve of a bottle”, and also explains how he started life “in a chemist’s shop”. Meanwhile, Winifred, despite the name change, appears to be untouched — decorative, talkative and filled with concern.

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Rudolph and Natacha at the chateau, with his dog, Kabar.

I suspect Rudolph Valentino had already died by the time Jean Rhys completed At the Villa d’Or; hence the use of a variant of his professional surname for the slightly disguised Hudnuts. Natacha Rambova makes a fleeting appearance, offstage, as Mrs. Valentine’s unnamed, but extremely famous Movie Star daughter; who, like the conspicuously absent Rudolph Valentino, receives “a thousand love-letters per month” and was “mobbed” in London. (Rhys didn’t bump into either Valentino or Rambova, due to the pair being on the West Coast of the USA at the time, and about to split up.) Anyway, I reproduce here the entire story, and hope that it’s as enjoyable for those who read it as it was for me. Added, you’ll see, are a couple of helpful illustrative images.

 

At the Villa d’Or

 

Sara of Montparnasse had arrived that afternoon at the Villa d’Or, and it was now 9:30 P.M.; dinner was just over, it was the hour of coffee, peace, optimism.

    From the depths of a huge arm-chair Sara admired the warmly lovely night which looked in through the open windows, the sea, the moon, the palms — the soft lighting of the room.

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    The very faint sound of music could be heard from the distant Casino at intervals, and on the sofa opposite Mrs Robert B. Valentine reclined, dressed in a green velvet gown with hanging sleeves lined with rosy satin. Mr. Robert B. Valentine, The Boot-Lace King, sprawled in another huge arm-chair, and five Pekinese [sic] were distributed decoratively in the neighbourhood of Mrs Valentine. It might have been the Villa of the Golden Calf.

    ‘And very nice too,’ thought Sara.

    Charles came in to take away the coffee-tray, and to present Mr Valentine with a large, blue book.

    Charles was like the arm-chairs, English. He was also, strange to say, supple, handsome, carefully polite. But then Charles was definitely of the lower classes (as distinct from the middle).

    ‘The Chef is there, sir,’ said he — and ‘Anything more, Madame?’

    ‘Nothing, Charles,’ said Mrs Valentine with a hauteur touched with sweetness.

    Charles retreated with grace, carrying the tray. He looked as though he enjoyed the whole thing immensely. His good looks, his supple bow from the waist, his livery . . .

    ‘It must be fun,’ thought Sara, ‘to be butler in a place where everything is so exactly like a film.’

1925

    Mrs Valentine’s daughter of Los Angeles, Cal., was the most famous of movie stars. She received a thousand love-letters per month. In London she was mobbed when she went out . . . There was a glamour as distinct from money over the household . . .

    Mr Valentine put on horn-rimmed spectacles and opened the blue book which told of risotto of lobster, of becassine glacee sur lac d’or, of green peppers stuffed with rice.

    After a prolonged study of it he announced like some saint turning his back on the false glitter of this world:

    ‘He’s got haricots verts down for to-morrow, darling — wouldn’t you like some rice for a change?’

    Mr. Valentine was a vegetarian, a teetotaller, a non-smoker, and example of the law of compensation like most American millionaires.

    Mrs Valentine moved a little impatiently on her sofa, and through her dignified charm, pierced a slight fretfulness.

    ‘I’m just dead sick of rice, Bobbie,’ said she. ‘Couldn’t we have some ham for a change?’

    ‘He says he can’t get a ham,’ said Mr Valentine doubtfully. ‘He says he’d have to send to Paris for a ham.’

    The lady sat up suddenly and announced with energy that it was all nonsense, that she had seen lovely hams in the corner shop in Cannes — that anyone who couldn’t get a ham in Cannes couldn’t get one anywhere.

    I’ll speak to him, darling,’ Mr. Valentine told her soothingly.

    He got up and walked alertly out. He wore a purple smoking suit and under the light his perfectly bald head shone as if it were polished. He was extremely like some cheerful insect with long, thin legs.

    When he’d gone, Mrs Valentine leant back on to her sofa and half closed her eyes. She was such a slender lady that, sunk into the sofa cushions, she seemed ethereal, a creature of two dimensions, length and breadth, without any thickness. Her shoes were of gold brocade and round her neck glittered a long necklace of green beads with which she fidgeted incessantly — her hands being white and well manicured, but short, energetic and capable, with broad, squat nails.

    A Romantic, but only on the surface; also an active and energetic patroness of the Arts, fond of making discoveries in Montparnasse and elsewhere.

    So Mr Pauloff, a little Bulgarian who lived in Vienna, occupied a sumptuous bedroom on the second floor. He painted.

    Sara, who sang, was installed on the third floor, though, as she was a female and relatively unimportant, her room was less sumptuous.

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‘It makes me feel sad, that music in the night.’ declared Mrs Valentine. ‘The man who is singing at the Casino this week is Mr van den Cleef’s gardener. Isn’t it just too strange? A Russian –a prince or something. Yes. And he only gets –what does a gardener get? I don’t know — so he sings at the casino in the evening. Poor man! And so many of them — all princes or generals or Grand Dukes . . . Of course most unreliable . . . Why, my dear Miss Cohen, I could tell you stories about the Russians on the Riviera — Well! Strange people — very strange. Not like us. Always trying to borrow money.’

    She went on to talk of the Russian character, of her tastes in music, of Mr Valentines eighteenth century bed, of the emptiness of life before she became a spiritualist, of automatic writing.

    ‘Yes, yes,’ said Sara patiently at intervals.

    After all, this was a tremendous reaction from Paris. In Paris one was fear-hunted, insecure, one caught terrifying glimpses of the Depths and the monsters who live there . . . At the Villa d’Or life was something shallow . . . that tinkled meaninglessly . . . shallow but safe.

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    Through Mrs. Valentine’s high-pitched drawl she strained her ears to hear some faint sound of the sea and imagined the silken caress of the water when she would bathe next morning. Bathing in that blue jewel of a sea would be voluptuousness, a giving of oneself up. And coming out of it one would be fresh, purified from how many desecrating touches. 

    Poor Sara . . . also a Romantic!

    As Mrs Valentine was describing the heroism of a famous American dancer who acted as a secret service agent during the war and averted a catastrophe to the Allies by swallowing documents at the right moment, Mr Pauloff and Mr Valentine came in.

    ‘Well, I’ve told him about that ham, darling,’ said the Boot-Lace King brightly.

    He added in a lower tone: ‘Yes, nood, but not too nood, Mr Pauloff.’ 

    ‘There will be a drapery,’ the Bulgarian assured him.

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    Mr Pauloff had painted Mrs Valentine two years ago surrounded by her Pekinese [sic], and made her incredibly beautiful. Then he had painted Mr. Valentine with exquisite trousers and the rest, brown boots and alert blue eyes. 

    He was now decorating the panels of Mr Valentine’s bedroom door with figures of little ladies. And a tactful drapery was to float round the little ladies’ waists. After all he had been a court painter and he had learned to be miraculously tactful. A polite smile was always carved – as it were – on his ugly little face; in his brown, somewhat pathetic eyes was a looked of strained attention.

    ‘In courts and places like that,’ as Mr Valentine said, ‘they learn nice manners. Well I guess they just have to . . .’

    ‘I understand, I quite understand,’ the artist said diffidently, but with finality, ‘I will drape the figures.’

    Then he [handed] a bundle of press-cuttings which he was holding to Sara and asked if she could read them aloud.

  ‘You have so nice, so charming a voice, Miss Sara.’

    Sara, overcome by this compliment, proceeded to read the cuttings which were form the English papers of fifteen years before.

    ‘Mr Yvan Pauloff, the famous Bulgarian artist . . .’

  As Sara read Mrs. Valentine closed her eyes and seemed to sleep, but Mr Valentine, crossing his legs, listened with great attention; as to the artist himself, he heard it all with a pleased smile, fatuous but charming.

    Then he went — radiant — to fetch some photographs of his most celebrated pictures. Mr Valentine said quickly:

    ‘You see, deary, there you are; he is a great artist. His name on a picture means something — means dollars.’

    ‘Dollars aren’t Art, Bobbie,’ answered Mrs. Valentine loftily.

Mr Valentine muttered something, and walking to the window surveyed the view with a proprietor’s eyes.

    ‘Come out onto the terrace and look at the stars, Miss Sara,’ said he. ‘Now that star there, it’s green, ain’t it?’

    ‘Quite green,’ she agreed politely, following him out.

    He glanced sideways at her, admiring the curves of her figure — he liked curves — the noble and ardent sweep of her nose — that saving touch of Jewish blood!

    He proceeded to pour out his soul to the sympathetic creature:

    ‘My wife’s always talking about Art. She thinks I don’t understand anything about it. Well, I do. Now, for instance: Bottles — the curve of a bottle, the shape of it — just a plain glass bottle. I could look at it for hours . . . I started life in a chemist’s shop — I was brought up amongst the bottles. Now the pleasure I get in looking at a bottle makes me understand artists . . . D’you get me?’

    ‘Why, that’s absolutely it,’ said Sara warmly in response to the note of appeal in his voice. ‘You understand perfectly.’

    ‘Would you like to come to Monte with me Sunday?’ asked Mr Valentine in a lower tone, grasping Sara’s arm above the elbow.  ‘I’ll teach you to play roulette.’

    ‘Yes, it would be fun,’ said Sara with a great deal of enthusiasm.

    From inside the Villa came the sweet and mocking music of ‘La Berggere Legere’.

    And there’s my wife playing the Victrola — Time for my billiards,’ chirped Mr Valentine.

    He went briskly up the steps and hauled away an unwilling Mr Pauloff to the billiard-room. 

    ‘Sometimes,’ said Mrs Valentine to Sara, ‘I play the Victrola for hours all by myself when Bobbie is in the billiard-room, and I think how strange it is that lovely music — and the voices of people who are dead — like Caruso — coming out of a black box. Their voices — themselves in fact — And I just get frightened to death — terrified. I shut it up and run upstairs and ring like mad for Marie.’

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    The marble staircase of the Villa d’Or was dim and shadowy, but one or two electric lights were still lit near the famous (and beautiful) portrait of Mrs Valentine.

    ‘When I see the portrait,’ said the lady suddenly, ‘I’m glad to go to bed sometimes.’

In her huge bedroom where the furniture did not quite match, where over the bed hung a picture representing a young lady and gentleman vaguely Greek in costume, sitting on a swing with limbs entwined in a marvellous mixture of chastity and grace — this was a relic of the days before Mrs. Valentine had learned to appreciate Picasso — Sara opened the windows wide and looked out on the enchanted night, then sighed with pleasure at the glimpse of her white, virginal bathroom through the open door — the bath salts, the scents, the crystal bottles.

    She thought again: ‘Very nice too, the Villa d’Or.’

 

The End.

 

 

New York Timeline (1914)

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As I said previously, in March (in New York Timeline (1913)), I’m totally fascinated by Rudolph Valentino’s first years in the USA; particularly those spent in and around New York from 1913 to 1917. Forty two or so months crammed with incident; six months of which are, apparently, an impenetrable void. This month, June, I look in some detail at 1914 — one of his most difficult years. Anyway, here is: New York Timeline (1914).

January

For Marchese Guglielmi the first few months of 1914 are, for-want-of-a-better-phrase, a Social Whirl. Determined to put behind him his miserable Festive Period, he plunges into the dance-mad city of New York. His accommodation, Giolito’s, at 108-110 W. 49th St., is situated just east of Broadway, ten blocks south of Central Park, ten or so more north west, of the gleaming and glistening, newly-opened Grand Central Station, and a quick walk away from several exciting afternoon and evening establishments. At which, by all accounts, he becomes a regular.

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Schuyler L. Parsons Jr., left, in a film, in 1916.

He calls on his fellow S. S. Cleveland passenger, Miss Eleanor Post, and they go riding in Central Park at least once. He also pays a visit and introduces himself (with a letter of introduction), to Social Butterfly, Schuyler L. Parsons Jr.; who invites him to remain for dinner and then join the various guests, when they go out to dance until the early hours.

Miss Post had, along with Marion Herrion, been the young woman who’d enjoyed many hours dancing the latest dances, with Rodolfo Guglielmi, in the Second Class dining room. (Their friendship didn’t last.) Mr. Parsons, meanwhile, was a person whose name appeared in the press with alarming regularity, as an attendee, of dinner and theatre parties, dance parties and other exclusive society events. It’s interesting that he featured in an amateur film, The Flame of Kapur (1916), as a villain, not dissimilar to the sort played by Valentino a few years later. (He was to be a friend of Rudy’s right to the end.)

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February

Rodolfo continues to socialise hopeful it’ll lead to something. He reacquaints himself with three Paris friends: brothers Count Otto and Count Alex. von Salm-Hoogstraeten, and their friend, Georges/George T. Aranyi. The trio are in the US to play tennis, and Rodolfo no doubt watches them, at the National Indoor Championship Tournament, at the Seventh Regiment Armoury, 643 Park Avenue, in mid. February. Afterwards, in the evenings, the quartet enjoy nights out.

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Austrians, Otto and Alex., and Frenchman George, too, were seemingly all a little older than their Italian playmate. (Otto was born in 1886 and Alex. (who would perish during WW1) in 1890.) So being in their company would’ve been something of an education for someone not yet 19. I personally don’t believe that the Salms taught Valentino to tango at the Central Park Zoo, as his female fellow passengers on the Cleveland said he already knew it. However, there’s no doubt they taught him other things, and that he was a willing Pupil.

