Monte Carlo

A saucy postcard from 1912.

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.”

Page 19.

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.

The future Rudolph Valentino in a probable graduation image in Autumn 1912.

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.”

An image of hydroaeroplanes at Monte Carlo. Did Rudy see them?

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.

A surprising ad. in La Vie Heureuse for Renault, featuring a female driver, and a Doberman Pinscher passenger.

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.

Gare de Lyon in the early 1900s.

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.)

A very formal portrait of Rodolfo Guglielmi perhaps taken around the time of his 18th Birthday.

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.

Marseille circa 1910.

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:

Monte Carlo!”

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.”

Page 29.

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.”

Page 29.

“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.”

Page 30.

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.

The Cafe de Paris is to the left in this circa 1910 Monte Carlo postcard.

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.

Paris, City of Light

A Paris postcard from Spring 1912. Note the Bi-plane (some of which circled the Eiffel Tower).

It’s taken me quite some time to write about Rudolph Valentino’s pre World-War-One stay in Paris. Why? Well, there were just other more pressing topics, I suppose. Not that this point in his life isn’t one which requires proper examination — it does. So, without further delay, here’s my look at what was an extremely formative experience, for the man then known as Rodolfo Guglielmi. A post that I title: Paris, City of Light.

Rudolph Valentino’s Mother.

For an individual that was half French, on his Mother’s side, the capital of France was an understandably attractive destination. Though born in Italy (in Castellaneta, in Puglia), he had, thanks to Marie Berthe Gabrielle Barbin, his Mother, a dual identity from birth. There’s little doubt that her lullabies were in her native tongue. And that she spoke to him in French as much as in Italian — as she probably had with her earliest offspring, the sadly short-lived, Bice; and, Rodolfo’s older Brother, Alberto. Any French-speaking between the siblings – Alberto, Rodolfo, and their younger sister, Maria – was naturally reinforced by chit-chat with Mrs. Guglielmi. And between her and their maternal Aunt Mrs. Galeone. Despite not being a Teacher it’s likely she taught them to both read and write French too.

Bedtime stories, we know, were told to the already dreamy and escapist little Rodolfo. And we can easily imagine his questions prompting them. Tales of daily life back in France and of relatives there; of his late, maternal French Grandfather, Pierre Philibert Barbin, who’d constructed the local railway line and the impressive railway bridge; of French kings and queens and heroes and heroines; and of the awful Franco-Prussian conflict, of 1870-1871, when Donna Gabriella had endured the Siege of Paris and The Commune. Though the Guglielmi children were firmly rooted in Italy, and were Italians submerged in local bounty, it’s hard to imagine them not enjoying French cooking. And while their devout Maman may’ve been seated in, and prayed and confessed at, a Castellanetan church, we assume she continued to observe French saints’ days. Due to all of this and more, while it very much existed in his head, his mind’s eye, from quite early, the so-called City of Light was a place he could almost smell and touch. A metropolis he seemed to know without having actually known it. And, that from far away, seductively outstretched her arms to him.

Valentino’s former college in 2015.

If France and its capital, Paris, had called him all his life from a distance, when he found himself enrolled at the Marsano School of Practical Agriculture, at Sant’Ilario Ligure/Saint Hillary Liguria, late in 1910, that call became very hard to resist. The location of the college, high above the resort of Nervi, and not too distant from sophisticated, cosmopolitan Genoa, was one which brought him closer than ever before to the French border. Consequently, a day trip in his uniform to picturesque Nervi, would’ve exposed to him to glamorous international visitors — Nervi having been, for well over a decade, a retreat and a place of recuperation, for nobles and notables. As far back as 1898, the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess of Baden had visited their Daughter, the Crown Princess of Sweden and Norway. In 1900, the Ranee of Sarawak, Lady Brooke, stayed for a period. In 1905, Mr. Hay, the U. S. Secretary of State, had been resident in order to rest and improve his health. And just a few years before, the great Eleanora Duse, a fellow Italian, had recovered from a serious chest infection there. Perhaps, just as important for the romantically-inclined teenager, it was a very popular destination for honeymooners.

