As a Rudolph Valentino enthusiast, not surprisingly, my thoughts regularly turn, at this time, to Italy, his country of origin. To see the citizens of that beautiful nation so utterly helpless in the face of COVID-19, aka Coronavirus, is truly upsetting. And having been fortunate, over the years, to have investigated almost every corner of the country, I can’t help but wonder if the many people I met and/or spoke to are alright. The hoteliers. The waiters and barmen and barwomen. The shopkeepers and their staff. The people at the tourist attractions. At the airports. At the bus and train stations. And all of the others. Naturally I think of the people I met while researching. The individuals at the libraries and at the archives. People at the museums. So many of them, I’m sure, if not grieving, suffering daily worry and stress, and wondering when this nightmare will end.
Which is why this post (which wasn’t meant to be posted just yet), is all about one place in Italy that I particularly enjoyed going to; the place where Rudy’s father’s people, the Guglielmi’s resided, a place called: Martina Franca. It was somewhere I just had to try to get to. And I’m pleased I did, as it was, thanks to an Historian I encountered, perhaps one of the most fruitful of all the many fruitful and rewarding trips I’ve made while investigating ‘The Great Lover’.
I found myself at Martina Franca, on the morning of April 30th, 2014, just 24 hours after arriving in Puglia at Bari Karol Wojtyla Airport. Having decided to use a day set aside for checking emails, making phonecalls and generally connecting with all of the places that I expected to be and the persons I’d planned to see, to instead be somewhere. On the train, on the way there, I had time to time to relax and enjoy the view. It was my first proper look at the region that Rodolfo Guglielmi had departed a century previously; and I found it to be wonderful to behold. The terrain, between flatter sections where olives were growing, was gorgeously rugged. (It reminded me a great deal here and there of Greece.) Clusters of the famous stone dwellings called Trulli were visible from time-to-time. Their conical roofs surmounted with varying decorations. Sometimes stone balls. Sometimes crosses. And other times pointed stones.
Several things struck me. I noticed many children with spectacles and wondered if poor eyesight was a Southern issue. The waves of history were clearly visible in the faces. The hair was often curly and the skin dark. At one station that we paused at, I saw a tall and attractive young man on the opposite platform. He had a definite air of Valentino, and stood in a similar manner to Rudy; with one leg slightly bent. Much later, while waiting for food at a Take Out, I saw another youth, with feline grace and intense, brown animal-like eyes. He looked back at me and it was impossible to maintain my gaze.
After alighting the train, I headed on foot, with my travelling companion, to the ancient heart, known as Old Martina; passing through the street market as we wandered. After a walk uphill, past vegetables, fruit, flowers and clothing and household goods, we arrived at the main square – really a long oblong – where we were confronted by the incredible Porta di Santo Stephano (or Gate of Saint Stephen). This sensational construction is the way into the centre of the original community. So, after a quick photo. op., we passed through it, and enjoyed what was on offer in terms of what there was to see. I couldn’t help but notice that the Ducal Palace in Piazza Roma was a municipal building as well as being a place of note for tourists. And I determined later, after lunch, to go to see what I could find out there. In the meantime I stumbled across a library, full of young people quietly studying, where, with a little difficulty, due to almost no Italian, I was able to secure photocopies of a lengthy chapter in a book, that looked at the Twenties contest in Italy to find Valentino’s replacement. (Something which will one day be another post here on His Fame Still Lives.)
It was in the afternoon after lunch that I returned to the Ducal Palace to see who I could speak to. By a stroke of luck, a woman was returning to her office there, and when I stopped her and explained why I was in Martina Franca, she told us to go with her to see her Superior, who was a Professor of History. It was one of those chance meetings which at the time astound, and, that as the years pass, astound even more. Once with her Boss, and his colleague, also an Historian, and after telling them what I was wanting to find out, they asked me if I might be able to return the next day. As I was unable to we made an arrangement that I would return the day after. If I did so, they said, they would supply me with as much info. as they could, including the Guglielmi family tree. Not surprisingly I was beside myself with excitement!
On the morning of May 1st, after shifting from Bari to Taranto, and then enjoying a day and a night there, before lunch on the 2nd, I met with a local Author, and then headed to Martina Franca once more. The History Professor and his fellow Historian immediately produced for me the Guglielmi lineage, going back to the early 17th Century, with some corrections to past information that has since been proven inaccurate. As I hope you can see (in the image below), it shows all of the male forebears of Rudolph Valentino’s Father, Giovanni Antonio Guglielmi, and their respective wives, all the way back to Rudy’s Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Grandfather; a man who was called: Martino Antonio Guglielmi. Gleaned from local church records, the only way to know anything, it revealed much about Valentino’s family on his father’s side. And is, I suspect, the same lineage supplied to Rudolph’s older brother, Alberto, decades ago. And mentioned in his interview, with Kevin Brownlow, for: Hollywood: A Celebration of the American Silent Film (1980).
For an hour I was talked through it and had all of my questions answered. Rudy’s father’s father, his Grandfather, named Pasquale Vito Alfonso, proving more than one Christian Name was already a family tradition, was a Woodcraftsman. A profession that perhaps sounds unimpressive; until we realise he was clearly sufficiently successful to be able to, as he did, send his sixteen-year-old son Giovanni to Rome, to be trained at the prestigious military academy, at what’s now known as Palazzo Salviati. Then, afterwards, to be in a position to cover the cost of his veterinary instruction. (I was also informed Valentino’s Grandfather became a Woodcraftsman accidentally, as he’d inherited the business of his father-in-law.) Interestingly, his own Father, Rudolph’s Great Grandfather, born in 1800, was a Tailor. And his Father, Pasquale Vincenzo Raffaele, was a Retailer — though what he sold isn’t known. All of which suggests a family of some standing in the community at a time when there was no Italy. Further back, the Great Great Great Great Grandfather, Pasquale Martino Guglielmi, was an owner of goats. (Which, I suppose, was either a bad or a good thing, depending on how many you owned.)
Nowhere – nowhere – is there any evidence of that much repeated additional title of di Valentina d’Antonguollo. And Valentino’s brother found no evidence during his lifetime either. As stated, church records are usually the only means of finding your way back into family history in Italy, and there’s no reason at all for it to have been missed out, if, as is claimed, it was once a right. Were it the case it wouldn’t have disappeared by the late 16th C./early 17th C. So, in my opinion, Rudolph Valentino was either told what he wanted to hear, or, investigated himself, and borrowed the lengthy surname from the actual family that did exist with those additional surnames. (A family I’ve located in my own research in recent years.)
The icing on the cake that afternoon, almost six years ago, was to be taken by the pair of historians to the location of the Guglielmi residence, on Via Pellico. I was told that due to changes of house numbers and alterations in the structure it’s not possible to be certain which exact doorway was theirs. However, we can be sure that it was one one of the two doorways that I photographed and filmed that day, and, that Rudolph Valentino’s family, from his father backwards, was born, lived and died at that spot for generations. It might just be that a young Rudy visited his relations there. Or, at the very least, heard from his Veterinarian Father stories of those who’d occupied the residence.
What more can I say about my two visits to Martina Franca? Not much, I think. Except, that it was clearly a once in a lifetime experience on both occasions. Is there anything more thrilling than making a pilgrimage to the ancestral home of an Idol? No. Not for me. It goes without saying that to know an individual of historical importance, and to understand them, you must connect as much as you’re able. Delve. Dig. Be open to any new information. See old information afresh. Try to view what they viewed. Walk where they walked. And touch what they touched. If you can you’ll be as close as you can be to anyone long gone — and they’ll be closer to you.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading this, for me, brief post about Rudolph Valentino. As I said right at the start, this was meant to be a future piece, but seemed timely, considering the current situation in a country that I, and I’m sure many of you, know and love. I pray that everyone I encountered emerges fully from the pandemic. And I wish that both Italy and its citizens can again be what it and they were on those two days in 2014. Thank you for reading. And look out for the next post on His Fame Still Lives, which will be added soon, and is my contribution to The 2020 Classic Literature On Film Blogathon.
While I busy myself turning my mammoth look at Jean Acker’s life and career, and her life-long association with Rudolph Valentino, from a three part post to a four part post, an opporunity presents itself for me to reshare my hour long chat about Rudy on local radio last year. The interviewer, Alan Porter Barnes, quizzes me during the sixty minutes, about how I first became interested in Valentino, allows me to talk about my travels, my Blog, Rudolph’s amazing career and some of his most important films, and asks me about my planned book about the Immortal Superstar. Along the way we play no less than four related tunes: Rudy singing Kashmiri Song (Pale Hands I Loved), The Beatles singing The Sheik of Araby, The Bangles singing Manic Monday, and Years and Years and MNEK singing Valentino.
The interview and the four tracks can be heard in full here:
In November 1919 Rudolph Valentino married his first wife Jean Acker. It wasn’t, we know, a match made in heaven; and questions continue, to this very day, about what exactly was going on that month. There are questions, too, about what, if anything, was to be gained from the union. Just as there’s curiosity about the aftermath. I hope to answer these queries, in a three part post, titled, not Questions, but Daisy Chained, for reasons that will eventually become clear. As far as I’m aware this is the first deep investigation of this important figure in Rudy’s life.
While Jean may’ve vanished for some length of time, professionally, towards the end of 1915, she didn’t herself disappear. Far from it. In fact, several mentions in the press, in that year and the next, give us some idea of her movements. Her scene or scenes in Are You a Mason? (1915) had to have been completed by late January, for her to be reported about in a light-hearted manner early in February, in The Atlanta Constitution. It seems that Acker had arrived in town at the Hotel Ansley in need of a room. Asking for “the best” accomodation, she was informed, by the Assistant Manager, Charles G. Day, that their finest available was the Bridal Suite. When told it was the most expensive Jean apparently asked: “Has it a tiger skin, or fuzzy rug in it?” When told it did, she said she’d take it, as her $600 Pekingese puppy, ‘Peg’, liked something to play on when he was “lonesome”. The report, titled TAKES BRIDAL SUITE SO “PEG” CAN PLAY ON TIGERSKIN RUG, ended with the statement that she, and Miss Florenze Tempest, who she was there to visit: “… signed up the bridal chamber for a week.” Whether or not the famous Cross-Dresser Tempest, who shared “the bridal chamber” was another early Amour, or simply a Theatrical Buddy, the report, for me, is a wonderful glimpse into the life of Acker in her early twenties. She travels about freely. Behaves like a Star. Has the money for both an expensive pooch – it could’ve been a gift – and the priciest room at a stylish hotel. Has a tongue-in-cheek personality. And is newsworthy where she goes.
(One possible reason for Jean Acker’s hiatus, and her travelling, is that she may’ve successfully sued Frank H. Platt for $10,000. Or, been awarded a lesser sum, or secured an out of court settlement. (Platt was the man driving the vehicle which hit Law, Phoner and herself, when they were on Law’s motorcycle, in New York, in the first half of 1913.) According to a report, on January the 6th, 1914, Jean’s damages suit was to be tried that day.)
At the start of August, on the 3rd (according to the August 8th edition of Cincinatti’s THE ENQUIRER), she was equally far-flung, when she was very definitely the “guest of honor” at Mrs. William C. Boyle’s “attractively appointed luncheon” at Boyle’s summer home, ‘Cairngorm Farm’, “on the lake shore east”. The Honoured Guest was, the newspaper explained, at the time visiting a Mrs. Charles H. Hopper. Whatever Mrs. Hopper meant to Miss Acker – let’s not draw the conclusion that her attachment to every established, older female, was a sexual or transactional one – they were, a year later, still friends and in one another’s company. Something proven by the paragraph, in a column titled, AT THE OTESAGA, in THE GLIMMERGLASS DAILY, on Monday August, 28th, 1916. As follows:
One whole year passes before we see Jean’s name again, when, right at the beginning of June 1917, she’s linked to Mme. Yorksa. Madame Yorska? Yes! That was my reaction too when I first saw the name! Who was she? Very much a subject in her own right, this isn’t really the time and place to delve into her; however, it’s pretty clear she was important to Acker, previous to her meeting the other Madame: Nazimova. A personality who’s now almost totally forgotten, and without even a Wikipedia page, she was, it seems, a rather important dramatic presence in the United States in the Teens. How and when Jean Acker met the Bernhardt-trained Actress fond of playing male parts is a mystery. Yet it’s obvious from a brief look at Yorska’s remarkable career, that Acker had impressed her sufficiently to be included in the cast of Jenny, a play presented on the afternoon of Monday, June 5th, 1917, at The Comedy Theatre, in New York. (THE NEW YORK CLIPPER reveals that the one-off presentation was for the benefit of The Actor’s Fund of America, and that Edmund (or ‘Eddie’) Goulding, later a significant Director, was also one of the performers.)
Was it while she orbited Madame Yorska that Acker gravitated, inexorably, to Madame Nazimova? I believe so. (Actually, in the first week of December, in the previous year, Yorska and Nazimova had been two of the “Scores of prominent performers” that had performed at a Blue Cross Fund benefit, at the Hudson Theatre, suggesting they perhaps knew one another.) Alla, the greater Star of the pair, was almost certainly on the East Coast of the United States that Summer, alternately in New York and her home at Port Chester, to the North of the metropolis. Basking in the afterglow of having recently wowed audiences and critics alike – an initial skimpy outfit alone had left them open-mouthed – in H. Austin Adams’ play Ception Shoals between January and May. And readying herself to embark upon a movie career, after the conclusion of negotiations with pre M-G-M Metro Pictures Corp. (Four weeks of tough negotiating, finalised on Friday, July 27th, and announced on the 28th.)
Nazimova, who the Theatre Critic, Charles Darnton, described, in an incredibly detailed review of the first night of Ception Shoals, as: “… an actress of intelligence, feeling and imagination…” was, with much success behind and ahead of her, utterly irresistable that year. Something Harriette Underhill underscored, in December 1917, in her piece titled: Alla Be Praised! Which began:
“One hundred years from now it may
be written in the books which record
historical events that Nazimova was
discovered in 1917…”
Naturally Underhill and her knowing readers were all too aware Madame Nazimova had already enjoyed a decade of stage triumphs — as was Acker. Yet it was in the year the USA entered The Great War she arguably reached her apogee. Harriette Underhill’s declaration that: “Nazimova is more than a person. She is a force.” is telling. And in her responses to the interviewer’s questions Alla’s more telling still. Particularly when she gives her Interrogator her opinion of films and film-making:”… the motion picture is the soul of drama in visible form… It is a triumph—and that’s what we all want, isn’t it?” (A favourite story of mine about Nazimova, Ception Shoals and 1917, that demonstrates the extent to which she was A Force, is the one about how Mrs. Marshall Field and her party were humiliated in a Washington theatre by the Star. It seems that due to comments overheard by her from Field’s box, Madame cried out “Curtain!”, before instructing the Stage Manager to turn out all of the house lights, bar those in the box. (At which, not surprisingly, Field and her friends fled.))
I’m almost certain, due to her later activities, that Alla’s triumph over Jean, her conquest of her, was achieved at this point in time: the Summer of 1917. With nobody alive to ask, and nothing, to my knowledge, ever found in writing, or recorded, we must make bold assumptions about the when, the where and the how. If the when was indeed 1917. And the where was New York. Then we’re left with the how. As already suggested Madame Yorska is one potential link. Yet I favour another candidate, named Herbert Brenon; a man who’d known Acker since 1913, and had successfully directed Nazimova, in her first, one-off motion picture, War Brides (1916). Easy indeed it is, to imagine Jean Acker seeing and saying hello to him at a party, a restaurant, the theatre, or even on the street, while in Alla Nazimova’s company.
I don’t see it as a problem that we wait twelve months to see the two women mentioned together in print. For me, their combination in the same sentence is so casual, it suggests, the unsaid being the clue, that the unknown journalist was aware they weren’t newly acquainted. The quickie marriage of Actor George R. Edeson to Actress Mary Newcomb that following Summer was a minor off-stage drama. The hasty nuptials, which in a way oddly echo Acker’s own, were followed, a report in the New York Tribune reveals, by a dinner at the Hotel des Artists [sic]; at which the guests, including Mme. Nazimova and Miss Jean Acker, were sworn to secrecy as to the place and time of the ceremony, and, the couple’s later whereabouts. Secrecy was, of course, the theme, at least to outsiders, when it came to Alla and Jean. So much so, that at this distance, we know virtually nothing of their very serious and lengthy affair. Yet serious and lengthy it was. And, in time, rather consequential to them both — though they didn’t know it, in 1917 and 1918.
Perusing the relevant pages of Gavin Lambert’s Alla Nazimova biography, Nazimova: A Biography (1997), we learn little about the commencement of their relationship. Just as he’s lacking in detail about Madame’s entry into Filmdom; failing to mention how she’d openly offered her services for $50,000 per production, and publicly floated the idea of working with D. W. Griffith (following his return to the USA from The Western Front), Lambert’s very noncommittal when it comes to any pathway. (A little odd when you consider his general hypothesizing elsewhere.) It’s clear, when we consider the evidence in the New York Tribune, that Nazimova didn’t discover Acker in the September of 1919. Jean had never been known as “Jeanne Mendoza”. Wasn’t 26. Hadn’t, at any time, been “a dancer in vaudeville” or a “small-part actress in summer stock”. And the less said about: “… hardly known to the world at all.” the better. Yet, it would be churlish to suggest that his yet-to-be-surpassed life gives nothing when it comes to Alla and Jean; as it absolutely doesn’t, as will be seen.
