In this, the first post about 1923 in 2023, I reproduce a fascinating report, too rough and damaged to be presented in its original state. The piece appeared on the front page of The Morning Telegraph, on Wednesday the 3rd of January, 1923. And is a window, not only into the life of Rudolph Valentino, at the start of what was to be a momentous year, but also into his state of mind at that point. Those who read the long column through will appreciate the title: The Spanish Boy.
Lowly Italian Youth Claiming Re-
lationship Confronted by Star
WORKED IN THE FILMS, TOO
Muzii, Vague but Persistent in
Claims, Loses Job After Inter-
view in Director’s Office.
A pretender to the Valentino throne
is worrying the screen star.
The annoyance is of sufficient conse-
quence to cause him to appeal to his law-
yer, Arthur Butler Graham, 25 West
Forty Third street, to have it stopped.
Antonio Muzii, residing in West 112th
street, is the cause of this additional
trouble. He is 19 years old, a native of
Italy, and claims to be a brother of
Valentino is more than displeased. He
went to the studios of the International
Film Corporation, accompanied by his
lawyer, to see Muzii, or Valentino, as he
was known to Mike Conley, casting di-
rector of Cosmopolitan films, and from
whom he obtained engagements in the
films “Adam and Eva” and “Enemies
Valentino Listens. Lawyer Talks.
Muzii was questioned by Mr. Graham
in the office of Mr. Conley. Mr Conley
held the attention of Mr. Valentino as
the conversation progressed. Valentino
registered deep displeasure, intensified
when he was informed that Muzii
It resulted in Muzii losing his position,
minor in character, also in the issuance
of the following, signed “Rudolph Val-
“I am informed that one Antonio
Muzii of 500 West 112th street, N. Y.
C., has been representing and holding
himself out to be my brother. I write
this letter to inform you that the said
Muzii is in no way related to me.
“You are requested to take no advert-
izing given you by any one in which the
said Antonio Muzii is exploited under
the name ‘Valentino’.”
This notice was sent to various pub-
Employed in Crowd Scenes.
Mr. Conley said that he had employed
Muzii because he was of the type needed
in crowd scenes. He said his name was
Valentino, but this exercised no influ-
ence, Mr. Conley observed, continuing:
“He is a little fellow. With a little
stretching of the imagination he could
be taken for the real Valentino in ap-
pearance. No one believes what he has
said as to his relationship with Valen-
At the offices of Mr. Graham it was
said that Muzii had amused and later
displeased Valentino. Persons on 112th
street had said to Muzii that he re-
sembled Valentino, offering the first sug-
gestion of a motion picture agreement.
It was emphasized that he had committed
no offense other that using the name
Muzii could not be found. It was said
At 500 West 112th street he had not
been around since Christmas. He is
known there as “the Spanish boy.”
Valentino says he has but one brother,
a physician in Italy.
Spelling of Star’s First Name.
The signature on Valentino’s letter,
looking as if a rubber stamp had been
used in attaching it to the warning no-
tice, indicates that the tangle continues
about the correct spelling of his name.
When he began to gain fame he was
“Rudolph” Valentino. After the “Sheik”
film he requested Famous Players-Lasky
to spell the name “Rodolfo.”
The management protested, explaining
that he had been known as “Rudolph
Valentino”: also that it was ill-advised to
change the spelling. Eventually Valen-
tino had his own way. The name “Ro-
dolfo” [sic] is used. His real surname is
I find this episode at the beginning of 1923 a really interesting one. Obviously, between the lines and without resorting to facetiousness, the anonymous Writer of this column is having fun with our Idol. At the same time we see there’s seriousness too. He, or she, finds fault with the injured party, Valentino, and that genuine though gentle disapproval is woven into the writing. We, today, see the incident in context. Rodolph/Rudolph had, for months, been forced to witness his substitution by others. Seen his pre-fame films, for which he’d been paid little, recut to place him front and centre for profit. And was about to experience the imminent exploitation of his adopted surname by his former Wife Jean Acker. It’s coincidental, yet still noteworthy, that The Imposter, Antonio, is an immigrant Italian. That, like the celebrity he attaches himself to, he’s good-looking. That he claims to be something and someone he’s not. That he’s starting out in crowd scenes. And that in his neighbourhood he’s known as: The Spanish Boy.
It would be much later, after his untimely demise and in the years that followed, that false girlfriends and wives, as well as babies, would emerge. As far as I’m aware – happy to be proved wrong! – this is the only example of anyone claiming close connection or kinship in his lifetime. A replacement for Valentino would be sought in vain in future years. And in a twist, his actual sibling, Alberto, mentioned in the article and not a Physician, was lured unsuccessfully in front of the camera. Neither he nor anyone else measured-up — how could they?
I want to thank you for reading this through to the end. And I take this opportunity, to invite you to comment and give me your thoughts, if you’ve any. Lastly, my best wishes for the year ahead of us all!
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. InParis 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 ofLa 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.
In the New York office of William A. DeFord, on May 6th, 1920 (incidentally, his 25th Birthday), a pre-fame Rodolfo Guglielmi was asked to read through and sign, a transcription of an interrogation of him conducted the previous month, on April 14th. This forgotten examination, set-up to determine the exact sequence of events four years earlier, when he was seized by a Vice Squad, was located by me in 2016 and received in its entirety a year later. The pages that I produce here, in full, for the first time, give us incredible insight, not just into that September 1916 raid, but also into what happened afterwards. Due to the length of the discussion, as you can see, it was necessary to divide it into two, with this second post featuring the rest and being titled: The 1920 Interview (Part Two).
Previously, with leading questions, Rudy has been asked to describe the events as he recalled them, on September the 5th, 1916. (The law enforcers’ arrival. What happened when he and his Landlady were escorted, first to the District Attorney’s office, and then, to Rosalsky’s chambers. And exactly what he was wearing that day. Etc.) We left the interrogation on Page Nineteen, where DeFord wished to be certain about what Guglielmi recalled. In particular to establish the existence of any paperwork — which did exist. The page ended with a question about Thym being accused of: “… conducting a disorderly house and paying [protection] money to the police of the city of New York…” A query Valentino appears to have answered positively. (She was accused of this in the chamber of the Justice.)
Mr. De Ford presses the then Mr. Guglielmi to see if he recalls Mrs. Thym being accused of paying money to the police. Or that he himself was charged with “… procuring girls …. for the purposes of illicit sexual intercourse…” Rudy is vague to the point where it appears he’s being evasive or hiding something. However, it must be said, several years have passed since the day it all happened.
On Page 21 Rodolfo doesn’t recall being labelled a Blackmailer. Or Georgiana being labelled one. And when asked if he recalls being accused of extorting money he replies: “No, I can’t recollect that.”
The questions continue about what he remembers and doesn’t remember.
William A. De Ford asks Rodolfo Guglielmi several questions about what he did and didn’t know was going on at that time. From his answers it appears he recalls knowing very little.
On this page his Questioner asks him about any crimes he was ever charged with. The questions are similar and all elicit the exact same response: “No!”
Page 25 covers questions about his incarceration (not at The Tombs), his bail (which was reduced thanks to his Representative), and his later Habeas Corpus proceeding (at the Supreme Court in late 1916).
On this page De Ford pushes hard to know what Guglielmi understood by the phrase: got the goods.
