Of the many periods in the all-too-brief life of Rudolph Valentino, I’ve always found his early years in the USA to be the most absorbing, particularly those spent in and around New York, from 1913 to 1917. Three and a half years crammed with incident; six months of which are, apparently, an impenetrable void.
Over the years much has come to light, some of it from investigating things in the better biographies, and some of it personal discovery from digging very deeply. To begin with I’m concentrating on 1913, and will follow-up, in 2019, with 1914, 1915, 1916 and 1917. You may think little happened that December — but I found that the reverse was the case. Anyway, decide for yourself, when you view: New York Timeline (1913).
Eighteen-year-old Rodolfo Guglielmi joins his fellow Second Class passengers aboard the impressive Hamburg-American Line liner, S. S. Cleveland, the ship on which he’ll sail to the United States. An up-to-date, purpose-built vessel, like the Cincinnati, its sister ship, it leaves Genoa, Italy (where it arrived on the 3rd), at 10:30 a. m., and heads South for Naples in good weather. Aboard at this stage are: 68 First Class passengers, 78 Second Class passengers, and 147 Third Class passengers. (Capacity: 239, 224, 2,931 (steerage 1,882), 443 (crew).)
Though his reason for leaving Italy – he was without direction or a profession – is fully known, it’s not 100% clear why he desired to sail from Genoa, and not Naples, which was closer to where he lived (in Taranto). According to the family at that time a girlfriend was in Turin and he wished to see her. (This person is unnamed and not heard of again so why she was so important is a mystery.) Carrying his luggage so far North, first to Turin and then to Genoa, makes sense if he met with a female or male friend, or friends, at Nervi. Yet it all still seems a little strange. Did he stay with a former college mate the night before he sailed? If not he would have to have been in a local hotel on the 8th, to be in a position to board the Cleveland, early the following day.
We are led to believe he had with him a bank draft for $4,000. As that amount is today equivalent to $101,457.37 I begin to seriously wonder if a zero wasn’t added for effect in later years. Would a reckless eighteen-year-old who’d already blown his modest inheritance be entrusted with such a sum?
The S. S. Cleveland arrives at Naples at 09:24 a. m. As mentioned in a letter to his mother, at some point, probably before lunch, Rodolfo switches to First Class; mainly due to not enjoying the company of those in Second Class. The vessel remains at Naples all day until 11:33 p. m., when, according to the Master’s Report, it continued its journey.
The ship remaining so long at Naples was no doubt due to the huge number of Third Class passengers that joined there. And also what cargo was loaded. It seems he was able to find the time to write and send a letter to his mother, before leaving Italian soil, for what would be almost a decade. (He returned in the late Summer of 1923.)
On board by the time of departure were almost 2,000 people; of which 1547 were paying passengers: 161 First Class, 352 Second Class, and 1,034 Steerage and ‘mdse’ (midsection). (The crew being somewhere in the region of 400.) The Master on this journey was a Captain Filler.
Following night one in his First Class cabin, and a hearty breakfast, Rodolfo begins to get to grips properly with all of the amenities. The First Class accommodations extend over four decks, and are connected by a grand or small stairway, and also an electric elevator. In addition to the public rooms – the dining room, the social hall/lounge with library, the writing room, the music and ladies’ saloon and the smoking room – he investigates the gymnasium. And stops at the photographers’ dark room, the library, and the information bureau.
The day is a pleasant one, with excellent weather, until, sometime after dinner, the ship reaches the Gulf of Lyon, where rough seas cause Marchese Rodolfo to be seasick for the first time in his life. After a lengthy rest on a “luxurious” divan in the social hall/lounge he recovers.
By now Rodolfo is on friendly terms with a number of other First Class passengers. In his letter to his mother (at the outset), he revealed he was acquainted with a Mr. and Mrs. Amadeo, and also a Miss Francis.
Which deck Rudy was on of the four is unknown to me. I have an image of the interior of a standard First Class State Room taken from it’s private salon. His accommodation would also have been wood-panelled, and featured wall-to-wall carpeting, as well as elegantly restrained fittings and furniture.
December 12th, 13th, 14th
After passing Spain, on the 12th, the S. S. Cleveland reaches the Straight of Gibraltar, where it glides by Europe on the right, or Starboard Side, and Africa, on the left or Port Side. This thrills Rodolfo. As does the sighting of a school of dolphins following the ship once it reaches the Atlantic.
The evening of the 12th was, it appears, the first of two formal dress balls. In the already mentioned letter to his mother, of the 11th, he tells her how much he’s looking forward to being able to dance, as he hasn’t been able to for some time.
By now he will’ve handed out many of his calling cards. The card was apparently a large one, expensively engraved on parchment, and featuring his family crest.
According to the Master’s – Captain’s – Report the weather became unpleasant. “SW to NW winds with heavy gusts, rough sea and later Western lightning almost until arrival in New York.”
December 15th to 21st
Apparently confined, on and off, to the interior of the vessel, due to poor weather, and perhaps further episodes of seasickness, Rodolfo enjoys himself with two young women: Miss Eleanor Post and Miss Marion G. Hennion. Every afternoon, for several hours, the two females take turns to play the piano in the unused Second Class dining room, while the other dances with Mr. Rodolfo Guglielmi. They dance all of the popular dances of the day – the Maxixe, the Tango, the Turkey Trot and One-Step – and communicate in French. (In fact Rodolfo learns the One-Step during these days.)
These daily meetings were followed by Afternoon Tea, then a change of clothes for dinner, dinner, a visit to the smoking room and a game of checkers, or a walk, and then bed.
