If the young Rodolfo Guglielmi’s adventures in Paris are bare bones, his time in Monte Carlo, the same year, isn’t even that. We know why he went, that he went, and, that it was a disaster. So I make it my task to follow-up, Paris, City of Light, my post about the place which lit his way to his glittering future, that took yet also gave, with a look at the Second Act, in Southern France. Can we add to it without concocting? Let’s see!
Rudy’s spell in the French capital had been an experience in every sense of the word. And though we’re not certain of the exact dates, or even of the year (late 1912? or early 1913?), we’re sure it was particularly memorable. It was also, it goes without saying, formative. Much seen. Much learned. Those sights and the lessons sinking into his very being and altering him fundamentally. It was clearly his Mother’s native France and not his Father’s native Italy which presented life’s possibilities.
Though it doesn’t delve at all into what those obvious possibilities were, Norman A. McKenzie’s mid.-Seventies biography, The Magic of Rudolph Valentino (1974), the first book about Valentino I ever read, does provide us with a series of lines which nicely encapsulate his journey from the North of the country to the South; as well as the reason for it. As follows:
“To celebrate the winning of his diploma, he spent a lavish three months’ holiday in France. In Paris his good manners and handsome appearance–and to his friends his even handsomer purse–made him a popular figure at all of the night-clubs and big restaurants. When the purse finally emptied, however, all the gracious messieurs and fair mademoiselles quickly melted away, leaving him stranded and penniless. A desperate letter sent home brought money enough to get him out of his predicament; but dissatisfied with the smallness of the amount, he rushed off to Monte Carlo to enlarge it at the gaming tables. Here he lost it all and had to borrow enough to take him home.”
So, after finding himself stranded and penniless in Paris, and sending a “desperate letter” to his widowed Mother, who replied with an unsatisfactory sum of money, “he rushed off to Monte Carlo” to increase that small amount at the famed Casino. McKenzie then ends his compressed account, by telling us that the teenage rash Rudy lost it all, and was forced to lend the fare back to Taranto, Italy.
That this was all we really knew, wasn’t, as is usually the case with me, enough. And so I looked everywhere with characteristic intensity for something, anything, that would give this least known of his escapades more shape. Little did I know, when I commenced my search, that I would find an excellent contemporary novel; which would not only give me a sense of his shift South, but also reveal what he saw, and even felt, at those treacherous “tables”. However, before we look in detail at that book, we must familiarise ourselves with Monte Carlo itself in late 1912/early 1913.
We can appreciate the atmosphere of Monte Carlo at the time Rodolfo Guglielmi visited thanks to a piece in the March 1913 issue of La Vie Heureuse. (The Happy Life.) In the article, on Page 24, which is entitled Monte Carlo-La Ville Lumiere, we see from the lengthy sub-heading alone, that the district of Monaco was a place where residents and visitors alike could enjoy themselves. On the terraces or indulging in pigeon shooting in the morning; at indoor and outdoor concerts in the afternoon; and at the theatre in the evening. Monte Carlo was without question: “the Winter Capital of Global Pleasures.”
The full page almost cinematic report opens at midday, under a “limpid deep blue sky”. In “dusty light” we see before us the Casino terrace: “… bordered by powerful tropical vegetation, giant cacti, prickly pears, large flora…” the palm trees throwing: “… a narrow blue velvet carpet [of shade] on the shining gold of the fine sand…” The scene populated, we read, with persons engaging in: “… the traditional walk before lunch.” A “joyful crowd” representing “all the races of the [W]orld”. Who aren’t, we learn, a quiet congregation. Rather, they emanate joie de vivre!
And everywhere pretty women. “… the prettiest and most elegant…” Showing off their couture dresses. Wearing hats “topped with proud egrets”. Carrying aloft umbrellas. So slim, so willowy, as they shift from from one end of the terrace to the other, that they resemble: “…large living stems.”
Out at sea in the waters beyond these human flowers moving about on dry land “are anchored sumptuous yachts”. Luxurious “floating palaces” that the Reporter likens to: “… large swans on a pond.” And: “On the quays, in a feverish agitation, the preparations for the next meeting of hydroaeroplanes and motor boats continue.” Every now and then can be heard the sound of gun fire, crackling detonations, that signal the shooting of pigeons some distance away. It’s all just a: “… pretty mundane morning in Monte Carlo.”