It’s at this point that William A. De Ford starts to wrongfoot Rodolfo Guglielmi. By design or by accident we can’t know. Regularly he points out to the Plaintiff that his earlier answers to questions were either incorrect or incomplete. Each time succeeding in getting Rudy to agree that he misremembered or was incorrect. And this is achieved by De Ford contrasting the later Valentino’s current answers with those he gave in late 1916.
On Page 29, the Interviewer, Mr. De Ford, extracts from the Plaintiff, Mr. Guglielmi, an admission that in late 1916, in front of Judge Philbin, at his Habeas Corpus Hearing, he explained that he’d been told that he was being held as a Material Witness. Previously he’d said that he hadn’t been told this.
And yet, despite having his own recorded answer read out to him, he says further down the page, that he discovered he was a Material Witness when he read that night’s newspaper in the detention centre.
Here, De Ford seems to enjoy skewering Guglielmi, when he forces him back to the question about being held as a Material Witness; and then, afterwards, whether he understood that he was potentially going to be charged with extortion.
William A. De Ford again gets Rodolfo Guglielmi to admit that he has answered earlier questions incompletely. And that he’s misremembered what happened on the day of his seizure.
Rudy almost seems to want to deny what he was accused of.
Once again the Interrogator manages to return the Answerer to his responses to “Mr. Justice Philbin” in late 1916. Proving that he was indeed fully aware, in September of that year, exactly what was happening to him. All contrary to his previous replies where he denied he knew anything, other than that he was a ‘Pimp’, and that Thym was a Madam.
Half of this page concerns Rudy’s testimony, late in 1916, about his occupancy of a room at Mrs. Thym’s. (He was a Tenant not a Visitor.) The other half is about whether or not he’d promised to provide information in order to have his bail reduced. His answer is always a categorical no.
PAGES 34 AND 35
De Ford continues to push for an answer, other than a no, regarding an offer for the $10,000 bail to be reduced. Frustratingly he fails to ask the Interviewee what he means when he says more than once: “I was tricked.”
Here the interview begins, finally, to wind down. And we get a nice explanation form Rudy himself (who would know) of his early days as a Dancer from late 1914.
PAGES 37 AND 38
The lengthy interview ends oddly with questions about his shoes in court. With the purpose of the very final page, being a chance for the then Rodolfo to read through what was typed-up, and approve it and sign it.
I want to thank all those who have taken the time to read, first Part One, and now, Part Two, of this truly fascinating Q & A session, in New York, in the Spring of 1920. Which it’s my absolute pleasure to put on this Blog for free and for all time. For many decades we’ve wondered exactly what happened that day, and, what transpired afterwards. We now know. Even if there remain unanswered and perhaps unanswerable questions. See you all next month!
The post here this month, is my contribution to the 2021 Classic Literature On Film Blogathon, hosted by Paul, from Silver Screen Classics. As His Fame Still Lives is focused monthly on Rudolph Valentino, it’s natural it’ll be one of his films that’s the subject. For the Blogathon last year I wrote at length about Camille (1921). This year I’m writing about The Conquering Power (1921); which, it just-so-happens, is 100-years-old this coming July.
In the October 1921 issue of THE PHOTODRAMATIST, in an essay, entitled, The Eternal Esperanto, Rex Ingram, one of the most innovative and talented film directors of The Silent Era, had the following to say:
“Great art belongs to the ages, and to the Universe; in it time and place are of secondary importance, for its message and its story are not of yesterday, today nor tomorrow, but of all time.”
That Ingram saw himself as an Artist is clear. In The Eternal Esperanto he presents himself as exactly this. Enjoying, immensely, his comparison of the creation of a sculpture with a group of figures, to the setting-up of a scene with a collection of actors. That he was considered one by his contemporaries, is proven by the fact that he’d recently been awarded an honorary Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree, by Yale University. (“… the first recognition of the photoplay as one of the fine arts.”) His Mentor there, Professor Lee O. Lawrie, who he’d assisted when younger, even going so far as to create (as a gift for him) an actual physical representation of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse; for a period of time, openly displayed in a store window in New York. Yet, as much as seeing himself as an Artist and wanting his work to be seen to be Art, it’s obvious he sought to place himself on the same level as the artistic greats. And to raise the relatively new medium to that level. The question is: did he?
Having reached the vertex of artistic achievement with The Four Horsemen Ingram wasn’t about the slacken. Far from it. Neither was he going to tinker with the team which had helped him to deliver a masterpiece. So, with this winning formula, early in 1921, he embarked upon his next project, titled, The Conquering Power; a film again about France, but this time based on an older literary work: the Nineteenth Century novel, Eugenie Grandet, by Honore de Balzac. And a work, according to the writer of an article about him, in THE HERALD AND NEWS, he’d “long desired to film”.
In terms of audience Eugenie Grandet was a book with which North Americans were already generationally familiar. It had reached the shores of the USA, properly translated, by the late 1850s, when it sold for just 25 cents a copy. And, a decade later, was successfully serialized in The Chicago Tribune, between September 29th and December 29th, 1872. In the subsequent decade, in 1886, the New-York [Daily] Tribune, while minutely examining the tale, sincerely lauded it, stating it was: “… high tragedy in humble life; an epic of passion, as Taine styles it, but framed upon the simplest lines.” In 1899 the country’s press marked the Author’s centennial; the WATERTOWN REPUBLICAN trumpeting him as having been: “… the greatest writer of fictitious narrative of the past century, if not of all the centuries, and the greatest of all French writers…”
Curious it is, then, given his popularity and the richness of the narrative, that there were few attempts to translate this great work for the Silver Sheet, in the early years of U. S. cinema. Research has uncovered just two quite unambitious efforts: Eclair’s 961 foot Eugenie Grandet, issued on June 20th, 1910; and, a lengthier, seemingly independently created, three reel production, titled The Miser’s Daughter, shot in 1915, and advertised as for sale or rent, in the January 15th, 1916 edition of THE MOVING PICTURE WORLD. (The Miser’s Daughter was what a widely printed newspaper serialization had been called in 1904.) Was Rex aware of the mid. decade three reeler? Quite possibly. After all, he’d already moved on from acting and writing, to directing by that time, and was ever watchful, as he shifted at speed from one company to another, of the work of contemporaries. As they, likewise, observed him. Also, the piece, in THE HERALD AND NEWS, does emphasize the long-held wish to breathe life into the source material. And we can believe it to be true, if he’d known of, or even seen, either one or both of the earlier celluloid translations.
When we read Eugenie Grandet it’s easy to see the appeal. The simple, yet compelling central female character, and the refined and tragic central male character, were ideal parts for his established stars Terry and Valentino. (A pair of lovers already well-fixed in the minds of the cinema-going public.) Once again the story was about two sides of a family. Enormous sums of money – negative and positive – were also a theme. And, despite the rather static, one-location nature of the story, it included an array of interesting supporting personalities.
June Mathis, who’d expertly adapted the work of Vicente Blasco Ibanez the previous year, was tasked with creating the continuity. It being she, in her capacity as Head of the Scenario Department at Metro Pictures Corp., who’d pushed, hard, not only for Rex Ingram to direct The Four Horsemen, but for Rudolph Valentino to portray Julio, it was no doubt felt she was the safest pair of hands. (Which she was, though her past choices, while paying serious dividends, did sow the seeds of future issues; not only for herself, but also the two talented men she championed.) Her bold decision to root the action in the then present day, a full hundred years after the time in which it was set, and a move mirroring her concurrent interpretation of Alexandre Dumas’ La Dame Aux Camelias, was perhaps the most significant feature of her adaptation. And is explained in the opening of at least one surviving version, as being due to the “Great Public” not then being too fond of “the costume play”.