It was at the end of 1918, on Friday, December 27th, that industry publication, Wid’s DAILY, reported on the return of Jean Acker to film-making. Small news items, in that month and the next, informed the business that Miss Acker had been engaged to support the popular Fox Film Corp. Star, George Walsh, in a production to be titled Tough Luck Jones. (The title had already altered from Jinx Jones and would end up being Never Say Quit.)
As we don’t know how Acker came to be teamed with Walsh – no report enlightens us – we’re forced to speculate. Her mixing in the right circles and being in New York was probably sufficient for her to cross the path of someone – an Agent, Director or Executive – that facilitated it all. Though it was very much the case that the majority of filming was conducted in the West by this time, business was still being concluded in the East, at the headquarters of the varied, significant studios. And this was obviously beneficial to her when it came to William Fox’s concern. (Fox, seldom, if ever, went to California.)
“It is typically a George Walsh concoc-
tion, a mass of complications furnishing
the star opportunities to display his
physical agility strung upon a story
thread a little stronger than customary.”
From REVIEWS, EXHIBITORS HERALD AND MOTOGRAPHY, March 22nd, 1919 (page 33).
Looking at reviews of Never Say Quit (1919) (a good example, being Hanford C. Judson’s, in the March 29th issue of THE MOVING PICTURE WORLD), we can see how Jean adapted to the times by playing: “… a big-eyed vamp…” Her part, was, it’s true, minor. (She’s billed simply as: Vamp.) And her screentime limited. (Just one scene it appears.) Yet, she was to be featured, prominently, in advertisements. (See above.) And find her portrayal would lead, quite soon, to a better role, in a far, far bigger Fox Film Corp. production. A great part in a wholesome, feel-good film, which would introduce her to more of her country men and country women than ever before.
That the death and burial of her Grandmother and namesake, in February 1919, didn’t derail her, despite it being a blow, is proven by the fact that after she completed work opposite Walsh, Acker signed up for Edward A. Locke’s new play The Dancer. The story of Lola Kerinski, a Russian performer protected by a Manager and a brother, who falls for a wealthy American, who she marries, loses, then reunites with, opened at the Grand theatre, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania on February 13th. VARIETY‘s anonymous reviewer, on the 19th, felt a week or two of rehearsals had been insufficient. “… players were …. [unsure] of their lines…” and “the play” required: “… blue-penciling, speeding up and more vitality.” Despite this, the producers, “The Shuberts”, had: “… staged the play well and surrounded the principals with capable players.” (Jean Acker was one of these.) By the time the cast reached Poli’s theatre, on the 23rd, at the capital city Washington, it flowed nicely. However, on March the 5th, at The Majestic theatre, Providence, Rhode Island, locals objected to the two main characters, the Wife and Husband, kissing in bed and appearing dressed in nightwear, and complained to the relevant authority. Sergeant Richard Gamble, “amusement inspector”, consequently requested serious alterations.
Was bedroom fun on Miss Jean Acker’s mind too? By March she’d found the time to seek out a new home for herself; eventually settling on a sub-let, handled by Pease&Ellman (for Trowbridge Calloway), at 662 Madison Avenue, in New York. To be a block away from Central Park, even in the Spring of 1919, wouldn’t have been cheap. So I wonder if Alla Nazimova was paying for the apartment. And if it was perhaps a place for the couple to rendezvous when Madame was East between films. Of course, being back in business, as she was, Jean might’ve been in a position to rent in a nice part of town. There’s no denying that she’s named as the new Tenant, in the RESIDENTIAL LEASES column, in THE SUN newspaper, on Monday, March 24th. I get the impression, even though it was standard practice at the time, that Jean publicized her move because it suited her for people to know. This was not a publicity-shy individual. Being in the press was enjoyable for her. And she wanted to look good, as people do, when they’re in a profession where looking good’s of the utmost importance.
So good did Acker look that Spring, that as soon as the rights were secured (by William Fox) to film Checkers (a late 19th C. novel by Henry M. Blossom Jr. adapted for the stage and much revived), it was announced she was to star opposite Thomas J. Carrigan. With the Director, according to the first publication to announce it (Wid’s DAILY, on Friday, March 7th), to be Richard Stanton.
The picturization of Blossom Jr.’s Checkers was, it must be stated, on a whole different level to Never Say Quit. On March 15th industry title THE MOVING PICTURE WORLD was unequivocal: “One of the biggest casts ever assembled for a motion picture…” was at work. (A cast of “nearly fifty principals”.) And “The racing scenes which helped make the play famous…” were to “… be photographed at one of the southern racetracks.” It was expected, the final sentence revealed, that the adaptation would be released that Spring. And would be: “… a big special feature.”
Jean Acker’s role in the screen version was that of the Heroine Pert Barlow. As Pert, Jean appeals to Checkers, Thomas’s character, a Racing Tout, to help her to stop her society Fiancee drinking so heavily. (The Fiancee, who’s played by Robert Elliot, is called Arthur Kendall.) When Checkers tries and fails, he and Pert find themselves in love, and become engaged; something her Father is so unhappy about, he locks her in her room. A daring escape follows. Then an elopement. With Acker’s Barlow taking with her her horse — named Remorse. The two decide to enter Remorse in a big local race. However, the evil Fiancee seeks to stop them, in any way he can, so his own horse can triumph. The pair overcome several serious obstacles – the wrecking of their train, Pert’s abduction and imprisonment in China Town and rescue, and the blinding of their chosen jockey – before succeeding in winning the competition. A feat achieved by Jean’s Barlow riding the steed to victory. After which, Bertram Marburgh’s Judge Barlow forgives them, and welcomes them back to the family home. The End.
If this re-phrased, contemporary synopsis doesn’t give the full picture, we can access an advertisement that perhaps fills in any blanks when it comes to action. (Above.) As we see Acker was back to her earlier self. Leaping from her room to a tree. Jumping from a “… speeding auto to a box car…” And riding “…. to victory on Remorse.” And once more, at the very end, anyway, cross-dressing and pretending to be a man. Not so common at the time. And in advance of the masquerading of both Dietrich and Garbo a decade later. (It’s only recently, too, that any female has been permitted to openly compete in a horse race.)
By mid. March filming had commenced on the East Coast, at the company’s studio, at Fort Lee. Sometime in the third or fourth week of the month, a writer at Motion Picture News put together a look at progress so far, including details of what footage had been shot of Jean up to that point. (The piece was published in the March 29th edition.) “… the little Broadway beauty and daredevil of the movies…” was offering to “bet one year’s salary” that when the horse featured (owned by P. S. P. Randolph) started in The Kentucky Derby, she’d be: “… in the saddle wearing the Randolph colors.” Acker, already “one of the best woman riders in the country”, had been, we’re informed, coached as to how to ride in an actual race by “a well-known retired jockey”. And had already been captured with the thoroughbred at the private track at: “… the Randolph Estate at Lakewood, N. J.” (If the June 21st edition of THE MOVING PICTURE WORLD is believed then the information that Jean Acker would indeed ride in The Kentucky Derby was just good old-fashioned Hoo-Ha. According to the publication: “The racing scenes were filmed at the Belmont Park, Long Island, and on a New Jersey course.”)
Many reports mention the fact that Stanton was “a stickler for realism”. The entire set erected for the gambling scene, was authentic, down to the ivory inlaid chips each worth $1.50. Chinatown was faithfully recreated, with the assistance of Captain Hannon, of the Elizabeth Street police station. And Acker’s ten foot spring from the roof of a mansion into the branches of a tree, 38 feet from the ground, was all too genuine. Just as genuine, was the injury sustained by Ellen Cassity, portraying third-billed Alva Romaine, hurt in the filming of the ballroom scene by a broken goblet. (The reporting of this doesn’t state exactly how the Actress was injured.)
There’s no doubting that Checkers (1919) was a hit. A quick word search on lantern, or at Chronicling America, or Fulton History and elsewhere, provides plenty of proof. On July 28th, more than a month before the tightly edited, 70 minute visual extravaganza was issued, Wid’s DAILY was singing its praises. The Director: “… handled his material in such a way as to get every ounce of punch possible out of the story’s bigger moments.” It was edge of the seat stuff. Particularly the climax: “… when the picture showed the race itself, there was to be had almost as much excitement as if you had a big bet on the race yourself.” Others – THE NEW YORK CLIPPER (September 3rd), EXHIBITORS HERALD AND MOTOGRAPHY (September 6th), and PHOTOPLAY Magazine (October), as well as many more – all gave Checkers (1919) favourable reviews. Yet it was the feedback to industry publications from exhibitors that showed the extent to which the film succeeded. (There are, unfortunately, just too many examples to reproduce here, other than the one above.)
By the time Checkers (1919) premiered in St. Louis, the Author’s home town, with allsorts of publicity innovations – ten store windows devoted to publicity, a horse with a jockey parading in the streets, 500 paper strips with premiere details pasted to telephone poles, adverts accompanying 3,000 copies of the title tune, 5,000 windshield notifications, and even a preview advance Trailer playing in the “Wm. Fox Liberty Theatre” – employed, Jean Acker, “the little Broadway beauty and daredevil of the movies”, was firmly on the West Coast.
Why? And why was she no longer working for William Fox’s Fox Film Corp.? The only possible reason is that a jealous Nazimova had forbidden her to. And had forced Jean to relocate to California in order that she couldn’t soar higher. Acker’s wings needed to be clipped. And clipped they would be were she to be in the West. We know this, due to there being no customary announcement that Jean had left her current employer, or, unprecedented at the time, that she’d been signed by her new one. Madame, somehow strangely in control of the Miss, even managed to obliterate her recent achievements, when she was credited, by Cal York, in Plays and Players, in the September edition of PHOTOPLAY Magazine, as the person who’d discovered her.
Nazzy, recently returned from New York, had brought with her, in the following order: a collection of frogs and toads for her bathtub, a new brand of perfumed cigarettes, and Jeanne [sic] Acker, a Protege, who’d now be named Jeanne Mendoza. Jean’s humiliation was complete. Not only was she under the thumb of her older Lover, she’d failed to register, ahead of bathtoys and cigarettes, in one of Hollywood’s most prestigious publications. (And, most tragic of all, Lambert’s, Nazimova: A Biography, in reproducing this awful announcement, condemned her to a quarter of a century of derision.) Yet she at least at the time had a job (no doubt organized by Alla). As mentioned (at the very end of the sneering paragraph), she’d be playing opposite Bert Lytell, in a forthcoming Screen Classics Inc./Metro Pictures Corp. film, Lombardi, Ltd.
When I learned Jean Acker had been involved in the film version of Frederic and Fanny Hatton’s, three act, 1917 comedy, Lombardi, Ltd. (1919), I decided to seek it out. And I’m pleased I did – The British Library had a 1928 copy – as it gave me insight. Not only into what was going on in her life in terms of work, before she and Rudolph Valentino met in the Autumn of that year; but, the film being inaccessible to me, and no script copy being available, an excellent idea of what the adaptation was all about at its core. I suddenly had background. And suddenly a lot of what transpired made sense. (I later also accessed Dorothy Allison’s, scene-by-scene version, in the January 1920 issue of PHOTOPLAY.)
The play by the prolific Hattons, who’d previously scored hits with, Years of Discretion (1912), The Song Bird (1915), $2,000 A Night (1915) Upstairs and Down (1916)), and The Squab Farm (1916), was launched by Oliver Morosco, at his Morosco theatre, in Los Angeles, on July 1st, 1917; where it instantly succeeded, catapulting Leo Carrillo, who played the main character Tito Lombardi, to theatrical stardom. (NOTE: $2,000 A Night, was, interestingly, originally titled: The Great Lover.)
The story, in essence, is that of a brilliant, Italian male Modiste/Fashion Designer, who’s talented at creating desirable clothing, but not so clever when it comes to running the business and making a profit. Additionally, he’s unlucky in love; and continues to be so throughout the play, until he discovers true happiness under his nose, in the form of his faithful, but not-so-glamorous store Manageress. Many characters revolve around Tito. Two, an important Model named Daisy, the Ingenue Lead, and a secretly wealthy youth, named Riccardo, the Juvenile Lead, ultimately being most important to the narrative. A tale, summarized by Guy Price, in his review in THE LOS ANGELES EVENING HERALD, on Monday, July 2nd, 1917, as: “Real love [triumphing] over the selfish, for-gain-only, ‘surface love.'”
As it was Daisy that Jean portrayed in Lombardi, Ltd. (1919), I paid attention to her as a figure, and to her lines and interractions with Riccardo. In the DESCRIPTION OF CHARACTERS section, of the late ’20s reprint at The British Library, she’s described thus:
DAISY : A mannequin in Lombardi’s establishment.
Ingenue Lead. Of the ‘baby vampire’ type.
Played for comedy at all times. In the [F]irst [A]ct
innocent and unsophisticated. Commencing with
the Second Act she assumes the airs of the girls
about her, and thinks herself quite ‘wise.’ She
shouldbe a young girl of about twenty-two,
rather small but possessed of a good figure and
very pretty. In Act 1 wears her hair low and
simply ; thereafter puts it on the top of her head
in exaggerated manner, but not so that it will
spoil her attractiveness. ‘Kittenish’ best des-
cribes her habitual manner.
And I also reproduce, Riccardo’s, or Rickey’s description, which I think very interesting, when you have in mind another, real-life Italian, that the actual day-to-day Jean would be encountering. As follows:
RICCARDO TOSSELLO : Juvenile and Light Comedy.
A young man of about twenty-five. Italian de-
scent. Not the swarthy type ; black or dark hair.
Does not use the Italian dialect any time. Is of
the manly type and easy to play if not ‘acted.’
Very wealthy, but does not seem to be aware of
the fact, and is never arrogant or important
because of his wealth. Just a ‘hail fellow well
met’ at all times, never loud in action, speech
or dress. The diamond rings he wears are sup-
posed to have been inherited from his father and
worn for the sake of their association, rather
than their value.
As you can see, I’ve purposely highlighted/made bold parts of sentences, for both Daisy and Riccardo/Rickey, that I feel, strongly, particularly with Riccardo Tossello, eerily echo his off-screen counterpart Rudolph Valentino. He’s named Riccardo/Rickey and Rudolph was Rudolph/Rudy. He’s 25 and Valentino, was, likewise, in his mid. twenties. (24 at this point.) He’s not swarthy, has black or dark hair, and doesn’t use the Italian dialect any time. And Rudy wasn’t swarthy, had dark hair, and didn’t, at least by 1919, as far as I know, use the Italian dialect. And further, Rudolph was never arrogant or important; was a hail fellow well met; and, as we know, rather enjoyed wearing rings. But back to Daisy/Jean and Rickey/Rudy in a little bit. As I now throw June Mathis into the mix. It being “The recognized head of Metro’s scenario department” who was responsible for the adaptation.
“Comedy is very necessary. But, after all, it doesn’t make the lasting impression that is made by the soul-searching story—the story that gets under the skins of all of us and reveals that mortals are weak, groping atoms in a cosmic wilderness and that into their brief span of existence is crowded infinitely more sorrow than happiness.”
June Mathis, quoted in Motion Picture News, August 9th, 1919.
The pre The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921) Mathis had only recently been elevated to the enviable position of Metro Pictures Corp.’s Scenarist in Chief. And was being heralded as such, that Summer, in promotional pieces like the half page article, Woman to Adapt Screen Classics, that appeared in the August 9th edition of Motion Picture News. If the message wasn’t clear from the title, it was hammered home in the text, when it was stated that June was: “… grooming herself for a demonstration of her contention that the female of the species is more strenuous than the male…” in the scenario writing sphere. “Miss Mathis” had: “… established herself as a motion picture technician and one of the cleverest handlers of big situations, ranging from graceful comedy to heart-gripping drama.” The creation, by Metro Pictures Corp.’s production arm, Screen Classics, Inc., of ‘fewer, bigger and better’ productions, from September the 1st 1919, had her undivided attention. And she was quoted as saying: ‘Give me the human drama. Let it be a story about my fellow human beings—their hopes and fears, their joys and sorrows. Let me cry with them, but let them be human.’
Unaware of the forthcoming human drama of two fellow human beings, Acker and Valentino, almost under her very nose; individuals, with hopes, fears, joys and definite sorrows, Mathis adapted Lombardi, Ltd. according to her instincts. To get an idea of any differences between the stage version and the screen version we’ve only to look at reviews. Such as the complimentary one we see, in THE WASHINGTON HERALD, on Monday, October 20th, 1919. Which begins with the sentence: “Seldom in picturizing a former stage success has the original acting version been so strictly adhered to…” And went on to explain that: “The logical sequence of scenes has been scrupulously observed with the result that the shadow drama …. preserves all of the directness and all of the dramatic power of the play…” This information helps me to be certain that the cinematic Daisy wasn’t, despite being reduced slightly in importance by June, too dissimilar to the theatrical Daisy. Which is significant, given my belief the actions of both her character, and those of the opposite character, were a real influence on events.