According to the Biographer, Emily W. Leider, in her biography, Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino (2003), Rodolfo sought the embrace of Paris in 1912. But did he? It’s a question we ask because there’s evidence to suggest otherwise.

In her Doctor of Philosophy Dissertation, Rudolph Valentino: The Early Years, 1895-1920, published in 2009, Jeanine T. Villalobos states:

“… by Spring 1912 he was still unemployed and without direction. And so, Valentino would remember in his autobiography, he ignored his ‘family’s entreaties’, and ‘pocketed what little money [he] had and dashed away to Paris to see what might be seen.’ His claim that he went against his family’s wishes is contradicted by Alberto’s account, who would remember that the trip had actually been a gift from [Gabriella] for Rodolfo’s fine performance at San’Illario.” [Sic.]

However, the existence of a communication with old friend, Bruno Pozzan, from July 1912, reveals he planned to holiday in Milan that Summer; before returning to Sant’Ilario Ligure/Saint Hillary Liguria, to sit his final exams. Surviving records, preserved at what’s still, today, a centre for agricultural learning, and which I had the good fortune to see, prove beyond doubt that he graduated at the very end of October that year, and not before. (Please see above.) In my opinion it’s inconceivable his Mother would reward Rodolfo for doing well before graduation. Or, sanction his expedition, at the all-too-tender age of 17. Also, the six or so weeks between the end of October and the start of Christmas, isn’t the stay of several months that we’re informed of by Villalobos, in her Doctor of Philosophy Dissertation. Begging the further question: impulsive though he certainly was, would he have dared to skip the Festive Season? We might wonder, too, if he would travel to Paris at a time of year virtually guaranteed to be chilly, and more than a bit depressing. With dark mornings and even darker evenings.

While he doesn’t supply a definite month, or year, in the third edition of his book of recollections, Valentino As I Knew Him (1927), S. George Ullman highlights his accomplishments at the Marsano School of Practical Agriculture, as being the main motivation for his trip. And, how his conquest of “that metropolis” was a sweet one, so long as he had sufficient funds. As we see:

“… success seemed to go to his head, for nothing would now do but that he must go to Paris to conquer that metropolis. At first, since he had some money, he was quiet successful, for youth and manly good looks he found to be at a premium.

“As soon, however, as his money was gone, he found things vastly different and, in a panic, he sent home for more funds.”

From pages 23 and 24.

We can’t totally rule out the closing weeks of 1912 and shouldn’t. Yet the fact that, according to the family, there are no postcards, letters or photography, to firmly fix the sojourn in the twelve month period of 1912, does open up the possibility it was early 1913 that he travelled to the capital. (A present that Christmas?) And this supposition is given weight by Robert Florey, who, in his talks with his friend Rudolph Valentino, in 1923, for a proposed biography, was told by him he was “hardly eighteen years old”, and he was relating occurrences “ten years later”. Neither of which suggests 1912, as Rudy was eighteen in the May of 1913, and 1923, is a decade removed, exactly, from 1913.

Couples dancing le Tango at Magic City. A popular, sprawling attraction, not too far from the Eiffel Tower.

Whenever he experienced it, either in the Winter of 1912, or, the Spring of 1913, Paris was at her zenith. “… expressing herself in whatever task, high or low, she may undertake.” (As it was put in The Genius of Paris, in The Times newspaper, on Thursday May the 8th, 1913.) This being the year of Igor Stravinsky‘s Rite of Spring, Apollinaire’s Alcools, Synthetic Cubism, Marcel Proust‘s Swann’s Way, and Alain-Fourniers Le Grand Meaulnes. To employ a well-worn and overused phrase, it was: the place to be. And the teenage Rudy was right there in the middle of it.