The first report we see about the planned sequel to The Four Horsemen, is in Wid’s DAILY, on April 29th, 1921. This basic paragraph, communicating the name, that it was to be Ingram’s follow-up to his Blockbuster, and that Cleo Madison had been added to the principals of that previous production, was superseded by a series of bulletins. Yet these weekly reports don’t give too much away with regards to progress. Something, it has to be said, that stands in stark contrast to its predecessor. What we do know, is that by the end of April, it was imminently about to commence. And, that by June 29th, eight weeks later, the Director was on his way East with the negative. Proving the whole project had been turned around in two months. Again, a serious difference to The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), which was a six month endeavour.
As studio records were long ago largely disposed of, we must look to later accounts for shoot information; accounts, often years and decades in the future. Alas, the picture they paint isn’t a pretty one, with discord being the dominant tone. The impression we get being there was, for one reason or another, or three, or four, a general breakdown in the bonhomie that had assisted prior success. The warmth and enjoyment, much in evidence in the many group publicity images in 1920, evaporated. To the extent there are almost no such photographs in existence from the following year. We get a good idea of how bad things got, when we look at a one page profile of Ramon Novarro, entitled, The Man from the Mob: How Rex Ingram Picked Ramon Novarro for Fame, which appears in the February 1924 issue of PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE. As follows:
“In spite of what the director was doing for him temperaments clashed and arguments arose between Mr. Ingram and Rudie. In the course of one of these arguments Mr. Ingram remarked one day: ‘You think I can’t get along without you, don’t you?’ Well, I’ll show you. I can go out onto the set, pick a man out of the mob of extras, and make him just as big a star as you are.”
Another version of this story is that Rudolph Valentino refused to work and Rex Ingram said he’d find an Extra and put him in his place.
Reasons for such outbursts do exist. One, from a reliable source, his Second Wife, Natacha Rambova, appeared six years after the PHOTOPLAY page, in her widely distributed The Truth About Rudolph Valentino By NATACHA RAMBOVA, HIS WIFE. In the FOURTH INSTALLMENT, Poverty-Stricken Days Prove Unhappy for Two Unknowns, in the Washington Evening Star newspaper, she explains:
“Many amusing incidents happened during the filming of this picture. I was not on the lot myself, but I heard all about them at luncheon or dinner, for Rudy continued to take most of his meals at my bungalow near the studio.
“One evening he stamped in in fury, eyes flashing, trembling with rage. Rex had insulted him! What should he do? Challenge him to a duel? In anger his thoughts always flew to a duel; his Italian ancestry cropped out with the force of a dozen Borgias: it was the only way to settle a quarrel.
“‘But, Rudy, how did Rex insult you?’ I asked when I could get in a word. At last the story came out.
“Rudy had been dressed in evening clothes for the midnight entertainment scene (he loved to wear his full dress clothes; he was so proud of them) when, just as they were about to start shooting, Rex suddenly stopped the cameras and bawled Rudy out before all the extras. He was wearing a white vest when it should’ve been a black one, or vice versa, I have forgotten. Anyway, it was not correct—Rudy the model of the well dressed man whose effects were always impeccable! Words flew.
“Rudy should know better, Rex declared, whereupon Rudy asked Rex what he knew about clothes—a trench coat was all he ever wore. More words, loud and angry. The question was finally decided by calling in Frank Elliot, an English actor, acknowledged to be the last word in gentleman’s attire. Mr Elliot, to Rudy’s delight, pronounced him perfectly turned out.
But this was not all. From that moment on Rex ignored his leading man completely. During the most important close-ups Rex sat cleaning his fingernails with a penknife. How could an artist act under such conditions? The matter called for a duel.”
In his autobiography, It Took Nine Tailors, written with M. M. Musselman and published in 1949, Adolphe Menjou gives us a little more insight, when he relates how it was that he came to work opposite Rudolph in The Sheik (1921). An opportunity which presented itself to him after Valentino had quit Metro Pictures Corp. According the Menjou, this was because:
“Rex Ingram, director of The Four Horsemen, convinced Richard Rowland, president of Metro, that Valentino was just a flash in the pan, that he was impossible to direct, and that he would never be successful in anything else. This, at least, is what Valentino told me. As a result, despite the tremendous success of The Four Horsemen, the star of the picture found himself out of a job and $4,000 in debt. It could only happen in Hollywood.”
That June Mathis was also a victim of Rex Ingram’s manoeuvrings, was put forth a few years afterwards, by Valentino Biographer Alan Arnold. Who, on Page 66 of his biography, Valentino (1954), stated:
“It was deplorable that his employers did not reward him for his fine work in terms of a much better salary. Furthermore, when he began work on a fourth film, The Conquering Power, he found that much of the original script prepared by June Mathis had changed, and he felt that this new version was inferior to the original.”
How true this is, is hard to say, without seeing the original script and any subsequent rewrites. However, it seems highly likely, when we consider that Mathis too would leave for pastures new. And that, ahead of his eventual departure for the South of France, the Metro studio was very much considered, by the industry, to be Ingram’s Private Kingdom. One likelihood, which is backed up as a theory when we view The Conquering Power (1921), is that there was initially far more of Charles Grandet, Valentino’s character, in the earlier scenario. In Balzac’s novel Eugenie Grandet is the more important of the two lovers. Yet, we see that there’s a serious effort on someone’s part to elevate Charles to the same level, and to achieve this by giving him more screen time — even placing him at the start of the story, when he’s not introduced until a later point by the Author. Which couldn’t be Rex given the antagonism between him and Rudolph. Antagonism, perhaps given life, when the Director saw that his Male Lead’s share of the motion picture was going to impact on his Female Lead’s share? And the closeups? Well, when we compare those of Rudolph Valentino’s and Alice Terry’s, there’s a definite difference. Valentino’s simply aren’t as stunning, or as lengthy, as Terry’s.
After incorrect credits – Rex Ingram would’ve been front and centre with Alice Terry placed before Rudolph Valentino in importance – the version I viewed on YouTube presents three frames of text. Text establishing who the story’s originally by; what it’s about; the dominant theme (all-conquering love); and where it’s located, in the present. (Though this will be tested at the conclusion.)
Present day France, an intertitle tells us:
As we picture her, with her
sparkling gaiety and irrepressible
spirit of youth.”
Following some surprisingly poor stock footage, of what seems to be a provincial street carnival, we launch into the story, and are introduced not to the Protagonist, but to the object of her affection: her Cousin, Charles Grandet. Who’s leading a: “… carefree life in the French capital.”
We fade in on an extraordinary scene. A Cecil-B.-DeMille-style party, crammed with beautifully-dressed celebrants, seen through almost frame-like parted, heavy drapery. The guests at the gathering are seated casually around a central indoor fountain and are obviously enjoying themselves. “Lavishly celebrating the twenty-seventh year of a pampered existence.” as the third intertitle reveals. (In the novel Charles is in his early twenties.)
Next we see Valentino, left, in full evening dress as Charles, talking to a woman, right, in a fantastic headdress. This is Annette. And he toasts her: “To Annette, the prettiest woman in Paris!” However we soon see that this prettiest woman isn’t faithful to the Banker’s Son who feels so strongly for her.