By five in the afternoon, we’re informed, the sun begins to sink. And the rock of Monaco is then enveloped in a “blaze of fire”. “… under a purple sky the windows of the villas [at Cap Martin] shine like molten gold…” “… the tender sweet hour of twilight is also tea time.” And the crowd are drawn to the Concert Ganne. Where, in a red and gold room, lit by strong chandelier light, an orchestra creates “voluptuous music”. We’re presented with a snapshot of the type gathered at the small tables. Flowery females bite into petit fours — and also into reputations. The “exquisite music” is in competition with the chatter. Amidst the tea and cakes postcards are written. And then the audience begins to depart, in beautiful coats and capes. Their autos transporting them swiftly to their respective residences; where they will dress for and enjoy dinner, before returning to Monte Carlo to go to the theatre. Once seated becoming as much a part of the “dazzling fairy tale” as the those on the stage.
The report about Monte Carlo at the start of 1913, probably from late January/early February, ends with a wonderful description of the resort at night. The sea reflecting the light of the “huge round moon”. The stars above shining sharply. The “illuminated yachts” gleaming with a “thousand electric lamps”. The Opera orchestra playing some final bars before the intermission. The empty terrace beginning to fill up with beautifully dressed people. For the Writer this special place is: “… the centre of the joy of the [W]orld.” A place: “… where nature and art join their efforts…” Monte-Carlo is a Winter Paradise. A Western destination that manages to be Oriental. Colourful. Fragrant. Harmonious. The song of the sea dying on the rocks such a sweet one that the dream is to never leave!
Of course before he could leave, his tail very much between his legs, Rodolfo Guglielmi had to arrive. And before he could do that, he had to depart from his place of origin, Paris, and travel to Monte Carlo. Which is why the contemporary novel I discovered, some years ago, is so useful, as it describes the journey from one to the other in some detail. And not only that as you’ll see!
The book in question, titled, of all things, Monte Carlo, was written by a woman named Margaret Stacpoole, and published in 1913, by Hutchinson & Co., London. At the back of the novel, after the tale ends, on Page 336, we see in the middle of a series of advertisements for Hutchinson & Co.’s Six Shilling books, a sketchy biography. From it, we learn that her Husband was the “well-known Author, H. de Vere Stacpoole; that she was gifted with a: “… critical faculty, and also with a sense of humour…”; and that Monte Carlo was her debut novel. The Publisher’s description goes as follows:
“It is a criticism of modern society as it exists to-day. A fascinating story, and that rarest thing in fiction, a witty novel written by a witty woman.”
That Monte Carlo is so much more than a witty book by a witty woman, and that I recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone with even the slightest interest in female writers of the early Twentieth Century, is neither here nor there. Naturally we’re focused on its relevance to the experiences of our Spendthrift Adventurer in France. And that’s where this fat publication with rather largish text for the times delivers. All that said, I should briefly explain that it’s the tale of a successful young Debut Novelist, named Julia Revell, who, with her unsuccessful young Artist Husband, Jack Revell, determines to travel by train to Southern France, presumably at the beginning of 1912, to both refresh themselves, and, escape a chilly, lacklustre city. And who encounter, while en route, while there, and across the border on the Italian Riviera: theatrical friends of Jack’s, a Spy, the Duchess of Kent, and an apparent Lesbian. On Page 83 we’re even treated to the very brief appearance of a “cinematographic company” passing by in a vehicle labelled “Pathe”. In essence the young couple are tested by circumstance and reach a happy ending after many trials and tribulations. Had they encountered it at their zenith you wonder what the Merchant Ivory team might’ve been able to make of the story. I, myself, can easily picture Helena Bonham Carter as the Heroine.
The most useful chapters of Stacpoole’s Monte Carlo, as far as we’re concerned, are chapters 1, 2, 3, 4 and 9. (There are in total 24.) Chapter One, South!, is immediately about the departure of Mr. and Mrs. Revell. Neither are sorry to leave the foggy city or their dingy accommodation. Both are looking forward to: “… Monte Carlo and the sun and the palm-trees and the Casino, and the croupiers and the sapphire blue sea.” The money funding the trip, is the initial royalty payment (of £500) for Julia’s successful first book, titled: The Apple.