The addiction of New Yorkers at this time to dancing is clear when we peruse the city’s newspapers and see how often it’s mentioned. At the start of the month a report states that the Pope has neither banned the Tango nor endorsed La Furlana. A review, days later, of The Laughing Husband, an operetta at the Knickerbocker Theatre, reveals how “Graceful Steps [Of] A New Sort” had been added to the U. S. adaptation, and that the chorus did “The Tango”. (You can listen to a medley here.) On the 9th, we see a story about 2,000 waiters, trotting, tangoing, dipping, maxixeing, and hesitating, at the Manhattan Waiters’ Association Annual Ball. (In many instances with each other.) On the 14th, we view fourteen recent or expected social gatherings, of which seven included dancing. The 17th saw the Castles, Vernon and Irene, explaining to Marguerite Mooers Marshall, a columnist, how to dance the Half and Half. And at the close of February, we learn that the Arabian Nights Ball, on the 26th, at the Folies Marigny, had begun at midnight, and had been: “… JUST ONE DANCE AFTER ANOTHER.”

March

Thanks to high living and nightly shenanigans, with the Salms, Aranyi, and with others, Rodolfo’s funds are dwindling; and as he commences the month, he begins to appreciate he’s unable to continue in the same fashion as in January and February. In order to save money he quits his quarters at Giolito’s, and moves to less expensive, unknown, Uptown rooms.

Knowing he’ll soon have to find employment, he’s also eager to seriously improve his basic English. He understands that what he learned at Nervi won’t be sufficient for him to be able to work, and he’ll be unable to improve it, while he’s surrounded by fellow Italians.

His departure from Giolito’s isn’t fixed in stone and it could easily have occurred in February. The reason being, that the position he secured as a Gardener (thanks to a letter of introduction (from his older brother Alberto), to outgoing Commissioner of Immigration, William Williams), commenced after the snow had melted. As I only saw bad snow reported locally in early March, and not later, we have to accept the possibility he was out of his initial accommodation earlier than was previously thought. Maybe even by the middle of February.

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The Bliss estate, to the right of Wheatly, Long Island.

April

After some work, which included planting rhododendrons (which are still there and are referred to as ‘Rudy’s Rhodos’), his employment with Mr. Bliss, at his estate, at Brookville, outside the city on Long Island, abruptly ends, after he crashes a borrowed motorcycle. It’s also an issue that the return of Mrs. Bliss, from Europe, has ended plans for an Italian garden. Rodolfo himself isn’t enjoying being so far from Manhattan. And isn’t too pleased to be eating his meals with the other servants.

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An image of Rudy gardening in 1914.
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Cornelius N. Bliss Jr., Rudy’s employer, in Spring 1914.

Cornelius N. Bliss Jr., a kind-hearted type, then President of the New York Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor, provides him with a letter of introduction, to the New York City Parks Commissioner, Louis F. La Roche. He also, amazingly, provides him with a small weekly allowance so that he can manage in the short term.

Rudy returns to Manhattan, able, just about, to manage on his recent earnings, and his allowance from Bliss. Despite his worsening situation, it seems, from time-to-time, that he’s still able to enjoy the cafes and restaurants.

Rodolfo Guglielmi doesn’t grasp that Mr. and Mrs. Bliss are two people who, in time, could’ve seriously helped him with a career as a Landscape Gardener. However, he did understand he was a million miles from entering, or being accepted in, Society. Painfully aware. And this was something of a problem for him.

May

After resettling back in the city, sometime in May, Rodolfo secures a less pleasant position as an Apprentice Park Gardener. He works the majority of the month. But eventually discovers that he’s unable to continue working, as the apprenticeship exam is open only to American citizens.

By now Cornelius N. Bliss Jr.’s small allowance has probably ceased. The little he’s earned in May is disappearing. And he searches for some other kind of employment.

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It’s probably in May and June that he goes to the Waldorf-Astoria, one of the great New York hotels, to write on the their fine stationery to his mother (to reassure her that he’s alright and is doing well). That he eventually revealed this to his family, is known, thanks to his older brother, Alberto, mentioning it in a lengthy interview in 1977.

June

He manages to secure a position as a Bank Teller. However, due to poor English, or an inability to calculate quickly enough, or both, he loses this job. And is once again forced to look for another vacancy.

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The roof restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in the Teens.

It’s now, in mid. June, that he catches the eye of ‘Dickie’ Warner – true name Richard H. Warner – a blonde, blue-eyed man in his late twenties, who’s as much of a Social Moth as Schuyler L. Parsons Jr.. Apparently, Dickie sees him: “… seated at the opposite side of the dancing space in company of several friends.” After a formal introduction they converse. And days later he invites him to dinner on the roof of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. On that warm evening, they afterwards sit drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes, and Rodolfo opens his heart to the near stranger. Telling him he’s a foreigner in a foreign land. Isn’t getting anywhere in his profession. And is: “… too proud to seek aid from his family.” Dickie’s sympathetic and tells Rudy he can move into his apartment with him until things improve. Which, the very next day, he does. Warner helping him to pack his possessions at his “anything but cheerful” lodgings. Thus commences a quite lengthy and comfortable stay, at Dickie Warner’s gorgeously decorated two room studio, at 78 West 55th Street. Rudy wakes late each day; lounges about in pyjamas in Warner’s tulip wood bed; plays with the cat, Prunella; and talks on the telephone to his girlfriends. His host is irritated by his poor English but doesn’t mind his singing. (The song that he sings most often is Mamma Mia.)

Warner’s detailed – too detailed to be fabricated – account, which was published in the early Twenties, in a piece entitled, Before They Were Famous, in SCREENLAND, reveals much about Rudy half way through 1914. He continues to frequent some of the places he enjoyed earlier that year as and when he can. Has friends. And is still able to dress and present himself well. Warner remembered: “… distinctly, his dress suit, also the handiwork of a tailor in Taranto.” This pretty much proves false, the claim that Frank A. Mennillo took him to his New York tailor, to kit him out in more suitable, American garb. He was in May and June still wearing all of the garments he’d carried with him at the end of the previous year.

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Manhattan viewed from Brooklyn in 1914.

So far he’s moved from Giolitos, to Uptown, then out to Long Island, then back to Manhattan. (He also appears to have been in Brooklyn at some point in order to be able to save money.) Living with Dickie facilitates indolence. For the time being, at least, he seems in no hurry to do anything, except laze, pet Prunella, and speak for hours on the telephone. According to his host a stay of a few days stretches to many weeks. In my estimation at least a month to six weeks.

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July

Rudy continues to live with Dickie. At some point the pair enjoy a trip to Long Beach; for so long, that Warner is forced to wire a friend in the city, and get them to climb through a window, in order to feed the cat.

At the end of the month World War One breaks out in Europe. However, as neither Italy nor America are initially involved, it doesn’t yet affect Rodolfo Guglielmi, or, his family.

August

After six or so weeks his stay with Warner ends. Where he goes next isn’t too clear. Yet it’s certain about now is when things begin to get very tough. For the next eight weeks he goes from poorly-paid job to poorly-paid job. He washes dishes, cleans automobiles, and polishes brass; anything that will give him enough money to be able to eat and pay for a place to sleep.

This is a period where he’ll move about even more frequently, staying a week here, then a week there. Always moving. He’s forced to pawn his belongings. What’s left is kept by a Landlady that he’d been unable to pay. In later years, he told Norma Talmadge a story about walking five miles to City Hall, in order to find work, and, after failing to, how he’d bought a “bologna sandwich” with his very last ten cents, before walking the five miles back. The fact Norma recalled such a story, in 1938, again shows he couldn’t possibly have had a Godfather during this time.

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The entrance to a Horn & Hardart Co. Automat.

September

Nineteen-year-old Rodolfo continues to suffer. He eats at one, perhaps all, of the Horn & Hardart Co. Automats, on Broadway, Sixth Avenue and West 42nd St. And he sleeps at the downbeat, Mills Hotel, which charges 12 cents per night. When he can’t even afford that he doesn’t eat and sleeps on a bench in Central Park. (He also sleeps under the shrubbery and in all-night cinemas.)

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Men sleeping in a homeless sleeping shelter in the mid. Teens.

There’s absolutely no evidence nineteen-year-old Rudolph Valentino was forced to commit any crime in order to survive; but we must consider the possibility he may have had no choice. It’s interesting, that in a letter home, he feels that any work is better than a life of crime. And it’s in this letter, according to the family, that he reveals he’d come very close to compromising his honour. So if he didn’t commit a crime it was certainly on his mind. The disappearance of the contents of his police file, decades ago, doesn’t allow us to be sure one way or the other. In a report, in The New-York Tribune, in 1910, vagrants were only arrested if they were considered to be a ‘Cadet’ — in-other-words, a person learning to be a street criminal. If they were, they were discharged, sent to a work house, or, fined. If Rudy slept on a park bench, he would simply be moved along; as Anthony Dexter was, as Valentino, in Valentino (1951). (A rare instance of accuracy in an otherwise largely inaccurate film.)

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October

Broke and homeless things are so bleak that Rudy contemplates suicide. Then a Mystery Man he meets changes his luck. The person, apparently an Italian, takes him under his wing, shares his food and his bed, talks to him, gives him advice, and perhaps allows his guest to get a wash and to shave. The next day, or soon afterwards, after the suggestion, Rodolfo heads to Maxim’s/Cafe Maxim to speak to the piano player (who’s from Taranto). The piano player suggests talking to the Head Waiter there. When he does, The Head Waiter recalls him from earlier in the year, and offers him work as a dance partner for hire. (To dance with females who aren’t already accompanied by a male.) He accepts and commences that month. There’s no pay, but he can eat for free, keep any tips, and use an upper room, with a Victrola, to give dance instructions on the side.

A different version of Rodolfo’s spell as a dancer, at Cafe Maxim, is found in the owner, Julius Keller’s, 1939 memoir, Inns and Outs. Keller claims that he himself hired him. And that Rudy had been washing cars at a nearby garage. Keller says that he found the young man to be “dark and romantic in appearance”. Whether it was Keller’s or another proprietor’s innovation isn’t clear. But dance partners for hire were far from unique to Maxim’s. They were very much looked down upon at the time as it was considered to be an unsuitable profession for a Real Man.

Maxim’s was, along with Sherry’s, Delmonico’s, Luchow’s, Churchill’s, Rectors, Murray’s, and a few other venues, a restaurant that allowed patrons to dance. Their adverts in September declared that it was the “COOLEST and BEST VENTILATED DINING ROOM in TOWN”. That luncheon was just 60c. That dancing was from noon to close. And the cabaret was after 6:30 p. m.

November

Dark, romantic Rodolfo Guglielmi swiftly enhances his natural ability, and is an instant success with patrons. He returns to being a Marchese; but, perhaps due to the French atmosphere of the establishment, tells customers he’s a Marquis. By now he has many regular female dance partners. And these varied ladies generously tip him and shower him with small gifts.

In the third or fourth week of the month, Bonnie Glass (“the most original young person in the [dancing] profession”), and her former dance partner, Clifton Webb, arrive at Cafe Maxim and take a table. Glass has asked Webb to assist her in searching for a talented new partner, and they soon notice: “… a remarkably handsome, dark young man named Rudolph.” Bonnie is impressed by his tango and, on the spot, offers him the job. He tells her frankly that he doesn’t have the money to pay for the clothing required. And she tells him that she’ll cover the cost.

In Clifton Webb’s posthumously published autobiography, Sitting Pretty: the Life and Times of Clifton Webb, 2011, the then very notable Bonnie Glass had recently returned from Chicago. Checking her engagements in late 1914 I saw this to be the case. (She’d danced in Chicago recently with Al. Davis.) And so I trust both Clifton Webb’s memory and his story. It seems Bonnie had a partner – George Richmond – but he was temporary. And, as she had plans for 1915, that included re-opening the grille of Cafe Boulevard, at Broadway and 41st Street, as Cafe Montmartre, she required somebody reliable who’d be available nightly. (For me this settles once and for all the question of how they met and came to be a successful Act.)

It’s easy to imagine Rudy’s delight in being singled out by Bonnie and Clifton after they’d left and it all began to sink in. In no-time-at-all he would be able to quit the establishment and leave behind him, perhaps forever, the life of a Taxi Dancer — a life he found more than a little distasteful.

December

During the first two weeks of the month Rodolfo rehearses with Bonnie in the mornings and continues to work as a hired dancer, at Maxim’s, in the afternoons and evenings. He likewise continues to be the favourite of several ladies (as mentioned by Keller in Inns and Outs). And utilises the upper room, with the Victrola, to provide private instruction for a fee.

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A December 1914 advert for Glass’s appearance at Rectors.
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A 1914 illustration of Rectors Dining Room by ‘HAZ’.

Mid. December, he dances for the first time with Glass, at Rector’s, in front of their “stage setting”, for an elegant New York audience seated amidst “fronded palms”. He’ll continue to do so for the rest of the month. And, though he fails to be credited at this point in any adverts, he’s buoyed by the realisation that bigger things lie ahead of him in 1915. In only a matter of months he’s turned his life completely around. This year, the Festive Period will not be the lonely, upsetting affair it was twelve months before.


Thank you so much for reading this post. As always, the sources are available to anyone who contacts me, if they’re not already embedded into the text, or added as an image. This latest timeline will be followed by others looking at the years 1915 to 1917. And I’ve planned standalone posts for his 1916 arrest and also the missing half year. See you all in July!