The party continues. (Though a little truncated if we’re to believe surviving stills.) An exotically dressed, half naked woman, carried into the crowded room on a massive platter, by muscular men, proceeds to dance on it. We see North African musicians. And we view Charles inviting his Birthday guests to pull on the ribbons in front of them, to see what gifts they’ll find inside of little boats and water craft, tucked into the base of the water feature. Faithless Annette receives a delicate, jewelled wristwatch. This is indeed a pampered existence!
Meanwhile, Charles’s Father, Victor Grandet, has returned home looking weary, and requested that a Servant ask his Son to come to talk with him. The Banker is then seen reading a dire telegram, that tells him that he can’t be rescued from his fatal financial situation, with an advance of the size he requires. As Rudolph Valentino apologizes to the partygoers, we finally see, in full, the white waistcoat that caused Rex Ingram to explode, during the shooting of this opening scene.
Tenderness between the stern and troubled Father and the frivolous and careless Son ensues. Showing the viewer, that that while the relationship might be fraught, there’s much love between widowed Husband and Motherless Child. (For me, this is beautifully played by Valentino, a person who lost his Father when young and had already lost his Mother by this point in time.) The Father gives his offspring his most precious possession: two gem encrusted portraits of himself and his late Wife. The parent next instructs his only child to travel to see and stay with his Uncle outside of the capital. Charles must depart the next morning for Noyant. (Saumur in Balzac’s original tale.)
The sleepy village of Noyant
basked in the sunshine of the
The action now shifts to the film’s main location, Noyant, nicely realized by Ingram’s team, headed by Ralph Barton. We see the inhabitants going about their day to day life. And then are shown the exterior of the home of the Grandets. A property, which is promisingly imposing from the outside, yet spartan and uncomfortable within. Inside we see the Father, Pere Grandet, the Mother, Madame Grandet, and a Villager. Pere Grandet is treating the Tenant poorly. (Which isn’t something that happens in the novel.)
And Eugenie? Rex makes us wait. Finally presenting Alice’s young Daughter in the garden of the home, basket over her arm, and surrounded by a hedge archway. After passing through the kitchen she’s again framed in yet another entrance way. This time the doorway to the main room on the ground floor. And this is a big close up that gives value not only to her as a character but also as the Star. Here she receives a gold coin on the occasion of her own Birthday — it seems the cousins were born just one day apart.
After affection between between Father and Daughter, which mirrors that between Father and Son, we have a light comedic moment, when the trusted family Maid, Nanon, almost drops a Birthday bottle of wine when she slips down a ladder. (The Birthday party that follows, is also a mirroring of the previous, far more extravagant and gathering.) Then the guests arrive with their gifts and alterior motives; namely: to marry the pretty Heiress. The rival factions being first The Cruchots, consisting of the Abbe, the Notary, and their rather unappealing Nephew. And second the des Grassins, Father, Mother and less slightly less unappealing Child. Both factions have brought gifts that reveal their differing personalities.
For dramatic purposes, and in contrast once more with the original material, we also see the arrival, in Noyant, of the Cousin, Rudolph’s Charles. An entrance that’s on another level entirely, in that he appears in a chauffeured vehicle, and is dressed in light, summery attire. On stepping out of the dusty auto. he’s greeted by locals and a deaf old citizen who attempts to assist him. The astonished Dandy, like a visitor from another planet, mistakenly imagines that his Cousin lives in the imposing castle, Chateau Froidfond. And absent-mindedly tips his cigarette ash into the man’s ear trumpet.
The Nephew’s Driver knocks at the Grandet’s front door and announces his Employer. And here, for the first time we have the amusing popping of the monocle, when Charles is confronted by not only his untidy and old-fashioned Uncle, but also the tatty decor of the house. After passing a letter from his Father to his Uncle, he enters this alien abode with his black French Poodle, and is introduced to those gathered. With another funny moment being his passing of his dog to the Son of Monsieur and Madame des Grassins. The introduction to Terry’s Eugenie is a significant moment. While this is all happening Pere Grandet’s reading the letter and we see that Victor Grandet has killed himself and placed his Son, Chares, in the care of his Uncle.
The preparation of Charles Grandet’s room’s faithful to that particular passage in Balzac’s Eugenie Grandet. Even to the use of a bed warmer, and over usage, in the Uncle’s eyes, of candles. (The second one is relit by his Nephew after he extinguishes it.) The lighting here, as in other sections so far, is gorgeous. And we have the second popping of the monocle; where Charles astonishes Nanon, when he allows it to fall from his eye to his breast pocket, just before he begins to undress. A trick for which Rudolph Valentino deserves some serious praise.
The next morning the terrible news of his Father’s death’s broken to the Son in the picturesque garden. Fine acting, in my opinion, from Valentino and from Terry, here, as one reacts and the other reacts to the reaction. Eugenie comforts her Cousin after her Father’s departure. And we next learn that Charles has gone to Paris. In his absence, while finding a way to secure his late Brother’s debts to his ow advantage, Pere Grandet tells the Notary and his Nephew:
“I would rather see my daughter
dead than married to Charles
Rudy’s character returns from Paris, and, we must presume, his Father’s funeral, more sober in dress and mood than when he arrived days before. The plan of his Uncle to restore honour to the family name is communicated to him, but fails to change his mood. And he retires to his room, to write letters, where he cries himself to sleep. This is faithful to Balzac’s original. And the move of Eugenie from her bedroom to his, is exactly as it happens on the novel; even down to her begging his forgiveness for reading his private correspondence, and her desire to help him to travel safely with her small hoard of gold. Gold she begs him to accept on her knees after he wakes up and sees her.
This scene is beautifully done, beautifully composed, and the exquisite lighting drew comment from contemporaries, who were mystified as to how the effect had been achieved, by John F. Seitz, the Chief Cameraman/Cinematographer. Alice Terry is saintly and almost ethereal, in a loose blonde wig, and hooded cloak. And Rudolph Valentino is equally stunning, positioned as an exhausted and worn out, grief-stricken young man, who’s cried himself to sleep. (We see the tears on his cheeks.) The luxurious, silken patterned dressing gown he wears, is as described by Honore de Balzac. And the exchange of the gold for the glittering box, that contains the portraits of the Aunt and Uncle of the selfless Niece, is also it happens in the book.
The next day, we presume, the pair have a tender scene in the garden. They view together a nest with eggs. And bill and coo. Attentions that are noticed from a window by Pere Grandet. He seethes. And is quick, before his Nephew’s leaving for a new and hard life in Martinique, to get him to sign over to him his dead Father’s estate. Something done with a certain amount of flourish by Rudy’s character, with a very smart fountain pen. As Charles readies himself to leave he notices, through her open bedroom door, his Cousin crying. He enters the room quietly and they embrace and kiss. A final kiss, so they imagine, nether knowing their eventual fates. She has placed the key to his spangled box on a chain and show it to him. Then she passes him her cross which he takes. And there’s a gradual fade out to black.
Time passes in a subtle manner. Life at the Grandet’s residence is the same but changed. At least Eugenie is changed. And we see this when Terry’s character visits the garden in Winter clothing, alone, clearly pining for her Cousin. The nest they saw together is now empty of course. We then cut to the equally lonely Valentino character, who’s writing her a letter, from a ramshackle hut thousands of miles away. The arrival of a letter from his Uncle telling him that his Cousin has been married results in a pained and bitter expression. He tears up the letter he just wrote. And we see that his hair’s roughened up. And he’s got Stubbly face. (Cue swooning.)