On Page Six, they arrive at Gare de Lyon, the same station Rodolfo would’ve departed from. And the construction is described thus:
“… the place was filled with passengers and luggage; passengers for India and the East, Algiers and the South, Monte Carlo and the Cote d’Azure. They had bought their tickets at Cook’s, and a Cooks’ man piloted them to the great express, sombre and magnificent, drawn up and waiting for a flight that would not cease till it touched tomorrow’s sunset on the far-off Italian coast.”
Regardless of the time of day, the very real Rudolph Valentino would have been subjected to a similar scene, to that of the very fictional Revells. Passengers and luggage. Luggage and passengers. All of them heading in a southerly direction — if, that is, they weren’t arriving. Did he also perhaps buy his ticket from Cook’s? We do know, that in 1914, due to his many moves there, he used Cook’s office in New York as an address at which to receive his mail. A service for which he would have to have paid a small fee. Cook’s was a useful and omnipresent company.
On the platform about to board their carriage Jack Revell encounters some key characters: “… the Theatre Italien.” One of whom, a lady named Marie Minton, otherwise known as Fatou Gaye, an Actress who reeks of opoponax, will cause him some difficulty later. Naturally, this encounter makes me think about who Rudy might’ve shared a compartment with on his journey South, to Monte Carlo. Was there a similar female? A woman dressed in a five thousand franc sable coat, with “a Paris pearl as big as a gum boil on the ring finger of her left hand…” and displaying: “… real diamonds.” (Page 9.)
At the start of Chapter Two, The Land of Colour, they arrive, as Rodolfo did, at the first stop after Paris, La Roche. In this instance it’s night (as it may well have been in Rudy’s case). The engine fizzes. And a man hammers the wheels with a clank. The Heroine, Julia, dozes. And the next stop is Dijon. Here she has: “… a vision of an empty station with the gas lamps half on…” (Page 13.) Soon we read the following:
“She awoke to find herself in a new world. They were away down by the Rhone, Northern Europe had been swept behind them by speed, the land of the cactus and the land of colour lay beneath the pale and patient dawn.
“The few houses to be seen were flat-topped and coloured, the mark of the sun was upon the land.”
The length of the journey, approaching 24 hours, would’ve meant Rodolfo Guglielmi witnessing similar activity in the early morning outside of his own compartment, or in the aisle, as seen by the novel’s Heroine, Julia Revell. “… the corridor outside thronged with people passing up and down…” The train is en route and moving along in such a way as to make it difficult to get to and from the “breakfast-car”. To which the young Mrs. Revell ventures for a cup of hot tea.
The train stops in Marseille (where they buy oranges) and proceeds to Toulon. By which time it’s Luncheon and their fellow travellers decide that the only thing to do is drink champagne. The consumption of which, by Mr. Revell, anyhow, leads to his Wife returning to their compartment alone.
Chapter Three, third of the five helpful chapters, gives us a clear idea of what Rudy saw, as he began to approach Monte Carlo. As we see:
“… so the Rapide was bearing its crowd to their destination. Nice, burning in the afternoon sun, Beaulieu, Ville-franche, the blue sea, castellated Monaco, passed Julia’s eyes in succession. La Condamine:
Easy indeed it is to imagine his excitement, as the varied stops were, one by one, left behind and he moved ever closer to his goal. Closer to redeeming himself by winning a small fortune at the famous gaming tables. And closer to being able to return to Italy with his head held high. If we assume he arrived at about the same time as the book’s characters – mid.-to-late afternoon – we can say with some certainty he enjoyed similar sensations. Perhaps stepping like them: “… into a blaze of sunshine.” And feeling as Julia does that he had been embraced and kissed on the cheek by: “… the great golden god of the day…”
We now skip forward to the start of Chapter Four of Monte Carlo, where, having reorganized their accommodation, Mr. and Mrs. Revell venture to the Casino. And I think it’s worth repeating the opening of the chapter, so beautifully does the Author, Margaret Stacpoole, sum up exactly what the location was all about, at least in her view.