The Reel Infatuation Blogathon

Reel Infatuation 2019

My favourite film/TV/book character crush? Well, this being a Blog devoted to Rudolph Valentino, it’s naturally going to be related to him. But which incredible character out of so many? Perhaps Julio Desnoyers in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921)? The portrayal that catapulted him to fame? Or maybe Juan Gallardo in Blood and Sand (1922)? A performance praised by Charlie Chaplin that was also an invention of Vicente Blasco Ibanez? Maybe one of his two defining representations of a Sheik? In either The Sheik (1921) or The Son of the Sheik (1926)? No. No. No. And no. Surprised? Amazed? Well read on, and all will become clear, in: The Reel Infatuation Blogathon (June 7th to 9th, 2019).

On His Fame Still Lives this October I’ll be posting about A Sainted Devil (1924). Writing about this lost Valentino spectacular, for Famous Players-Lasky/Paramount, has required me to research very deeply. And, naturally, that research involved reading, in its entirety, the basis for the film: the Rex Beach short story Rope’s End. A tale the like of which I’ve never read before; featuring, at its heart, a personality like none I’ve ever encountered. However, before we tackle not just the sensational story, but also the equally sensational protagonist that lives and breathes on the pages, we need to pause, briefly, and see what was going on in the life of Rudolph Valentino.

By the Summer of 1921, after less than twelve months, Valentino had moved on from the pre M-G-M Metro Pictures Corp., the studio that had made him a Star, to Famous Players-Lasky/Paramount. At his new studio, where he became a Superstar, in The Sheik (1921), and was then utilised, in quick succession, in Moran of the Lady Letty (1922), Beyond the Rocks (1922), Blood and Sand (1922), and The Young Rajah (1922), he became seriously dissatisfied. His dissatisfaction arising from a combination of: low salary, several broken promises, and a general lack of control and poor material.

What followed was his extended One Man Strike; which lasted a whole year, from 1922 to 1923. A twelve month spell, when, prevented from appearing in any motion picture, he danced his way across the US with his second wife, promoting Mineralava beauty products; published an exercise book and a collection of poems; and even attempted, unsuccessfully, to become a singer. By the Summer of 1923, however, he’d reached a settlement with his employer. And, after a lengthy trip to Europe, followed by another, briefer one, he returned to work at the start of the next year, in an ambitious adaptation of Monsieur Beaucaire. (A short 1900 novel by Booth Tarkington.)

TheRoyalPortrait
Rudolph Valentino and Natacha Rambova.

The question of what would follow the expected Smash Hit of Beaucaire – in the end it wasn’t the massive success they thought – wasn’t answered quickly. Much time passed and many possibilities were rejected before the Beach story was settled on. Thanks to Natacha Rambova, his former wife, who, in 1930, published The Truth About Rudolph Valentino, her version of their life together, we know a great deal about the making of what was to become A Sainted Devil. And what we aren’t told by her we can discover from other sources. However, let’s return to the production later, after we’ve enjoyed looking at the inspiration. (Actual text is in bold.)

Beach’s brilliant yarn opens with the following paragraph:

A round moon flooded the thickets with gold and inky shadows. The night was hot, poisonous with the scent of blossoms and of rotting tropic vegetation. It was that breathless, overpowering period between the seasons when the trades were fitful, before the rains had come. From the Caribbean rose the whisper of a dying surf, slower and fainter than the respirations of a sick man; in the north the bearded, wrinkled Haytian hills lifted their scowling faces. They were trackless, mysterious, darker even than the history of the island.

After this great opening, the atmosphere established to the point where we can almost smell it, we now survey the scene. A thatched roof, on four posts, food spread upon a table, and a candle, undisturbed by even a whisper of a breeze, burning quite steadily. Close by another “thatched shed” under which soldiers are gathered ’round a fire. And about, in the “jungle clearing”, huts that have seen better days in which men can be heard talking.

We’re next introduced to the Villain: “Petithomme Laguerre, colonel of tirailleurs, in the army of the Republic…” Seated at the table, in his blue and gold uniform, disappointed with the food he just ate even more than the lack of plunder in the village. He mulls over the day from the comfort of a grass hammock that, like the property, belongs to a Julien Rameau.

We then receive some context:

On three sides of the clearing were thickets of guava and coffee trees, long since gone wild. A ruined wall along the beach road, a pair of bleaching gate-posts, a moldering house foundation, showed that this had once been the site of a considerable estate.

These mute testimonials to the glories of the French occupation are common in Hayti, but since the blacks rose under Toussaint l’Ouverture they have been steadily disappearing; the greedy fingers of the jungle have destroyed them bit by bit; what were once farms and gardens are now thickets and groves; in place of stately houses there are now nothing but miserable hovels. Cities of brick and stone have been replaced by squalid villages of board and corrugated iron, peopled by a shrill-voiced, quarreling race over which, in grim mockery, floats the banner of the Black Republic inscribed with the motto, “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.”

Once Hayti was called the “Jewel of the Antilles” and boasted its “Little Paris of the West,” but when the black men rose to power it became a place of evil reputation, a land behind a veil, where all things are possible and most things come to pass. In place of monastery bells there sounds the midnight mutter of voodoo drums; the priest has been succeeded by the “papaloi,” the worship of the Virgin has changed to that of the serpent. Instead of the sacramental bread and wine men drink the blood of the white cock, and, so it is whispered, eat the flesh of “the goat without horns.”

But where is Julien Rameau? Hanging by his wrists from a nearby tamarind tree! Soon Petithomme Laguerre speaks to him. Saying:

“So! Now that Monsieur Rameau has had time to think, perhaps he will speak,” said the colonel.

Yet Rameau’s reply is the same one he’d been giving since the beginning of his torment: that he has no riches. Growing increasingly bored, the colonel tells a subordinate, named Congo, to: “… bring the boy!” And also “a girl”. And we subsequently learn they are man and wife. And that the man is named Floreal.

Congo “and another tirailleur” duly appear with young Floreal Rameau and his equally youthful wife. Both have their hands tied behind their backs. The husband is silent. His wife is in tears.

Now we’re supplied with a good description of the Anti Hero:

Floréal Rameau was a slim mulatto, perhaps twenty years old; his lips were thin and sensitive, his nose prominent, his eyes brilliant and fearless. They gleamed now with all the vindictiveness of a serpent, until that hanging figure in the shadows just outside turned slowly and a straying moonbeam lit the face of his father; then a new expression leaped into them. Floréal’s chin fell, he swayed uncertainly upon his legs.

“Monsieur–what is this?” he asks Colonel Petihomme Laguerre. And then commences a conversation between the Captor and the Captive. The Aggressor wants their money. And the Victim reiterates that there’s none.

When his wife agrees with him Laguerre notices her beauty:

Her arms, bound as they were, threw the outlines of her ripe young bosom into prominent relief and showed her to be round and supple; she was lighter in color even than Floréal. A little scar just below her left eye stood out, dull brown, upon her yellow cheek.

Floreal’s young wife is disgusted by Laguerre, but is forced to reveal her name, which is Pierrine. When he asks her to tell him where their riches are hidden she replies:

“I know nothing,” she stammered. “Floréal speaks the truth, monsieur. What does it mean–all this? We are good people; we harm nobody. Every one here was happy until the–blacks rose. Then there was fighting and–this morning you came. It was terrible! Mamma Cleomélie is dead–the soldiers shot her. Why do you hang Papa Julien?”

Then her young husband becomes hysterical and begs on his knees for mercy. Telling the Colonel to take what they have: “fields, cattle, a schooner”. However their evil Tormentor hasn’t been listening. And, instead, has been eyeing Pierrine. Which makes Floreal even more desperate:

Floréal strained until the rawhide thongs cut into his wrists, his bare, yellow toes gripping the hard earth like the claws of a cat until he seemed about to spring. Once he turned his head, curiously, fearfully, toward his young wife, then his blazing glance swung back to his captor.

Now Floreal Rameau’s worst fears become reality. Despite his attempt to appeal to their Tormentor, Petihomme Laguerre, Laguerre orders orders his men to beat Floreal’s poor father, while he takes the son’s wife into his personal custody, to perhaps suffer a fate worse than death. Floreal Rameau flings himself in front of the Colonel but fails to stop him. And now watches, helplessly as his wife is led away and his father is brutalized:

Floréal shrank away. Retreating until his back was against the table, he clutched its edge with his numb fingers for support. He was young, he had seen little of the ferocious cruelty which characterized his countrymen; this was the first uprising against his color that he had witnessed. Every blow, which seemed directed at his own body, made him suffer until he became almost as senseless as the figure of his father.

His groping fingers finally touched the candle at his back; it was burning low, and the blaze bit at them. With the pain there came a thought, wild, fantastic; he shifted his position slightly until the flame licked at his bonds.

Colonel Laguerre returns to see if the torturing of Julien Rameau is effective. Not noticing that the son, Floreal Rameau, is burning his restraints with the candle on the table. After telling Floreal that he’ll be guarded during the night, and then dealt with the next day, he departs; having: “… an appetite for pleasanter things than this.”

Floreal then cries out to no avail:

“Laguerre! She is my wife–by the Church! My wife.”

Congo and Maximilien, the two subordinates of the Colonel, talk between themselves about the fact that they believe there’s no money. They then decide they’ll kill Floreal’s father, take “the boy back to his prison”, and get some rest. While Congo attends to the old man – who’s not surprisingly expired – Maximilien approaches the son in order to lead him to where he’ll be kept prisoner. Telling him, as he does so, that he’ll be shot tomorrow.

Yet, the desperate, ingenious Floreal, who has by now freed his hands, deftly removes Maximilien’s machete from its sheath. After mortally wounding the unsuspecting owner he then pursues his fellow trooper/’tirailleur’, Congo, who’s head he cracks open, like: “… a green cocoanut, with one stroke.”

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An original illustration from the 1916 publishing.

Floreal Rameau has time to cut down the body of his dead father but is soon aware that the other men are seeking out their weapons. Thus, as they begin to shoot at him, he quickly disappears into the jungle, as they continue to fire blindly. Laguerre almost fails to subdue them and the first part of the tale ends thus:

The road to the Dominican frontier was rough and wild. All Hayti was aflame; every village was peopled by raging blacks who had risen against their lighter-hued brethren. Among the fugitives who slunk along the winding bridle-paths that once had been roads there was a mulatto youth of scarcely twenty, who carried a machete beneath his arm. In his eyes there was a lurking horror; his wrists were bound with rags torn from his cotton shirt; he spoke but seldom, and when he did it was to curse the name of Petithomme Laguerre.

After the horrifying, blood-soaked opening, Rex Beach tells us what happened to Floreal in the aftermath. How he became resident in the neighbouring country. Gave himself a new name. Learned the language. And became a Seaman. (He had, it seems, been “born of the sea”.) Furthermore:

But he could not bring himself to utterly forsake the island of his birth, for twice a year, when the seasons changed, when the trades died and the hot lands sent their odors reeking through the night, he felt a hungry yearning for Hayti. During these periods of lifeless heat his impulses ran wild; at these times his habits changed and he became violent, nocturnal.

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Inocencio Ruiz, as he’s now known, is shunned by women and by men. And people talk of him suspiciously. The suspicious talk is wonderful:

“This Inocencio is a person of uncertain temper. He has a bad eye.”

“Whence did he come?” others inquired. “He is not one of us.”

“From Jamaica, or the Barbadoes, perhaps. He has much evil in him.”

“And yet he makes no enemies.”

“Nor friends.”

“Um-m! A peculiar fellow. A man of passion–one can see it in his face.”

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Our Anti Hero’s homeland, Hayti, has, we discover, become peaceful again. And the man that he hates is now ‘General Petithomme Laguerre, Commandant of the Arrondissement of the South’. Inocencio hears of this and departs in a shady Barkentine. He cruises the Caribbean “seeing something of the world and tasting of its wickedness.” After twelve months, at Trinidad, he acquainted himself with a “Portuguese half-breed”, the Captain of a Schooner. Inocencio was eventually promoted to Mate. And then, after a gambling session, won the ship from the “half-breed”.

DeLesseps
Ferdinand de Lesseps.

We’re next in Colon (Panama). During what the author terms ” the French fiasco” of “De Lesseps”. (This information means the story is set in the 1860s and 1870s.) There in “the wickedest, sickest city of the Western Hemisphere”, he:

… heard the echo of tremendous undertakings; there he learned new rascalities, and met men from other lands who were homeless, like himself; there he tasted of the white man’s wickedness, and beheld forms of corruption that were strange to him. The nights were ribald and the days were drear, for fever stalked the streets, but Inocencio was immune, and for the first time he enjoyed himself.

Solitary Inocencio thinks of Hayti and Pierrine. And we’re informed that:

In time the mulatto acquired a reputation and gathered a crew of ruffians over whom he tyrannized. There were women in his camp, too, ‘Bajans, Sant’ Lucians, and wenches from the other isles, but neither they nor their powdered sisters along the back streets of Colon appealed to Inocencio very long, for sooner or later there always came to him the memory of a yellow girl with a scar beneath her eye, and thoughts of her brought pictures of a blue-and-gold negro colonel and an old man hanging by the wrists. Then it was that he felt a slow flame licking at his tendons, and his hatred blazed up so suddenly that the women fled from him, bearing marks of his fingers on their flesh.

Inocencio Ruiz sails for weeks with his Motley Crew. Often visiting the Haytian coast for no reason. He hears gossip about Petithomme Laguerre who has plans one day to be the President. This stirs him to action. And, with the help of “a French clerk in the Canal offices”, he composes an extremely clever letter to His Excellency, General Petihomme Laguerre, Commandant of the Arrondissement of the South, Jacmel, Republic of Hayti. In the communication the Clerk recommends Ruiz. And tells the ambitious Laguerre that there are 200 rifles available at a good price. And that Inocencio is prepared to meet him and discuss the sale.