In my post, December 1919, in December 2018, I looked in some detail at the run up to the meeting of Jean and Rudy — at least from his perspective. On a night in early September, Rudolph Valentino found himself at Venice nightspot, The Ship. Spotting friend Dagmar Godoswky, he approached her table, but met with rejection from Alla Nazimova — which triggered a rejection by all gathered. (Godowsky’s recollection was it was a celebration of the conclusion of shooting of Nazimova’s next spectacular.) Within days the humiliated Valentino became acquainted with a young woman present at the venue: Jean Acker. The location, this time, was the newly-bought home of the established stage and screen star Pauline Frederick. At this more congenial dinner party – Gavin Lambert’s claim that it marked the end of the filming of Madame X (1920) is incorrect as it began production the following Spring – Jean was alone.
Acker, I’m sure, instantly recognised the beautifully dressed, well-mannered Italian so horribly insulted by Madame Nazimova. After being introduced by ‘Polly’ he asked Jean to dance. She declined. Instead they sat under “a California moon” and talked, and talked — then, talked some more. The discussion is unrecorded. Yet we know that they found themselves understanding and liking one another. It was, after all, the collision of two rather similar people. Individuals who were somewhat battered and bruised by life and their profession. Victims, both, of the great Diva Nazzy. The Force. Someone that, as Dagmar Godowsky explains, in First Person Plural: The Lives of DAGMAR GODOWSKY, by Herself (1958), her autobiography, only: “… had to raise an eyebrow and everyone shook.” (Rudy was to call Dagmar a couple of days afterwards to tell her all about it and how he felt about Jean.)
Miss Acker probably spoke of her return to the profession the previous year, her arrival on the West Coast, and her most recent film. It would be strange – impossible – for her not to have told him all about Metro Pictures Corp. and the powerful people she knew there. And of her plans for the future. Mr. Valentino had his own tale to tell of course. How he’d got started in the business in 1916; had shifted West the following year; about his serious struggles; and how he’d recently completed working with Clara Kimball Young, in Eyes of Youth (1919). Likewise, it would be odd, odd and unlikely, for him not to ask questions about Metro Pictures Corp. About June Mathis. And about Maxwell Karger. And to see if they had mutual friends. (After all they’d both spent many years in New York and its environs.) If Jean, so recently Daisy, didn’t yet see in Rudy a Rickey, she certainly saw a young man that she felt she could trust. Someone she could enjoy being with and maybe see again. If not, then why did they see one another again? And then again? Was he, I wonder, employing his “credo”, as reproduced in a newspaper, in 1922? 1. Never play at love unless you feel the urge. Insincere lovemaking is cheating—and you cheat yourself most of all. 2. Never try cave-man tactics on the woman you love. That’s a sure way to lose her if she’s worth winning. 3. Be patient. Never try to kiss a woman the first or the second time you meet her. And never reveal your purpose, whatever it may be, until she is used to you and trusts you. Perhaps, like me, you picture her receiving a tender kiss on the hand as they said farewell — not a difficult thing to imagine!
Over the next eight weeks they saw one another irregularly. Though Lombardi, Ltd. (1919) had been wrapped (at least for Jean and the principals), by the time of the Frederick soiree, it appears Acker was busy for some of the time working on The Blue Bandana (1919); a Robertson-Cole Productions film, the Star of which was William Desmond. (Having been considered “specially fitted for the part” of Ruth Yancy, she’d been loaned out, and the movie was released, quickly, on November 16th.) On his side, Rudolph’s latest role, as Cabaret Parasite, Clarence Morgan, in Eyes of Youth (1919), was very much In The Can. And he was at a loose end, not having yet secured the part of Prince Angelo Della Robbia, in Passion’s Playground (1920). Contractless, and without a studio, he would, between their dates, be looking for his next opportunity. (I begin to think it was at this time that he went to see Sessue Hayakawa, to ask about joining his company, at the facility at which Jean was at work. Something mentioned in Sessue’s autobiography, ZEN showed me the Way… to peace, happiness and tranquility and harmony (1960), on page 144. He also says Acker worked for him after they’d married.)
No doubt they went on a short trip or two in Jean Acker’s auto. And enjoyed an evening here or there dancing. Being outdoor types, and accomplished riders, they absolutely rode in the Hollywood Hills — in fact, we know they did. And it would be surprising if they hadn’t seen at least one motion picture. Is it possible that they went to watch the September 16th evening preview of Lombardi, Ltd. (1919), at the Hollywood Theatre, at 6724 Hollywood Boulevard? I think so. And it’s quite likely, in the following month, the couple could’ve enjoyed an advance screening of Eyes of Youth (1919), as such private viewings were happening in October, in advance of a big trade preview in New York, on the 30th. Fun for them both, if so. Despite it emphasizing the real differences in their positions in the industry. Jean was, so far, more experienced and more successful; was better known and better connected; and, receiving a regular weekly salary of several hundred dollars.
A couple of years later, in Chapter Three of My Life Story, his life so far, as related to PHOTOPLAY Magazine, and published in their April 1923 edition, Valentino went into some detail. Firstly: “It was at a party at Miss Frederick’s that I met Miss Jean Acker. I thought her very attractive. But I did not see her again for some time.” After meeting her once more: “I fell in love with her. I think you might call it love at first sight.” Reminiscing about their horseride: “It was like an Italian day. Romance was shining everywhere, and the world looked beautiful. That day I proposed to Miss Acker. It seemed spontaneous and beautiful then. But as I look back, now, it seems more like a scene [from] a picture with me acting the leading part.”
I feel, here, it’s worth looking at the conversations about matrimony between Daisy and Rickey, in Lombardi, Ltd. Though the dialogue would’ve been seriously pruned for intertitling, I’m certain the general tone was retained. Pages 106, 107 and 108, in Act II, as follows:
RICKEY. (At R. of DAISY and close to her) Say, ducks, I must have you. Just naturally must. And you might just as well slip me that “Yes” now, because I’ll bother you to death till you do. Come on, will you have me, lovey ?
DAISY. Are you offering me marriage ?
RICKEY. Surest thing you know. Honourable marriage. (Takes both hands in his and leads her so that she is just R. of lower end of the settee.) Bride’s cake, veils, rice and that little gold band that your sex thinks so well of, and besides that, Daisy, l-o-v-e, and I’m full of it.
DAISY. (Backing to corner of settee for support) It’s my first ! (Sits on settee.) My ! It does give you a thrilling feeling, just like the books say. Have you asked many other girls that ?
RICKEY. What ? To marry me ? (Sits next to Daisy on settee above her.)
DAISY. Uh, huh !
RICKEY. Peaches, you are number one absolutely. Daisy, you’re the first little woman I ever saw that I wanted to make the Mrs.
DAISY. Yes, I bet I am !
RICKEY. (Laughing.) You are.
DAISY. Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Doubtless. Doubtless.
RICKEY. I’ve had some flirts, of course. I don’t set up to be a Saint Anthony, but wedding rings; no, lovey lamb, just my little Daisy. (Embraces her.)
DAISY. (Gives audible sign of content.) Oh, I just wish you wasn’t a chauffeur, because I do like you—lots. (Breaking away from his embrace.) Only, I can’t—honest, I can’t. (Rising and crossing to c.)
RICKEY. (Rises and shows disappointment) Why, Daisy ?
DAISY. I’ve made up my mind I’m going to have things and money and lots of it.
RICKEY. (Following DAISY) But I love you, Daisy, and I’ll make you love me. Won’t you take a chance ?
DAISY. (Waving him off) Now, please go away. I don’t want to say, “Yes.” I’m not going to marry a mechanic. (Crossing to R. below table.) I cannot do it. (Continues around R. of table and above it.)
RICKEY. (Disappointed, but still persisting, he crosses up L. of table and meets DAISY just above it) Well, all right, if that’s the way you feel about it, but, Daisy, I want you to know that I would carry you around on my two hands. (Extends his hands palms up, forgetting that he had previously turned the rings he is wearing.)
DAISY. (About to take his hands, notices the diamonds in his rings; staggers) My Gawd ! Are those stones gen-u-ine ?
RICKEY. Eh? Oh, yes. Belonged to my father. Want one? (Taking off ring from left hand.)
DAISY. Oh, you mean it ? (RICKEY puts ring on her finger.) Ain’t it swell. I never did see one bigger. But it wouldn’t be right because I ain’t goin’ to swerve from my purpose—take it off, please.
(Pause. DAISY takes off the ring, handing it to RICKEY, who replaces it on his finger as she continues speech.)
RICKEY. It’s yours; it’s for you.
DAISY. I just wish I could see my way clear to…
taking it, and you, too, Mr.—what’s that queer name you’ve got ?
RICKEY. Never mind, Daisy. Just call me Rickey. My name is Italian and your dear little lips could never pronounce it.
DAISY. (In astonishment) Are you Eye-Talian ? Oh, that’s grand.
RICKEY. Wouldn’t you like to try some Italian hugs today ?
DAISY. Oh, maybe—I might.
I find this exchange between Daisy and Rickey in the play quite startling. Of course this isn’t Jean and Rudy, yet, the similarites between the stage characters that became screen characters, and the actual people, who were screen performers and became a couple, albeit briefly, is remarkable. And the sequence I retype couldn’t be more aligned. Even though, as I say, it would’ve been seriously boiled down, in terms of explanatory text insertions between frames, in the Metro Pictures Corp. adaptation.
Daisy’s very uncertain. (As Jean obviously was.) Rickey subjects her to repeated requests and is persistent. (As Rudy reportedly did and was.) The pursued is clear his (apparent) lowly position is a serious obstacle. (Valentino wasn’t as notable as Acker.) Daisy remains resolved and won’t be swerved. (Jean was likewise resolute.) Rickey’s surname’s difficult to pronounce. (As was Rudy’s which was Guglielmi.) We can only wonder if the back and forth between Daisy and Rickey after the reproduced segment was similar in reality. And if, like her onstage self, the offstage Acker suggested that they should: … be pals and play around and not talk about getting married so soon? Yet, get married Acker and Valentino did after all, and soon. Around midnight, on Wednesday, the 5th of November, 1919.
There are, remarkably, two versions of what happened, and how it all came to pass. And while not dramatically different, they’re diferent enough to have us wondering which is correct. In the first, the pair had been riding on the 5th, probably in the morning, and Jean received her seventh proposal and was invited to elope to Santa Ana that day, but declined both the suggestion of marriage and the elopement. Mostly, this was due to the fact the pair, or one of them, had been invited to an important event that night; a party being thrown for Mr. and Mrs. Richard A. Rowland, President of Metro Pictures Corp., by Joseph W. Engel, the company Treasurer, at his home. It was at this gathering that the two sweethearts were encouraged by friends to wed. Resulting in a mad rush to secure a licence and a Minister/Priest by the end of the day. (The Officiator was the Rev. James I Myers of the Broadway Christian Church.) The second version begins in the same way, with a ride, except, on the previous day, the 4th. In this alternative account, Acker accepted the final matrimonial invitation, and later that day Valentino ran into Maxwell Karger (at an unknown Hollywood hotel (which was likely The Hollywood Hotel)). Mr. Karger, Jean’s Boss at her studio, having learned from Rudy about their plans, suggested they marry at the celebration for the Rowlands, the next evening, at the home of Engel. All leading to a great deal of driving around in Jean Acker’s car, on that day and the next, to arrange everything. And nuptials at the party by midnight on the 5th. The spectators, besides Mr. and Mrs. Engel, Mr. and Mrs. Rowland, and Mr. and Mrs. Karger, included Mr. and Mrs. Fred Warren, May Allison, Herbert Blache, [J.] Frank Brockliss and Charles Brown. (The latter version, corroborated by PHOTOPLAY Magazine, is from Natacha Rambova’s serialized, 1930 look, at her late former Husband’s life and career, The Truth About Rudolph Valentino.)
Whichever’s truest, after their respective I dos, champagne and many congratulations, they headed by themselves for the famous Hotel Hollywood (a place which had once sheltered Alla Nazimova), where Jean was then accommodated. On leaving the location of the ceremony they were unquestionably on a high. Happy. Smiling. And looking ahead with optimism to married life. Waved off by the Engels, the Rowlands, the Kargers and the others, and with perhaps a couple of tin cans tied to Acker’s auto., they drove off into matrimony, with every reason to expect that it was to be blissful. So, awful it was, when, in between the door of the Engel’s abode and the door to Acker’s hotel room, something unpleasant happened.
Several decades later, a young Patricia Neal, who’d befriended Jean Acker, and was renting an apartment from her (in a block she owned in Beverly Hills), was at some point informed by her Landlady that, soon after the exchanging of vows, Rudolph Valentino had told his Bride he’d once suffered from a sexually-transmitted disease: Gonhorrea. In her early 2000s biography, Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino (2003), Emily W. Leider reveals (in the NOTES section), this was information supplied to her in a personal communication with the Actress in 1998. And, in MISALLIANCE, the chapter in question, advises the reader that it’s credible, due to it being: “confided in private to a friend…” At the time of writing, and before and after publication, Leider didn’t have at her disposal information later made available by Jeanine Therese Villalobos, in her dissertation, Rudolph Valentino: The Early Years, 1895-1920. That dissertation presents evidence that the fourteen-year-old Rodolfo actually contracted Syphilis, in a brothel, in Taranto. And that he spent a long time in bed recovering; and it was during this lengthy spell in his room, that he mentioned it to a friend in a letter.
While he was, Jeanine proposes, potentially symptom free, in 1919, he felt duty bound to admit his former affliction. Whenever it happened – in the vehicle when they arrived, or, on a comfortable banquette inside of Hotel Hollywood – it was obviously a terrible blow for his Bride. This female, who’d been so cautious with males, and had had, I’m certain, previous unpleasant experiences, and who’d found herself trusting Rodolfo Guglielmi to the point of becoming his Wife, must’ve been very shocked. It appears that she somehow slipped away, got the key to her room, and went inside and locked the door.
Following her a little later, and attempting to enter and finding he was unable to, the Bridegroom became angry and knocked loudly, and then began hammering. Inside, his Wife, tearfully told him to go away and leave her alone. Which he subsequently did, the noise having awoken guests, who probably remonstrated. He was it seems confused by her behaviour. Perplexed. At a loss. His retreat to his own rooms must’ve been a sad and sorry one. And it’s doubtful he slept unless out of sheer exhaustion. Not long afterwards Jean left her room and went to see Mrs. Anna Karger. Once in her presence she declared that getting married had been a terrible mistake. Sufficiently soothed, Acker then left the Kargers, and headed to her girlfriend Grace Darmond’s home.
Almost immediately newspapers and trade publications reported the hasty union. One of the earliest, was Wid’s DAILY, on Saturday, November 8th, 1919. As follows:
Married at Midnight
Hollywood—Jean Acker who
played Daisy the model in Metro’s
“Lombardi, Ltd.,” married Rodolpho
Valentino, an actor, at midnight
In Lombardi Miss Acker was in
love with a young Italian whom she
Joseph Engel of Metro, had an af-
fair at his home at which Jean and
Valentino were present when they
decided to get married.
At midnight, then, they they searched
for a license clerk and a minister.
He and Mrs. Karger were
witnesses to the ceremony.
Incredibly the story kept being printed for about two months, long after it had all gone sour, and Rudy had nearly spent Christmas 1919 alone. After telling him, a day or two later, that they’d made a mistake and could neevr be happy, Jean successfully evaded Rudy for the rest of November; during which time he repeatedly telephoned, attempted, unsuccessfully, to see her (at Hotel Hollywood and at Darmond’s), and wrote to her. A letter from him that month on the 22nd ended: “Understand that you will make the trip to New York absolutely against my will and that I’m always ready to furnish you with a home and all the comforts to the best of my moderate means and ability, as well as all the love and care of a husband for his dear little wife. Please, Jean, darling, come to your senses and give me an opportunity to prove to you my sincere love and eternal devotion. Rudolph.”
It would seem that Valentino’s constant attempts to get through to Acker eventually paid off. According to the testimony of steadfast friend, Dougie Gerrard, at their divorce trial in December 1921, Jean Acker was brought to his flat/apartment by Rudolph Valentino sometime soon after the communication of the 22nd. (A week later, or, possibly longer.) “I suggested going to the Alexandria. This was agreeable.” he stated. “I said to myself: ‘That’s alright; they are together, thank God.’ ” Yet, the reunion was a temporary one, as he revealed. The next day Rudy was ecstatic. But the day after he appeared at Gerrard’s to tell him that Mrs. Guglielmi had once again left him. Amazed, Dougie took matters into his own hands, and telephoned Jean to see what the problem was. “I asked her why she and her husband could not live together. She said: ‘He is impossible, he is dictatorial and I’m not going to live with him any more.’ ”
Looking at her communications afterwards makes it difficult to take her side. In a letter, dated December 15th, clearly composed after a ‘phone conversation, she wrote: “Rudolph Darling… Your voice did sound awfully good and cheerful tonight and last night it made me so lonesome for you. …. Dearest boy of mine I wish you were in my arms… When will I be there again? …. Heartful of love, sweetheart. JEAN.” And in a Telegram on December 29th: “Impossible to spend New Year’s with you. Leaving Tuesday afternoon for vacation. Will wire address when arrive. Awfuly disappointed. Can’t be helped. My love. Phone me at 10 tonight. JEAN.