“MONTE CARLO is only an extension of Paris by way of Enghien, an extension of London, St. Petersburg, Berlin and New York by way of Paris–that is to say, an extension of their worst and most brilliant parts. Vice really magnificently done: that is Monte Carlo.
“There is something almost pleasant in the honesty of this place, and after the first blush something almost horrible.”
The Revells, the young married couple at the heart of the story, have enjoyed an after dinner coffee at the Cafe de Paris, and are now moving on to the Casino. Once there, they acquire permits and enter the gaming rooms; which is where we get Julia Revell’s reaction to the sight she sees. As follows:
“It was the first time Julia had ever seen gambling on a big scale; and the sight of the vast room, the great tables, and the solemn crowds impressed her with an eerie sensation hard to define or explain in origin.”
“She felt that all these people were more or less engaged on a bad business, engaged in what is recognized by society as a vice, and it was the commercial coldness and businesslike atmosphere of the place that gave her a thrill.”
We can be fairly sure that Rodolfo Guglielmi, as he then was, had never seen gambling on such a scale either. It’s possible he’d ventured into hotels in Genoa where there were modest gaming tables. Just as he may’ve seen big establishments in Paris where there was gambling. Yet, as we see in the contemporary postcards added here, showing the interior of the Casino, this was a vast, cavernous space. And, in fact, was a series of large rooms rather than just one huge one. I think it’s safe to say that he was as awed as she is in the novel. And as captivated:
“Then each table in turn drew her towards it and held her fascinated.
“‘Messieurs, faites vos jieux,’ the whirl of the ball, the snarl of the ‘Rien ne va plus,’ the voice of fate crying: ‘Vingt-quatre, noir, pair et passe,’ the clink of the silver and gold and the rustle of notes changing hands–all these fascinated her ears. The faces and the dress of the women held her eyes.”
At this point in Monte Carlo Julia’s Husband Jack explains to her the “simple beauty of roulette.” How there are 36 numbers in the middle of the table. And how placing a single louis on a number would gain her 35 times her stake, were the the ball to fall into that socket, because of there being 35 chances against the Player. By instead backing one of the three columns in which the numbers were arranged she would get double her money. The other options, he tells her, are backing red or black; odd or even; and manque or passe. With success at manque or passe only getting you the amount you put down.
When asked, Jack Revell informs his Spouse that he learned all about [R]oulette from the book Monte Carlo Intime, and they then proceed to play. Jack gives Julia a five Franc piece, which she places on black, after he tells her that if she wins her winnings will be one hundred and seventy five. However, much to her disappointment, black is not the winning shade. Prompting the response: “‘What a swindle! My beautiful five francs!'”
Her Husband tries his luck and takes a chance on red and wins. Passing back to his Wife the five francs that she lost. He then plays three further times and wins on each occasion. Stopping at this point, he predicts that black will turn up, which, much to his satisfaction it promptly does. In this moment: “… his eyes sparkled with pleasure.”
What, we wonder, was the extent of Rudy’s knowledge of gambling. Did he know anything at all? Had he himself read Monte Carlo Intime? Was he alone or with a friend? Bold as he was, it seems a little unlikely that he would be so bold as to enter the Casino by himself, and then attempt to win a fortune. And without any knowledge at all of what he was doing. Yet perhaps he did. For sure, like the Revells do in Monte Carlo, once inside he watched the progress of others. Watched how people won and lost and won. And it strikes me as probable that, like Jack and Julia, he tried his luck with a small sum at first. Did he have early success and then lose it all? Or did he have no success at all? We’ve no idea. Nothing to go on.
After playing once more and this time losing Jack Revell escorts his young Novelist Wife into the Trente et Quarante room. (See above.) “… where gold is the only play.” It’s here that they re-encounter a man they know named Mr. Carslake, a mysterious yet charming figure, who later on turns out to be a Spy. Before moving on through the text of Monte Carlo, to the next useful and informative chapter, I want to say that I believe Rudolph Valentino, before playing and perhaps winning and then losing, has to’ve seen and appreciated this other, equally impressive space. A place, according to Stacpoole, where the crowd was “much more select”. And where you were: “… much more likely to be robbed of your stakes or your winnings by some enterprising spirit than at the humbler tables.” (Page 32.)