Antoine Leblanc, the letter writer, expresses doubts about the scheme. But Inocencio Ruiz, the former Floreal Rameau, is adamant. And says, dramatically:

“When I die I shall have no enemies to forgive, for I shall have killed them all,” he said, simply.

We now move to conclusion. Inocencio’s ship, the Stella, arrives at Jacmel, Hayti, and drops anchor. An anchored “Haytian gunboat” worries him, as he hadn’t counted on it being present.

A band was playing in the square, and there were many soldiers. Inocencio did not go ashore. Instead he sent the letter by a member of his crew, a giant ‘Bajan’ whom he trusted, and with it he sent word that he hoped to meet His Excellency, General Laguerre, that evening at a certain drinking-place near the water-front.

We then are told by Beach:

The sailor returned at dusk with news that set his captain’s eyes aglow. Jacmel was alive with troops; there had been a review that very afternoon and the populace had hailed the commandant as President. On all sides there was talk of revolution; the whole south country had enrolled beneath the banner of revolt. The gunboat was Laguerre’s; all Hayti craved a change; the old familiar race cry had been raised and the mulattoes were in terror of another massacre. But the regular troops were badly armed and the perusal of Inocencio’s letter had filled the general with joy.

Captain Ruiz goes to the rendezvous early and sits drinking rum while waiting. (Due to “his threatening eyes” he’s unmolested.) An “older and infinitely prouder” Laguerre finally arrives in a “parrot-green” uniform. “With age and power he had coarsened, but his eyes were still bloodshot and domineering.” They greet each other:

“Captain Ruiz?” he inquired, pausing before the yellow man.

“Your Excellency!” Inocencio rose and saluted.

Ruiz isn’t recognised by Laguerre and a discussion ensues. Eventually the Captain persuades the General to accompany him alone to view the merchandise. They then depart for the Stella:

The moon was round and brilliant as they walked out upon the rotting wharf-all wharves in Hayti are decayed-the night had grown still, and through it came the gentle whisper of the tide, mingled with the babel from the town. Land odors combined with the pungent stench of the harbor in a scent which caused Inocencio’s nostrils to quiver and memory to gnaw at him. He cast a worried look skyward, and in his ungodly soul prayed for wind, for a breeze, for a gentle zephyr which would put his vengeance in his hands.

Inocencio rows the unsuspecting Petihomme out to the Stella:

… as they neared the Stella a breath came out of the open. It was hot, stifling, as if a furnace door had opened, and the yellow man smiled grimly into the night.

The crew of the Stella are amazed to see the General. But their Captain reveals nothing to them of his plan. The ‘Monsieur le General’ is guided towards the cabin. And this is then followed by: “… the sound of a blow, of a heavy fall, then a loud, ferocious cry, and a subdued scuffling, during which the crew stared at one another.”

Afterwards Inocencio emerges and gives orders for them to set sail. A faint breeze means the ship moves slowly, but surely, and Inocencio seats himself upon the deck-house, and drums “his naked heels upon the cabin wall.” Furthermore:

He lit one cigarette after another, and the helmsman saw that he was laughing silently.

Morning comes:

Dawn broke in an explosion of many colors. The sun rushed up out of the sea as if pursued; night fled, and in its place was a blistering day, full grown. The breeze had died, however, and the Stella wallowed in a glassy calm, her sails slatting, her booms creaking, her gear complaining to the drunken roll. The slow swells heeled her first to one side, then to the other, the decks grew burning hot; no faintest ripple stirred the undulating surface of the Caribbean. Afar, the Haytian hills wavered and danced through a veil of heat. The slender topmast described long measured arcs across the sky, like a schoolmaster’s pointer; from its peak the halyards whipped and bellied.

Then:

“Captain!” The ‘Bajan waited for recognition. “Captain!” Inocencio looked up finally. “There–toward Jacmel–there is smoke. See! We have been watching it.”

Their Captain nods. He knows that the ship approaching them is the “Haytian gunboat” that he saw at Jacmel. His crew are uneasy and demand to know who the man is that was brought aboard the night before. When they discover his identity they’re aghast. But Inocencio is unfazed and tells “the Bajan” to locate a new rope, make it: “… fast to the end of this halyard and run it through yonder block.”

Captain Ruiz then returns to General Laguerre in the cabin:

Laguerre was sitting in a chair with his arms and legs securely bound, but he had succeeded in working considerable havoc with the furnishings of the place as well as with his splendid uniform. His lips foamed, his eyes protruded at sight of his captor; a trickle of blood from his scalp lent him a ferocious appearance.

Gradually Inocencio reveals to Petihomme not only who he is but also what his captive’s fate will be. The conversation goes as follows:

“All Hayti could not buy your life, Laguerre!”

Some tone of voice, some haunting familiarity of feature, set the prisoner’s memory to groping blindly. At last he inquired, “Who are you?”

“I am Floréal.”

The name meant nothing. Laguerre’s life was black; many Floréals had figured in it.

“You do not remember me?”

“N-no, and yet—”

“Perhaps you will remember another–a woman. She had a scar, just here.” The speaker laid a tobacco-stained finger upon his left cheek-bone, and Laguerre noticed for the first time that the wrist beneath it was maimed as from a burn. “It was a little scar and it was brown, in the candle-light. She was young and round and her body was soft–” The mulatto’s lean face was suddenly distorted in a horrible grimace which he intended for a smile. “She was my wife, Laguerre, by the Church, and you took her. She died, but she had a child—your child.”

The huge black figure shrank into its green-and-gold panoply, the bloodshot eyes rested upon Inocencio with a look of terrified recognition.

Inocencio Ruiz, now Floreal Rameau once more, further torments his former Tormentor. And then takes him on deck. Petihomme Laguerre is briefly hopeful when he sees the smoke rising from the gunboat in the distance. But before he can finish what he’s saying his Captor slips the new rope around his wrists. Then a dramatic moment:

“Give way!” he ordered.

The crew held back, at which he turned upon them so savagely that they hastened to obey. They put their weight upon the line; Laguerre’s arms were whisked above his head, he felt his feet leave the deck. He was dumb with surprise, choked with rage at this indignity, but he did not understand its significance.

The sailors haul Laguerre higher and higher into the air until: “… his feet had cleared the crosstree.” Then:

“Make fast!” Inocencio ordered.

Laguerre was hanging like a huge plumbob now, and as the schooner heeled to starboard he swung out, farther and farther, until there was nothing beneath him but the glassy sea. He screamed at this, and kicked and capered; the slender topmast sprung to his antics. Then the vessel righted herself, and as she did so the man at the rope’s end began a swift and fearful journey. Not until that instant did his fate become apparent to him, but when he saw what was in store for him he ceased to cry out. He fixed his eyes upon the mast toward which the weight of his body propelled him, he drew himself upward by his arms, he flung out his legs to break the impact. The Stella lifted by the bow and he cleared the spar by a few inches. Onward he rushed, to the pause that marked the limit of his flight to port, then slowly, but with increasing swiftness, he began his return journey. Again he resisted furiously and again his body missed the mast, all but one shoulder, which brushed lightly in passing and served to spin him like a top. The measured slowness of that oscillation added to its horror; with every escape the victim’s strength decreased, his fear grew, and the end approached. It was a game of chance played by the hand of the sea. Under him the deck appeared and disappeared at regular intervals, the rope cut into his wrists, the slim spar sprung to his efforts. In the distance was a charcoal smear which grew blacker.

As Laguerre nears destruction Inocencio counts. Taunts him from below. And reminds him of his past victims. And then:

A cry of horror arose from the crew who had gathered forward, for Petithomme Laguerre, dizzied with spinning, had finally fetched up with a crash against the mast. He ricocheted, the swing of the pendulum became irregular for a time or two, then the roll of the vessel set it going again. Time after time he missed destruction by a hair’s-breadth, while the voice from below gibed at him, then once more there came the sound of a blow, dull, yet loud, and of a character to make the hearers shudder. The victim struggled less violently; he no longer drew his weight upward like a gymnast. But he was a man of great vitality; his bones were heavy and thickly padded with flesh, therefore they broke one by one, and death came to him slowly. The sea played with him maliciously, saving him repeatedly, only to thresh him the harder when it had tired of its sport. It was a long time before the restless Caribbean had reduced him to pulp, a spineless, boneless thing of putty which danced to the spring of the resilient spruce.

Once dead, Laguerre is lowered, and slipped into the still sea. We then have a beautiful sentence:

The sky was glittering, the pitch was oozing from the deck, in the distance the Haytian mountains scowled through the shimmer.

And the story ends thus:

Inocencio turned toward the approaching gunboat, which was very close by now, a rusty, ill-painted, ill-manned tub. Her blunt nose broke the swells into foam, from her peak depended the banner of the Black Republic, symbolic of the motto, “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.” The captain of the Stella rolled and lit a cigarette, then seated himself upon the cabin roof to wait. And as he waited he drummed with his naked heels and smiled, for he was satisfied.

Reading through Rope’s End, which I’ve obviously abbreviated, without removing vital components, there’s no doubt it was a superb tale. And it’s easy to see why Natacha Rambova and Rudolph Valentino felt it would be an exciting vehicle for him. Featuring, as it does, an exotic central figure, in a foreign, tropical location; plenty of tension, with many opportunities for serious dramatic acting, and emoting; changes of scene and also changes of costume; a cast of interesting supporting characters; and the triumph, if in a dark, very twisted way, of good over evil.

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Naturally there were several obstacles to be overcome. It was unthinkable, at that time, due to racial prejudice, that Rudy could portray a ‘Mulatto’. While he’d certainly already embodied a desert Sheik, a coarse Spaniard, and an Indian Prince, each time this had been made acceptable in some way. (Usually by revealing he wasn’t, in fact, completely ethnic.) Also, for the same reasons, there was no way any African American could play opposite him, as a foe. And, lastly, there would need to be an adjustment when it came to the wife that dies. Possibly by showing a happy life before the arrival of the soldiers and giving the audience flashbacks throughout. Or by reuniting them at the conclusion. (In the original she dies giving birth to Petihomme Laguerre’s child.)

In The Truth About Rudolph Valentino, in 1930, Rambova was clear, that before Valentino departed for a short break in Florida, in May 1924, he’d been very happy with the script. According to Natacha, that submitted and approved narrative, was: “… centered about a revolution in South America, full of the color, fire and dramatic situations that had characterized ‘The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’, the plot was motivated by war…”

This all shows, that while Forrest Halsey, who’d already adapted Tarkington’s Beaucaire, had shifted the action from the Caribbean Islands to Latin America, and at the same time most likely dumped the sea going sections, he’d very much preserved the uprising that was the reason Floreal/Inocencio becomes vengeful. What the “color, fire and dramatic situations” exactly were is a mystery. No doubt the adapted character was a wandering, rootless individual (on dry land rather than at sea), that found himself in a series of compromising situations. Natacha Rambova’s mentioning of TFHotA (1921) suggests this.

Having undergone significant, yet satisfactory alteration, it was therefore a shock when the script was further altered during Valentino’s absence. Rambova explains that: “… after the story had been accepted, bought and paid for, the powers behind the throne suddenly decided that for the sake of international policy (or expense) all traces of war must be eliminated. In other words, the very reason for the story, the spinal column of the beast, was amputated. What remained were a few fragmentary incidents strung together by a threadbare plot and given the title ‘A Sainted Devil’.”

Moreover: “I objected loudly to this mutilation of a fine story; it took all of the pep from the picture. I predicted it would be a failure. But my objections were promptly overruled and, rather than cause more trouble, I sank into quiescence. It was the last picture of our contract with Famous Players and we didn’t want more litigation. Anything for peace!”

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If we accept her version – I do by-the-way – Rope’s End had gone from being an extremely exciting, if vicious, work, with a simple to understand central character, shifting against a series of visually exciting, exotic backdrops. To a still relatively exciting, perhaps less bloodthirsty storyline, with, again, a simple to understand central character, operating in a colourful, fiery and dramatic world. To, finally, a lacklustre story, devoid of meaning, with a motiveless, certainly unchallenged central character, moving from scene to scene in an environment that was unexceptional.

Personally, with the necessary changes mentioned earlier, I visualise, without difficulty, Rudolph Valentino as Floreal Rameau. I see him as the unworldly, virginal, defiant young Husband. I see him, on his knees, helpless and begging for mercy. I see him transforming and becoming, when given no alternative, instinctive, animal and a murderer. I see him as the forever-changed, lonely unsatisfied drifter; as a fugitive who broods about the past and lives in the moment. I see him as the Master of the Stella with his ugly crewmen. And lastly, I see him, face to face with his wicked adversary, fully prepared to punish him, for the deaths of his mother, and, his father and wife.

It’s a great shame that Famous Players Lasky/Paramount couldn’t or wouldn’t see him as Rameau too. That they made the decision to drastically alter the “accepted, bought and paid for” adaptation. That they put production costs and expediency before great art and good storytelling. That they decided, after all, not to let bygones be bygones. For me, it’s obvious Rudy was denied the opportunity to surpass himself, in The Four Horsemen…, The Sheik and Blood and Sand. Yes, the times were against him, yet that was as nothing compared to having his employers not fully on his side. Immediately afterwards, though they didn’t know it for about another year, the Valentino’s were no longer a Hollywood Power Couple. Backing down over A Sainted Devil (1924), would lead to them being given the run around about The Hooded Falcon, which was never realised. Cobra (1925), which was to follow A Sainted Devil, was Valentino’s second – third in the opinion of some – flop in a row.