What could account for Jean Acker being so physically distant yet so emotionally close? Putting aside his revelation, which he may again have mentioned and reassured her about, there’s a clue in his letter in late November, and her response to Dougie Gerrard’s question. Rudolph Valentino was telling her what she could and couldn’t do. Her trip to New York wasn’t acceptable to him. And being told this wasn’t acceptable to her. I think the phrase he employs, “dear little wife”, says a great deal about his general attitude. An attitude that the “dear little wife” highlighted in another Telegram from January 16th. “Wire and telephone calls very sweet, but letter entirely too sarcastic. Make your own plans for the East and advise strongly you do not come here as I am working much too hard to entertain anyone and hotel only have room for the company.” JEAN. The Bride was obviously bridling.
Acker was, of course, a person on the whole very used to making up her own mind. It’s plain to me, and hopefully to you, that since her start eight years earlier, at the end of 1911, she’d managed to find a way to be independent of a man, if not of men, in a male-dominated era. And to be expected to become dependent, be subservient, be his Little Wife, was next to impossible. Unthinkable, even.
I strongly feel Jean Acker saw in Rudolph Valentino, if only fleetingly, and up to their nuptials, a person that she could unite with. A kindred spirit. I think that he engaged her in such a way and on such a level that he broke down her defences. I think, too, she saw, as I’m sure he did in her, somebody that could help her be more accepted. Someone that might make her look like everyone else in Hollywood. A place where many were united in marriage and enjoyed the resulting camaraderie.
Yet, it wasn’t, on both sides, to be. Jean didn’t receive a visit in Mojave in January from Rudolph. And he did make his own plans for the East. (A trip which would prove to be fateful.) However, despite their inability to make a go of it, they were, as we know, to remain married for another two years. And not only that, as will be seen in Part Three, connected, entwined, interwoven, call-it-what-you-will, not just until the dissolution of their marriage, but beyond. Even beyond the death of Rudolph Valentino. And, as this post demonstrates, beyond the death of Jean Acker. And even beyond this post. Chained for all eternity, down through time, forever.
Thank you for reading this post in its entirety — I appreciate it. As usual, any and all references and research is available to anybody who asks, if they’re not already provided in the text, as a link, or, as an image. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about Jean Acker’s life and career as much as I enjoyed writing about it. The third installment, looking, in quick succession, at the divorce, her adoption of the name Jean Acker Valentino, her film career in the Twenties, the demise of her Husband, her ups and downs afterwards, her comeback, and the years of non-stardom, will be posted a month from now, in February. See you then!
100 years ago last month Rudolph Valentino married his first wife Jean Acker. It wasn’t, we know, a match made in heaven; and questions continue, to this very day, about what exactly was going on that November. There are questions, too, about what, if anything, was to be gained from the union. Just as there’s curiosity about the aftermath. I hope to answer these queries, in a three part post titled, not Questions, but Daisy Chained, for reasons that will eventually become clear. As far as I know this is the first ever deep investigation of this important figure in Rudy’s life.
Not long after I began looking properly at Rudolph Valentino, online and offline, in 2012, I thought about writing a book about him. But wait! Didn’t we already know all that there was to know? The biographies to date, particularly Emily W. Leider’s decade-old, Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino, had delivered to us a cornucopia of facts, so why – why? – go over the same ground? What could possibly be achieved? What angles were there on him that weren’t already exploited? For some time I thought about it. And thought some more. Then, late in 2013, I stumbled across The Sins of Hollywood, and everything changed.
I have to say, I do see why The Sins of Hollywood: An Expose of Movie Vice! has been on the whole largely ignored; after all, the light that it casts on Valentino isn’t a flattering one. His story, which is titled A Wonderful Lover, and is the eighth of twelve that recount the past off-set behaviour of several film industry notables, mainly focuses on what was going on at the Hotel Maryland, in Pasadena, in late 1918, and later, in Los Angeles, at the start of 1919. Whatever we might think of A Wonderful Lover and the eleven other tales by the anonymous ‘A Hollywood Newspaper Man’ – a person named Ed. Roberts – it’s the final few paragraphs that are important in this instance. As follows:
“The Dolfy met a movie girl. She was just on the edge of stardom, just going over the top. She helped him. Then she married him. That was his entry into pictures. He had done a few bits but was comparatively unknown.
“With the opportunities and the personal contact his marriage gave him, Adolfo moved fast. He met the right people. He had talent. Brains in both head and feet. His opportunity came and he took advantage of it. He could act. Had been acting all his life. That’s how he lived. His lessons in love-making stood him in good stead. All he had to do was be natural.
“When he finally hit the high mark he didn’t need the movie girl any more. She was a liability now, not an asset. So he canned her. Her career is about ended. His is just beginning.”
From page 62.
These closing lines enabled me to see the association of Dolfy/Adolfo (Rudy), and “the movie girl” (Jean), not from his perspective, but from hers. And it also helped me to find the way forward: I would write the biography of Jean Acker. It would be him through her eyes. Maybe I’d title it The First Mrs. Valentino — or something like that. It was a fresh viewpoint. One which would allow for closeups and medium and distance shots. The discoveries I made as I researched began to reveal to me a rather interesting person. Slowly but surely an individual emerged. No longer was she the derided and villified apendage. And I began to understand her a little, and, her motivations. I spent about six months writing and put it to the side. And what I wrote forms the backbone of this trio of posts.
I started, of course, at the start, and looked into her beginnings. Nowhere, I was reliably informed by people on the ground, was there a registered birth of a Harriet Ackers – her true name – in the state of New Jersey, for the year 1893. Likewise for 1892 or 1891. What there definitely was, however, in the 1900 Census, was a Hattie Ackers, born in Oct. 1891, and aged 8, residing on Market Street, Trenton, with Gershorn and Harriet Ackers, her grandparents. Also living at the address, were her Aunt, Maud L., a Boarder, named John Bice, and her apparent Father, Joseph, who had given his profession as Barber. The lack of a Mother was of interest. That there was no Birth Certificate, and Jean was named Harriet, after her paternal Grandmother, raises the possibility of illegitimacy. Certainly all censuses – 1900, 1905 and 1910 – show that one of her parents had abandoned her. And the whereabouts of Margaret Ackers/Acker during this time is a definite mystery. (By 1920, according to the Census that year, her father had married a woman named Virginia D. and moved to Lewistown, in Pennsylvania, where he worked as a Shoe Merchant.)
Her year of birth and family seemingly established – the 1910 Census does cast doubt on it and suggests it might’ve been 1892 – I sought evidence that she’d been born or raised on a farm. However in none of the three censuses did I find a rural location. In each instance – Trenton, Lambertville and Trenton – she was firmly in a city or a town. Yet, the fact that Lambertville bordered on open countryside, meant it was possible it had been there that she’d first experienced the outdoors, ran free and maybe learned to ride.
Three different homes in a decade didn’t suggest to me a particularly secure or stable upbringing. This was a family, for whatever reason, often on-the-move with little Harriet in tow. And considering this series of shifts, I began to see how they, and her lack of a mother, had probably shaped her. I imagined difficulties, strictness, dreariness. I saw a little girl desperate to escape. And I began to see that the life she sought for herself, and the person she eventually became, as she lived that life, was a direct result of all that she’d potentially endured during childhood. In fact, her earliest publicity when getting started in “the pictures”, suggests exactly that, filled as they are, with obvious invention and fantasy.
Hattie H. Ackers was no doubt still dreaming her dreams while working as a Milliner, or Hat Maker, in her late teens, in Trenton. (Employment we know about thanks to the 1910 Census.) I like to think that it was this position that led to her working alongside Howard Lee in the theatre “in a strong drama”. Something followed, according to her interview in The MOTION PICTURE Story Magazine, in 1913, by a season with Louis L. Hall’s Stock Company. (The L., it seems, stood for Leon.) And additional to her involvement with Lee and Hall she also spent some time in Vaudeville. Despite investigation, Howard Lee, has, unfortunately, failed to surface. And, if he existed at all, was, perhaps, just a small-time, amateur Thespian that never registered outside his home town or County. Louis Leon Hall, meanwhile, most definitely did. And a brief but prominent paragraph, in VARIETY, in mid. January 1912, reveals he had formerly headed: “… his own company in various New Jersey towns…” A sentence that appears to add weight to Jean’s explanation of how she was artistically occupied just prior to becoming a Minor Star in “the pictures”.
Minor stardom was less than a year away when she got her start at the dawn of true film-making in the United States. How she found herself at Siegmund Lubin‘s ‘Lubinville’, in Philadelphia, at the close of 1911, is unknown; but find herself there she did. As none of her early interviews give any clues we’re left to speculate. Perhaps she answered an advert. for staff and was soon put in front of the camera. Maybe she was spotted on the stage in Trenton and offered work. The usual route, taken by the likes of Blanche Sweet, who heard that the Biograph Co. needed people, filled out a form, and was ignored, until she met and spoke to D. W. Griffith, seems the least likely, considering the great distance between her home and the rapidly expanding Pennsylvanian concern.
The first interview that Jean Acker ever gave – she was Jean by this time, and not Harriet or Hattie, and the s had been dropped from her surname – is informative despite the serious make-believe it includes. (It’s plain she wasn’t born or brought up in St. Louis, Missouri, or, that her parents were Spanish.) Just two thirds of a single page, in the May 1912 edition of The MOTION PICTURE Story Magazine, we learn from it that: “She [loved] to act …. to pose, and …. to see upon the screen the pictures in which she [appeared].” Was, at that time, spending “three or four hours a day posing”. And would, in the evening: “… read, or write, or go to the theater… That she was “a talented writer”, with “many stories and scenarios to her credit”, is, if true, something of a surprise. Yet, what’s most apparent, in her exchange with Dorothy Harpur, for Harpur’s CHATS WITH THE PLAYERS, is Acker’s zest for life. And that, she’d at some point or other acquired a cute nickname, which was Billie.
Her spell at ‘Lubinville’, then America’s most up-to-date complex, would’ve been a great experience and definitely educational. Even today, more than 100 years later, the images of the structures in Eugene Dengler’s, five page, image-filled article, in the October 1911 issue of MOTOGRAPHY, impress. A bird’s eye view illustration, shows the extent of the operation, and its situation at the corner of 20th Street and Indiana Avenue. The three main structures forming an enclosure: an impressive glass and steel studio, a processing building, and, at the bend of the U, the administrative office. The studio itself, boasted enormous glazed doors, that could be opened when necessary; on hot days, water was made to cascade over the many glass roof panels, to keep them cool; actors were given the option of emerging from, or descending into, the floor (as if from a lower or higher level); ground-breaking, artifical lighting was in use; and there was sufficient floor space for several films to be created simultaneously. The plant also had a prop-making area, a costume department, various laboratories and drying rooms, and even a subsidised canteen.
After a year with Lubin we can imagine a very different Acker to the one who’d begun there. Films were in her blood now. By the end of 1912 she was a ‘Pro.’; a veteran of perhaps 20 or so varied shorts. Along with her often anonymous cohorts, she’d worked hard, back-to-back, in quickie westerns, comedies and dramas. Films such as: A Village Romance, The Surgeon’s Heroism, A Noble Enemy, A Poor Excuse That Worked. And also: The Heart of a Boss, The Office Favorite, Through the Drifts and The Poor Relation. (All early 1912.)
Is that Jean in a promotional image for The Substitute (1911)? Quite possibly. Of course we can’t be sure, but, considering her inclinations and abilities – later roles and love of danger – and the likeness of the Star pictured, it’s conceivable. (Interestingly this wasn’t the only Lubin cross-dressing story at the time, as, late in 1911, and not too long before she joined the studio, the organisation released My Brother, Agostino (1911), a curious tale of a woman forced to take the place at work of her husband, disguised as a male sibling. The ensuing romance, between Rosiana, masquerading as a man, and Rosa, another female, gave the production an interesting flavour that caused one reviewer to describe it as: “A really unusual story very cleverly and absorbingly told.”)
Zesty Billie Acker, the girl who’d gone from millinery to the stage to the Kliegls, was soon moving again. After approximately twelve months at ‘Pop’ Lubin’s state-of-the-art Lubin Manufacturing Co., we see that she’d been taken on by Carl Laemmle‘s IMP — an acronym for The Independent Moving Pictures Co., soon to become Universal Film Manufacturing Co. (and today, known simply, as Universal Pictures). Her girlie, late Summer Long Island break, with Catherine Tower, had been reported in the trade press. And the brief profile of her had appeared in The MOTION PICTURE Story Magazine. And yet it wasn’t enough for her. She wanted more — much more.
Nothing else can explain the move, which immediately paid-off, when she was featured, albeit incorrectly named but noticeably androgynous, on the cover of the February issue of MOTOGRAPHY. (Above.) That she was being treated differently by her new employer is clear, when we see the report inside the same issue, about how she was present at an exclusive theatre and supper party of sixteen, who were guests of Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Brenon. Her Boss, Mr. Laemmle, his wife, and Mr. and Mrs. King Baggot being four of the others present. March then saw her reported about again, when a newspaper declared:
“The Imp’s Ingenue, Little
Miss Acker, Delights in
From The Evening Standard, Ogden City, Utah, March 29th, 1913 (page 2).
The paragraph, accompanied by a reproduced press photograph, alongside similar images of two equally active, contemporary female personalities, Mary Charleson (at Vitagraph), and Ruth Roland (at Kalem), concentrated on the fact ‘Little Miss Acker’ was someone that loved: “… real, genuine excitement.” She claimed, the unknown writer said: “… she would rather jump from a moving train, ride a motorcycle at a fifty-mile clip, or ride in an aeroplane than eat.” The breaking of her leg at the time, while not sustained performing a stunt, was connected to one, due to her being on the back of future Leading Man (Frederic) Rodman Law’s motorcycle, when it was hit by a seven-passenger Touring Car, at the junction of Broadway and 42nd Street in New York. According to a report, Law was driving, with Acker and a Rosabella Phoner also on the ‘bike. (Law and Phoner had apparently jumped from an aeroplane earlier that day, at Coytesville, New Jersey.) Jean’s leg fracture was so bad that she was rushed to Long Island Hospital. Rodman, despite being thrown 30 feet, and fracturing his arm, made sure that she was taken care of first. Along with Rosabella. Who was lucky to escape with bruising of her face and arms.
At the time of this upset, Jean Acker had completed the two reel, 20 minute film In a Woman’s Power (1913). This, even by the standards of the day, flimsy, corny melodrama, with Jean playing a virtuous and forgiving wife, named Marcelle, who decides to hold onto her husband, despite his criminal past and the lure of a pre-Bara Vampish former love, was simultaneous to the single reel, ten minute comedy The Man Outside (1913). (A production, not to be confused with the similarly titled The Man From Outside, by Reliance, or the picture released that Autumn with the exact same name, by Essanay.)
TOMORROW FROM 2:00 P. M. to 11:00 P. M.
Bureaucratic tyranny in photo. Portrays the Muscovite
terror system, in two big reels.
An ad. for The PALACE, in The Bryan Daily Eagle and Pilot, Bryan, Texas, August 20th, 1913 (page 2)
It would only be after recovering, wherever that was, that Jean would be showcased in the sort of vehicle the public was being primed to expect to see her. Nihilist Vengeance (1913) is, we see from reviews and reports, exactly that sort of production; featuring, as it did, a bridge destroyed by three explosions, as ‘Little Miss Acker’, as the sweetheart of a wrongly condemned hero, thunderered across it in an open carriage, in an ultimately successful attempt to save him from an unjust death. An anonymous reviewer, writing for the Daily East Oregonian that September, praised the costumes but felt that the plot was: “… conventional.” More conventional still, and not as exciting, was another film at this time, titled Bob’s Baby. In the Gem comedy, unleashed that August, Acker dutifully acted as the cousin of Bob, played by Glen White. Surely wishing, as she did so, for another, far more exciting role. Eventually it would come.
I have to say I wondered at this point – 1913/1914 – about Acker’s sexuality. And also what effect being mainly attracted to women might’ve had on her, and her career chances, in what was an extremely male-dominated business. In later life she lived quietly with her Long-Term Partner, Lillian Chloe Carter; but nothing is known of her relationship, or relationships, before World War One. What, for example, did the person in the Winter road traffic accident, Rosabella Phoner, mean to her? And should anything be read into her 1912 vacation with Catherine Tower? Also, what was life like for Lesbians, at this time in the States?
Magnus Hirschfield, in the footsteps of the 19th Century pyschologist, Karoly Maria Hertbeny (or Karl-Maria Benkert), inventor of the term Homosexuality, was only just beginning work on The Homosexuality of Men and Women (1922), in which he delved into the mental, emotional and physical spheres. As well as how new technology, such as communications and transportation, were affecting their lives. The few specialists there were remained at odds about even the reasons for same-sex relationships. Prior to The Great War the conversation had barely started. In America, in 1915, before the United States entered the conflict, only the recently bailed Agitator, Emma Goldman, dared lecture on the subject of The Intermediate Sex — and not everywhere, either.
I consulted Leila J. Rupp’s 2009 publication, Sapphistries: A Global History Of Love Between Women, to get an idea of how Lesbians and Lesbianism were perceived. It was, I must say, of little assistance when it came to the years that I was interested in. Yet I did learn how, in 1919, an unnamed Sexologist suggested passive Lesbians were the result of social factors, and aggressive ones due to biology. 1913/1914 was, of course, a whole half decade behind this opinion. Many years before Berlin became a Sapphist paradise. And a decade and a half earlier, than either Radcliffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness (1928), or G. W. Pabst’s Pandora’s Box (1929). (The Well of Loneliness, by-the-way, was banned in the USA.)