The change in her Father is manifested when he requests to see her gold and she tells him she no longer has it. His rage is enormous when he realizes, correctly, that she’s passed it to her Cousin. (In the novel he discovers that she’s received a box in return.) Naturally she must be punished for her betrayal and so he imprisons her in her room. A move which causes the death of his Wife, her Mother, Madame Grandet. (This almost instantaneous, quite violent death, is a long and drawn-out affair, in Balzac’s Eugenie Grandet.)
From this point Pere Grandet begins to go mad. A slowish descent that suddenly speeds up. He becomes even more obsessed by his money; yet, runs into an issue when the Notary arrives to inform him the village is gossiping about his treatment of his Daughter. Cruchot tells him he knows that she’s not his biological child, and, that she’s Heir to her late Mother’s considerable fortune. A fortune Grandet secured when he married her Mother. If, Notary Cruchot tells him, he gets her to sign a release, then she can’t divide the property in his lifetime. And this is what happens. (The idea that Eugenie isn’t the natural offspring of Pere Grandet isn’t once mentioned in the novel. So it’s a mystery as to why this was considered necessary.)
Grandet, who’s just tricked his Daughter, leaves the secret room to escort the Notary to the front door. This slip allows Eugenie to notice letters from Charles to her, when she replaces the inkwell and quill pen to the desk, and tries to move a spider from the papers collected there. On his return her Father sees her with the correspondence and angrily lunges at her. He then pushes her out of the room. And closes the door so violently, that he locks himself inside, when the safety lock falls on the other side falls into place. Neither his Daughter nor his Maid know he’s trapped there, and so can’t help him in his moment of extreme need. And while Eugenie reeds the communications that were denied her, and Nanon busies herself washing clothing in the stream, Pere Grandet expires, as a result of the exertion of trying to free himself from the room in which he’s trapped. A really remarkable and still eerie, almost Dickensian demise, that springs from either June Mathis’s, or, Rex Ingram’s imaginations. And isn’t to be found anywhere in Balzac’s original tale. In sequence the wronged Tenant, his late Brother, Victor, and his recently deceased Wife all return as apparitions to haunt him. The creepy embodiment of gold is played by the Actor who portrayed one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in the earlier film.
The death of her Father leaves Eugenie Grandet a wealthy and much sought-after woman. Yet she prefers to stay true to the memory of Charles Grandet. That is, until she receives a letter back un-opened that she’s sent to him. This final humiliation makes her decide to marry one of the suitors. However, while the paperwork is being drawn up, and she takes the air in the garden, a figure emerges that she soon realizes is Charles Grandet, returned, one last time, to take a look at the garden where they enjoyed each other’s company, so many years before. When she tells him that she’s not married as he thought they have their happy ending. However, for the Notary, whose Nephew was to be married to the Heiress, it’s all too much, and he suffers a hilarious collapse, much to the amusement of rival family, the des Grassins.
Is The Conquering Power (1921) “Great art” that “belongs to the ages”? In my opinion, yes, it is. The majority of it remains a delight. There are standout performances. Though, we might wonder how much better it might’ve been, if it hadn’t been tinkered with. Certainly, even the altered version doesn’t exist to be viewed, today, online. (Is there a better one? In an archive?) And that’s a great shame. The Conquering Power I accessed is clearly a bit of a jumble. It’s also not particularly faithful to Balzac’s great story of suffering and redemption — though this didn’t seem to upset too many at the time, as far as I can see. The general consensus, in the Autumn of 1921, was that Rex Ingram had surpassed himself. And that’s quite possible for me, if that print, before the removal of certain portions by state censors, was a more fluid and flowing movie. One that had just a bit more to it. That wasn’t missing its initial intertitling and credits. And which was presented with the original score, rather than floaty flutes, which don’t suit a lot of the action. I hope that my look at it has piqued your interest. If so my time wasn’t wasted. And if you enjoy reading about Valentino, please follow this Blog, to be notified of future posts. Happy Easter!
The plaque which commemorates Valentino studying at the Marsano agricultural school.
So engrossed have I been, recently, in writing my book about Rudolph Valentino, that I’ve failed to devote myself to His Fame Still Lives. But there it is. The post I planned for late April has been moved to June. And to make sure there’s a post in May, I’m today presenting some images from my trip to his former place of education (close to Nervi, near Genoa), in 2015. This latest installment is titled simply: Sant’Ilario.
In 2014, I managed to get to Taranto, Martina Franca, and Castellaneta, in that order. And, as a result, was left wanting more. So, the following year, I decided to go to take a look at the other places in Italy Rudy had known well in his early years. Having been to where he’d lived, where his father had been born, and, to his own birthplace, it was clearly now time to go to the two places where he was otherwise resident and educated: Perugia and Sant’Ilario. (I also managed a fruitful archive stop as well.)
After taking the public bus – the best way to get near to where the establishment’s located – I walked the final distance up to the location from the S. Ilario church. As I’d arranged to meet with someone senior there, at a specific time, I went into the entrance way, and was soon taken to meet the individual. (This had been arranged through a contact in Genoa.) Then, after a short guided tour, which included seeing what I was told had been Rudy’s desk, I was taken to view his school records, as well as a couple of the text books he would’ve used. Afterwards, I was free to investigate the grounds, of what’s still a busy educational facility. As you’ll see, I snapped away, capturing, as much as I was able, some of the older structures, many of which had obviously fallen into disuse a long time before. It’s a magical spot, up high, looking out over the sea. And it wasn’t too difficult to picture the young Rodolfo Guglielmi there, between 1910 and 1912, with his life ahead of him. At the conclusion of my visit that afternoon, I really did feel I was just that little bit closer to him, and that he was closer to me.
The thirteen stops along the winding route. And the bus itself.
The view halfway up through the bus window.
Saint Hilary’s church. The final stop on the bus route.
The final approach. And the first glimpse of the institution.
The gates, at which Valentino had himself photographed, in 1923.
The interior plaque detailing the Founder and the establishment of the college.
A room door, with images of Rudolph Valentino as he appeared in The Son of the Sheik (1926), Camille (1921) and Monsieur Beaucaire (1924).
Pages in a textbook used by Rudy and his classmates.
Two further pages in a textbook used by Rudy and his classmates.
The cover of the volume that holds all of the examination results of Valentino and his contemporaries. (Sadly an attempt had recently been made to steal this.)
Rodolfo Guglielmi’s details in the volume (with an accompanying image).
The well-known image of a uniformed Rudolph Valentino and a contemporary. Probably taken around the time of their graduation. The institution had a military feel.
A negative of a classroom at the start of the Thirties. I was informed that the rooms had changed little by this time.
A structure that Rudy would’ve known during his time at the agricultural school.
The main entrance.
A sideview of the building. (No uniforms in the 21st C.)
A view from above of terracing. There is a great deal of terraced land around the complex.
One of the greenhouses.
A crumbling balustrade.
A much repaired stairway almost certainly used by Rudy during his time there.
Thank you for taking the time to look at this latest post on His Fame Still Lives. It’s a taste of what I saw and found that day, and I may add to it, when I have the time, or, create a fresh post, with further images and information. As I said I plan to publish my second April post sometime in June. And Part Three of my look at Jean Acker should follow that. See you next month!