“On entering the rooms for the first time Jack Revell had experienced no other sensation than that of curiosity; the taste for gambling was the last vicious taste that he would have suspected in himself, and he would’ve resented the epithet ‘gambler’ just as he would have resented the appellation ‘drunkard.’ He would still; and yet no gambler ever, perhaps, entered the rooms with a more burning desire for play than he to-day.”
From: Chapter Nine, The Tables, Page 91.
It’s in Chapter Nine that the story takes an interesting turn. A fictional development that closely parallels the actual predicament in which Rodolfo Guglielmi found himself. Jack Revell gambles with his Wife’s money and loses. So I reproduce this part of the novel, to help us to perhaps appreciate what our errant Son went through, emotionally, when he frittered away his widowed Mother’s funds. And also how he may’ve played with that money that wasn’t his to play with.
Having been stood with Mr. Carslake at the table known to Casino regulars as the suicides’ table (where Carslake has enjoyed success), Jack Revell bids his companion goodnight, after having just placed a winning Louis on impair/odd. Determined to play, he once more backs impair, and wins again. The departure of a woman who had been on a winning streak leaves a vacant seat which Revell too eagerly takes.
“He had never taken a seat at the tables before.
“He had five louis in gold in his waistcoat pocket[,] and in the side pocket of his coat he had a pocket-book which contained all the available money they possessed, some four hundred and fifty pounds. It was Julia’s money, and to carry such a sum on one’s person was not wisdom. But in France, where [there are no] cheques and where all payments are made in coin or notes, people take risks that they would not take in England.
“He had been staking single louis up to this, and winning.
“He doubled his stakes and won again.
“To increase the stakes when one is winning and to increase them when one is losing is a human instinct and one of the main promptings of the gambler.
. . . .
“In five minutes Jack had lost every single gold coin in his possession and came up against the fact with a ‘stunt.’
“Hip lips in a second became dry as pumice stone and he moistened them.
“He had not lost much, as losing goes, but the bank had given him a blow, almost as painful as a physical blow in the face. He sat for a moment, telling himself inwardly that he had been a fool. If he had only not doubled his stakes he would have had enough to tide him over the bad streak. There was nothing to be done but take a lesson for the future and get back what he had lost. He put his hand into his pocket, produced his pocket-book, and changed a five hundred franc note.
“Then with great caution he began to play again.”
From pages 92 to 94.
So far in this section Jack Revell hasn’t lost big — but he has lost. Instead of accepting this and, so-to-speak, cutting his losses and quitting while he’s behind, he plunges back in to playing with Julia Revell’s funds. Money she has entrusted to him for safe keeping. Cash she’s generously sharing with her less successful Spouse.
Jack backs manque against passe (the numbers 1-18 rather than 19-36). And he wins again and again. Moving to passe from time to time. However, he hadn’t learned the lesson from earlier, not to double and quadruple his stake. Consequently, in under 90 minutes, he’s forced to change two further bank notes.
“It was not ‘play’ now. His condition was that of the man who has fallen over a precipice, is clinging to some projection quarter way down; not vitally hurt, but with death already tickling at the soles of his feet.
“Now he would scramble up a few louis, then he would slither down. He could not stop. The imperative desire to regain his position held him at work; once, bravely risking fate, he won fifty louis at a spin of the wheel. Ah! the turn had come at last; now was the moment to press the victory home. He had been backing manque against passe; this was the first time manque had turned up during the last five spins of the ball. He would hit hard now and escape from his position, scale the heights to safety with two or three violent efforts. He left his stake on the table and added twice the amount, still backing manque.
“He stood to win a hundred and fifty louis or lose the like amount. If you had told him yesterday, or even this morning, that he would ever stake such a sum at the tables, he would have laughed you to scorn. ‘Impossible,’ he would have said. ‘I don’t drink and I’m reckoned sane, and I would either be drunk or inane to do such a thing.’ Well, there he was doing it, and not only doing it, but urged to do it by a vital driving force, which was not the spirit of gambling, but the spirit of self-protection which urges a man to make superhuman efforts to escape from danger.”
From pages 95 to 96.