Rupp’s book did yield the late Nineteenth Century Alice Mitchell/Freda (or Fred) Ward case in Memphis however. Proving that, from time-to-time, the general public was made aware of women who loved other women. It’s a saga so filled with incident – love letters, cross-dressing, marriage plans, a ring, a murder, press coverage, a trial and an asylym – that I’m frankly amazed it wasn’t made into a Blockbuster years ago.
Despite the lack of context, and few clues as to her partners, it strikes me as plain that while Jean managed to escape her unpleasant origins, she remained caught between convention and liberation, her public self and her real self. Forced, I’m sure, to behave one way, while yearning at times to act in another. It was a double life. And interview hints are too heavy in my opinion for it to have been anything else. Inner turmoil was virtually guaranteed. In the largely male-dominated industry in which she found herself she could accept, even encourage, advances from men, if she kept her involvement with Phoner, Tower, and others, such as it was, a secret. And she did — she had to. Her career completely depended on it. Plus, if she acted like one of the guys, then they might, perhaps, see her more as a Pal, or little sister, than a sex object. It was a perpetual high wire act and a tumble was inevitable.
Girl in a Daring
Leap for Movies
Column headline, page 1 of The Seattle Star, October 25th, 1913
In October, the young woman reported that March, as preferring to jump from a moving train, ride a fast motorcycle, or soar in aeroplane, than eat a meal, was to be seen across the nation, in the IMP two-reeler The Daredevil Mountaineer (1913). Several newspapers reviewed the film ahead of, and after, release. And many waxed lyrical about the main characters and an exciting stunt. The Seattle Star was so impressed, that Jean Acker and her co-Star were featured in a large, reproduced photo. on the front page. The write-up, describing Acker, as: “… as gritty a little girl as ever took her life in her hands to amuse ‘movie’ patrons.” Though The North Platte Semi Weekly Tribune perhaps summed it up best on November 21st: “The Dare-Devil Mountaineer” …. shows Rodman Law and Jean Acker as his sweetheart. Her mother takes her from mountain country to the city in order to marry her to a title, but the mountaineer elopes with her on a motorcycle. This daring escape makes a very thrilling scene.” The scene mentioned – Rodman and Jean pursued, while speeding along on a bike at 85 mph, with the chase culminating in a spectacular and all-too-real, forty foot fall from an open draw-bridge – was as daredevil as the title promised. And six months before The Perils of Pauline made an international Star of Pearl White, in 1914, we see that Jean Acker was already endangering her life for action addicted filmgoers.
Rodman Law – brother of a younger Aviatrix sister, and also known as Frank R. Law, but born Frederic Rodman Law – was the perfect screen partner for thrill-seeking Jean Acker. By now she had surely forgiven ‘The Human Fly’ (as he was nicknamed) for her ending up in hospital when his ‘bike collided with an automobile earlier that year. Had she willed the film to be? Or was it fate? Whatever, she’d placed herself, quite literally, in his hands. After all, this was a death-defier who’d successfully plunged over Stillwater Falls, Maine, in an open boat, for a Reliance film a few months earlier. And the previous year had managed to successfully parachute from both the Brooklyn Bridge and the torch of the Statue of Liberty.
If her film career was going well, we might wonder why it was that Acker was listed as a cast member of a play, Within the Law, at the end of the year. Her mention, buried in dense text, in the November 29th edition of The New York Clipper, is actually a retrospective look at the production, at the New York Lyric Theater — now, apparently, Foxwoods Theater. Further investigation revealed that Jean had in fact been attached to the hit play since mid. Summer, when a July issue of VARIETY gently trumpeted how the notable Producer, A. H. Woods, had engaged her for the part of Helen Morris. The short paragraph, also reminded those paying attention, that Miss Acker was familiar to film viewers; demonstrating that she had some pulling power, and was sufficiently known to be considered a good choice for such an important attraction.
The Within the Law storyline, of a woman wrongly accused of theft, imprisoned for three years, and then forced, on her release, to turn to criminality to survive, was a resonant one with audiences. Partly, because the playwright, Bayard Veiller, had once been a Police Reporter. And also due to the unsubtle, Suffragist subtext, which grounded it very much in the present. The advertised endorsement of Harriet Stanton Blatch, prominent Suffragette, in an April 1913 edition of The Sun newspaper, highlights this. The character, Mary Turner, played by Helen Ware and others, was patently the victim of a cruel and repressive male-dominated system. The play’s path to success – a rewrite, the departure of the original Producer, a disastrous 1911 Chicago opening, serious trading of interests and shares, and final success, in September 1912, at the newly-opened 42nd Street Eltinge Theater – was just as interesting. Afterwards followed no less than eight duplicate productions – Jean’s probable Amour Catherine Tower headed one – across the country. Several printed newpaper serialisations. And many months of popularity in London’s ‘West End’.
That December Jean Acker could look back on a year filled with incident and success. While not exactly a Superstar – MOTOGRAPHY magazine felt it important to advise readers that she was now on the stage and not in films which wasn’t strictly speaking correct – she had, nevertheless, carved herself something of a niche. Her work for ‘Pop Lubin’ and then Laemmle’s Universal (at IMP, Gem and Victor), had been of value, and established her, along with others, as an early, pioneering, Film Personality.
Might the early, pioneering Film Personality, enjoying the festive atmosphere of New York, have swept up or down Broadway, on the day the newly arrived, slightly rained-soaked Rodolfo Guglielmi, wide-eyed at all he saw, walked it? Or passed him on another day in her car, loudly honking her horn, as he failed to cross her path with sufficient speed? It’s not pointless speculation. These two young people were very much in Gotham at the same time. Simultaneously seeing identical sights. Breathing the same air. In America’s most vibrant city at one of the most exciting times in its history: the cusp of 1913/1914.
My research indicated 1914 wasn’t the year of progress that Jean had perhaps hoped for. She’s seldom mentioned in trade publications, or news titles; and when she is, it’s briefly. Like when she’s highlighted in Vesta Powell’s coverage of the The Screen Club’s second annual ball, in her ALL FOR THE LADIES About Women—Mostly column, in VARIETY, on February the 6th, 1914. Powell, who wrote under the name of PLAIN MARY, witnessed the gathering of early screen stars and their devoted public, at the impressive Grand Central Palace, on the night of January the 31st, and wrote about the event with an honesty that refreshes and amuses, even today. Her general observations aside we learn that the cream of East Coast Filmdom were in attendance. King Baggot, Mary Fuller and John Bunny. Leah Baird, Mrs. Maurice Costello, Pearl White, Florence La Badie and Jane Fearnley. Claire Whitney and Fannie Burke. PLAIN MARY’s attention was, unsurprisingly, drawn to the pretty outfits worn by the actresses. Jean Acker’s, she told her readers, was: “… a white taffeta gown with [a] yellow girdle and [a] small white lace cap.”
If anything, Acker managed to maintain her position but nothing more. Of course, at the time, it might not have seemed this way to her. We, now, down-the-line, have the ability to look back and see the peaks and the troughs. I do wonder about the switch from film-making to board-treading. Was her orientation the reason? Had she, perhaps, rejected the advances of a powerful Executive? Nowhere did I see any mention of a Boyfriend, or Fiancee, in 1912, 1913 and 1914. Or, for that matter, see her linked in any way with any man, young or old. And the absence of a male in her life spoke volumes. Though there were indeed many successful single females – Frances Benjamin Johnston for example – the majority of women could only go so far alone. A Husband, while not essential, absolutely gave a woman a different standing in society. Performers in large numbers were often married while remaining a Miss. (Mary Pickford being perhaps one of the most obvious.) Issues with any man or men along the way could’ve led to her being overlooked for parts. And we can’t discount the very real chance that she’d already been forced to submit, to secure at least one, or more, of her previous roles. As so many, male as much as female, did.
I feel strongly that Catherine Tower was important to her emotionally. And I don’t think it a coincidence they knew one another and that Tower preceded Acker as Helen Morris in Within the Law. The announcement of Catherine leaving was followed just a month later with the news of Jean’s arrival. It could have been a friendly favour, with the established actress putting her forward, or, simply the promotion of her Understudy. However, Jean Acker’s future entanglement with an even greater theatrical personality, Alla Nazimova, suggests a pattern, and so the possibility shouldn’t be dismissed. It’s also important – essential – to point out that this was a person with no mother’s wing under which to crawl. The Pickford’s, the Gishes, the Talmadges, and others, all had a steely parent to defend them, and to battle the studios and studio bosses on their behalf. Her Father being disengaged she naturally sought out a substitute. And substitutes no doubt sought her out. In the case of Nazimova most definitely.
How long Acker’s agreement with Woods was is unknown. The available information doesn’t make it easy to deduce when she ceased to be a cast member. Signed up in the Summer of 1913, we see that she’s still Morris at the end of the year. As for Spring and Summer 1914, if Tower remained engaged (which she did), then it’s safe to assume that Acker did too, and that it was a one year deal.
The assumption is given weight by the fact her next film, The $5,000,000 Counterfeiting Plot (1914), was, as The New-York Tribune details, premiered at the New York Theatre, on Monday, August 10th, 1914. Being a social creature, Jean was probably present to hear the central character, William J. Burns, an actual Detective who played himself in the six part Dramascope Co. serial, talk on the subject of crime. (Before or after the screening.) Based on actual, recent events, the production was unusual in that it was a 6 reel/six part feature. In 1914 the majority of films that were created were just one or two reels in length – ten or twenty minutes – and so an hour long presentation was very experimental. Only the great D. W. Griffith had so far dared to challenge the belief Americans wouldn’t sit through anything longer than thirty minutes. His Judith of Bethulia (1914) had had a delayed release by his previous employers that March. Yet to create the game-changing Birth of a Nation (1915) he, himself, released six reeler The Avenging Conscience (1914) that same month. All Star, Eclectic, World and Pasquali each nervously issued their own five reelers.
THE MOTION PICTURE WORLD gave The $5,000,000 Counterfeiting Plot a three quarter page in-depth review. And the reviewer, Hanford C. Judson, singled Jean Acker out for praise. Stating that her portrayal of another Helen, this time Helen Long, daughter of a villain, James Long, a Counterfeiter, gave: “… by its simplicity a strong-heart interest to the whole that tells mightily.” (Not bad!) However, it would seem the fresh, documentary-style production, filled with actual people, events and locations, not-to-mention superb acting, was just a bit ahead of its time. Too clever and overlong. Had it been shot a year or so later, like The Italian (1915), it may’ve fared better. Despite the re-enactment of the Philadelphia-Lancaster counterfeiting case being skilful, and advertisements featuring Burns having impact, the US wasn’t ready for a crime epic. It played here and there and was soon forgotten.
Then, as much as now, a poor career decision could be fatal. And I suspect Jean suffered a little due to The Dramascope Co. spectacular’s lack of success. Something which would explain why she fails to be mentioned in the press as starring in anything for several months. That her standing in the film community wasn’t affected by her lack of work is proven by her appearance in the same paragraph as Edwin August of Kinetophote, Mary Pickford of Famous Players Film Co. (soon to be Famous Players-Lasky Corp.), Pickford’s Mother, Ormi Lawley of the Lubin Manufacturing Co., and fellow daring female, Pearl White. The occasion, being another Screen Club Ball, this time on Thanksgiving eve, at the Hotel Astor, to raise money for the Belgian Relief Fund. Jean being very much a part of the efforts that night; as well as, perhaps, beforehand and afterwards, along with her contemporaries.
Her other mention, in the Saturday, December 5th, 1914, issue of VARIETY, on page 23, is about her inclusion as a cast member in the forthcoming Famous Players Film Co. John Barrymore vehicle, Are You a Mason? (1915). (See above.) Based, by Eve Unsell (writer of the screenplay), on Leo Ditrichstein’s turn of the centrury farce of the same title, the film was to be the illustrious Barrymore’s third cinematic venture. His first outing being An American Citizen (1914). And the second The Man From Mexico (1914). Releases that were also stage hits translated to celluloid by Zukor’s concern. (In fact, so confident was Famous Players Film Co., that a fourth theatrical adaptation, The Dictator, awaited him.)
From advance publicity, we know that Acker was carefully selected for her part in the story of a feisty young man, who pretends to his ambitious wife, in accordance with her wishes, that he’s become a Mason. THE NEW YORK CLIPPER, on December 6th, 1914, declared in CURRENT FILM EVENTS BY RIK, that it was: “An unusually important cast of Broadway favourites…” that had been collected to support ‘Jack’ Barrymore. And further, Famous Players Film Co., had: “… deemed it advisable to entrust the parts to the able talents of this unusual coterie of stage artists.” (Jean Acker’s fellow performers were: Alfred Hickman, Charles Dixon, Charles Butler, Ida Waterman, Lorraine Hulling, Harold Lockwood and Kitty Baldwin.)
Filming took place in and around New York in January and February. However, time spent studying the comedic enterprise, doesn’t reveal Jean’s role, or, indeed, the parts played by some of the others. And due to the fact that the film, along with his two earlier efforts, is lost, it’s impossible to have much of an idea. The few stills there are that exist mainly feature the Star alone in exaggerated poses.
If the majority of pre-release promotion praised the production to the heavens, then ‘Wynn’, reviewing for VARIETY, aimed to return it firmly to earth, as screenings commenced, at New York’s Strand Theatre, on March 22nd, 1915. More of an attack than a critique, from the start the writer described Are You a Mason? as: “A decidely mild comedy…” And it didn’t get better. Monotonous, conventional and poorly directed, ‘Wynn’ felt it failed to exploit the many obvious opportunities for humour in the play. And in its original form perhaps it did. As it appears that Adolph Zukor took note, and a re-edited, shorter version was soon released.
Yet, audiences in the middle of the Teens were less demanding than crtics, and Are You a Mason? was successfully and no doubt profitably screened for many months. What flaws there were didn’t affect Barrymore. And ‘Wynn’ didn’t blame him for them anyway. Jean, though, was overshadowed. As with the The $5,000,000 Counterfeiting Plot a big production had failed to take her anywhere. She was, it seems, on the slide; and probably had a slipping feeling as the year progressed.
Does this explain her professional disappearance for almost 36 months? It’s hard to say for certain. And yet she mysteriously vanishes from the business as far as I can see for that length of time. Four years of irregular mentions and images suddenly end and the reason isn’t clear. Had her lack of a contract hampered her? Did her choices over time spoil things? It’s seldom that a single decision ruins things; yet, a series of mistakes most definitely can. There’s little doubt that between 1914 and 1915 she moves with some difficulty from project to project. And that, despite the size and scale, they turned out not to be the opportunities she’d thought they’d be. Jean’s faltering at this time, would, I imagine, make her future success all the sweeter. And in Part Two I’ll be looking at those successes and the sweetness in the same detail that I have in Part One.
Thank you for reading this post in its entirety — I appreciate it. As usual, any and all references and research is available to anybody who asks, if they’re not already provided in the text, as a link, or, as an image. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about Jean Acker’s early life and career as much as I enjoyed writing about it. The second installment, looking at her years of stardom, and her meeting and marriage to Rudolph Valentino, will be posted a month from now, at the start of 2020. See you then!
In the Summer of 1924, Rudolph Valentino was photographed, dressed in the costume of a Peon, during the creation of A Sainted Devil (1924), the second of two spectaculars that brought to a conclusion his contract with Famous Players-Lasky/Paramount, following his return to the studio, after his ‘One Man Strike’. For a long time this epic promotional portrait session has fascinated me. Why? Well mainly due to the fact that there are just so many shots. Valentino is captured from every conceivable angle. And throws, at both us and the photographer, a whole range of intense expressions.
In view of the fact my planned post (about Jean Acker) is now of mammoth proportions, and requires separating into three parts, I’m bringing forward, while I arrange that, this simple but interesting offering, originally planned for 2020. If anyone has or knows of any further images – of what appears to be the most extended shoot of the series of extended shoots he engaged in – I’d love to hear about them/see them. If none emerge, I suspect, as arranged here, that they come close to representing up to three quarters of the photographs taken on that day, with some naturally being rejected as unsatisfactory at the time of printing. Enjoy!
THE HALF-LENGTH SHOTS
This effective half-length shot seems to exist only as a series of crops. However I’m left wondering if there’s another or others out there somewhere.
Some close-ups are extreme, at the time, or cropped since. This is just the slightest of head turns and was used for industry promotion. (See below.) In these more intimate photographs his outfit has been adjusted.
This close-up I particularly like for the wry smile.
A characteristically intense look from Rudy that was seemingly used in recent decades for a postcard. This image has been cropped by myself and others into an effective hyper close-up. (See above.)
Valentino’s garb alters again for this image.
THE FULL-LENGTH SHOTS
Rudolph Valentino had previously posed in doorways to promote films. It was, to some extent, probably expected that he would do so for A Sainted Devil, and always do so, entrances being a such big part of his film persona, as well of that of his contemporaries. It was also an opportunity to display the full costume, which, in the left image particularly, is somewhat reminiscent (probably not accidentally), of his look in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921).