Of course what was to prove to be significant later, was to sweep away, forever, the old, wasn’t really the focus of Rodolfo Guglielmi. His focus, was that she was “the city of pleasure”; and this he sought at this time far more than he sought “the city of thought”. And yet, if we turn to the Paris that’s described in Cecily Mackworth’s, Guillaume Apollinaire and the Cubist Life (1961), we find ourselves presented with somewhere where pleasure and thought combine. Which assists us in seeing the City of Light as Rodolfo Guglielmi saw it. Beyond the stones that spoke. And the history – centuries of it – at every turn. (Much of which would’ve been apparent to our story and history-loving young Adventurer.)

The Poet Guillaume Apollinaire drawn by Pablo Picasso at the start of WW1.

Mackworth’s careful, forgotten biography of the Poet Apollinaire, frames the city as if it were a painted scene. And, crucially, gives us a central character who walks its streets, and mixes with its populace. In fact, a fellow Italian (at least by birth, having been born in Rome, in 1880); of parents of differing nationalities; that was multi-lingual; blessed with: “… inexhaustible physical and mental energy…”; loved to cook; was a lover of innovation but also a traditionalist, and wasn’t exactly great at handling money, according to friend Rene Nicosia. (Nicosia thought his associate unbalanced.) In Chapter Two, the Author quotes her Subject as having said the following: “What can I do to be happy like an innocent child?”

Alcools, the title of Guillaume’s important and ground-breaking anthology, translates as alcohols plural, and is representative of a desire to experience life instantly, in a single gulp, rather than in an orderly way; which really couldn’t be more appropriate, when considering Rodolfo’s own desire to grab life with both hands. The essence of Apollinairean Aesthetics, Simultaneity, is at the core of this Child of Southern Italy’s experience of France’s foremost city. A city which gave and gave, yet, also, took and took. Simultaneously, he enjoys the all too visible and resonant past, as well as the vital, throbbing present. Gadgets of the day. Transportation. The fashions. And personalities.

And personalities that the Poet Apollinaire knew. Marinetti, Picasso, Ricciotto Canudo, Max Jacob, Modigliani, Paul Leautaud, Sar Peladan, Stanislas de Guita, Robert and Sonia Delauney, Vlaminck, Andre Derain, Francis Carco, Suzanne Valadon, Utrillo, Jean Cocteau, Pierre Reverdy and many, many others. All of them making the city what it was and what it would become. ((Filippo Tommaso) Marinetti, Riccioto Canudo and (Amedeo Clemente) Modigliani being just three Italians who made their home and their reputation in France. Luigi Russolo being another.)

While Rodolfo Guglielmi had to have spent the majority of his time in pleasure-seeking, that pleasure-seeking would’ve exposed him to what’s termed: the Heroic Era of Bohemianism. Montmartre and the increasingly fashionable Left Bank. Montparnasse, with its Cafe du Dome, where rich Germans and Americans congregated, and La Rotonde (Cafe), the Slav rendezvous. (At the time that Valentino was in Paris Pablo Picasso regularly visited Rotonde — as did his enemy, Vlaminck, a Partygiver.)

The work of Picasso circa 1912/1913.

Of course I don’t suggest, for a minute, that Rudolph Valentino, as he was later known, met and chatted with any of those people mentioned above, let alone Pablo Picasso. There’s no evidence he appreciated what’s known as Modern Art, or, subscribed wholesale to modern viewpoints. However, he was in the same city at the same time as these figures, and therefore might’ve seen them; and they, of course, him. And in the forthcoming version of his time in Paris in this post, he does meet with artists, plural; though, what type of artists they were isn’t actually revealed.

The city of pleasure-seeking creators of imagery and thinkers of thoughts was also a city of other interesting individuals. Occultism was extremely trendy/fashionable. Hashish and opium were utilized to reach deep into the unknown. Fortune tellers, sorcerers and Black Art practitioners were on hand. Such as: Madame Salamour, Marguerite and Madame Deroy. Josephin Peladan, or Sar Peladan, could read the future in shadows — a person’s shadow. Previously listed Poet, Max Jacob, tried to see the future with horoscopes. Anyone having looked properly into the life of Valentino, will be aware he semi-seriously dabbled in this area with his future Wife, Natacha Rambova.