The issues that surrounded the adaptation of Rex Beach’s Rope’s End, 95 years ago this year, are of interest to me, and I hope they’ve interested you. If not, at the very least, I’m sure you enjoyed, at least a little, getting to know the story on which it was based. If, like me, you’ve come to appreciate the main character, then my time hasn’t been wasted. It’s possible you may even feel, as I do, that there was a great opportunity for Valentino to excel that he was denied. As explained at the very start I’ll be looking fully at the film A Sainted Devil (1924) this Autumn. Maybe you’ll join me for that? I do hope so! Enjoy the the Reel Infatuation Blogathon, today, tomorrow and Sunday. It’s wonderful to be given the opportunity to be part of it!

Frank

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Debtor. Bankrupt. Business Failure. Wife-Beater. Child Kidnapper. Wanted Man. Fraudster. Not individually pretty labels, are they? How about collectively? Applied to one person? A person at times close – very close indeed – to Rudolph Valentino. A person, we’re led to believe, who was his loyal Sponsor and Protector in the United States. The unsavoury character in question? Frank A. Mennillo. A man apparently erased from the narrative. Purposely pushed aside and diminished. Not given his due. My findings indicate he never was the Godfather it’s claimed he was. That he was a Hanger On. And that he might very well have been a reason Rudolph Valentino never had any money. This post is titled simply: Frank.

Thanks to modern tech. it’s very easy to get to know the subject of the post this month on His Fame Still Lives. It’s all online. And it makes for interesting reading. Born April 10th, 1882, in Naples, Italy, like countless numbers of his contemporaries (including of course his future friend), he emigrated to America when young; though, unlike Valentino, he didn’t travel there in style.

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The S. S. Perugia.

Francesco Mennillo – his middle initial wasn’t used at this time – was just 22 years old when he boarded the S. S. Perugia, a vessel known for transporting marble, pumice, soap, olive oil and macaroni, etc., at Naples, on June 11th, 1904.  The ship’s Steerage paperwork reveals that he travelled alone; his occupation was Merchant; that he was able to write; was a Southern Italian; had paid for his own passage; was carrying just $20; would be living with his cousin (on Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn); that he’d never been in prison, wasn’t a Polygamist, an Anarchist, or a Trouble Causer; that his health was good; and that he wasn’t deformed, or crippled.

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Proof he spent the twelve months after arrival (on June 26th), living and working in the USA, is found in his 1905 petition for naturalization documents. (It was necessary to remain within a state for a year, and be resident in the country for five years, to be able to apply for citizenship.) That he was on his way to citizenship is the reason he declares, in 1906, on his return to America on the S. S. Italia, that he’s a Non-Immigrant Alien. And in that Manifest we see he’s still a Merchant; is single; brings $50 into the country; and is living with his brother, at Hester Street, Lower Manhattan.

This journey from the United States to Italy and back again was one he made practically every year between 1906 and 1911. (He failed to cross and recross the Atlantic only in 1907.) In 1909, by which time he was married, and was calling himself Frank, he returns on the S. S. Roma in the September. That his brothers, Ciro and Giovanni (respectively 22 and 12 at the time), followed him, on the S. S. Virginia, that December, suggests he’d been helping them to get ready eight weeks previously. (That the elder, Ciro, was at the time a Farmer, indicates a move which would significantly improve his prospects.)

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His trip out and back, on the S. S. Madonna in 1910, was followed by a more impressive one the next year. In the Spring of 1911, he returned from Liverpool, Great Britain, on the Cunard Line Liner, RMS Lusitania — the ship famously torpedoed and sunk by the Germans just four years later. Though this was apparently a Second Class voyage, it’s safe-to-say, that with the assistance of immediate family, and contacts made in both New York and Naples, he was doing well. And had progressed, in a few short years, from Merchant or Trader, to Importer, had been married, and seen the birth of his son. (The petition for naturalization includes later info. about Arnaldo, who was born on March 7th, 1910.)

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So, a surprise it is, to see in THE BROOKLYN DAILY EAGLE, on May 16th, 1912, that he’s listed the previous day, as a Debtor, owing $241.55 to a C. Frankel, with a judgement against him in favour of the Claimant. What had gone wrong, we might wonder, that he’d been unable to pay an amount today equivalent to more than six thousand dollars? Clearly things weren’t so great for Mr. Mennillo just one year on. 

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Valentino in childhood.

While Frank had been busying himself in the US, and travelling to and from Italy, young Rodolfo Guglielmi had also been on the move. In the year Mennillo emigrated alone the Guglielmi family shifted as a unit from Castellaneta to Taranto. In 1906, when the then, Francesco, headed back to America on the S. S. Italia, Rudy lost his father, and was sent away to a distant school in Perugia, where he spent several unhappy years; the serious unhappiness continuing until he found himself at agricultural college, at Nervi. After an ill thought-out trip to Paris, and many wasted months back at Taranto, at the very end of 1913 he climbed aboard the S. S. Cleveland, hoping for a fresh start in New York.

Was Frank A. Mennillo waiting to meet him when he arrived? In my opinion no. Having looked in great depth at the available evidence, I see nothing, anywhere, that gives even the vaguest hint that Mennillo had advance knowledge of his arrival, or, was at Brooklyn to greet him. (It’s actually claimed they met at Ellis Island, which First Class passengers were spared.) Consequently my March post (New York Timeline (1913)) didn’t mention it. The fact Valentino doesn’t allude to him once in his letter to his mother would be the first reason to doubt the assertion. After all, who would travel such a distance, getting ready to meet with a good friend of the family, which we’re told Frank was, and fail to devote even one sentence to them? There’s nothing. And here’s a second reason. Why, when he went into detail about his earliest weeks in the USA, with friends and family, two wives, a Manager, and journalists by the score, did he opt to leave out any Padrone? None of his intimates, between 1913 and 1926, ever recalled him telling them he’d been met, taken care of, or assisted in any way by anybody. Because he wasn’t. He was, as all – all – the material shows, alone, and finding his own way for the best part of three to six months. (And all confirmed by his older brother Alberto, when he was interviewed, in depth, in 1977, for the series HOLLYWOOD, broadcast in 1980.)

Yet the reason that Mennillo wasn’t Rudy’s Guide/Sponsor/Patron/Benefactor, has less to do with the lack of verification and more to do with his personal circumstances. This was a man who wasn’t in a position to help himself, let alone an eighteen-year-old who’d just arrived and had never left Europe. On May 14th, 1914, on page 16 of the New York Tribune, we see, once again, that “Frank Mennillo” owes a large amount of money (this time to L. Afeltra), and the judgement has gone against him. However this was merely a prelude to the total collapse of his business dealings in the November. As can be seen, on November 23rd, 1914, on page 14 of The New York Times – the Court Calendars column – Frank was expected to appear at the District Court, at 10:30 a.m. that day, for bankruptcy proceedings. Almost immediately the extent of his indebtedness was made public:

    FRANK MENNILLO, salesman, of 367 [sic]

Broome [Street], filed petition individually and

as a partner [in] the former firm of Mennillo &

Lignanti, importers, with liabilities of $20,378

and no assets. Among the creditors are P. &

D. Samengo, Naples, Italy, $18,000, goods sold

in 1911; Bank of Rome, Naples, $1,200; and P.

Ballentine & Sons, Newark, $500.

From the New York Tribune.

Breaking down the information, we see that Mennillo was, in today’s money, a cool half million dollars in debt — not, to borrow a hackneyed phrase, something to be sniffed at. And that he also had no properties, no vehicles, nothing he could sell. We further learn that he was partnered in his endeavours by a Mr. Lignanti. And the partners owed money mainly to their fellow countrymen. (Lignanti and P. & D. Samengo have eluded me but P. Ballentine and Sons were manufacturers of strong beer.) We can see, as well, that the sum of $18,000 had been owed for several years, since 1911. And if we add together in our heads the three larger totals we understand a further $678 was owed to others. All of them, whoever they were, just as upset as the main creditors.

A person declared bankrupt in the Winter of 1914 had undoubtedly struggled for a good year. Perhaps even eighteen months. (In 1912 he was already a Debtor.) So the idea that Frank A. Mennillo could have been providing significant support to Rudolph Valentino at the time is nonsense. And if he was, then why do witnesses, such as ‘Dickie’ Warner, later say Valentino wasn’t living in great accommodation? And a wealthy, successful and well-connected fellow countryman, would’ve found a Dependant a good position somewhere. A really great one. And yet Rudolph was forced to go about looking for work. Went from menial job to menial job. Had, at one point, no job. Before finding a position as a Taxi Dancer. Obviously this isn’t a person with someone looking after them. Nothing suggests it.

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It was late 1914. New York was booming. But Frank A. Mennillo was bust. Washed up. The following Spring things went from bad to worse. On March 24th, 1915, it was widely reported that Frank and wife, Zelinda, both now living at Bay Twenty-Ninth Street, in Brooklyn, had appeared in front of Supreme Court Justice Kelly. The reason: “… a suit for separation…” The reports laid bare that the marriage was on the rocks. Mr. Mennillo objected to his partner working as a School Teacher (at an Italian school conducted by the Children’s Aid Society). She preferred teaching to performing “domestic duties”. For her part Mrs. Mennillo claimed she’d been subjected to: “… cruel and inhuman treatment.” Not surprisingly Zelinda Mennillo was awarded custody of the five-year-old boy. (The report was wrong about the child’s age.)

I’ve no idea how you might feel about Frank abusing – perhaps physically hurting – his wife Zelinda. Perhaps you’ll think that it was just between the two of them and nothing to do with anybody else. However, I know for certain you’ll be as shocked as I was, that, soon after the judgement, he went to his son Arnaldo’s school (St. Hyacinth’s Academy, at Hawthorne, NY), kidnapped him, and told all who asked he’d packed him off to Italy. We know this to be a fact, due to newspaper reports, like the one in THE BROOKLYN DAILY EAGLE, on May 20th, 1916. Titled FATHER SURRENDERS SON, and subtitled Keeps Away Himself–Now Deputie [sic] Seek Him, the two paragraph column details how “Frank Mennillo” was at that time being sought by: “A squad of deputies of Sheriff Riegelman…” Having previously ignored a court order – maybe more than one? – to produce his son Arnold, now six, the small child had been suddenly and mysteriously produced (by a relation).

The brief, info.-packed TBDE article, concludes with the following: “Justice Blackmar …. instructed that Mennillo be brought into court to answer the charges against him.” That no further report was forthcoming doesn’t of course mean that he wasn’t. The issuing of “A warrant for contempt” as well as “a writ of attachment” was very serious indeed. His disappearance until 1917 suggests to me that he was given jail time and a fine. Certainly his assets, such as they were, would’ve frozen; making it impossible for him to do much in the short-to-medium term.

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At the point Frank and Zelinda were at odds, in May 1916, and throwing verbal punches at one another in court, the now twenty-one-year-old Rodolfo Guglielmi (using the name Signor Rudolph), was engaged in his own ‘pas de deux’ in another arena. Having, from March to September 1914, endured six long months of terrible ups and downs, he had, quite literally, landed on his feet, when he secured work as a dancer-for-hire, at Cafe Maxim (or Maxim’s), at 110 West 38th Street, in Manhattan. This was followed by a year of exhibition dancing with Bonnie Glass. And then, when she retired, a switch to a rival female dancer extraordinaire, named Joan Sawyer.

However, his naming of Sawyer as the Other Woman, during the divorce of his on-off dancing partner – unbalanced Heiress Mrs. de Saulles – from her philandering husband, two months later, proved disastrous. And his options fell to zero when he was arrested in the September and the arrest was front page news. After laying low for half a year (due to acute embarrassment and being required to remain available for further questioning), he left the East Coast, in the Spring of 1917; heading West with a show: The Masked Model. (Appropriately titled considering his desire to disappear.) This mode of escape, once again, alerts us to the unlikelihood he had any serious support. A Godfather would simply have sent him the funds.

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San Francisco between 1915 and 1920.

There’s no doubt that Frank – now using his middle initial – and Rudy were West, and at San Francisco, in the same year. Did their paths cross? I don’t believe so. We know that Mennillo was in the company of the Maffeis – D. V. Maffei, President of the Association of Italian Employees, and his son, William – in the October. (He travelled from East to West with William Maffei that month.) Yet, by the Autumn, Guglielmi was very firmly in L. A. He had been in S. F. in the June. And this is clear from his Draft Registration Card (on which he requested and received exemption (due to being an Alien)). So for them to have connected Frank would have had to have been there earlier too. If so, why was Rodolfo enjoying the company of Mr. and Mrs. Spreckles, and in and out of employment, and, on his way South after encountering Norman Kerry, formerly Norman Kaiser? And why are there no photographs of the two of them together at this point when there are several of him with others?

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After a difficult 1918, when he lost his mother, had little film work, contracted influenza, and was tormented by a whole host of other problems, Rodolfo Guglielmi, now going by the name of Rodolphe De Valentina, and variants, was, in 1919, beginning to succeed in Moviedom. And though fame was still some way off, it was ahead, even if he didn’t know it. For Frank A. Mennillo the year began with his being linked to the already established American Olive Co. It not being difficult to search for the concern, on the internet, I’m curious to know where the idea Mennillo established it comes from. A relatively quick check revealed the American Olive Co. was in fact set-up before he ever placed a foot on Californian soil. For example, on August 27th, 1905, in the LOS ANGELES HERALD, at a time, you’ll recall, when the then Francesco Mennillo was concerning himself with getting settled on the East Coast, we see that the company was busy altering a factory building, at 1701 East Adams Street, to the tune of $5,000. Likewise, I wonder how he introduced the olive to the country, when, as early as 1907, the American Olive Co. was supplying “finest Ripe Olives in pint and quart cans” to retailers in Oregon. Cans! Which demonstrates a canning process in advance of Mr. Mennillo introducing one. It’s also a mystery how he was put out of business by any food poisoning scandal if the business wasn’t actually his. (A search for this disastrous breakout proved fruitless.)