Thank you so much for viewing this post. As stated, this is a substitute for the original, which is about the life and career of Jean Acker, and her association with Rudolph Valentino. That lengthy post will now be split into three, with Part One appearing next month, and parts Two and Three in January and February. See you all in December!
There are few people more dedicated to preserving the memory of Rudolph Valentino, or promoting him and championing him and his career, than Mr. Tracy Terhune. As well as being a Preservationist, a Promoter and a Champion, he’s also a serious Collector; and thus an important Custodian, when it comes to Valentino-related artifacts and ephemera. His knowledge is immense. His generosity, kindness and openness even greater. He’s an Administrator of the long-established We Never Forget Valentino group on Facebook. And importantly, organises the annual Rudolph Valentino Memorial Service, which takes place each August 23rd, at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, in Los Angeles, at 12:10 p. m., the time of the passing of the Great Lover in 1926.
Tracy has kindly taken time out from his busy schedule to engage in a Q & A session with His Fame Still Lives. (Questions are in British English and answers are in American English.)
1. Tracy, hello, and thank you for agreeing to speak with HFSL. Two months ago, once again, you organised and hosted the Rudolph Valentino Memorial, at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, in Los Angeles. It must’ve been quite a task to pull it all together. Can you take us through the process? What exactly does it take to organise such an event?
The Valentino Memorial is such a time-honoured Hollywood event and I am so proud to be a part of it. The main part is to plan in advance, and I try to line up at least two speakers. That is the hardest part of putting on the event. People who have written books or recent projects are always considered. Some people even reach out with an idea. Some are declined, such as one year, a person wanted to hold a seance in the middle of the Memorial. Once the speakers are confirmed, I reach out to fill the rest of the program, which includes reading a selection of poems from Day Dreams, and the reading of the ending of the 23rd Psalm. If the Memorial is on a certain year, we may theme it accordingly, such as the 90th anniversary of the Memorial. The short videos that are shown are all custom-made specifically for the event, and contribute greatly to the Memorial itself. Some pay tribute to past participants, or to refresh the memory of a person who has a Rudy connection, such as Mae Murray or Ann Harding. Also, every year we have a short video, which I call the “Valentino Tribute Video” and it is done solely to stop and remember Rudolph Valentino. It changes each year.
I design and order the banners and also I design and print the programs. Sometimes additional ‘hand outs’ are given to those who attend, for example, this year, a hand-held fan with Rudy’s image and the date on it was given out. Other times it was recreation of the Mineralava ticket or a pin-back button for the 90th anniversary. The Cemetery provides the podium, the chairs and microphone. This year is the third year the Memorial has been broadcast on Facebook Live. That has proven to be very popular. All this comes together and makes what we all know as the Valentino Memorial Service.
2. I know that you’ve been organising and hosting the Memorial for quite some time now. For those who don’t know as much as I and others do, can you tell us how you got started, and maybe some of the highlights for you over the years??
I got a call from the Cemetery saying Tyler Cassity (the owner of the Cemetery) wanted me to be on the committee of organzing the Memorial. Bud Testa, who had done it on his own for nearly 50 years was in ill health, and Tyler wanted to bring a group together to plan the annual event. That is how I got started and this would be 2001. My first Memorial I attended was in 1996 and I have been at every one since then. The first time I spoke was 2002 to close the service with reading the prayer card that was handed out at the Valentino funeral in 1926. In 2004 my book came out which chronicled the entire history of the Valentino Memorial and I was the main speaker that year.
In those days there was a lot of turnover at the Cemetery and it wasn’t uncommon to come back the next year and it would be all new people running the place. In 2006 they had no one for the Emcee, and I said I would be willing, and I have continued since then. One thing is the guiding force in everything I do for the Memorial; that it is not about me, it is about honouring and remembering Valentino. Nor do I invite anyone who I feel would bring disrespect to him or to the Service itself. No speakers appear in “costumes”. Ask anyone who’s attended in the past few years and I am confident that they will tell you it is fun and interesting, but that it is a dignified, respectful event.
3. And going back further into time, I’m interested to learn of your very first inkling of Rudy. In other words: at what point in your life did you become aware of him?
I was first aware of Rudy because of the Brownlow Hollywood Series that I saw on public television. In the early 1980s I used to go to local revival houses to see silent films. My first silent film was Wings. At Universal around this time Mary MacLaren came in to visit and she told us about her dressing room being next to Rudolph Valentino’s on the Universal lot. It wasn’t until 1995 that the Silent Movie Theatre in Los Angeles was showing the Brownlow restoration of the The Four Horsemen.
I went in and saw that, and thought he had amazing screen chemistry and presence. I sought out books to learn more about him, and the only ones were at used bookstores, most of them highly fictionalized however. I came across the Irving Shulman bio and it was the first I read. It is still my favourite Valentino bio.
4. After you’d become aware of him and his career what were your thoughts? Before you knew as much as you do now? How did he strike you as a person early on?
My first impression of him was how sad, and lonely a person he was. He was used by everyone, I mean everyone. He was un-valued by the studios. (He left Metro, because they declined his request for a $50 a week raise, and they let him go! This after The Four Horsemen!) He was horribly used by his two wives. One had a sagging career and started using his name, yet, she had no qualms about dragging that name through the mud in the divorce trial. The other had an insatiable desire to be a power to reckon with within the movie industry and he was the means to obtain it. He was used by his Business Manager. The fact he wrote to his brother asking him to please write to him because he needed to know somebody still loved him. That’s very sad.
5. And what would you say was your biggest misconception — if you had any??
I only knew the standard legend that Rudolph Valentino was the Great Lover. I went into it assuming he was a big chaser of women, living up to his screen reputation. Nothing could be further from the truth. In private he was a quiet, homebody type, who enjoyed the company of those he trusted, a small circle of select friends within his social circle. That is who the true Rudolph Valentino was.
6. You have a vast collection of Rudy-related items which has grown over time. I’d like to ask you which was the very first thing you acquired and when??
The very first items I obtained were the Luther Mahoney items. They are pictured in the 1975 book about Valentino by Jack Scagnetti. I had recently read the book and saw those items pictured, and remember thinking: ‘I wonder who owns those now’. Two weeks later I attended a local memorabilia show and there they were, all in plastic bags and marked: “Personal Property of Rudolph Valentino”.
It turns out after Luther Mahoney’s death his daughter Madeleine Mohoney Reid inherited them, but she had recently died and they were sold off to a dealer, who in turn was selling them off piece by piece. I thought it was sad these were all kept together, and now this was happening. I bought several of the items and that is how I got started. That would be about 1997.
7. Having been lucky enough to see your Valentino collection three years ago I know that it’s very varied. I wonder if you could give us a quick overview of what it contains?
I have a good selection of photos, some quite rare. I enjoy lobby cards, and the one six-sheet from Society Sensation. It takes up a whole wall. What I enjoy most are items from the estate and personal documents. I have put most of my collecting efforts towards that area.
8. What’s the most unusual item that you have?
The 1920s mirror from the master bathroom in Falcon Lair which would have reflected Rudy’s face daily. The mirror was built into the wall and was original to the house which was built in 1923. It was given to me by the then owner of Falcon Lair as he had planned to remodel the bathroom and it would not be retained. True to his word, on my next visit, it was protected in bubble wrap waiting for me. Truly a one of a kind piece!
9. What’s the item that you cherish the most?
Three things. The Demi Tasse silver cup and saucer that is listed in the estate catalog as “This was Mr. Valentino’s personal set”. Also, the famed Eagle ring that he wore in three films: ‘A Sainted Devil’, ‘Cobra’, and of course ‘The Eagle’, where the ring actually became part of the plot line. I plan to donate this to the Academy for their new museum and I hope this happens. Lastly, his United Artists contract signed by Rudy.
10. Was there ever anything that you wanted that you couldn’t acquire?
Sometimes in auctions there are several items and I have to pick my battles. I have missed out on some items I would have liked to have but that is fine.
11. And if you don’t mind to share it with us which was your most recent acquisition?
Two Rudolph Valentino signed ocean liner farewell dinner menus, both from different voyages, that have the dates of the trip. One was signed by him and Nita Naldi. The other was signed by him to Louise, his personal Cook at home. He talks about how the food on this menu may sound good, but Oh! for Louise’s cooking! Very funny and heart-felt.
12. Looking back over Valentino’s all-too-brief life and career, what, in your opinion, was his greatest achievement? (If you feel there was more than one please tell us!)
I think his greatest achievement was something he did not live to see and that would be his enduring legacy. I would like to think he would be pleased to know that a Memorial would continue to be held 93 years after his passing. That people still care, each in their own way. That is an achievement and honor that none of his contemporaries in the movie industry are afforded.
13. And which, in your opinion, is his greatest performance and/or greatest film?
He was superb in The Four Horsemen. I think Moran of the Lady Letty is an often overlooked performance. I liked his pairing with Gloria Swanson in Beyond the Rocks. But I think his best film by far is The Son of the Sheik.
14. Why do you think people were so drawn to Rudolph Valentino, and why were women, particularly, so enamoured of him?
For females of his day it was the escapism that movies offered women and Rudy was the embodiment of that escape, the forbidden love that would whisk you away from the dishes and laundry, to passion and romance. For men, it was that he himself wanted to be like Valentino, to have that alluring charm for use on women.
15. I’m sending you back in a time machine to the Twenties. You’re in Rudy’s presence for a short while, maybe disguised as a Reporter, what do you ask him?
I’d ask him for his spaghetti recipe we’ve heard so much about.
16. If you could’ve given him one piece of advice what would it have been?
I’d have suggested he not marry Jean Acker nor Natacha Rambova; both were huge mistakes in completely different ways. Then I would kindly suggest he not take the negative articles too personally, to grow a thicker skin towards that.
17. If we know what his appeal was in the past, what is it about Valentino today, do you think, that continues to attract people to him?
His charisma still leaps from the screen. He still resonates with an audience. Valentino is forever. Long after we’re gone, someone, somewhere, will be watching ‘The Son of the Sheik’.
18. Valentino stirs up controversy, now, as much as he did in his lifetime. What do you think about this?
This is so true. I think it’s sad as well as unfortunate. So much hate has been unfurled in the name of Valentino. In my opinion there is pure fiction being published about Rudy even today by people; some, who call themselves ‘scholarly’! I believe fiction, hearsay, innuendo, and guesswork is being touted as fact. For the most part they are very much ignored within the Valentino Community.
19. Finally, what’s next for you, when it comes to Rudolph Valentino? Do you have any burning ambitions? Anything you’d like to do, or see happen, with regard to him?
I do have a couple of projects I am toying with. I’d like to update my book Valentino Forever, and also, I’d like to put together a photo. book of the history of the East coast and West coast funerals and the aftermath, using photos I have in my collection.
I would love to see the Brownlow ‘The Eagle’ released to Blu-ray. They are releasing a Blu-ray of the movie but it is not from that print source. Only two original camera negatives exist for Valentino films. ‘Cobra’ is one and ‘The Eagle’ is the other. A print was struck a decade ago and shown at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. It was razor-sharp and crystal clear on the big screen; you could see the gleam in his eye. It is a shame that print is locked away.
Tracy Terhune, thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions, about yourself, and about Rudolph Valentino. I really appreciate it.
Thank you, all, for taking the time to read through Mr. Terhune’s fascinating interview with HFSL about himself and Rudy. This is the first, of what’s planned to be, an irregular series over time. If anyone who enjoys this Valentino-focused Blog thinks that a person is deserving of being interviewed I’d love to hear your suggestion/s. Anyone respectful of Rudolph Valentino and his work and legacy will be considered. See you in November!
It’s time to finally tackle the arrest of Rudolph Valentino in 1916. Perhaps the oddest and most impenetrable of all of the odd and impenetrable incidents in his 31 years. And an occurrence so awful, and unforgettable, that it would haunt him for the rest of his short life. Here, then, without delay, is: September 5th, 1916.
During a 2017 research trip to New York I made an amazing discovery. At the end of my stay, I found myself in a large, dusty, and surprisingly chaotic, forgotten-looking room. I’d been advised to visit the seventh floor of the typically solid Manhattan building by a very helpful member of staff at the New York Public Library. In going there, they said, I might be able to find a record of a private prosecution I was sure had been instigated in 1924. After slowly and patiently looking under the right letter in the ancient index (which appeared untouched for decades) I drew a blank. Just one of those things when you’re researching. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.
Stood there, it occurred to me I should try to see what I could find under the letter G, or V. (G for Guglielmi and V for Valentino.) Closing the wooden drawer I’d been looking in, I went first to V, where I found nothing. Switching to G, I was Third Time Lucky; as there, staring back at me, on old, but pristine thin, yellowed cards, were the details of a series of Supreme Court prosecutions, actioned in 1917, by none other than Rodolfo Guglielmi, against varied publications and publishers at that time: Star Company, Inc., Sun Print & Pub. Assoc. and Tribune Assn, etc. (Amazingly there were four variations of his name: Rudolfo, Rudolf and Rodolefo being the other three.)
After securing photocopies of the cards I hurried over to the place where I could access the Supreme Court Clerk’s Minutes; hopeful that they would contain some information. There, however, I hit a bit of a brick wall. Files were very much off-site. An order had to be placed on a Friday at the front desk. Once an order was made it took between 3 to 5 business days for the paperwork to arrive. And the next day – you’ve guessed it – was my final full day in the USA.
I waited almost 12 months to see the material – the third person I asked to access it on my behalf did – but it was absolutely worth it. Within the ancient files was a wealth of never-before-published documents, detailing what was happening, up to, on, and beyond that fateful day. Contained, were the accusations against him in 1916; his claims against all of the different titles and their publishers, in 1917; their respective counter arguments that same year; and, most valuable of all, a typed transcript, of a seriously in-depth interview with Valentino, from 1920. However, before we delve deeply – and we will delve deeply – into the sensational contents, let’s look at the reports about the apprehension of Rudolph Valentino.
It was on September 6th, 1916, that Americans in practically every major state in the country, read of the arrest, the previous day, of two New Yorkers: Rodolfo Guglielmi and Mrs. Georgia [sic] E. Thym. Most of the pieces were repetitive. A fake Italian Nobleman, and an older, grey-haired woman, had been “arrested” at 7 a. m. and taken into custody for questioning. Their capture had been made possible due to information provided by an un-named gentleman at Narragansett Pier (at Rhode Island). They had been, it was reported, apprehended to assist with an investigation. And the pair had provided some valuable intelligence.
Other news titles went into greater detail. Such as the New York Tribune, which printed a lengthy, two column report, on Page Four. “District Attorney Smith” had conducted an early morning vice raid, it said, at: “… a house on Seventh avenue, just below Central Park…” Rodolpho [sic] Guglielmi and Mrs. Georgia [sic] E. Thym had been “brought out of the place” and: “… held [on] $10,000 bail by Judge Rosalky in General Sessions, as material [witnesses] against Detective William J. Enright…” (Det. Enright was “under indictment for accepting bribes” (or protection money) from brothels.)
Further, on “arrival at the District Attorney’s office” “the ‘Marquis'” had asked to contact a friend. Calling “Police Headquarters” and asking for Frank Lord, Second Deputy Commissioner, he apparently said: ‘I’m in bad Frank; I wish you’d come down and help me out.’ When quizzed that evening – the 5th – at the Prince George Hotel, by a reporter, Frank A. Lord dismissed the detained man’s claim that they had dined in: “… the domino room of the Cafe L’Aiglon, in Philadelphia.” Lord admitted to being acquainted with “the Marquis” but only in the company of others. Saying: ‘This afternoon he called me on the telephone and said he was Rodolpho [sic]. I didn’t know him until he finally said he was Miss Sawyer’s dancing companion …. I told him I was unable to help him.’ (The Deputy Police Commissioner is a person of interest that we’ll return to later.)
The “bogus count or marquis” – he’d confessed to masquerading as an Aristocrat – was: “… handsome …. about twenty years old, and [wore] corsets and a wrist watch.” (He was 21 by this time.) In addition: “He was often seen dancing in well known hotels and tango parlors with [Bonnie Glass] and Joan Sawyer.” And had, it was revealed: “… made statements which, if true, are of immense importance in [the] investigation.” according to the District Attorney (Judge) Edward Swann. (Pictured above.) When asked by the New York Tribune if anyone of social significance was involved, or if he intended to have raided “the ten vicious resorts named by [the] Narragansett Pier society man”, or if there was any evidence against the “resorts”, Swann was vague. All of the men and women involved, he answered, weren’t in the Social Register; he would act only when there was ‘ample evidence’; and he was unable to ‘go into’ what evidence they already had at that time.
Vice raids weren’t uncommon that year in the United States. Input the words Vice Raid into the search box of any decent online newspaper archive and story after story will confront you. Important, I think, is the fact there was a great deal of unhappiness with the way in which vice squads were often entering a property without a warrant. That there was serious over zealousness on the part of squad members and their superiors is proven several times. For example, the entry into the home of Mrs. Rose Kennett, by two policemen, Howes and Elliot, reported on THE WASHINGTON HERALD‘s front page, on March the 22nd, resulting in the issuing of warrants for the arrest of the two men. In June, on the 7th, by which time Detective Howes was on trial, THE WASHINGTON TIMES revealed that, contrary to earlier reporting, it was their higher ranking Superintendent, Major Pullman, who’d sanctioned “forcible entry”, and told them to: ‘get in’ in any way they could. (There was a suspicion that Kennett was renting out rooms for liaisons and illicit sex.)