The central character who walked the city’s streets in Guillaume Apollinaire and the Cubist Life (1961) is The Flaneur delineated in Maude Annesley’s My Parisian Year (1912). A Parisian male, with no true equivalent elsewhere, one of “hundreds”, who paraded from: “… the Madeleine to the Faubourg Montmartre …. strolling along as if there was no such thing as business in the world.” “… of every class.” “… dramatists, journalists, and writers of all sorts, fonctionnaires, business men, petits rentiers, boursiers, ‘sportsmen,’ artists, retired shopkeepers, actors, vieux militaires…” We can well imagine the wide-eyed, impressionable Rodolfo picking up stylistic tips, from these all too visible and loquacious gentlemen. Who stopped so suddenly, at kiosks and shop windows, that people would collide with them.

Was it in France that Rudy got the shopping bug? It wouldn’t be surprising, if he saw the stores Annesley describes, in some detail, in the same Chapter, VII/Seven. The paste jewellery sellers, for example, one with: “… an eye-torturing invention of turning stands.” The stands turning in different directions and lit: “… by whirling electric lights.” Or: “… the Gramophone shop.” an establishment where you could sit and listen to music on discs through receivers that you placed against your ears. (The Author wasn’t alone in enjoying standing outside and watching the expressions of those hearing: “… operas, ‘pieces,’ songs, singers and so on…”) Any new shop opening, she informs us, was instantly noticed by “The Flaneur”.

It seems likely that Signor Guglielmi found himself, along with flaneurs and others, stopping to look too. A pastime in the metropolis. And and not just at windows. Bill-stickers pasting elevated boarding bills were a “great attraction”. New roads and houses being built attracted crowds. As did streets, where traffic was prevented due to repaving, and a chattering “cheap-jack”/Street Seller might be stationed, surrounded by flaneurs. Paris was, in these times, a place where small and large crowds gathered around performances, or, demonstrations. An old man selling mechanical toys. Perspiring strong men lifting cannon balls or each other on a single hand. Or a blindfolded Clairvoyant describing a person they couldn’t see.

Typical cafe staff in 1912.

According to Maude Annesley flaneurs could be seen: “… from after lunch up to quite late at night. “The busiest time…” being “… the l’heure de l’aperitif–five to seven.” A time, she tells us, when the cafes were at their fullest. The Flaneur seated at a table with his “favourite drink before him”. A “concoction” created by a Sommelier. “… a few drops of this, a spoonful of that, and a dash of the other…” the mixture then having either iced water or “eau de seltz”/fizzy water added to it. In Annesley’s opinion the l’heure aperitif was a charming spectacle. And one that was very much a part of: “… the joie de vivre of the Parisian.”

American Kate Carew’s reporting from the city, in late January 1913, is another angle, on what she, herself, labels: “Childish, playful Paris.” In KATE CAREW CREEPS INTO THE CENTRE OF PARISIAN GAYETY, we enjoy a light-hearted view of France, the French and their Capital. One in which we see the inner workings of French Life. And this is useful when considering the fact Rudy could easily have been accommodated by his Great Uncle Alphonse Barbin. (Though this might’ve somewhat cramped his style.)

Carew’s full page piece bursts with inside information about Parisian Life; a life lived between December and April, when the city wasn’t crawling with tourists. Her stay in La Belle Paris, commences at Gare du Nord train station, with effusive kisses on the cheeks from her hosts. And ends with her observation that the city was: “… a quaint little village …. the playground of a charming, simple folk…” In between she happily endures: “… the season of the Reveillons, of Noel, of St. Sylvestre and la danse et le bridge.” Bridge playing being extremely popular at the time.