While I busy myself turning my mammoth look at Jean Acker’s life and career, and her life-long association with Rudolph Valentino, from a three part post to a four part post, an opporunity presents itself for me to reshare my hour long chat about Rudy on local radio last year. The interviewer, Alan Porter Barnes, quizzes me during the sixty minutes, about how I first became interested in Valentino, allows me to talk about my travels, my Blog, Rudolph’s amazing career and some of his most important films, and asks me about my planned book about the Immortal Superstar. Along the way we play no less than four related tunes: Rudy singing Kashmiri Song (Pale Hands I Loved), The Beatles singing The Sheik of Araby, The Bangles singing Manic Monday, and Years and Years and MNEK singing Valentino.
The interview and the four tracks can be heard in full here:
100 years ago last month Rudolph Valentino married his first wife Jean Acker. It wasn’t, we know, a match made in heaven; and questions continue, to this very day, about what exactly was going on that November. There are questions, too, about what, if anything, was to be gained from the union. Just as there’s curiosity about the aftermath. I hope to answer these queries, in a three part post titled, not Questions, but Daisy Chained, for reasons that will eventually become clear. As far as I know this is the first ever deep investigation of this important figure in Rudy’s life.
Not long after I began looking properly at Rudolph Valentino, online and offline, in 2012, I thought about writing a book about him. But wait! Didn’t we already know all that there was to know? The biographies to date, particularly Emily W. Leider’s decade-old, Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino, had delivered to us a cornucopia of facts, so why – why? – go over the same ground? What could possibly be achieved? What angles were there on him that weren’t already exploited? For some time I thought about it. And thought some more. Then, late in 2013, I stumbled across The Sins of Hollywood, and everything changed.
I have to say, I do see why The Sins of Hollywood: An Expose of Movie Vice! has been on the whole largely ignored; after all, the light that it casts on Valentino isn’t a flattering one. His story, which is titled A Wonderful Lover, and is the eighth of twelve that recount the past off-set behaviour of several film industry notables, mainly focuses on what was going on at the Hotel Maryland, in Pasadena, in late 1918, and later, in Los Angeles, at the start of 1919. Whatever we might think of A Wonderful Lover and the eleven other tales by the anonymous ‘A Hollywood Newspaper Man’ – a person named Ed. Roberts – it’s the final few paragraphs that are important in this instance. As follows:
“The Dolfy met a movie girl. She was just on the edge of stardom, just going over the top. She helped him. Then she married him. That was his entry into pictures. He had done a few bits but was comparatively unknown.
“With the opportunities and the personal contact his marriage gave him, Adolfo moved fast. He met the right people. He had talent. Brains in both head and feet. His opportunity came and he took advantage of it. He could act. Had been acting all his life. That’s how he lived. His lessons in love-making stood him in good stead. All he had to do was be natural.
“When he finally hit the high mark he didn’t need the movie girl any more. She was a liability now, not an asset. So he canned her. Her career is about ended. His is just beginning.”
From page 62.
These closing lines enabled me to see the association of Dolfy/Adolfo (Rudy), and “the movie girl” (Jean), not from his perspective, but from hers. And it also helped me to find the way forward: I would write the biography of Jean Acker. It would be him through her eyes. Maybe I’d title it The First Mrs. Valentino — or something like that. It was a fresh viewpoint. One which would allow for closeups and medium and distance shots. The discoveries I made as I researched began to reveal to me a rather interesting person. Slowly but surely an individual emerged. No longer was she the derided and villified apendage. And I began to understand her a little, and, her motivations. I spent about six months writing and put it to the side. And what I wrote forms the backbone of this trio of posts.
I started, of course, at the start, and looked into her beginnings. Nowhere, I was reliably informed by people on the ground, was there a registered birth of a Harriet Ackers – her true name – in the state of New Jersey, for the year 1893. Likewise for 1892 or 1891. What there definitely was, however, in the 1900 Census, was a Hattie Ackers, born in Oct. 1891, and aged 8, residing on Market Street, Trenton, with Gershorn and Harriet Ackers, her grandparents. Also living at the address, were her Aunt, Maud L., a Boarder, named John Bice, and her apparent Father, Joseph, who had given his profession as Barber. The lack of a Mother was of interest. That there was no Birth Certificate, and Jean was named Harriet, after her paternal Grandmother, raises the possibility of illegitimacy. Certainly all censuses – 1900, 1905 and 1910 – show that one of her parents had abandoned her. And the whereabouts of Margaret Ackers/Acker during this time is a definite mystery. (By 1920, according to the Census that year, her father had married a woman named Virginia D. and moved to Lewistown, in Pennsylvania, where he worked as a Shoe Merchant.)
Her year of birth and family seemingly established – the 1910 Census does cast doubt on it and suggests it might’ve been 1892 – I sought evidence that she’d been born or raised on a farm. However in none of the three censuses did I find a rural location. In each instance – Trenton, Lambertville and Trenton – she was firmly in a city or a town. Yet, the fact that Lambertville bordered on open countryside, meant it was possible it had been there that she’d first experienced the outdoors, ran free and maybe learned to ride.
Three different homes in a decade didn’t suggest to me a particularly secure or stable upbringing. This was a family, for whatever reason, often on-the-move with little Harriet in tow. And considering this series of shifts, I began to see how they, and her lack of a mother, had probably shaped her. I imagined difficulties, strictness, dreariness. I saw a little girl desperate to escape. And I began to see that the life she sought for herself, and the person she eventually became, as she lived that life, was a direct result of all that she’d potentially endured during childhood. In fact, her earliest publicity when getting started in “the pictures”, suggests exactly that, filled as they are, with obvious invention and fantasy.
Hattie H. Ackers was no doubt still dreaming her dreams while working as a Milliner, or Hat Maker, in her late teens, in Trenton. (Employment we know about thanks to the 1910 Census.) I like to think that it was this position that led to her working alongside Howard Lee in the theatre “in a strong drama”. Something followed, according to her interview in The MOTION PICTURE Story Magazine, in 1913, by a season with Louis L. Hall’s Stock Company. (The L., it seems, stood for Leon.) And additional to her involvement with Lee and Hall she also spent some time in Vaudeville. Despite investigation, Howard Lee, has, unfortunately, failed to surface. And, if he existed at all, was, perhaps, just a small-time, amateur Thespian that never registered outside his home town or County. Louis Leon Hall, meanwhile, most definitely did. And a brief but prominent paragraph, in VARIETY, in mid. January 1912, reveals he had formerly headed: “… his own company in various New Jersey towns…” A sentence that appears to add weight to Jean’s explanation of how she was artistically occupied just prior to becoming a Minor Star in “the pictures”.
Minor stardom was less than a year away when she got her start at the dawn of true film-making in the United States. How she found herself at Siegmund Lubin‘s ‘Lubinville’, in Philadelphia, at the close of 1911, is unknown; but find herself there she did. As none of her early interviews give any clues we’re left to speculate. Perhaps she answered an advert. for staff and was soon put in front of the camera. Maybe she was spotted on the stage in Trenton and offered work. The usual route, taken by the likes of Blanche Sweet, who heard that the Biograph Co. needed people, filled out a form, and was ignored, until she met and spoke to D. W. Griffith, seems the least likely, considering the great distance between her home and the rapidly expanding Pennsylvanian concern.