RAIDS SHOW LID WAS OFF HERE, CRITICS ASSERT was the punchy headline on Page One of the Philadelphia newspaper the Evening Ledger, on July 17th. Sub-headed, Vice Rampant in City, Administration Opponents Say, the piece, which continued on Page Two, suggests a Police Department also characterised by heavy handedness. 552 arrests had been made in “the Tenderloin”, or corrupt district, in just one night — the 15th. However many innocents had obviously been caught-up in the trawl. Interestingly: “The raid was directed entirely against disorderly houses.” “Director Wilson”, the organiser, aimed to: ‘… wipe out all flaunted vice in Philadelphia.’ (An objective, it was stated, which had the full support of the Mayor, Thomas B. Smith.) Wilson was, he said: ‘… not through.’ And made a point of announcing: “We will rush these cases.” So great was the rush that every detainee was processed in just 16 hours. $50,000 in deeds “passed over the bench”. “$1,000 in small fines was collected”. And: “More than $10,000 in cash bail was accepted.” Further: “Men who proved they were only frequenters of the houses were fined $10 and costs and were allowed to go. Most of the girls were held under $300 bail for court, while proprietors of the resorts were held under from $1,000 to $1,500 bail. (These figures contrast sharply with the bail set for Guglielmi and Thym.)
At the same time as the general, national push (genuine or otherwise) to eradicate disorderly houses, and the expanding exposure of how police forces were sometimes protecting ‘resorts’, or brothels, there was also a very real probe into the activities of blackmailers. So topical was it, in fact, that in January, Author Amelie Rives‘ blackmail-themed play, The Fear Market, was running at the Booth Theatre in New York. (Amelie Rives was also-known-as Princess Amelie Rives Troubetzkoy; and was, as a result, the sister-in-law of Prince Paul Troubtezkoy, friend to Rudolph Valentino.)
While The Fear Market was receiving luke warm praise from the Drama Critic of the New York Tribune, unwritten theatrics were taking place regularly in court rooms, as a result of the capture and indictment of Don Collins, alias: Robert A. Troubillon. (His actual name, it was discovered, was Arthur L. David.) According to THE EVENING WORLD, on Wednesday, January 12th, 1916, Collins/Troubillon’s “White Slave Ruse” had “netted” an estimated $250,000. (In today’s money almost six million.) He and his male and female accomplices had: “… preyed on wealthy and prominent men visiting Atlantic City and other Jersey resorts…” Their tactic, to target the unaccompanied man with a “fascinating female”, who would seduce him and take him to a hotel. Once in a room, two fake Department of Justice officials would arrive, arrest the pair, and escort them in an auto. to Philadelphia; where, at “the Philadelphia branch of the Department of Justice”, they would suggest first going to have refreshments. While the arrested man was at his weakest, it would be revealed that prosecution could be avoided, if a large fine was paid. Then, after fake documents were produced, and signed, and the fine paid in some fashion, the relieved person was free to go. The amounts were, it appears, always in the region of the thousands. ($2,500, $5,000 and $4,000 are sums listed in the newspaper report as having been secured.)
If the Collins prosecution, which rumbled along at the start of the year, is an eye-opener, the revelations printed in Western newspapers, on February 22nd, are eye-popping. In Washington and Oregon states, several titles – The Tacoma Times, The Seattle Star, The Daily Capital Journal and the East Oregonian (Daily Evening Edition) – put out front pages laying bare the criminality of: “A huge blackmailing syndicate, operating the entire length of the Pacific coast…”
“Actual photographs of leading
businessmen and club men in
compromising positions are in
the hands of the Sheriff and will
be used as evidence against the
From the front page of The Tacoma Times, Tuesday, February 22nd, 1916.
The sensational revelations – how Lillian [Peters] and Isabel [Clayburg] had “lured” older successful men “to a fine residence” and compromised them and taken photographs with concealed cameras – sparked a cross-country search for other such gangs. In late April it was reported (by Associated Press) that arrests were imminent in New York. “The Typical blackmailing gang is described as including two men and two women.” the single column, two paragraph report disclosed. In August, on the 5th, Goodwin’s Weeklygave up space on Page One to the subject. Quoting “William J. Burns” of New York” who had declared: “… that the great crime of the age is blackmailing.” And that: “… it is carried on mostly by elegantly dressed and accomplished men and women…” Those targeted were: “… wealthy married [women] …. Wealthy, respectable men …. College or school boys with money …. The daughters of wealthy families …. Married men …. Wealthy people with family skeletons.” And in the same month, on the 13th, THE WASHINGTON HERALD was up-front about how “Society bandits” were extorting large amounts from: “… wealthy patrons of Atlantic City, Cape May, bar Harbor and other fashionable coast resorts…”
Seen in the briefly detailed context of the drive to tackle ‘disorderly houses’/’resorts’, and the simultaneous crack-down on blackmailing by blackmailers, particularly blackmailing of the wealthy married woman and daughters of wealthy families, the offences of which Rodolfo Guglielmi and Georgiana E. Thym were accused that month, don’t seem so out-of-the-ordinary, or isolated. However, while they may be far far easier to understand, the accusations aren’t any less surprising to see, or to contemplate, even today. In fact they’re seriously surprising.
It’s only due to the fact that, in the Spring of 1917, the then Rodolfo Guglielmi decided to attempt to prosecute the publications he felt had defamed him in their reporting, that we know what we do about what he was believed – I stress believed – to have been doing, at the apartment at 909 Seventh Avenue. Naturally the legal teams of the publishers that he was suing decided to scrutinize the files held by the Police. What those files contained was believed lost. (The files have been lost – the contents probably purposely destroyed – for many decades.) Yet, in the investigations of Macdonald DeWitt, the Attorney acting on behalf of the Sun Printing and Publishing Assoc., we see exactly what those lost folders contained, due to their contents often being faithfully reproduced. As follows:
I. AS A SEPARATE DEFENSE TO THE ENTIRE COMPLAINT
II, III, IV, V, VI
VII. That shortly prior to September 5, 1916, the said District Attorney and his Assistant District Attorney, James [E.] Smith, were informed that the said Georgiana Thym had extorted a large sum of money from a person whose name is unknown to this defendant, by a [threat] to expose to the wife of said person a disgraceful and adulterous act of which her husband had been guilty. That said District Attorney was also informed that the said Georgiana Thym …. kept and maintained a house of ill fame or assignation in order to afford the patrons and frequenters of said apartment an opportunity to indulge in unlawful sexual intercourse and complaints to the same effect had theretofore been made to the Police authorities of the City of New York. That shortly prior to September 5, 1916, the said District Attorney …. and Assistant District Attorney Smith …. were informed by one Tyneberg that his wife having become acquainted with the said Georgiana Thym had been accustomed to visit the apartment of said Georgiana Thym for the purpose of associating with this plaintiff [Rodolfo Guglielmi] with whom she said she had become infatuated. That the said apartment of the said Mrs. Thym was a disorderly house where men met women for the purpose of unlawful sexual intercourse; that upon one occasion Mrs. Tyneberg had visited said house and had been drugged; that upon awakening she had found herself in bed with this plaintiff [R. G.] and was told by this plaintiff [R. G.] and by Mrs. Thym that a flash light photograph had been taken of her while in bed with this plaintiff, which she could have upon the payment of $2,500.
That prior to September 5, 1916, and in the course of said investigation …. James E. Smith …. was informed by one Shotwell that he, said Shotwell, knew this plaintiff [R. G.] and the said Georgiana Thym at whose house he’d repeatedly been; that her house was used as a house of assignation and that plaintiff [R. G.] lived in said house with her; that he, said Shotwell and plaintiff [R. G.] had, shortly prior thereto, agreed that on September 5, 1916, this plaintiff [R. G.] should induce a certain young and wealthy [woman] (whose name is unknown to this defendant), whom the plaintiff [R. G.] had met and danced with a number of times at hotels and restaurants in the City of New York, to go with him to the apartment of said Thym; that upon her doing so, said Shotwell should go to the relatives of said woman and inform them that she was in danger of compromising herself with this plaintiff [R. G.] and that unless said woman was promptly induced to leave said apartment and to free herself from association with plaintiff [R. G.], she would be ruined and her reputation compromised; that he, said Shotwell, knew said woman and this plaintiff [R. G.] and that he, Shotwell, would agree to induce said woman to leave plaintiff [R. G.] and return to her home that night without publicity upon payment of a large sum of money, which sum plaintiff [R. G.] and said Shotwell had agreed to thereafter divide between them. … Shotwell further informed said District Attorney Smith that he and plaintiff [R. G.] had frequently, during the year 1916, obtained large sums of money from the family and friends of young and wealthy women by means of the aforesaid trick…
Said Shotwell further told said Assistant District Attorney Smith that upon one occasion this plaintiff [R. G.] had induced a wealthy girl to go with him to the Thym apartment; that after she had reached there, Shotwell had gone to the girl’s father, told him that his daughter had been induced to go to the Thym apartment where she was held prisoner but that he, Shotwell could get the girl to return …. for a cash consideration; that the father had refused to be blackmailed and had called for the police; that afterwards several policemen had gone to the Thym apartment and had forcibly taken out the girl; that the reason no arrests were made was that Mrs. Thym had paid Detective Enright and other members of the Police Department …. sums of money to protect her against police interference and in consideration of which said Enright and others agreed that she might continue to use her apartment as a house of assignation and that she would not be prosecuted for such offense.
Swann, Smith, Thym, Guglielmi and Enright, are all names we’ve seen before, in the New York Tribune‘s report on September 6th. Tyneberg? And Shotwell? These are individuals who are totally confined to the pages of the defence of the Sun Printing and Publishing Assoc. by Macdonald DeWitt. They appear in no article, or piece, anywhere, at the time or afterwards. And are, therefore, certainly extracted from direct testimony to District Attorney (Judge) Edward Swann, or to Assistant District Attorney James E. Smith, or both, or from testimony in court. (Less possible.) Macdonald DeWitt raked through what was then available to them and put it to use in order to defend their Client six months later.
What we make of the damning testimony now, in 2019, is the question. In essence there are four, definite, described criminal acts. The blackmailing of the wife whose Husband had engaged in a disgraceful and adulterous act. The blackmailing of Mrs. Tyneberg, who was infatuated with Rodolfo, and had been photographed in bed with him. The nameless woman that knew Rudy through his dancing and was in danger of compromising herself. And the young, wealthy girl, whose Father refused to be blackmailed, and called the Police. (Who were subsequently bribed by Mrs. Thym.) The accusations of Mr. Tyneberg and Mr. Shotwell – particularly Shotwell’s – are incredible. The information (to James E. Smith): “… that he and plaintiff [R. G.] had frequently, during the year 1916, obtained large sums of money from the family and friends of young and wealthy women by means of the aforesaid trick…” has us naturally pondering. Thinking: is any of this true? And if not, then what sort of personality could possibly conjure-up such imputations, and, have the nerve to deliver them to the Assistant District Attorney? Obviously placing themselves in a difficult position as a result? Questions. Questions. Questions.
In Signor Rodolfo, the fourth chapter of her 2003 biography, Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino, Emily W. Leider devotes half of Page 72, all of Page 73 and half of Page 74 to September 5th, 1916. Two pages, or so, in all. On page 73 Leider asks her own questions and proceeds to tell us that: “… they aren’t all going to be answered.” Why was Rodolfo at Georgiana’s apartment? Was he there to enjoy “a prostitute”? If so why were there no prostitutes there? John [L.] de Saulles, at the time being divorced by his wife of just a few years, Blanca E. de Saulles, was, she presumes, the businessman who spitefully informed the authorities. Was Rudy followed to the premises? And why did the investigators consider him to be, not a Customer, but more of a Proprietor? And: “On what grounds, if any, did they base their assumption?”
Looking back at what’s reproduced here – paragraph VII – from the response to Rodolfo’s action against the Sun Printing and Publishing Assoc., in the Spring of 1917, we’re able to add most of the missing jigsaw pieces. Rudy was at 909 Seventh Avenue because he lived there – I’ll enlarge on this – and therefore wasn’t there to procure sex. There were no prostitutes present due to people being allegedly brought there to be blackmailed. John L. de Saulles wasn’t the vengeful informant, because, if he was, his name would appear; and the names that appear, are: Mr. Tyneberg and Mr. Shotwell. (Mr. Tyneberg being the Businessman husband of a Victim and Mr. Shotwell being an Accomplice confessing all at Narragansett Pier.) He hadn’t been followed as he was a resident (as already stated). And the investigating team viewed him as they did due to all of the startling testimony they’d received prior to September 5th.
Compared with the incredibly detailed information that we find in the response by the Defendant to the action taken by Rudy, the “court records” Emily W. Leider accessed and referenced (Case #111396, Court of General Sessions, People v. William J. Enright, September 5th, 1916, New York City Municipal Archives), are curiously lacking in detail. According to them/her, neither Rodolfo or Georgiana were accused of “any crime”, though they were indicted as: “… operators of a bawdy house that paid protection money to a policeman.” This indictment, luckily, is also reproduced in full, in the defence of the Sun Printing and Publishing Assoc. (See above.)
“The evidence must have been flimsy…” Leider states on Page 74. “… because two days after the raid their bail was reduced from $10,000 to $1,500…” However, it was not due to “flimsy” or insubstantial evidence, as much as it was due to “the plaintiff” asking the Assistant District Attorney to reduce his bail, if he could supply details to him of: “… a number of people who had blackmailed wealthy persons within the City of New York…” And also because the: “… plaintiff could give the [Assistant] District Attorney such information as would enable the [Assistant] District Attorney to arrest and convict said persons.” (That is, anyway, what the defence material details.)
For those wondering – and I’m sure some are wondering! – what Rudy’s complaint was and what he expected to achieve suing the various publication titles the multiple actions – particularly the action against the Sun Printing and Publishing Assoc. – tell us.
… FIRST COURSE OF ACTION
I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX
X. [Their article was] “… false and defamatory and [constituted a] libel upon this plaintiff…”
XI. [Their article had been] “… published and circulated …. maliciously, recklessly and carelessly without proper investigation…”
XII. [The] “… plaintiff had been grievously injured in his good name, fame and reputation and in his professional calling …. causing [him] to be shunned and ostracized by his friends and professional acquaintances and associates…”
XIII. [That] “… the …. [libellous] publication …. has …. contributed to the total loss …. of his earnings as a professional dancer, and has compelled plaintiff to abandon his said profession, thereby losing an annual net income of approximately Twelve thousand [five] hundred ($12,500) Dollars, and …. [the] plaintiff has likewise …. been deprived of a contract to perform as a dancer for a few hours each evening at Hotel Ritz-Carlton, for a remuneration of One hundred and fifty ($150.00) Dollars.
… SECOND COURSE OF ACTION
XIV, XV, XVI, XVII, XVIII, XIX
WHEREFORE plaintiff demands judgement against the defendant in the sum of One hundred thousand ($100,000.) Dollars, together with the costs and disbursements of this action.
That Rudolph Valentino, as he later was, was, at the time, in May 1917, seeking $100,000 in damages from one title’s publisher, and, it’s to be imagined, the same amount from all of the others (five or so altogether), is quite amazing. That’s a sum – $500,000 – that’s now equivalent to almost $13,000,000. In Paragraph XIII we see his “annual net income” was $12,500. And that he’d “been deprived” of a few hours dancing every night at “Hotel Ritz-Carlton”, for which he received $150. (Which was probably a weekly sum.) However, if we add $12,500 to $7,800, we only arrive at: $20,300. And as there’s no breakdown, only a single figure, with “costs and disbursements” included, we can’t really be too sure what it constituted. Did he times $20,300 by five? Whatever his, or his legal representative’s thinking was, it’s clear the amount is unrealistically high. Unless it was spread across the quintet of actions at a rate of $20,000 per action. But this is not made totally plain as far as I can see. (Rudy’s Attorney at the time was Mr. Louis H. Moos.)
What do we learn beyond this? Looking at the multiple actions, it’s clear that in the years 1918 and 1919, there was a delay in the progression of the prosecutions. Why? After being “commenced” on “March 14th, 1917”, on October 30th, of the next year: “… the parties …. entered into and signed a stipulation …. marking the case reserved generally.” And that “at the plaintiff’s request” it was again “marked reserved” on “June 9th, 1919”. (The reason is unknown, but Rudy was in California, and perhaps had insufficient funds to pay his Legal Team.)
It was in February 1920, that Mr. Justice Platzek ordered the examination of the now, professionally known, Rudolpho De Valentina/Rudolphe Valentine, in order to prepare for a trial that year. The examination, which was conducted at 11:30 a. m., on April the 14th, at the office of William A. DeFord, and was the real reason he was in New York that Spring, is one of the most exciting, as it’s a written record of pre-fame Rudolph Valentino actually speaking, as he spoke, rather than how he was interpreted and paraphrased after success in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921). The people present were: “the Plaintiff in Person”, using his true name: Rodolfo Guglielmi; Lyman E. Spalding Esq. and C. L. Gonnet, Esq., his Attorneys; and, for the Defendant, William A. DeFord. And there was also a Stenographer, by the name of Cleo C. Hardy, who took Rudy’s words as they were spoken “stenographically”, so that they could be transcribed and read and signed by the Witness.