Major discovery it was, that to be a single woman amongst married women and men, was to be viewed with suspicion. And so much so that it was necessary, at the dinner table, to talk loudly and never to whisper to the man next to her, so that the other women could hear. Also, that private evening gatherings, even of as many as 30 persons, were often, ‘sans ceremonie’, or without formal attire. And that to wear a fashionable low-cut evening gown was to invite the question: ‘Aren’t you afraid of catching cold?’ Card playing in Paris, was, she discovered, a very different affair to card playing in London. In the French capital it was a noisy and jolly pursuit, with much chatter; whereas, in the British capital, it was a far more sober activity, quieter, and less filled with conversation.

Katie doesn’t inform us which theatre she attended or what the play was about. However, she does explain that performances ended late (usually at about midnight); meaning that getting to bed early, particularly on Christmas Eve., was an impossibility. After much eating and drinking there was dancing. “Round dances and square dances, all very decorous. No ‘turkey trots’ or ‘bunny hugs.'” Such fashionable, up-to-the-minute stepping, considered shameful by Bourgeois Paris.

A Winter visit to Montmartre, on New Year’s Eve. 1912, was likely to be ‘harmless’ and inoffensive, she was informed. Compared with the naughtiness that bubbled up in the Spring and Summer months. Carew very much hits her stride at this point, when she writes about climbing: “…up to the heights of Montmartre…” to commence: “… exploring ‘Hell,’ ‘Heaven’ and ‘Annihilation.'” A place she finds peopled, not with milling non-French, but with natives, weaving their way here and there, amongst: “… the red lights and flames and snakes of Hell and the skulls and coffins…” “… real Montmartre element-apaches and their best girls, honest laborers and their sweethearts…” Next she relates how she enjoyed the “entertainments in the tiny theatres attached” to the cabarets there. And: “… blushed a bit at the vulgarity…”

Perhaps Kate Carew’s most interesting foray, considering Rodolfo Guglielmi’s eventual, future occupation, is her visit to: “… a picture theatre, the largest in Paris.” A place: “… packed from top to bottom with palpitating, eager, childish humanity waiting to be thrilled.” Carew finds that they got what they paid for. As follows:

“And what do you think thrilled them?

“Not scenes of crime or adventure or risky, vulgar scenes.

“There weren’t any of these.

“Just sentiment.

“Mothers united to their little children, brothers and sisters’ sacrifices, erring ones restored to favour, etc.

“The more absurdly sentimental a scene was the more it was appreciated.

“Things which would have made the same class of people in London smile coldly and murmur ‘Slush!’ and cynical Americans mutter ‘Nonsense!’ delighted simple Paris to her very soul.”

It strikes me as almost impossible, that the later Valentino failed to follow in the footsteps of this inquisitive Journalist, in entering “the largest” movie palace in the city. And if not that, then another, smaller, yet no less busy one, nearby; or, in another arrondissement/city district. And if so, received, like Carew, an education. Saw the power of the new medium to delight and move. To elicit “constant ahs! and ohs! of appreciation”. To even cause some viewers to cry.

The version of his time in Paris that I mentioned earlier, is an extract that I found some years ago, from the story of his life, published in Lo Schermo/The Screen, late in 1926, and following his untimely death. It’s a beautifully worded, thought-provoking excerpt, not surprisingly named, A Parigi/In Paris, which was fully re-printed in a publication titled: Intorno a Rodolfo Valentino, Materiali italiani 1923-1933, curated by Sylvio Alovisio and Giulia Carluccio (2009).

The version commences with Rudy recalling the relief he felt, when he escaped the city after overcoming several ups and downs there. And reveals it was stories (“Certain fantastic adventures…”) of the capital that inspired him to go. Accounts of trips that he’d heard during his time in Venice, in 1909, while attempting to win one of the 30 places at the Engineering School of the Royal [Italian] Navy.

Next, we see that his mind was made up, when he encountered a Parisian female, or a woman heading for Paris, on a train, as follows:

“... I had the distinct sensation of entering a novel rather than a second-class compartment; in an atmosphere that lit up and smelled of love at times, and that at times surrounded me with darkness, mystery.

The beautiful woman who had attracted me, with her precocious forms, her black pupils which lit up with irresistible flashes of voluptuousness, her lips as tender as rose petals, fully justified my guilt.”