Of course this isn’t Rodolfo playing Roulette. And the teenage Rodolfo wasn’t yet married, or even attached, to a significant female, as far as we know. Yet it very much places us where he was in real terms, at that table in the Casino, as a desperate man gambling with a woman’s money. It allows us to picture him, and to understand what he went through, regardless of the length of play. (Probably somewhat shorter unless he had a serious run of luck.) Yes, his own funds were significantly less, but the only true difference is that Rudy planned from the start to attempt to win big, while Jack, the central male character, is drawn to playing and is forced to risk all he has. Both the actual and the invented men are united in defeat. And this is also very useful when we come to think about the effect on the young Italian of his absolute failure to rake in his much hoped for small fortune.
Jack remains at the table deep in thought while it makes itself up. He can’t return to Julia and reveal he’s gambled away half her earnings. And so he resolves to continue playing in order to return triumphant. The table making up, is explained by the Author as the process of settling all of the payments, which was a very lengthy affair between spins. And, as a side note, she advises “the amateur gambler” to frequent smaller casinos, for example at San Remo or Bordighera, where the tables aren’t so large, and play is consequently “much brisker”. (With punishment or reward, as Margaret Stacpoole points out, being received far quicker, they might’ve been better locations for Rudy.)
“The croupier spun the ball and Jack Revell prayed to manque as he never prayed to God.
“‘Rien ne vu plus.’
“The ball continued rolling for a few seconds, hesitated, and fell into its fate appointed socket with a click.
“‘Trente, rouge, pair et passe,’ came the loud Belgian voice.
“Jack had lost.”
From pages 96 to 97.
Despite losing Jack Revell continues to play and continues to lose with the small stakes that he places. And it’s this final run of bad luck that awakens him to his position. Bringing him to his senses: “… like a douche of cold water.” He stands up, leaves the table and crosses the room to the exit. And here we get a sense of his inner turmoil:
“Outside in the great atrium he examined his resources. He had lost three hundred and twenty-five pounds, and all in the space of two hours or a little over. And the money was Julia’s. He had spent her hard earnings on what? On buying two hours of the most acute mental suffering he had ever experienced. He understood now what people meant by the term ‘gambling hell.’ It was Hell. The old Anglo-Saxon word of four letters summed up everything, and the extraordinary thing was he had fallen into this pit marked ‘Dangerous’ with his eyes open and against his own volition.”
. . . .
“He crossed over to the Cafe de Paris and ordered some whisky, which he drank, almost unconscious of what he was doing. Then he sat smoking cigarettes and listening to the chatter of the people round about which mixed with the music of the red-coated band.
“One might have fancied him plunged pretty deeply into the gulf of despondency. Yet he was not. The disaster was great, yet it seemed a thing past and dome with, leaving him numbed and incapable of much feeling, but not suffering acutely.
“We never rise to the height of our disasters for more than a few minutes.”
From Page 98.
And this seems like an appropriate point at which to leave Margaret Stacpoole’s brilliant debut 1913 novel Monte Carlo. Her character, Jack Revell, seated at the Cafe de Paris in the early hours, more than a little numbed, puffing on cigarettes, and enveloped in an audio soup of chattering people and tunes. Defeated. Yet not despondent. And having only risen to the height of the self-inflicted disaster for a few minutes. How did Rodolfo Guglielmi behave after also losing at that same table? I imagine he was numbed too. Ahead of him was the long journey home. In my opinion, via Genoa, where he no doubt stopped briefly, collected himself, and borrowed the fare to get to Taranto from a former classmate at the Agricultural School. Like Jack Rudy had some explaining to do to the person that had given him the money. And how that all went we’ll never know. Yet we do know, at the end of 1913, after much scandalous idling in his neighbourhood, that he was sent packing to the USA, to disgrace himself at a greater distance. Such was the eventual scandal there that he was forced to abandon the East Coast for the West Coast. A final roll of the dice that would pay off a couple of years later, after a name change, and a made-to-measure role, in one of the greatest spectacles of the Silent Era.
I want to thank you for reading this latest post all the way through. It’s been a long time in the making, yet was, I must say, one of the most enjoyable to write. The discovery several years ago of Margaret Stacpoole’s forgotten novel, Monte Carlo, was another one of those lucky finds that I sometimes happen upon in my relentless search for content and context. Nothing else I’ve seen puts you right there in pre W. W. 1 Monte Carlo the way this book does. And I recommend it highly once more.