The first interview that Jean Acker ever gave – she was Jean by this time, and not Harriet or Hattie, and the s had been dropped from her surname – is informative despite the serious make-believe it includes. (It’s plain she wasn’t born or brought up in St. Louis, Missouri, or, that her parents were Spanish.) Just two thirds of a single page, in the May 1912 edition of The MOTION PICTURE Story Magazine, we learn from it that: “She [loved] to act …. to pose, and …. to see upon the screen the pictures in which she [appeared].” Was, at that time, spending “three or four hours a day posing”. And would, in the evening: “… read, or write, or go to the theater… That she was “a talented writer”, with “many stories and scenarios to her credit”, is, if true, something of a surprise. Yet, what’s most apparent, in her exchange with Dorothy Harpur, for Harpur’s CHATS WITH THE PLAYERS, is Acker’s zest for life. And that, she’d at some point or other acquired a cute nickname, which was Billie.
Her spell at ‘Lubinville’, then America’s most up-to-date complex, would’ve been a great experience and definitely educational. Even today, more than 100 years later, the images of the structures in Eugene Dengler’s, five page, image-filled article, in the October 1911 issue of MOTOGRAPHY, impress. A bird’s eye view illustration, shows the extent of the operation, and its situation at the corner of 20th Street and Indiana Avenue. The three main structures forming an enclosure: an impressive glass and steel studio, a processing building, and, at the bend of the U, the administrative office. The studio itself, boasted enormous glazed doors, that could be opened when necessary; on hot days, water was made to cascade over the many glass roof panels, to keep them cool; actors were given the option of emerging from, or descending into, the floor (as if from a lower or higher level); ground-breaking, artifical lighting was in use; and there was sufficient floor space for several films to be created simultaneously. The plant also had a prop-making area, a costume department, various laboratories and drying rooms, and even a subsidised canteen.
After a year with Lubin we can imagine a very different Acker to the one who’d begun there. Films were in her blood now. By the end of 1912 she was a ‘Pro.’; a veteran of perhaps 20 or so varied shorts. Along with her often anonymous cohorts, she’d worked hard, back-to-back, in quickie westerns, comedies and dramas. Films such as: A Village Romance, The Surgeon’s Heroism, A Noble Enemy, A Poor Excuse That Worked. And also: The Heart of a Boss, The Office Favorite, Through the Drifts and The Poor Relation. (All early 1912.)
Is that Jean in a promotional image for The Substitute (1911)? Quite possibly. Of course we can’t be sure, but, considering her inclinations and abilities – later roles and love of danger – and the likeness of the Star pictured, it’s conceivable. (Interestingly this wasn’t the only Lubin cross-dressing story at the time, as, late in 1911, and not too long before she joined the studio, the organisation released My Brother, Agostino (1911), a curious tale of a woman forced to take the place at work of her husband, disguised as a male sibling. The ensuing romance, between Rosiana, masquerading as a man, and Rosa, another female, gave the production an interesting flavour that caused one reviewer to describe it as: “A really unusual story very cleverly and absorbingly told.”)
Zesty Billie Acker, the girl who’d gone from millinery to the stage to the Kliegls, was soon moving again. After approximately twelve months at ‘Pop’ Lubin’s state-of-the-art Lubin Manufacturing Co., we see that she’d been taken on by Carl Laemmle‘s IMP — an acronym for The Independent Moving Pictures Co., soon to become Universal Film Manufacturing Co. (and today, known simply, as Universal Pictures). Her girlie, late Summer Long Island break, with Catherine Tower, had been reported in the trade press. And the brief profile of her had appeared in The MOTION PICTURE Story Magazine. And yet it wasn’t enough for her. She wanted more — much more.
Nothing else can explain the move, which immediately paid-off, when she was featured, albeit incorrectly named but noticeably androgynous, on the cover of the February issue of MOTOGRAPHY. (Above.) That she was being treated differently by her new employer is clear, when we see the report inside the same issue, about how she was present at an exclusive theatre and supper party of sixteen, who were guests of Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Brenon. Her Boss, Mr. Laemmle, his wife, and Mr. and Mrs. King Baggot being four of the others present. March then saw her reported about again, when a newspaper declared:
“The Imp’s Ingenue, Little
Miss Acker, Delights in
From The Evening Standard, Ogden City, Utah, March 29th, 1913 (page 2).
The paragraph, accompanied by a reproduced press photograph, alongside similar images of two equally active, contemporary female personalities, Mary Charleson (at Vitagraph), and Ruth Roland (at Kalem), concentrated on the fact ‘Little Miss Acker’ was someone that loved: “… real, genuine excitement.” She claimed, the unknown writer said: “… she would rather jump from a moving train, ride a motorcycle at a fifty-mile clip, or ride in an aeroplane than eat.” The breaking of her leg at the time, while not sustained performing a stunt, was connected to one, due to her being on the back of future Leading Man (Frederic) Rodman Law’s motorcycle, when it was hit by a seven-passenger Touring Car, at the junction of Broadway and 42nd Street in New York. According to a report, Law was driving, with Acker and a Rosabella Phoner also on the ‘bike. (Law and Phoner had apparently jumped from an aeroplane earlier that day, at Coytesville, New Jersey.) Jean’s leg fracture was so bad that she was rushed to Long Island Hospital. Rodman, despite being thrown 30 feet, and fracturing his arm, made sure that she was taken care of first. Along with Rosabella. Who was lucky to escape with bruising of her face and arms.
At the time of this upset, Jean Acker had completed the two reel, 20 minute film In a Woman’s Power (1913). This, even by the standards of the day, flimsy, corny melodrama, with Jean playing a virtuous and forgiving wife, named Marcelle, who decides to hold onto her husband, despite his criminal past and the lure of a pre-Bara Vampish former love, was simultaneous to the single reel, ten minute comedy The Man Outside (1913). (A production, not to be confused with the similarly titled The Man From Outside, by Reliance, or the picture released that Autumn with the exact same name, by Essanay.)
TOMORROW FROM 2:00 P. M. to 11:00 P. M.
Bureaucratic tyranny in photo. Portrays the Muscovite
terror system, in two big reels.
An ad. for The PALACE, in The Bryan Daily Eagle and Pilot, Bryan, Texas, August 20th, 1913 (page 2)
It would only be after recovering, wherever that was, that Jean would be showcased in the sort of vehicle the public was being primed to expect to see her. Nihilist Vengeance (1913) is, we see from reviews and reports, exactly that sort of production; featuring, as it did, a bridge destroyed by three explosions, as ‘Little Miss Acker’, as the sweetheart of a wrongly condemned hero, thunderered across it in an open carriage, in an ultimately successful attempt to save him from an unjust death. An anonymous reviewer, writing for the Daily East Oregonian that September, praised the costumes but felt that the plot was: “… conventional.” More conventional still, and not as exciting, was another film at this time, titled Bob’s Baby. In the Gem comedy, unleashed that August, Acker dutifully acted as the cousin of Bob, played by Glen White. Surely wishing, as she did so, for another, far more exciting role. Eventually it would come.
I have to say I wondered at this point – 1913/1914 – about Acker’s sexuality. And also what effect being mainly attracted to women might’ve had on her, and her career chances, in what was an extremely male-dominated business. In later life she lived quietly with her Long-Term Partner, Lillian Chloe Carter; but nothing is known of her relationship, or relationships, before World War One. What, for example, did the person in the Winter road traffic accident, Rosabella Phoner, mean to her? And should anything be read into her 1912 vacation with Catherine Tower? Also, what was life like for Lesbians, at this time in the States?