Consequently, he asks his Mother if he can “follow this woman”, securing money from his widowed Parent, “her paternal inheritance”, in order to leave to: “…fight and to win the battle of his life.”

A fashionable hairstyle of early 1913.

Wondering, as we read, if this attractive person is real, or merely symbolic of his destination, we eventually see that she’s very much flesh and blood. However, the constant use of the phrase, Fata Morgana – mirage on land or sea – when referring to her, is a little confusing. Or perhaps he refers to the opportunity that presents itself: to plunge into the pool that’s Paris. As seen here:

“And I can indeed assume that if this Fata Morgana of unexpected and colossal fortune had not flattered me, I would not have risked my little money and my own fate for that woman.”

And yet:

“… in the depths of my soul there was neither esteem nor love for the [C]ourtesan who was at my side and who, I understood very well, attracted only my ardent desire for a [woman] in the morning of her virility!”

An unknown boulevard at night (painted in 1912).

Rodolfo then relates that he arrived in Paris at night. A “thousand lights” sparkling. The “city of fashion and sensuality” lighting “high flames” in his soul. Further:

“I immersed myself with my woman, who introduced me to her artist friends and their following of lovers, in the vortex of pleasure. The operetta with all its champagne, its revelry, its sensuality badly disguised as sentimental lace, the operetta of the [T]abarin, the long vigils in tails, the thousand adventures of workers, the operetta with all its colours and its dazzling and ephemeral lights; that’s what my life was like.”

So we see that the hardly eighteen-year-old Rodolfo is “immersed” in a “vortex of pleasure”. A vortex which is generated by nights at the operetta; which is a whirl within the greater whirl of the wider city. Cheap yet fun. Colourful and “dazzling”. Having described the location, the atmosphere and the sights seen, he next touches on the effect upon him. How he’s fundamentally changed:

Having lost every hindrance and every country shyness, softened the line of my figure and acquired the elegance of the stroke, I danced, I loved, I was disputed; I enjoyed moments of supreme pleasure, I felt the deep abatement of morning awakenings after the satiated desires of women and champagne. I was running for a bad slope.

“Having got into the habit of spending one hundred francs as if they were pennies, it made me a great [L]ord. My impeccable clothing which I now knew how to wear[,] with that barely perceptible snobbery which is at the height of nobility and from which I never fell, as it was easier, into ridicule; the pallor of my cheeks, the male line of my figure, all of this – friends and lovers themselves reiterated it to me in the languid pauses of amorous oddities – all this therefore made sure that the most beautiful women did not deny me their favours.”

A couple tangoing in late 1912.

According to this account Rudy’s inhibitions were swept away in the ebb and flow of Parisian Nightlife. He relaxed. And consequently found himself able to dance with ease. His dancing obviously making him even more appealing than he already was — so handsome, poised and well-dressed. He admits to lovers plural. Clearly telling us he expanded his carnal activities beyond the nameless Courtesan. And these lovers were mirrors who reflected back to him who he was. So confident and alluring had he become, that: “… the most beautiful women” couldn’t deny him: “… their favours.”

The use of the word “nobility” is interesting. Was Rodolfo Guglielmi already pretending to be an Italian Marchese? Or did he simply not deny it if he was asked? If not, he was surely rubbing shoulders with the titled; the sons and daughters of European nobles, who sought fun and distraction, and freedom, from their stiff and mannered Victorian Era parents. Sought to immerse themselves in a more interesting, stimulating culture. To apply a later term, A Scene, that was peopled by: artists, prostitutes (of both sexes), performers, homosexuals, writers, transvestites and other fringe types.

And yet we sense already – “I was running for a bad slope.” – impending danger. This Youth, unlike those he’s encountering, isn’t cushioned by a wealthy family, solid connections, or any safety net. And he confesses as much:

“Hence the prodigality to which the exuberance of my youthful desire urged me would certainly have led me to lose my health if first, by fortune, I had not finished losing my money, and to the last cent.