The Cleveland reaches the Ambrose Lightship, at Sandy Hook, at 11:29 p. m., and then anchors, at 01:00 a. m., at the Rosebank Quarantine Station, Staten Island, in readiness for medical inspection and registration the next morning. Rodolfo picks up his pen to complete the unfinished letter to his by now far away mother. After apologising for not writing every day he tells her that the voyage has been a fun one. That he’s been taught some English. And that he’s met almost all of the single and married women on board — the majority of which found him charming.
The S. S. Cleveland had been due to arrive at New York and dock and unload on the 22nd. There’s no explanation anywhere as to why it lost time on the way.
At 08:25 a. m. the S. S. Cleveland is visited for medical inspection and registration. It then proceeds to Brooklyn Pier where it arrives and docks at 09:40 a. m. During all of this we can imagine Rodolfo enjoying a final breakfast of buttered bread, coffee with milk, steak sandwiches and fruit. (Unless he was too nervous or excited.) If he went on deck to see it – hard to imagine he didn’t – or peered through a window, he would’ve seen the Statue of Liberty not too far away, and Manhattan Island in the distance.
Due to being a First Class traveller Rodolfo doesn’t have to go to Ellis Island. Instead, his papers and luggage are checked on board, and he then passes through customs before ferrying to Manhattan. Once there he cashes his bank draft (at Brown Brothers at Wall Street), and then heads to Giolito’s, his boarding house.
After trouble collecting his baggage Rodolfo returns to Giolito’s. It’s more likely that he ate dinner at the nearby Rector’s, rather than lunch, as the establishment was only due to open to the public that evening. Something proven by advertisements. (See above.) If he traverses Broadway that night, or the next, he will see in lights the name of future friend Douglas Fairbanks, at the Knickerbocker Theatre; where, not yet a Picture Personality, he was appearing in The New Henrietta.
The weather wasn’t good in New York. The newspapers for the 23rd predicted: “… increasing cloudiness to-day, probably followed by rain on coast, and rain or snow in interior to-night or to-morrow; moderate east winds.”
Christmas Eve. is Rodolfo Guglielmi’s first full day in New York. What he does in the morning isn’t known. If the weather was as bad as had been predicted, after breakfast, he probably stays at the boarding house and unpacks. In the afternoon he has time to wander about. The city’s streets are crowded with last-minute shoppers — a fact that maybe leaves him feeling even lonelier. Dinner that evening is a quiet, solitary affair.
It’s hard to believe that on Christmas Day 1913 the young Rodolfo Guglielmi is totally alone in his new home town. Nobody to pass a gift to and nobody to receive one from. Tied a little to Giolito’s he breakfasts there and probably also lunches. In the evening, according to his own recollection, he endures a friendless meal in an empty restaurant. (Again, perhaps, at Giolito’s.)
The holiday newspapers are a good source of atmosphere during the Festive Period and help us to understand the city’s tone at the end of 1913. Though it very much mirrored future events, it’s unlikely he pays any attention to the story of a White Slave Movie (at the Park Theatre) being stopped by the authorities, that was prominent on the front page of the Final Edition of The Evening World. Or, one of the headlines on the cover of not just The Sun, but also the New-York Tribune: the horrific collision of a speeding car with a husband and wife, early that morning on Broadway. And, despite very soon being caught up in the pre World War One craze for dancing, he probably failed to see or digest the story inside the New-York Tribune, about how retiring Commissioner of New York’s Fire Department, Joseph Johnson Jr., was concerned about the possibility of a Dance Hall Panic, due to recently opened second and third floor establishments being flammable, and also lacking adequate fire exits.
That cross-Atlantic voyages could be, as Our Marchese now knew well, on the one hand extremely romantic, and on the other singularly illusory, is underscored by the column about Ines Borrero and Pampilo Xavier on page two of The Evening World. Their public displays of affection, following the Christmas Eve. dinner on RMS Majestic, had elicited much comment. Utterly besotted by “tip-top tiptoe artist” Miss Borrero (a Tango Dancer), twenty-year-old millionaire, Mr. Xavier, first placed a beautiful diamond and ruby ring on her finger, then gave her a $50 bill, and after following that up with a cheque for an undisclosed sum, professed, on his knees, his love for her. A shock it was, then, when Borrero wasn’t rescued by Xavier on Christmas Day, when customs men informed her that she was required to pay duty on the jewellery.
SANTA BEAMS ON ALL DESPITE RAIN, on page three of the New-York Tribune, is maybe the best of all and the most predictive. As in a few short months the Teenager will be in the same position as some of the desperate people mentioned in the article.
December 27th, 28th, 29th, 30th
What Rodolfo does in the final few days of 1913 as the rain falls is anyone’s guess. That Santa hasn’t beamed on him is clear, even if he’d been given family gifts to open on the day. We know he has thoughts of returning to Italy. We also know he doesn’t. (Adverts show that the S. S. Cleveland could’ve carried him back to Italy on the 15th.)
Marchese Guglielmi, as he is styling himself, fails, as-far-as-we-know, to buy a ticket for one of the many advertised New Year’s Eve. extravaganzas. In My Trip Abroad, in Pictures and Picturegoer, in 1925, we read how it was: “… another dark hour…” in his life. And how he became lost in: “Crowds, surging crowds of people, bright-faced and on pleasure bent.” Rodolfo returns to Giolito’s and attempts to read. Failing to, and feeling sore all over, he then writes some letters home but tears them up.
Thank you so much for reading this post. As always, the sources are available to anyone who contacts me, if they’re not already embedded into the text, or added as an image. As I explained this timeline will be followed by others that look at the years 1914 to 1917. I’ve planned standalone posts for his 1916 arrest and the missing half year. See you all in April!