That he did indeed own a share of the producers is proven by a March 7th, 1919, news item about Corporation Permits. (Shares issued were also issued to him.) As the extent of his holdings aren’t revealed, it’s possible that his interest was significant, and he was a driving force behind their expansion at the time; evidenced by a series of advertisements for label machine operators, and 50 women to peel tomatoes, etc. Yet was the expansion a good idea? And was Frank the person to mastermind it? Or, in any way, oversee it, if he did, in any way, oversee it? Perhaps not. After all his business dealings in the East had collapsed spectacularly.

That September/early October we see he went up the coast for ten days. Stopping: “… a day or two at the Belvedere in Santa Barbara …. from there [motoring] north [to visit] various olive ranches and other property…” that he owned. Of course this sounds good. Until we think about how a former bankrupt had managed to secure the necessary funds to acquire it. I think it’s safe for us to assume he borrowed heavily and was unable to keep up the repayments. And that at some point or another his disastrous past caught up with him. That he’s moved on entirely by the following year is emphasised by a report in THE MORNING PRESS, in July 1920, where we see he’s at the Ambassador Hotel, in L. A., in the company of Christian Demutopolos, a Greek Consul in the USA, Mr. Panagspolos the Consul General, and a Prosper Letternich.

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Rudolph Valentino, as Joe Klingsby, in The Wonderful Chance (1920).

That same month, twenty-five-year-old Rudolphe De Valentino/Rudolphe Valentine, was East, in his own sphere: Motion Pictures. The trip, necessitated by him being summoned to an interview, in April, about his arrest in 1916 and subsequent suing of the publishers of the varied titles that reported it, had led to two parts. First, as Joe Klingsby, in The Wonderful Chance (1920). Then, as Jose Dalmarez, in Stolen Moments (1920). However, there was a third part awaiting him, one that would finally secure him Stardom. The role of Julio Desnoyers in Metro Pictures Corp.’s The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921).

Anyone who ever read a biography about the life of Rudolph Valentino will know that The Four Horsemen (1921) was a huge hit. And he himself was a hit, nationally and internationally — particularly with females. No decent, well-researched biography fails to disclose his success, later that year, in The Sheik (1921); or, how The Sheik transformed him from a Star into a Superstar. His struggle to disassociate himself from the character that made him a Household Name – a battle he would ultimately lose – would begin in earnest the very next year. However, the role he hoped would lift him artistically, that of Juan Gallardo, in Blood and Sand (1922), didn’t reach the Valentino-hungry public until after he’d been arrested for Bigamy, and had embarked upon his One Man Strike. (To secure better working conditions and greater freedom at Famous Players-Lasky Corp.)

The sudden disappearance of the American Olive Co. in the national press in 1919/1920 does suggest it went out of business. Nowhere did I find a short piece, or a report of any length, that provided a reason (which you’d expect if the shut down had been notable). Whatever happened it’s clear that Frank A. Mennillo had turned his back on produce by the start of the new decade. In 1920, as we saw, he was associating with Greek diplomats on the West Coast. Later that year, in the September, his very definite involvement with The Italian American Republican League, would’ve seen him present at their convention in New York; the purpose of which, was, to: “… solidify the sentiment of voters of Italian origin in favor of Senator Harding and Gov. Coolidge in the November election.” At the gathering, at which representatives from 23 states were present, Frank was a witness to: the setting up of committees to organise women voters; Judge Pallotti’s resolution to repudiate the League of Nations; the endorsement of the Republican platform in full; the elevation of F. H. La Guardia to permanent Chairman; and the reading out of letters, to attendees, from Harding, Coolidge and Cabot, none of whom were able to be present.

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Mennillo to the left of Vice President Coolidge in 1921 or 1922.

Was it due to Frank being busy in the political arena that he failed to assist Rudy when he was accused of Bigamy? And was it his obligations in that sphere that prevented him from helping while he was out of work for six months? Wouldn’t a Padrino have put all responsibilities aside and stepped in? You’d think so. Unless he wasn’t a Padrino in the first place? That Frank A. Mennillo was indeed busy making the most of his connections at the time, is thrown into sharp relief, by a fascinating report on the front page of The New York Times, on Thursday, October 18th, 1923.

Titled, in capital letters, FRANK OF CONGRESS USED IN STOCK DEAL, the news item exposed a serious breach of Congressional rules by Mennillo. Specifically, that he’d sent out letters inviting ‘brother Republicans’ to invest in the [Auto Rim Lever Lock Corp.], not only on Congressional headed paper, and inside of Congressional envelopes, but also using the franking system of the Congress — an improper act and an illegal one. We read how one recipient (“a Republican of standing in New York”), who’d tipped off several newspapers, had described it as “one of the most extraordinary documents” he’d ever received. And how, when quizzed by telegram, the Congressman concerned, M. O. McLaughlin, of Newbraska, President of the company mentioned, denied knowledge of any letters, despite his signature being on them. (The entire letter was, to everyone’s embarrassment, reproduced by TNYT.)

Mennillo

According to the reporter “F. A. Mennillo” was quick to admit, under extreme pressure no doubt, that it was he, not the Congressman, who’d been at fault. How, without the knowledge of M. O. McLaughlin, he’d sent out the 150 invitations; 50 of which, maybe to the most important people, he admitted, had been franked in Washington. The lengthy explanation sounds concocted. And is full of excuses. Obviously it brought to a close his political career — not that it really was, ever, a political career as such.

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His position as General Manager at the Auto Rim Lever Lock Corp. – their product, in case you’re wondering, was a patented device that made it easier to change automobile tyres – seems to have continued, however. In the following year he gave both Rudolph Valentino and Valentino’s Business Manager, S. George Ullman, the opportunity to purchase shares in the operation. And we have proof of this, in an image of the share certificate, given to Rudy by Frank, after he’d bought $1,000 worth of shares, on June 28th, 1924. (See above.)

By that Summer Valentino had put his differences with FP-L/ Paramount to the side and commenced filming of his second and final film for them: A Sainted Devil (1924). He was, he thought, secure. Back on top. He looked forward to working with J. D. Williams’ Ritz-Carlton Pictures; a lengthy break in Europe; and realising Natacha’s The Hooded Falcon. He also, after building up nothing but debt during his never-ending strike, had money. Something Mennillo would’ve known. 

Of course it’s all part of the story that Rudy was a terrible spendthrift. And he was. As so many many witnesses, including Natacha, testified. He could easily spend more than he was earning, and did, however he was also what’s called A Soft Touch. And it’s my firm belief, based on a later incident, at which I’ll be looking here, that Frank tapped his super-famous fellow Italian for cash. Possibly large sums. Call it a hunch, or whatever you like, but he’s demonstrably hanging about in the later, more successful years, rather than the earlier period of uncertainty and struggle.

The comeback of Monsieur Beaucaire and A Sainted Devil wasn’t the plateau Rudolph Valentino thought it would be. And, though he couldn’t see it at that time, the out-of-the-frying-pan-into-the-fire move to Ritz-Carlton Pictures, was to drag him down to a place he hadn’t been to since before The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. So, marvellous it appeared to be, when he was rescued by United Artists, and his first outing, The Eagle (1925), was a Smash. That he was tied into a highly dubious contract, once more largely brokered by the inept Ullman, which required him to locate the funds for the final three of five productions, mattered little in 1925. All that would sort itself when the time came. Yet it didn’t. Consequently, after his second spectacular, The Son of the Sheik (1926) had been completed, and he was on the road promoting it, he began to feel the heat about Vehicle Three.

Whatever was going on behind the scenes that Summer – we know a tired and stressed Rudy stayed East for longer than planned, and talked with the President of UA, Hiram Abrams – it was all to end in tragedy in the August. His collapse, at a private, early hours party in Manhattan, and subsequent hospitalisation and tragic death, led to one of the greatest outpourings of grief ever seen in the United States. And right there – yes you’ve guessed it! – was Frank A. Mennillo.

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Is it me or is the man on the far right giving Frank a Dirty Look?

Frank had been in Rudy’s company on and off during the previous twelve months. We see them, for example, with Mae (Murray) and another gent., in a photograph taken in New York, before Rudy and then Mae sailed for Europe, in late 1925. That they saw one another on his return in the January is highly plausible. However, as Frank A. Mennillo was seemingly East and Rudolph Valentino was very definitely West, from February to June, they next saw each other late in July at New York. And it’s likely they spent some time together from the beginning of the following month, until the 15th, the day that Valentino was taken to hospital.

On page 216 of his book, Valentino as I Knew Him, S. George Ullman states, very clearly, that when he realised, on Sunday the 22nd, that Rudolph Valentino was weakening, he contacted: “… Frank Mennillo, one of Rudy’s dearest Italian friends.” Mennillo, Ullman recalls, arrived in the early evening. And, after being informed of how serious things really were, they went in to see Valentino in his room. Frank, we learn, spoke to Rudy in Italian, but Rudy responded in English, saying: “Thank you, Frank. I’m going to be well soon.” (That’s all we get.) Then we’re informed that: “All during the night the doctors, Frank Mennillo and I kept watch.” S. George Ullman going into the room every hour to see how he was faring. According to Ullman “At about six o’clock” they chatted. Then Valentino began to fade. There were some final words. A Priest was called. There was a single unintelligible word in Italian. And he passed away.

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Left to right: Frank A. Mennillo, Alberto Guglielmi and S. George Ullman.

As I plan to write in the future about S. George Ullman, I’ll leave aside my issues with the account, and focus on the fact that Frank A. Mennillo was conspicuously involved before and after Rudolph Valentino was dead. And available, when Rudy’s brother, Alberto, arrived in the USA at the start of September. It was of course the case that many persons offered their assistance, as anybody would, in such a situation, yet was it simply this that led to him being at the centre of things? It strikes me Mennillo would’ve been extremely useful to Ullman when it came to dealing with the Guglielmi family. Helpful, when it came to persuading Valentino’s vulnerable, distraught older brother that an autopsy was unnecessary. And that his remains should definitely be interred in California, rather than returned to Puglia. Was it just this? I wonder. Is it possible that Frank knew what had really happened at The Mysterious Party? And was it sensible to keep Mr. Mennillo inside of the tent rather than outside of it?

I speculate in this way due to the fact that, in the following year, Frank A. Mennillo paid S. George Ullman a visit. The reason? To borrow $40,000 from the estate of his recently deceased Dear Friend. Yes still a lot of money! And the equivalent of over half a million today. Why, we might ask, would such a supposedly prudent man as Ullman grant such an incredible request — and he did grant it. What was in the background of Mennillo that would inspire such confidence? I haven’t seen a thing. (And use of the frank of Congress was in 1923 quite some time after he’d become Valentino’s Manager.) So I seriously wonder – really, I do – what it was he saw that I can’t. Perhaps someone can point out to me how a serial business failure could merit such an enormous monetary award? And if you imagine that late in the game he was a success? He wasn’t. And just how much of a disaster he continued to be, can be seen by looking, one last time, at what’s out there for all to view.

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How badly things were going after the establishment of California Tomato Juice, Inc. is apparent when we inspect the Fifteenth Census of the United States in 1930. Being just three short years since Mennillo secured tens of thousand of dollars from a dead man, we might expect to see him doing well, prospering, living off the fat of the land, as they say. What we see instead, is that he’s living alone, without any wife or family, at a place called the Carlton Hotel, South Figueroa, Los Angeles. A hotel, occupied, not by people doing well, prospering, or living off the fat of the land, but by office workers, waitresses, salesmen and saleswomen, secretaries, soda fountain operators, cashiers, milliners, and musicians. Ordinary people. Getting by. Surviving. Hoping for a better life. And Frank’s occupation? He’s one of fifteen living there that have no occupation, are unemployed, and without prospects.

Frank A. Mennillo had tumbled far and fast without anybody to milk for money. Once he’d stood beside his friend Rudolph Valentino and basked in the reflected glory. Now, just a few years on, he stood alone and in the shadows, a nobody, without a job. I searched for mentions of him in the early to mid. Thirties and found none. His last few years were probably rather depressing — they certainly look it. And California Tomato Juice, Inc. was so obscure and low key, that it only gets highlighted in the state press, in 1935, when it finally goes out of business.

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In November 1936, Associated Press informed Americans that Frank A. Mennillo, ‘the Olive King’, was dead. The short, three paragraph obituary framed him as a pioneering genius, trumpeting his connection to President Warren G. Harding, and claimed he’d been the Chairman of the Italian American Republican League. He was, the report said, born in Naples, Italy, had been at University there, and arrived in the USA in 1904. He had got his start in importing in New York, moved West, and then, in 1915, started the American Olive Co.

While there had been several Olive Oil Kings – Elwood Cooper and Charles Phillip Grogan are two examples – I saw no evidence Frank had been crowned thus in his lifetime. And while the connection to President Harding was genuine, in that he’d helped him in his bid to be elected, Mennillo had never been Chairman, as far as I’m aware. (That honour having been bestowed upon La Guardia.) Born in Naples, Italy, was correct; though I’d question his ability to study at Naples University and commence work as a Merchant by the age of 21/22. (I accept I may be wrong about that.) And he was not the person who established the American Olive Co., which was very much up and running before 1915.

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Frank with his son Arnold. The body language is interesting.

The write up is plainly an attempt to present Frank as something other than he was. It looks good. And I can see that it was taken at face value when he was written about in the recent past. Which is a bit of a shame, because behind the white wash is a much more fascinating tale; but either you scrub off that white wash or you don’t. Francesco Mennillo/Frank Mennillo/Frank A. Mennillo/F. A. Mennillo had an interesting life. That said it really wasn’t any more interesting than a lot of others in his day. And it certainly wasn’t the life that’s been out there up until now.