“But I believe that not even this luck would have benefited me if fate had not hit me cruelly and [in a] salutary [way] to make me reflect on what I was doing and to make me return to serenely consider those around me.

The confessing continues:

“The woman who had drawn me to Paris and pushed me into the path of vice had long since disappeared. It can be said that I had not even noticed. Other women had passed by my side, such as for one night, such as for whole days of intoxication.”

An interesting French Gramophone advert from 1913. Long before the Twenties roared records were played at parties.

Vice? A word not used lightly we suspect. “… pushed me into the path of vice…”? We’re left wondering the extent to which he was pushed. How far did he go? The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines Vice as: moral depravity or corruption: wickedness. Google Search throws at us the following: “… vice is a practice, behaviour, or habit generally considered immoral, sinful, criminal, rude, taboo, depraved, degrading, deviant or perverted…” Whatever happened, as a result of regularly being in the company of this “woman”, she was eventually no longer there. And was supplanted by others: “… for one night …. for whole days of intoxication.”

A polished Rudy after his Paris trip and before his shift to the USA.

Rudy then expands. Explaining that none had known how to “imprison” him. Or been “treacherous”. They were “insatiable” or “calculating”. Yet never wanting more than some: “… bank notes, a jewel…” or: “… a vigorous embrace.”

However, there was one who did embody treachery, As he tells us:

“… after having lived those three days that preceded my departure and which began when I met the female who must have been my last Parisian adventure[,] and the only one who has indelibly imprinted the mark of disgust in my soul.

“Don’t ask me the name of this woman; don’t ask me about her status. [She] is still alive and I have no desire to publicly qualify [her]. If [she reads] these notes of mine, [she] will undoubtedly recognize [herself]; and she will feel in my words all the contempt with which I honour her.

This anonymous woman was the Lover of his Friend. And he explains that the minute he was introduced to her he: “… felt a thrill…” he was unable to “understand”. Fear or desire? Or both? He wasn’t sure.

The associate was enduring the loss of his mother who’d recently died. And so lacking in funds was he, that he was unable: “… to honour her with a worthy burial…” The reason? “… all his possessions had [been] turned into jewels and a toilette for this woman to whom he remained bound with the tenacity of a castaway, looking for in her only one good smile, only one comforting caress.”

Rodolfo then explains what happened between the Lover of his nameless Friend and himself:

“We were in their apartment. Suddenly my friend got up abruptly and went out. I had offered to accompany him. He refused.

“I remained alone with her who, until then, had maintained a sphinx-like demeanour and had not animated the silence that, after her introduction, had formed between the three of us with just one word.

“When my friend went out, she got up.

“A robe with wide lapels of frothy white wool enveloped the magnificent line of her body.

“We had known each other [only] for a few minutes.

“We had been alone for a while. The echo of the thud with which my friend had closed the door still vibrated [in] the silence of the room. She stared at me sharply with a soft but very quick gesture as she freed herself of her robe and, in her dazzling nakedness, she pulled me close, sucking her lips greedily.

“I believed that her desire was [real] and, selfishly, I justified it.

“But, later, I understood. She wanted to run away with me right away. I replied that I could not. I had no more than a few hundred francs.

“And I showed her my [pocket book/wallet].

“She smiled; then deviated a little. She pointed to my rings, leant over them, she said they looked as beautiful to her as ever. She asked me for them.

“And she asked them while looking at me. And that look from her was my salvation.

“As I saw in that gaze all my Parisian life [lit] up, [and] I read in that gaze all the baseness of the desires by which I was surrounded[,] and all the humiliation that my dignity underwent by accepting them. I do not know how to say it better. I would have been a novelist if I had known how to write.

“From the house I immediately flew. And three days later from Paris.”

Extracted from La Vita di Rodolfo Valentino, Lo Schermo (The Screen), Rome, Issue 17, Dec. 11th, 1926.