It’s apparent, when reading the lengthy question-and-answer-session, on April the 14th, 1920, that the purpose was to take Rudolph Valentino back in time, and to see, from his point of view, what had transpired. Nowhere in any of the documents in the many files do his own opinions or his perspective appear. Everything focuses on the accusations against him and Mrs. Thym. And consequently it’s a fascinating read.
After giving his full name (Rodolfo Guglielmi), his age at that time (24), and profession (“Motion picture actor”); he reveals that he became a “moving picture actor” “Just about two and a half years ago.” (Seemingly ruling out any possible appearance in My Official Wife (1914).) After being asked how he was occupied prior to that he replies that he was a “professional dancer” “Since 1914” (the “October or November”). Then saying that his address at the time is: 61 West 55th Street, New York.
When asked about his address on September the 5th, 1916, he’s very quick to say that it was 909 Seventh Avenue, New York. He had, he says, been resident there: “… several months.” (Forever disproving he was probably a visitor.) Furthermore, he had, he tells DeFord, lived there previously and returned. (“I had been there before, and then I moved away from there, and then I came back again.”) About Georgiana, he says that she lived at the apartment alone, and rented him the room and made his breakfast in the mornings. And further: “The first time I was there, there was a roomer, another, a lady had the front room of the apartment.”
After confirming to his questioner that he knows the Assistant District Attorney but not Detective McGlynn, he is then asked about the morning of September 5th, 1916. To which he replies – there are a series of questions – that the policemen “busted in through the door”.
“Well, I came out in the hall when I heard the racket, they broke through the door downstairs, and some other detectives, they broke through the upstairs — the attic door. I came out to see what the racket was about.”
“I was confronted by several men with guns in their hands, and they asked me if I was Rudolph, and I says: ‘Yes,’ and someone came to me, afterwards I knew he was District Attorney Smith, and he said they wanted me down at Mr. Swann’s, so to dress.”
In Valentino’s version there’s no looking out of the window when the Vice Squad first pounded on the front door and told them to open up. As he tells it to William A. DeFord he was in the bathroom and then in the hall in his pajamas. However, the fact he was already out of bed suggests that he did appear at the window – the bathroom window? – to first see who was knocking, as was reported in some newspapers. The fact that they smashed their way in would be the result of entry being denied. And the guns in their hands are a sign they thought there could be trouble. (The weapons would, for me, come out after the refusal.) Like the officers that day we might wonder why it was that Rudy didn’t want to allow the officers into the premises.
After his description of the five-to-ten minute episode – which is like a dramatic moment in a contemporary play or silent film – we have Rudy’s exchange with the Assistant D. A. while he was dressing.
“… he come in and asked me, as I said, who I was, and where I came from, and I told him I came from Italy. When I asked him what reason he busted in that way, he says, ‘Are you [a] citizen?’ I says, ‘No.’ He says, ‘If you are no citizen, you have no right to ask questions.’ Then he told me to get dressed, or I would catch cold, and sarcastic things of that sort.”
Rudy claims never to have been shown any paperwork or subpoena. DeFord asks him, again and again if he’d been served anything, and his reply, persistently, is that he wasn’t. (Repeatedly in the papers it says that he was.) D. A. Smith said only that due to him being an Italian he would be: ‘… sending him back in six months to Italy.’ It’s after this that he explains how they were taken first to “Mr. Swann’s office by way of “the subway” (which doesn’t suggest they were handcuffed). Strangely, we then get several pages (from eight to fourteen), of discussion about Rodolfo wearing or not wearing a corset. (It turns out that he wore an athletic jockstrap not a man’s corset.) And if he wore a wristwatch that morning. (He did.) Or any perfume. (He didn’t.) That the Attorney for the Star Company wanted to establish if it was or wasn’t what was reported – a corset, a wristwatch, etc., – is obvious. Yet six to seven pages does seem rather over-the-top.
Rudy next reveals that he and Mrs. Thym were “taken before” Judge Otto Rosalsky, Justice of the Court of General Sessions of the Peace, in the afternoon of the day of their seizure. (He had, he said, seen the weapons, and gone where he was told to go without questioning it.) He and his Landlady were presented to Justice Rosalsky in his chambers. The exchange went as follows:
“As I came in Mr. Smith said, addressing Mrs. Thym, said ‘Here is Mrs. Thym, she has been keeping a disorderly house, and here is Rudolph, a pimp,’ he [said], ‘he has been procuring girls for her, and they divided the results.’ And before I hardly had a chance to say anything, to speak, I think Mrs. Thym said, ‘It’s a lie,’ and I was dumbfounded, I could hardly say anything, Mr. Judge Rosalsky asked Mr. Smith, ‘Are you sure?’ Mr. Smith [said], ‘Yes, we have got the goods on them.’ So he gave me a squint, and he say, ‘Ten thousand dollars bail, and send the woman up to the House of Detention’ — I think up a Hundred and something — ‘and the man to the House of Detention on Fifty-third,’ and we were ushered out.”
It’s at this point – pages 18 to 19 – that the questioning becomes more intense. DeFord puts Valentino on the spot over and over about what he remembers was said while he and Thym were in front of Rosalsky. The reason for his obsession becoming steadily clearer as the questioning continues. As follows:
“I want to ask you, to refresh your recollection, if Mr. Smith said in the presence of the Justice …. that Mrs. Thym had been engaged in the business of conducting a disorderly house and paying money to the police of the city of New York for protection for a number of years past?”
“Yes, he said that she had been keeping a disorderly house.”
Did he say she’d been paying money to the police for a number of years for protection in that business?
The Attorney acting on behalf of the Star Company then asks Rodolfo if it was stated that he’d been procuring girls, to which he answers that he was called “a pimp”, and that that was enough for him to understand what he was accused of. When asked if it was stated by the Assistant D. A. that he and Georgiana were guilty of: “… the running of that house, of extorting large sums of money from men or women who had frequented the house for the purposes of having illicit sexual intercourse?” he responded that he didn’t recall that being stated.
When asked by DeFord if he or Mrs. Thym had been charged with being blackmailers in front of the Judge he replied in the negative. He could only recall it being stated they were charged with running a disorderly house and dividing the profits. No recollection, according to him, that anything had been said about their extorting money. However, when his questioner asks if he’s saying that Mr. Smith might’ve said it but he doesn’t recall it being said, he answers, worryingly: “Might, and might not.” (Of course we have to consider that many years have passed and Rudy’s memory might not be helping him to remember everything as it was that day (which would be understandable).)
Rodolfo doesn’t recall the names Enright and Foley being mentioned. Or that: “… wealthy girls, of high social standing…” were talked of. Or that the “wealthy girls” not spoken of, according to him, were placed in compromising positions. And when asked if he can remember hearing that he and Georgiana were “to be held in bail as material witnesses he answers that he only heard: ‘… we have got the goods on them.’ And then:
“You know, do you not, that you were at that time simply held as a material witness?”
“I didn’t know nothing of the sort. I never had no dealing —“
“Did you have an attorney there at the time?”
When asked again if he understood the situation fully at the time Rudolph Valentino says that he only knew he was held on $10,000 bail — he didn’t know why. When asked if he was charged with a crime he says no. For information? No. Was any complaint made? No. And when asked if: “… a complaint or an [sic] information or an indictment wherein you were charged with any crime?” was shown to him his answer once more was: no.
What this is all building up to is obvious but we’re not there yet. A trap is being laid for him, and he naturally doesn’t see it, as he’s being asked question after question, and is stuck in his recollections and distracted. First of all, Rudy tells his questioner, William A. DeFord, that he wasn’t in the Tombs, but at the House of Detention at Fifty-third and Eighth Avenue; then, that he was there for three days; and then, that he was released on $1,500 bail. (The application for a reduction was made, Rudolph assumes, by his lawyer, Mr. Moos.) When asked if he was discharged without bail he answers: “I had a habeas corpus proceeding in the Supreme Court.” And when asked if he was discharged he responds: “Proved my innocence completely, and discharged.”
The questions that follow are about what exactly ‘the goods’ were. (The goods were what the Assistant District Attorney said they had on both Guglielmi and Thym.) Here we see that Rudy didn’t know. When asked what that meant he answers: “I didn’t know.” When asked if Mrs. Thym had made: “… any statement to Judge Rosalsky in your presence, in the course of that proceeding?” his answer is: “She protested.” Further: “She said it was a lie, it was abominable, things of that sort. She was nearly hysterical.”
It’s now, on pages 27 and 28, that we get another look into the lost/destroyed police files that have been a mystery for so many decades. (The belief is that they were spirited away once Rodolfo Guglielmi achieved Stardom in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921).) DeFord wished to probe a little regarding Rudy’s appearance as a Witness, at a proceeding at the Supreme Court, entitled: ‘The People of the State of New York, ex rel. Rudolph Guglielmi, against the Warden of the City Prison, Seventh District’. This “proceeding” was “on or about December 1st” that year. And William A. DeFord asks Rudolph Valentino if he was asked a certain question, that day in the Supreme Court, regarding what happened in Judge Rosalsky’s chambers, on the afternoon of September 5th. The question being:
“What was the first thing then that took place; who spoke first when you got in there?”
“Mr. Smith spoke first and pointing to Mrs. Thym said: ‘This woman is conducting a disorderly house and paying money to the police for eighteen years;’ and he says: ‘This young fellow Rudolph has been trying to get girls and is dividing the money with Mrs. Thym.’ “
Did Rudolph Valentino realise at this moment that he’d been outwitted by the Attorney acting on behalf of the Star Company? If not, the penny surely had to be dropping by the time he got to his next question, and the next. After DeFord clears up that Rudy was a lot clearer than than he was in 1920, about what was said in Judge Rosalky’s chambers on the afternoon of September 5th, 1916, he then moves on to how the pair were being held as Material Witnesses. (Valentino had told DeFord that he had no recollection of being told this.) However, in the proceedings, before Judge Philbin, in December of 1916, when asked about it he gave a different answer. As follows:
“And he didn’t say anything to you further than what you just said?”
“No. Mr Smith in his declaration, he said: ‘I want these people to be held as material witnesses,’ and he explained why, saying that this woman kept this house, just as I said before.”
It’s at this point that Rudy, for some reason tried to argue that he didn’t know about being a material witness until he read it in the newspaper, while at the House of Detention. DeFord steers him back to the evidence. Telling him that he had said he was told he was a Material Witness, and that he himself had said he was told this in Rosalksy’s chambers, and had said so in the Supreme Court on December 1st, 1916. On hearing this clarification Rudy agrees that he said it. And William A. DeFord moves on to his Ace Card.
Rudolph Valentino had, he said, told him, categorically, that he’d never been accused of: “… blackmailing people you brought, women, and also women who came there, for the purposes of illicit intercourse.” DeFord then tells Valentino that Judge Philbin had asked him a direct question about this in the Supreme Court. As follows:
“What did he say about you?” (the question referring to Mr. Smith.)
He said I was supposed to bring girls to this house and that I was blackmailing with Mrs. Thym and dividing the money.”
The final hammer blow was when DeFord confronted Valentino with a series of questions and answers from the proceedings in the Supreme Court. The exchange was again about what had he’d been accused of. As follows:
Q “Now say again what Mr. Smith said you were guilty of.” A “Mr. Smith said I was guilty of bringing girls and blackmailing with Mrs. Thym society people, and dividing the amount.”
Q “Did he say anything further to indicate what he meant by bringing girls?” A “He said this woman had taken a disorderly house, that I was bringing these girls to try to blackmail society; he didn’t explain very much; he only just stated that fact.”
Q “Do I understand you to say that he charged you with bringing girls to the house that this woman was running?” A “Yes, sir.”
Q “And for the purposes of prostitution?” A “Yes, sir.”
Q “And you heard him say that to the Judge?” A “Yes, sir.”
Q “Did you deny it, tell the Judge that wasn’t so?” A “I couldn’t say anything. I didn’t have an opportunity to say a word.”
What are we to make of this engrossing question and answer session, extracted from Rudy’s recorded testimony, at the proceedings in the Supreme Court, on December the 1st, 1916? Beyond it being DeFord’s purpose to prove to Valentino that he’d been evasive, purposely or otherwise, when asked questions throughout the examination on April the 14th, 1920? (The Star Company’s Attorney was obviously seeking to find a way to bring an end to the action.) William A. DeFord does succeed in holding up a mirror to Rudolph Valentino when it comes to what he knew. But does it help us to see what he saw? Or to see anything?
It was a “fact” that Thym ran a disorderly house? That Marquis Guglielmi (Roma) was securing “girls to try to blackmail society”? Smith didn’t explain very much? Or was it, instead, a “fact” that the Assistant District Attorney stated what he did? Was Valentino not properly expressing himself as his second Wife sometimes said he did on occasion? At no point, unfortunately, does the Star Company’s Attorney make a point of asking him if he was a Blackmailer. And at no point, unfortunately again, does the Plaintiff say that he wasn’t. Though he did, it must be admitted, say, that at the habeas corpus proceeding, in the Supreme Court, his innocence was proved: “Proved my innocence completely, and discharged.” At this point DeFord begins to conclude the examination. However, before he does so, we have a revealing glimpse of Rudy’s life in the weeks before the incident, when he’s asked about an answer he gave, in December 1916. As follows:
Q “How long did you live with Mrs. Thym?”
A “For over about five months. I have been out of town, playing on the road; then I came back; I went out; then I passed all summer at another house because one night I tried to bring a girl into the house of Mrs. Thym and she told me I couldn’t have – be there; so she asked me to give up the room and therefore I had to give up the room; I went to live in 57th street and stayed all summer there. Mrs. Thym told me she had a room in her house free. I asked her if she would take me back. She said yes and I moved back on Thursday and the following Tuesday, the day after Labor Day, they came and arrested me. Only four days I had been in the house.”
William A. DeFord wanted to know if Rudolph Valentino had had any kind of discussion with James E. Smith, about getting his bail reduced, as a result of giving information that would help the investigation. When asked: “Did you ever have any such talk with him at all?” Rudolph’s answer is: “No, sir.” Yet DeFord wasn’t satisfied with the response and pressed him quite hard to get a different answer. Telling him flatly, but with great care, that he had indeed had such a conversation. And that the Assistant District Attorney had said the bail could be reduced, from $10,000 to $1,500 if he gave them useful details. (Details of people engaging in the blackmailing of figures in Society.)
Rudy shifts and says that there was a conversation, and that the Assistant D. A. did ask him to provide information, but that he had none to offer beyond what he’d already provided. (Exactly what that was isn’t clear.) When the Attorney pushes him, and says that Smith stated that Valentino had provided information, contrary to what he’d just told DeFord, he responds by saying: “… that is a pack of lies.” Then, after clearing up how his bail was reduced regardless the conversation turns to Rudy’s career. The quick sketch he provides, is one which appears to cast serious doubt, on the claims of those who said they’d danced with him, or worked with him, or that he’d been working for them. (One of the best examples being George Raft.)
If you have stuck with this to the conclusion then you deserve a pat on the back. I must say, however, that the length of this post is nothing, compared to the extent of the actual documents that were accessed. It was necessary to read the contents of the files countless times to make sense of what was contained — and they required further reading, as this post was being written, so that absolute accuracy and clarity could be achieved.
I was never able to accept there was no way of knowing why Rudy was at 909 Seventh Avenue, early on the morning of September 5th, 1916. For me there just had to be some way of finding out what on earth was going on. Of course that didn’t mean that I’d find out — but I wanted to try to. That I did discover why, is down to opportunity, intelligence and a big dollop of luck. (Lovely Lady Luck does help me out from time-to-time.)
The documents have enabled us to see beyond the lurid newspaper reports. To look into his actions against the varied titles and their publishers that he felt defamed him. To see why the prosecutions were delayed. And to hear Rudy himself relate his experiences at the time as he recalled them in 1920. However, I have to say, that while the discovery I made does assist, it doesn’t give us everything we need. And this is partly due to Rudolph himself.
Was he a procurer of women? Was he a Blackmailer? Did he jointly run a Disorderly House with Mrs. Thym? He was never found guilty of any of those crimes. Yet we must consider Tyneburg and Shotwell. Their testimony, seemingly not available to DeFord for some reason, is bothersome, to say the least. The United States was certainly feverish that year. Vice was seen at every turn. And the slightest whiff of wrongdoing was more than sufficient for a raid and the squads were at the ready. Yet, the two accusers gave information that, even now, seems substantial. And what about Frank A. Lord? As soon as he was able, Rudy contacted the Second Deputy Police Commissioner, in a desperate bid to secure his assistance. This was a person he knew and reached out to. So why was Lord so distant? Why would he pretend not to know him and then remember him? Did he, himself, have something to hide?
Perhaps there are other documents – such as the habeas corpus proceedings referenced by DeFord – waiting to be found. Material that will give us even more insight. If not, then we’ll have to accept that the blackest day in his life is a never-to-be-completed puzzle, that now has more pieces added, but is still far from the full picture we’d like it to be.
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 post will be followed, in time, by a New York Timeline for 1916, which will include the divorce of the de Saulles mentioned here; a look at The Missing Half Year; and a New York Timeline for 1917, that will conclude that series. See you all in October!