And that’s why I wrote this post: to put the record straight. I’m not happy about people being misled for personal gain about Rudolph Valentino’s life. And they’re being totally misled in the case of Frank A. Mennillo. Of course they were friends, good friends, and as all good friends are they were there for each other. And yet these were not equals in any sense. I believe I’ve shown, with many examples, that the idea Mennillo was in a position to really help Valentino is a baseless one. It was Rudy who was useful to Frank, not the other way around.

I found no evidence that the two ever met before 1918/1919. And I didn’t see it presented in concrete terms by anyone anywhere that they did. No photographs. No letters. And no witness testimony. Nothing. Second or third hand memory recalled and passed along isn’t satisfactory. When people have been dead seventy or eighty years you really need to see something solid. For me their being in New York at the same time is a coincidence. They may, possibly, have encountered each other, but I don’t see how, when these are people moving in very different circles in 1914, 1915 and 1916. When we look at San Francisco we see the months don’t match. As well, once more, there are no photographs, letters or witnesses. And when Rudy is East, in 1920, it isn’t due to Frank, as Frank’s not East at that time. However, with the pair in the L. A. area, in the late Teens, we do have the right conditions for a first meeting. Perhaps one day I’ll find something that confirms it. I’ll be looking for it as-and-when-I-can I promise you.


I want to thank you for reading this post all the way through. It’s a long one, but there was no way to make it any shorter, without omitting vital information. I welcome any feedback. And if you have a question, or wish to see anything presented here, then please just ask me. I’ll be back next month, when the post will be: New York Timeline (1914).

Castellaneta

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It being a fact Valentino was born in the region of Puglia, or Apulia, in Southern Italy. And it equally being a fact he sought to escape that locality and his country of origin. Meant it was important that I travel there if I was to understand him and his motives — and so in 2014 I did. During the trip I went to Bari, to Taranto and Martina Franca. My final stop, Castellaneta, the most important of all, is the subject of my post this month.

Hard as it is to believe, it really is five whole years, a half decade, since I was preparing to go to Puglia for the first time. If I doubt it, the red – Rudy’s favourite colour – file I created for the trip, full to bursting with flight info., maps, tourist pamphlets, postcards, emails, print-offs, invitations, guest house and hotel details, people’s mobile numbers, and restaurant bills and general receipts, is proof the trip commenced on April the 29th, and ended May the 6th. Impossible to dismiss. All there right in front of me. Every day. Every hour. Every minute. Every second.

Of course it helped me when organising that I was no stranger to the unusually shaped nation. Even as a child I’d had inklings. For example, when my Bestie, Neil (half Italian on his mother’s side), returned to school after the Summer, wearing shoes with bubbled, melted soles, I knew it was a place of extremes. And when my own mother talked about her journey to the resort of Rimini, in the Sixties, the previous decade, I began to appreciate it was romantic. (The image of her, sunkissed and seated on a Sea Swing, is one I treasure.) Winning first prize in a Reader’s Digest competition, in the Eighties, and acquiring a book about the Romans in Britain, helped me understand it was of historical importance.

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Before viewing Summertime (1955), Death in Venice (1971), Don’t Look Back (1973), or The Wings of the Dove (1997), I journeyed to Lido di Jesolo. Just a cheap package holiday in 1983, with my Aunt, Uncle and Sister; but for the first time I was able to taste proper oven-baked pizza, swim in the Adriatic, and to see and fall in love with pastel-coloured, time-worn Venice. As a Fashion Student I spent happy hours turning the pages of VOGUE Italia and L’UOMO VOGUE. As a Fashion Editor I saw, wrote about, and handled, some beautiful Italian clothing. Over two decades, either for work, or a holiday, I ventured to: Milan, Florence, Venice, Portofino, Rome and Sorrento.

However the deep South I didn’t know. Sorrento, near Naples, for a 2011 family wedding, was the closest I’d been to what’s known as ‘The Heel’. After looking for both flights and accommodation (and finding and paying for both), I began to properly research where I was heading. Looking I could see that the different areas had their own flavour. Gargano e Daunia was known for its deserted beaches and fish eateries. Puglia Imperiale for the broadnesss of the horizon, bright shades and a harsh moon-like terrain. Bari e la Costa, meanwhile, was characterised by golden beaches, its ports and the walls and palaces at Bari. Magna Grecia, Murgia e Gravine was a rocky place. Valle d’Itria was somewhere filled with cone-shaped, stone buildings called Trulli, amongst the vineyards and olive groves. And Salento, with its never ending coastline dotted with coves, was an area enfolded by two seas: the Adriatic and the Ionian.

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Bari e la Costa, I experienced at Bari, between April 29th and May 1st. And Magna Grecia, Murgia e Gravine, I appreciated at Taranto, Martina Franca and Castellaneta, from May 1st to May 6th. The first glimpse of Castellaneta, and its situation, was from the window of the train between Bari and Taranto. It hadn’t crossed my mind that I would see it on the way to the second location. But I did. In the distance. Perched on the edge of the ten kilometer long Gravina di Castellaneta, or Gravina Grande ravine. And though it was on the horizon, just in sight, I felt something, something I’ve no words to describe.

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My accommodation.

The modern station being some distance from the town – the one used in Rudy’s day is now defunct and closed up – our Host awaited us and our luggage with a car. Arriving at the remote guesthouse that sunny Saturday afternoon (after a drive filled with much conversation and a Falcon above us at one point) I was keen to collect myself. So much had occurred since touching down at Bari on the 29th. Many calls and emails there to finalise appointments and meetings. Downtime, with visits to churches, and walks by the port, and in the backstreets. Followed by a memorable but very crammed two days at Taranto and Martina Franca. All leaving me feeling a little overwhelmed. So I took stock. Walked in the fields near the converted farmhouse; took some photographs; returned to the accommodation and added to my notebook; slept; viewed my images and film clips; watched some TV; and ate a delicious Italian home-made meal.

The next day was to be a long one. I had most of the 4th to enjoy exploring Castellaneta. And then, in the evening, from seven p.m., I was to be at the Premio Rodolfo Valentino event at Teatro Valentino. (An awards ceremony celebrating Italian Excellence.) That it was Sunday was, on one hand, an issue, and on the other not an issue. It would be quiet and everything would be closed. But it would also be so quiet and so closed that it would be easy to walk about. I could wander in the streets of Rudolph Valentino’s home town to my heart’s content soaking it all up. I could trace and retrace my steps. Snap away with my camera until the memory was full. Stand and stare at his birthplace for as long as I damn well wanted.

The problem was that it was raining heavily in the morning. So I waited and waited and waited — and waited some more. However, after lunch it was still raining, and it became clear that it was time to head to the historical centre (with an umbrella) and hope for the best. What could go wrong? I was a Brit. and used to steady drizzle! At two p.m. I began my investigation. I had four or so hours to explore! Plenty of time!

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Though I started my inspection at the Comune di Castellaneta map (see above) I felt it was good to just walk and see where I ended up. All the signage in the tightly packed Old Quarter drew me to the Museo Valentino; which I knew was closed on that day, and on the next. Yet it was still good to locate it, so I could return there on my final morning, on the 6th. Here and there I saw adverts for the recently released biopic featuring Gabriel Garko as Rudolph Valentino: Rodolfo Valentino – La Leggenda (2013). And also a few A4 posters for the Premio Rodolfo Valentino event that night (which Garko would be attending). It was clearly a big deal locally and regionally.

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Via Roma.

After an initial easy stroll along the narrow streets and alleys I went to check the location of the theatre for the event later. Then, walked to a wet Via Roma, the main thoroughfare in Rudy’s time and today. It was here that I began to see the extent to which Rudolph Valentino is remembered – cherished, even – in Castellaneta. We might scoff at mid.-price fragrances that bear his professional name. Or think it a little tacky that a dry cleaner is named after him. (Generally I’m against profiting from a man so profited from in life and after death.) Yet at his place of origin it works. It’s appropriate. In fact, to be able to see all of the many ways in which he’s referenced, more than a century after his birth, is rather wonderful.

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A cartoon Rudy surveys Via Roma.

Sipping a classic Cappuccino, in the now faded, Bar Valentino/Caffeteria Valentino, was a real treat, as the establishment features in a Sixties short film about him, and where he came from; with interviews with his contemporaries and then young residents. It also allowed me to spend a bit of time out of the rain. And gave me the chance to look at what I’d photographed so far and how those images had turned out. (In some instances not so good.)

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Fortified by caffeine I walked again through the Ancient Heart. Snapping and also re-snapping as I went – I found a wonderful plaster frieze on a side street on this second walk – with the intention to next view Valentino’s place of birth and the statue that stands nearby.

Finally – finally! – I was in front of his first home! What a moment! To be there where the story began! And get a true sense of the size – not so big – and the location! I looked at it from all angles – even the back – and took photographs until I felt I’d properly captured it. Here was where Rudy was born, heard his first lullaby, took his first steps, spoke his first words, heard his first bed time story… Going inside seemed out of the question — because it was. Suspicious, nervous looks from above, from the current occupant, when I walked down the side steps to the rear, made it totally clear it was pointless to attempt to knock on the door, or to ring any bell. Besides, my Italian was limited to phrase book phrases, and helpful little words, such as: thank you, hello and excuse me, etc.

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After studying the Sixties memorial – at the time being prepared for restoration and now fully restored – it was only five-thirty p.m. What to do? Back along Via Roma I went to see what else I could find (grabbing a snack along the way). That I discovered, accidentally, the defunct train station from which, I assume, Rodolfo Guglielmi and his parents and his siblings departed for Taranto, in 1904, was a nice reward for my effort. And though it had been modernised before being closed, this was undeniably the spot at which his Grandfather, Pierre Philibert Barbin, had toiled, when the railway arrived at Castellaneta in the Nineteenth Century. And of course was the reason that his Mother and his Aunt settled so far away from France. Afterwards finding the apparently – seasonally? – closed nearby Alhambra Bar Valentino, the exterior painted a deep Rudy red, was a nice little extra. Did the owners know about The Hooded Falcon? The ambitious, doomed project of Natacha Rambova? And Valentino’s love of Spain? There was nobody around to ask!

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As I wrote in some detail about the Premio Rodolfo Valentino event, at Teatro Valentino, in a piece for Chris. Roman’s, All About Rudolph Valentino Blog, in 2014, I’ll skip to the following day, the 5th, and my day-long return (in better weather), to Castelleneta. The purpose of this second bite of the cherry, was: to meet and speak with a local Historian; to view the spectacular Gravina, on the edge of which the town sits; to visit the beautiful Cathedral; go to the rival Valentino museum (the Pinacoteca); and to take yet more photographs of those narrow streets and alleys.

My morning appointment was an eye-opener, and helped me to understand better the activities of Valentino’s Grandfather, on his mother’s side. The Gravina di Castellaneta was breathtaking, and I and my travel companion, enjoyed a delicious lunch there of Italian supermarket delicatessen treats. The mainly Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Cathedral (Cattedrale di S. Maria Assunta gia di S. Nicola), with its sensational and very convincing faux marble columns, and the many Saints, and the glorious decorated ceiling, didn’t disappoint. And later in the bright afternoon sunshine I saw Castellaneta afresh.

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Row of the Greeks.

The rain of the previous day had somehow obscured many treasures. On that pleasant Monday in May I could see everything more clearly. I saw the architectural mix. All of the many waves of history. The subtle, and sometimes, not-so-subtle colours. The stairways leading nowhere and the blocked off walkways. The teeny tiny windows and impossibly small doorways. It all assaulted me. And I could see that, though there had been obvious modernisation, these were still, for-the-most-part, the streets that Little Rodolfo had negotiated so long ago. The arches under which he’d passed. The corners around which he’d appeared or disappeared.

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After a day that had filled up my brain to bursting point I needed to rest. And so back to the accommodation I went, to unwind, have a sleep, and to load everything I’d seen onto my laptop and my separate hard drive. However, it was all far from over, as, following a late dinner, Rudolph’s birth day began to approach. (He was born on the 6th.) Back in Bari or Taranto – I don’t recall – I’d bought a bottle of MUMM champagne for the occasion. And this had already been passed to our hosts to chill in their fridge for about 24 hours (to guarantee maximum iciness). As midnight approached they joined us in our quarters to share the moment. That they had no flutes was brushed aside by me. (That they’d (amazingly) never drunk Bubbly before seemed to add to the celebration.) And a little after midnight, we opened the bottle, saluted Rudy, and for about an hour shared the contents four ways. The trip was almost over. But I was happy rather than sad. (Was it the champagne?)

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The next day the sun shone again. After breakfast on the roof, and loading our luggage into the vehicle of the hosts, it was time to head for the Fondazione Rodolfo Valentino Museo (Rodolfo) Valentino. An hour or so was all we had. And of course it was far from sufficient. However, our flight out of Bari, at three p.m., dictated that we be on our way in advance of lunchtime, and the museum didn’t open until ten a.m.

As anyone who’s been knows, the museum is small, but packs a punch. Entry is through a narrow doorway at the end of an open, vaulted space. Once inside, there’s a large reception area, with a desk, where you pay your modest entry fee (of just a few Euros) and can pick up pamphlets and booklets about the area; get advice and information; or book a trip or guided walk. In the initial space there’s also a glass cabinet filled with the most significant publications about Rudolph Valentino. (In it I noticed several I own.)

Then you move from space to space, eventually returning to where you began. There’s a wealth of framed material to view as you go. Some real gems. Two or three rooms are devoted to huge printed reproductions of his films. And there are a couple of room sets. One featuring a bed he’s understood to have slept in. And another, with an exotic tent, with a male mannequin dressed as a Sheik. The reasonably sized cinema runs films and instructional videos — but there was no time for that on this occasion.