So Valentino was a visitor at his friend’s residence and meets his friend’s Partner for the first time. A woman, and a questionable one, who, once again, remains an Enigma. A female with a “magnificent body”. Unafraid to reveal it to a near stranger she’d known for just: “… a few minutes.” Uninhibited. Aware of her beauty and its effectiveness. (Initially effective, anyway.) A person ready to leave her current Boyfriend and “run away” with another almost on a whim. A person he feels that he can be saved from, and ultimately reject, when she goes so far as to attempt to strip him of the little he has left; his jewellery. So awful was the experience, that he soon exits the City of Light, not to return for ten long years.

The episode is a remarkable one. So vivid, so startling — even today. How true is it? Hard to say. Just as it’s hard to say how true the entire section is, or, the rest of La Vita di Rodolfo Valentino. I like to see specifics and there are almost none. No names. No streets. No places. No dates. Very very little indeed. Which you’d expect if it was a confection. Yet, it’s undeniably in the spirit of Rodolfo Valentino; fills in the gaping void; and chimes with what we have to compare it with. For example, Villalobos, who, though she wonders if it wasn’t bragging, presents on Page 108 of her Dissertation, interesting lines that detail Rudy’s activities in Taranto. Activities which more than echo his behaviour in the French Capital:

“‘A little while ago,’ he writes Bruno [Pozzan], ‘a 17-year-old singer came to Taranto and with her I’m having an immensely good time. Then while I’m courting the singer, I was also making love to other girls, leaving one and then taking up with another.'”

And Leider, who, on Page 40 of Dark Lover, gives us the following:

“During his weeks in Paris, Rodolfo experienced at least two setbacks, folded into the glitter. and excitement. The first, predictably enough, was that he ran short of funds and had to wire home for money. The second, more mysteriously, involved some kind of unpleasantness with a young music-hall dancer.”

A source which doesn’t predate his first trip to the city, yet, very much predates his second, the potted history of his life, in ACTEURS D’ECRAN: RUDOLPH VALENTINO, Les Bons Soirs et le mauvais (supplement), (page 3 of 4), Bonsoir, Wed., May 9th, 1923, compresses his escapade into a single sentence:

“He left to attend the agricultural school in Genoa, which he left to get in touch with life. His beginnings were joyful, and he spent a few thousand pounds, both in Paris and on the Cote d’Azur, until the day his family cut him off, putting an end to his easy existence and his excesses.”

The Cote d’Azur we’ll arrive at with Rudy, soon enough, in a future post. Meantime, we leave him about to depart La Ville Lumiere, poorer monetarily, if richer in knowledge. He has lived and loved, loved and lived. Quaffed champagne and drained bitter dregs. Danced in and out of the lives of several people. Encountered: intellectuals, swells, streetwalkers, vendors, bankers, occultists, addicts, artists, theatrical types, stall holders, general workers, shopkeepers, the beautiful and the ugly, politicians, the idle rich and the idle poor. In more ways than one eaten his fill. The Rodolfo Guglielmi we see in the well-known image of him in evening dress, upright, monocle in one eye, and pristine white evening glove in his hand, is a product of France not Italy, of Paris not Taranto. And it’s this totally transformed Rodolfo, worldly and polished, his horizon broadened, his appetite for adventure whetted, who’ll declare that Italy is too small for him — because it was.

Not for ten long years, after a series of downs and ups, will he return to France and it’s glittering capital. And thereafter, be drawn again and again, to almost his second home. A place where this dual on the inside and on the outside man would feel welcome, at ease, respected as an Artist, taken seriously. Did this internationally famous Valentino, so many times a French or France-related character on screen, smile to himself wryly, on occasion, during his stays there? Virtually guaranteed, I’d say!


I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading this lengthy look at Rudolph Valentino’s stay in Paris, City of Light. A stay that can’t, unless material suddenly emerges, ever be fully understood, beyond the bare bones that we have. That will always be a little frustrating when it comes to hard facts. As always, my sources are included as links, or, presented as an image. And I welcome your thoughts and any questions you might have. See you all next time!