We read much about the early Movie Colony friends of Rudolph Valentino. Those who knew him and helped him, before he rocketed to Stardom, in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), 100 years ago. And we know of those who attached themselves to him, and claimed even to have discovered him, after fame, and, after his untimely death. (These persons are too numerous to list here.) One individual we almost never hear of, is the Actress Ruth Roland; who, on a trip to the United Kingdom, in the early Thirties, spoke candidly to an Interviewer about how close they were. This post is titled simply: Valentino Was My Friend.
Valentino Was My Friend
by RUTH ROLAND
The world-famous star of silent
days who has recently been
Rudolph Valentino, one of the most romantic figures in the history of the screen, died on August 23rd, 1926, yet his memory is still treasured by thousands. In this exclusive article one of his few really close friends relates some hitherto untold stories of his life.
“WHENEVER I think of my friend Rudolph Valentino, I think of a charming, courteous, sincere gentleman, who never forgot a friend. A man who could, and did, ‘meet triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters both the same.’
“I think of the first time I ever met him and we danced our first dance together, back in the days when films were silent and he was Signor Guglielmi.
“I think of the weeping crowds at his funeral. And then I think of what is left of him, lying in the Forest Hills Cemetery.
“I was just beginning to be a somebody in those days when I met Rudolph first. I was working in ‘Who Pays,’ and our mutual love of dancing drew us together. We found our steps suited, as we became frequent partners and won contests together, too.
“He was new in Hollywood. He ‘extra’d’ and played small parts, but there were many days in the week when he was ‘resting.’ His remarkable good looks, his poise, not to mention his grace of movement, always attracted attention. He probably had his entire wardrobe on his back, but he looked [like] a [P]rince. His clothes were always well-pressed, his linen and shoes irreproachable, his hair sleek and shining, and his beautiful hands well kept.
“He used to come home, where my aunt, who keeps house for me, adopted him as her special pet. He had a standing invitation with us, for times were lean then, and he could at least be sure of a good meal any time he wanted one.
“Usually we would go home to eat, and then Rudolph’s melting brown eyes would glow with pleasure at the prospect of the evening dancing contests. We were in the finals at The Vernon Country Club against Wally Reid and his [W]ife Dorothy Davenport, and Rudy and I won the silver cup. I have it still, with several others.
“I remember one dancing contest in the finals of which only Ben and I and Rudolph and Pola Negri remained. It was a fancy dress dance. Rudolph and Pola were in Spanish costume, and made a strikingly handsome pair. I wore an original costume, representing a circus, and gained first prize for it.
“Rudolph used to like me to croon softly to him while we danced. In the early days his favourite song was ‘Tell me why I adore the things you do. Tell me why I can’t get enough of you. Tell me why you are wonderful to me,’ and so on. He loved music.
“I’ll always remember the way I had to turn Rudolph out of my car after we’d been out for an evening. He, like the perfect gentleman he always was, wanted to see me right home. But he lived down town, somewhere off 7th Street, and my home was a long way from there near Laurel Canyon. I knew he could not afford the taxi back again, and it was too far to walk when he had to be on location early the next morning.
“Rudolph always confided his hopes and ambitions to me, and we talked over his career step by step. Two things I told him that he never forgot. They were: ‘Be sincere and always work hard,’ and ‘never neglect your fans.’
“I remember the thrill of Rudolph’s epoch-making tango in ‘The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,’ and how sad it was that the Spanish Society girl who danced with him never lived to see herself on the screen.
“I remember when Rudolph and Natacha met, through Madame Nazimova, at whose home Natacha was staying at that time. She was an unusual looking girl, very attractive, with her dark colouring and air of mysterious allure.
“Rudolph liked ‘The Eagle’ least of any of his films, he said. ‘The Sheik,’ however, was one of his greatest, if not his greatest personal favourite. Had he lived he would have done even finer work.
“The last memory I have of Rudy was at a party. It was a party given by Bebe Daniels at her house on Los Felis [sic] Boulevard, and, for a wonder, I went alone. Rudolph was there, and he, too, was by himself. We neither of us felt like eating, so we went for a stroll in the garden.
“It was a perfect moonlit night, and I will never forget the way we two, who had not had such an opportunity for ages, talked and talked of the old days and the very beginning of our friendship. Rudolph said some lovely things to me that night. One of them was that, though he was so much courted and fussed over and flattered, he could count his real friends on the fingers of one hand, and ‘You, Ruth,’ he said, ‘are one of them.’
“He said, ‘No one really fools me. I know exactly how much this one or that one’s fine sayings are really worth.’ Bebe’s [G]randmother came out and said ‘What in the world are you two talking about out there?’ But we went on and talked for over three hours. I never saw Rudolph alive again.
“Much has been written about the spiritualist seances at which Rudolph is supposed to have spoken, and their genuineness has often been dismissed.
“I am able to describe accurately a seance which I attended in New York some years after his death.
Did Valentino’s Spirit Speak?
“A well-known [M]edium proposed getting the sprit of Valentino to reply to three questions put by me. I may mention that this particular [M]edium held a very high reputation, and people who were world-famous believed implicitly in his powers.
The [M]edium went through the usual spasms before going into a trance. As usual there was a ‘[C]ontrol,’ the voice of an Indian guide, who spoke in broken English at first and forgot about it later.
“At length the supposed spirit of Valentino’s mother spoke to me. She spoke in English, which was odd, for in life the mother of Rudolph could not speak one word of our language.
“The the spirit voice of Rudolph himself came through and announced itself ready to reply to my three questions.
“My first one was, ‘What was the special name you used to always call a relative of mine at my house?’ The relative was, of course, my aunt, and his name for her had always been ‘Tanta.’ (Aunt.) It was soon obvious that the spirit did not know, though the last time we talked Rudolph had sent a message to ‘Tanta’.
“However, we went on to the second question, which was, ‘Where did we last meet on earth, and what happened then?’ I feel sure that, had my friend really been there, he could not have forgotten that almost prophetic conversation, but the ‘spirit’ was entirely flummoxed, and tried everything it knew to get me to reply to my own question.
“At last I was asked to put the third question, but I said, ‘That won’t be necessary, thanks,’ and left the seance. That was no more the spirit of Rudolph Valentino than I am Primo Carnera. (A Boxer.)
“Those who remember Rudolph Valentino need no seances to conjure up a spirit for them. I have many souvenirs of him: portraits with various inscriptions on them. ‘R. to R.’ was his favourite dedicatory effort to me.
A Grand Fellow
“He was a grand fellow, every inch of his 5ft. 10 in.; a good mixer always. He was not a saint nor an ascetic. He drank very little, and, like most Italians, he preferred wine. He was neither vain nor conceited. He dressed well because he took pride in his appearance.
“He went in for athletics, riding, etc., in a big way, and was anything but a ‘Sheik,’ a ‘Great Lover,’ or a woman chaser in real life.
“The last time they moved Rudolph’s remains, to make room for June Mathis, I asked his [B]rother to allow me to place my mausoleum at his disposal, for there would always have been room for us with Rudolph.”
Thank you for taking the time to read through this reproduction of Ruth Roland’s tribute to her Good Friend Rudy. The interview was published in FILM WEEKLY, on August the 25th, 1933, and clearly timed to coincide with the seventh anniversary of his tragic passing. I think that, despite the odd discrepancy, here and there, her recollections are solid, and align with those of the others who genuinely knew the pre-fame Valentino. And you can feel her sadness looking back. Feel her loss. And feel her empathy for those who who felt his loss too — particularly on the other side of The Atlantic.