I must say I’ve nothing but praise for the individuals who established it and those who now maintain it. Though I would personally make use of the space differently, were I running it, which I’m not, and obviously never will be, the fact it exists at all, when it could easily not, is something to be grateful for. In time it may develop into something more than it is. Perhaps add more artifacts, expand, and become more interactive. If it doesn’t it will still be important, and of interest, to those that are knowledgeable and those who aren’t. It was certainly a great full stop to my eight day trip to Southern Italy.


Castellaneta was everything I hoped it would be and so much more. And I recommend it as a destination if you’re interested in Rudolph Valentino. For me, as I said at the start, it was an absolute must. Somewhere along the way I was in a conversation, probably at Taranto, and was asked why I would go to his place of birth so long after he’d left, and when there was nobody alive that had known him. It was a good question. And the only answer I had was that that didn’t matter to me. Yes he was long gone. Yes his family and friends were dead. Yes it had changed. But I could still see his former home. I could still see the Gravina. I could still see those narrow passageways and streets and walk them. And if it’s true that an individual is often formed by experiences in the first seven years of existence, then it goes-without-saying that I had to see where his character had been formed. And, having done so, I believe I do know him better than I did. Much better.

The downside? There’s always a downside! Is that it’s still remote and sleepy. You could, like I did, struggle to find suitable lodgings. (The excellent Masseria I stayed at has since closed due to poor business.) And it’s not a Hot Spot or a Happening Place. In the early evening everything closes. And, as far as I could see, there are few good restaurants. All that said the people are charming and many, particularly those under forty, can speak English fairly well. There’s plenty to do and see during the daytime. And if you can drive you won’t need to be chauffeured as I was. If you do want to go, I think I’d recommend being based at Taranto and travelling up there for the day, maybe twice.

Thank you for reading this post about Castellaneta and walking in Rudy’s footsteps with me from beginning to end. It’s been fun to look back at the trip and share it with you all. In the future – I don’t know when – there’ll be posts about Taranto and Martina Franca. And I’ll also be posting about my visits to Perugia and Nervi in 2015. See you in May!

New York Timeline (1913)

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Of the many periods in the all-too-brief life of Rudolph Valentino, I’ve always found his early years in the USA to be the most absorbing, particularly those spent in and around New York, from 1913 to 1917. Three and a half years crammed with incident; six months of which are, apparently, an impenetrable void.

Over the years much has come to light, some of it from investigating things in the better biographies, and some of it personal discovery from digging very deeply. To begin with I’m concentrating on 1913, and will follow-up, in 2019, with 1914, 1915, 1916 and 1917. You may think little happened that December — but I found that the reverse was the case. Anyway, decide for yourself, when you view: New York Timeline (1913).

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The schedule of the S. S. Cleveland from late 1913 to early 1914.

December 9th

Eighteen-year-old Rodolfo Guglielmi joins his fellow Second Class passengers aboard the impressive Hamburg-American Line liner, S. S. Cleveland, the ship on which he’ll sail to the United States. An up-to-date, purpose-built vessel, like the Cincinnati, its sister ship, it leaves Genoa, Italy (where it arrived on the 3rd), at 10:30 a. m., and heads South for Naples in good weather. Aboard at this stage are: 68 First Class passengers, 78 Second Class passengers, and 147 Third Class passengers. (Capacity: 239, 224, 2,931 (steerage 1,882), 443 (crew).)

Though his reason for leaving Italy – he was without direction or a profession – is fully known, it’s not 100% clear why he desired to sail from Genoa, and not Naples, which was closer to where he lived (in Taranto). According to the family at that time a girlfriend was in Turin and he wished to see her. (This person is unnamed and not heard of again so why she was so important is a mystery.) Carrying his luggage so far North, first to Turin and then to Genoa, makes sense if he met with a female or male friend, or friends, at Nervi. Yet it all still seems a little strange. Did he stay with a former college mate the night before he sailed? If not he would have to have been in a local hotel on the 8th, to be in a position to board the Cleveland, early the following day.

We are led to believe he had with him a bank draft for $4,000. As that amount is today equivalent to $101,457.37 I begin to seriously wonder if a zero wasn’t added for effect in later years. Would a reckless eighteen-year-old who’d already blown his modest inheritance be entrusted with such a sum?

December 10th

The S. S. Cleveland arrives at Naples at 09:24 a. m. As mentioned in a letter to his mother, at some point, probably before lunch, Rodolfo switches to First Class; mainly due to not enjoying the company of those in Second Class. The vessel remains at Naples all day until 11:33 p. m., when, according to the Master’s Report, it continued its journey.

The ship remaining so long at Naples was no doubt due to the huge number of Third Class passengers that joined there. And also what cargo was loaded. It seems he was able to find the time to write and send a letter to his mother, before leaving Italian soil, for what would be almost a decade. (He returned in the late Summer of 1923.) 

On board by the time of departure were almost 2,000 people; of which 1547 were paying passengers: 161 First Class, 352 Second Class, and 1,034 Steerage and ‘mdse’ (midsection). (The crew being somewhere in the region of 400.) The Master on this journey was a Captain Filler.

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A dinner menu from a year before Rodolfo travelled.

December 11th

Following night one in his First Class cabin, and a hearty breakfast, Rodolfo begins to get to grips properly with all of the amenities. The First Class accommodations extend over four decks, and are connected by a grand or small stairway, and also an electric elevator. In addition to the public rooms – the dining room, the social hall/lounge with library, the writing room, the music and ladies’ saloon and the smoking room – he investigates the gymnasium. And stops at the photographers’ dark room, the library, and the information bureau.

The day is a pleasant one, with excellent weather, until, sometime after dinner, the ship reaches the Gulf of Lyon, where rough seas cause Marchese Rodolfo to be seasick for the first time in his life. After a lengthy rest on a “luxurious” divan in the social hall/lounge he recovers.

By now Rodolfo is on friendly terms with a number of other First Class passengers. In his letter to his mother (at the outset), he revealed he was acquainted with a Mr. and Mrs. Amadeo, and also a Miss Francis.

Which deck Rudy was on of the four is unknown to me. I have an image of the interior of a standard First Class State Room taken from it’s private salon. His accommodation would also have been wood-panelled, and featured wall-to-wall carpeting, as well as elegantly restrained fittings and furniture.

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December 12th, 13th, 14th

After passing Spain, on the 12th, the S. S. Cleveland reaches the Straight of Gibraltar, where it glides by Europe on the right, or Starboard Side, and Africa, on the left or Port Side. This thrills Rodolfo. As does the sighting of a school of dolphins following the ship once it reaches the Atlantic.

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The evening of the 12th was, it appears, the first of two formal dress balls. In the already mentioned letter to his mother, of the 11th, he tells her how much he’s looking forward to being able to dance, as he hasn’t been able to for some time.

By now he will’ve handed out many of his calling cards. The card was apparently a large one, expensively engraved on parchment, and featuring his family crest.

According to the Master’s – Captain’s – Report the weather became unpleasant. “SW to NW winds with heavy gusts, rough sea and later Western lightning almost until arrival in New York.”

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Music on board the Cleveland a year before he travelled.

December 15th to 21st

Apparently confined, on and off, to the interior of the vessel, due to poor weather, and perhaps further episodes of seasickness, Rodolfo enjoys himself with two young women: Miss Eleanor Post and Miss Marion G. Hennion. Every afternoon, for several hours, the two females take turns to play the piano in the unused Second Class dining room, while the other dances with Mr. Rodolfo Guglielmi. They dance all of the popular dances of the day – the Maxixe, the Tango, the Turkey Trot and One-Step – and communicate in French. (In fact Rodolfo learns the One-Step during these days.)

These daily meetings were followed by Afternoon Tea, then a change of clothes for dinner, dinner, a visit to the smoking room and a game of checkers, or a walk, and then bed.

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December 22nd

The Cleveland reaches the Ambrose Lightship, at Sandy Hook, at 11:29 p. m., and then anchors, at 01:00 a. m., at the Rosebank Quarantine Station, Staten Island, in readiness for medical inspection and registration the next morning. Rodolfo picks up his pen to complete the unfinished letter to his by now far away mother. After apologising for not writing every day he tells her that the voyage has been a fun one. That he’s been taught some English. And that he’s met almost all of the single and married women on board — the majority of which found him charming.

The S. S. Cleveland had been due to arrive at New York and dock and unload on the 22nd. There’s no explanation anywhere as to why it lost time on the way.

December 23rd

At 08:25 a. m. the S. S. Cleveland is visited for medical inspection and registration. It then proceeds to Brooklyn Pier where it arrives and docks at 09:40 a. m. During all of this we can imagine Rodolfo enjoying a final breakfast of buttered bread, coffee with milk, steak sandwiches and fruit. (Unless he was too nervous or excited.) If he went on deck to see it – hard to imagine he didn’t – or peered through a window, he would’ve seen the Statue of Liberty not too far away, and Manhattan Island in the distance.

Due to being a First Class traveller Rodolfo doesn’t have to go to Ellis Island. Instead, his papers and luggage are checked on board, and he then passes through customs before ferrying to Manhattan. Once there he cashes his bank draft (at Brown Brothers at Wall Street), and then heads to Giolito’s, his boarding house.

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After trouble collecting his baggage Rodolfo returns to Giolito’s. It’s more likely that he ate dinner at the nearby Rector’s, rather than lunch, as the establishment was only due to open to the public that evening. Something proven by advertisements. (See above.) If he traverses Broadway that night, or the next, he will see in lights the name of future friend Douglas Fairbanks, at the Knickerbocker Theatre; where, not yet a Picture Personality, he was appearing in The New Henrietta.

The weather wasn’t good in New York. The newspapers for the 23rd predicted: “… increasing cloudiness to-day, probably followed by rain on coast, and rain or snow in interior to-night or to-morrow; moderate east winds.”

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Looking down 49th Street in 1915.

December 24th

Christmas Eve. is Rodolfo Guglielmi’s first full day in New York. What he does in the morning isn’t known. If the weather was as bad as had been predicted, after breakfast, he probably stays at the boarding house and unpacks. In the afternoon he has time to wander about. The city’s streets are crowded with last-minute shoppers — a fact that maybe leaves him feeling even lonelier. Dinner that evening is a quiet, solitary affair.

December 25th

It’s hard to believe that on Christmas Day 1913 the young Rodolfo Guglielmi is totally alone in his new home town. Nobody to pass a gift to and nobody to receive one from. Tied a little to Giolito’s he breakfasts there and probably also lunches. In the evening, according to his own recollection, he endures a friendless meal in an empty restaurant. (Again, perhaps, at Giolito’s.)

December 26th

The holiday newspapers are a good source of atmosphere during the Festive Period and help us to understand the city’s tone at the end of 1913. Though it very much mirrored future events, it’s unlikely he pays any attention to the story of a White Slave Movie (at the Park Theatre) being stopped by the authorities, that was prominent on the front page of the Final Edition of The Evening World. Or, one of the headlines on the cover of not just The Sun, but also the New-York Tribune: the horrific collision of a speeding car with a husband and wife, early that morning on Broadway. And, despite very soon being caught up in the pre World War One craze for dancing, he probably failed to see or digest the story inside the New-York Tribune, about how retiring Commissioner of New York’s Fire Department, Joseph Johnson Jr., was concerned about the possibility of a Dance Hall Panic, due to recently opened second and third floor establishments being flammable, and also lacking adequate fire exits.

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That cross-Atlantic voyages could be, as Our Marchese now knew well, on the one hand extremely romantic, and on the other singularly illusory, is underscored by the column about Ines Borrero and Pampilo Xavier on page two of The Evening World. Their public displays of affection, following the Christmas Eve. dinner on RMS Majestic, had elicited much comment. Utterly besotted by “tip-top tiptoe artist” Miss Borrero (a Tango Dancer), twenty-year-old millionaire, Mr. Xavier, first placed a beautiful diamond and ruby ring on her finger, then gave her a $50 bill, and after following that up with a cheque for an undisclosed sum, professed, on his knees, his love for her. A shock it was, then, when Borrero wasn’t rescued by Xavier on Christmas Day, when customs men informed her that she was required to pay duty on the jewellery.

SANTA BEAMS ON ALL DESPITE RAIN, on page three of the New-York Tribune, is maybe the best of all and the most predictive. As in a few short months the Teenager will be in the same position as some of the desperate people mentioned in the article.

December 27th, 28th, 29th, 30th

What Rodolfo does in the final few days of 1913 as the rain falls is anyone’s guess. That Santa hasn’t beamed on him is clear, even if he’d been given family gifts to open on the day. We know he has thoughts of returning to Italy. We also know he doesn’t. (Adverts show that the S. S. Cleveland could’ve carried him back to Italy on the 15th.)

December 31st

Marchese Guglielmi, as he is styling himself, fails, as-far-as-we-know, to buy a ticket for one of the many advertised New Year’s Eve. extravaganzas. In My Trip Abroad, in Pictures and Picturegoer, in 1925, we read how it was: “… another dark hour…” in his life. And how he became lost in: “Crowds, surging crowds of people, bright-faced and on pleasure bent.” Rodolfo returns to Giolito’s and attempts to read. Failing to, and feeling sore all over, he then writes some letters home but tears them up.


Thank you so much for reading this post. As always, the sources are available to anyone who contacts me, if they’re not already embedded into the text, or added as an image. As I explained this timeline will be followed by others that look at the years 1914 to 1917. I’ve planned standalone posts for his 1916 arrest and the missing half year. See you all in April!