Magnus Hirschfield, in the footsteps of the 19th Century pyschologist, Karoly Maria Hertbeny (or Karl-Maria Benkert), inventor of the term Homosexuality, was only just beginning work on The Homosexuality of Men and Women (1922), in which he delved into the mental, emotional and physical spheres. As well as how new technology, such as communications and transportation, were affecting their lives. The few specialists there were remained at odds about even the reasons for same-sex relationships. Prior to The Great War the conversation had barely started. In America, in 1915, before the United States entered the conflict, only the recently bailed Agitator, Emma Goldman, dared lecture on the subject of The Intermediate Sex — and not everywhere, either.
I consulted Leila J. Rupp’s 2009 publication, Sapphistries: A Global History Of Love Between Women, to get an idea of how Lesbians and Lesbianism were perceived. It was, I must say, of little assistance when it came to the years that I was interested in. Yet I did learn how, in 1919, an unnamed Sexologist suggested passive Lesbians were the result of social factors, and aggressive ones due to biology. 1913/1914 was, of course, a whole half decade behind this opinion. Many years before Berlin became a Sapphist paradise. And a decade and a half earlier, than either Radcliffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness (1928), or G. W. Pabst’s Pandora’s Box (1929). (The Well of Loneliness, by-the-way, was banned in the USA.)
Rupp’s book did yield the late Nineteenth Century Alice Mitchell/Freda (or Fred) Ward case in Memphis however. Proving that, from time-to-time, the general public was made aware of women who loved other women. It’s a saga so filled with incident – love letters, cross-dressing, marriage plans, a ring, a murder, press coverage, a trial and an asylym – that I’m frankly amazed it wasn’t made into a Blockbuster years ago.
Despite the lack of context, and few clues as to her partners, it strikes me as plain that while Jean managed to escape her unpleasant origins, she remained caught between convention and liberation, her public self and her real self. Forced, I’m sure, to behave one way, while yearning at times to act in another. It was a double life. And interview hints are too heavy in my opinion for it to have been anything else. Inner turmoil was virtually guaranteed. In the largely male-dominated industry in which she found herself she could accept, even encourage, advances from men, if she kept her involvement with Phoner, Tower, and others, such as it was, a secret. And she did — she had to. Her career completely depended on it. Plus, if she acted like one of the guys, then they might, perhaps, see her more as a Pal, or little sister, than a sex object. It was a perpetual high wire act and a tumble was inevitable.
Girl in a Daring
Leap for Movies
Column headline, page 1 of The Seattle Star, October 25th, 1913
In October, the young woman reported that March, as preferring to jump from a moving train, ride a fast motorcycle, or soar in aeroplane, than eat a meal, was to be seen across the nation, in the IMP two-reeler The Daredevil Mountaineer (1913). Several newspapers reviewed the film ahead of, and after, release. And many waxed lyrical about the main characters and an exciting stunt. The Seattle Star was so impressed, that Jean Acker and her co-Star were featured in a large, reproduced photo. on the front page. The write-up, describing Acker, as: “… as gritty a little girl as ever took her life in her hands to amuse ‘movie’ patrons.” Though The North Platte Semi Weekly Tribune perhaps summed it up best on November 21st: “The Dare-Devil Mountaineer” …. shows Rodman Law and Jean Acker as his sweetheart. Her mother takes her from mountain country to the city in order to marry her to a title, but the mountaineer elopes with her on a motorcycle. This daring escape makes a very thrilling scene.” The scene mentioned – Rodman and Jean pursued, while speeding along on a bike at 85 mph, with the chase culminating in a spectacular and all-too-real, forty foot fall from an open draw-bridge – was as daredevil as the title promised. And six months before The Perils of Pauline made an international Star of Pearl White, in 1914, we see that Jean Acker was already endangering her life for action addicted filmgoers.
Rodman Law – brother of a younger Aviatrix sister, and also known as Frank R. Law, but born Frederic Rodman Law – was the perfect screen partner for thrill-seeking Jean Acker. By now she had surely forgiven ‘The Human Fly’ (as he was nicknamed) for her ending up in hospital when his ‘bike collided with an automobile earlier that year. Had she willed the film to be? Or was it fate? Whatever, she’d placed herself, quite literally, in his hands. After all, this was a death-defier who’d successfully plunged over Stillwater Falls, Maine, in an open boat, for a Reliance film a few months earlier. And the previous year had managed to successfully parachute from both the Brooklyn Bridge and the torch of the Statue of Liberty.
If her film career was going well, we might wonder why it was that Acker was listed as a cast member of a play, Within the Law, at the end of the year. Her mention, buried in dense text, in the November 29th edition of The New York Clipper, is actually a retrospective look at the production, at the New York Lyric Theater — now, apparently, Foxwoods Theater. Further investigation revealed that Jean had in fact been attached to the hit play since mid. Summer, when a July issue of VARIETY gently trumpeted how the notable Producer, A. H. Woods, had engaged her for the part of Helen Morris. The short paragraph, also reminded those paying attention, that Miss Acker was familiar to film viewers; demonstrating that she had some pulling power, and was sufficiently known to be considered a good choice for such an important attraction.
The Within the Law storyline, of a woman wrongly accused of theft, imprisoned for three years, and then forced, on her release, to turn to criminality to survive, was a resonant one with audiences. Partly, because the playwright, Bayard Veiller, had once been a Police Reporter. And also due to the unsubtle, Suffragist subtext, which grounded it very much in the present. The advertised endorsement of Harriet Stanton Blatch, prominent Suffragette, in an April 1913 edition of The Sun newspaper, highlights this. The character, Mary Turner, played by Helen Ware and others, was patently the victim of a cruel and repressive male-dominated system. The play’s path to success – a rewrite, the departure of the original Producer, a disastrous 1911 Chicago opening, serious trading of interests and shares, and final success, in September 1912, at the newly-opened 42nd Street Eltinge Theater – was just as interesting. Afterwards followed no less than eight duplicate productions – Jean’s probable Amour Catherine Tower headed one – across the country. Several printed newpaper serialisations. And many months of popularity in London’s ‘West End’.
That December Jean Acker could look back on a year filled with incident and success. While not exactly a Superstar – MOTOGRAPHY magazine felt it important to advise readers that she was now on the stage and not in films which wasn’t strictly speaking correct – she had, nevertheless, carved herself something of a niche. Her work for ‘Pop Lubin’ and then Laemmle’s Universal (at IMP, Gem and Victor), had been of value, and established her, along with others, as an early, pioneering, Film Personality.
Might the early, pioneering Film Personality, enjoying the festive atmosphere of New York, have swept up or down Broadway, on the day the newly arrived, slightly rained-soaked Rodolfo Guglielmi, wide-eyed at all he saw, walked it? Or passed him on another day in her car, loudly honking her horn, as he failed to cross her path with sufficient speed? It’s not pointless speculation. These two young people were very much in Gotham at the same time. Simultaneously seeing identical sights. Breathing the same air. In America’s most vibrant city at one of the most exciting times in its history: the cusp of 1913/1914.
My research indicated 1914 wasn’t the year of progress that Jean had perhaps hoped for. She’s seldom mentioned in trade publications, or news titles; and when she is, it’s briefly. Like when she’s highlighted in Vesta Powell’s coverage of the The Screen Club’s second annual ball, in her ALL FOR THE LADIES About Women—Mostly column, in VARIETY, on February the 6th, 1914. Powell, who wrote under the name of PLAIN MARY, witnessed the gathering of early screen stars and their devoted public, at the impressive Grand Central Palace, on the night of January the 31st, and wrote about the event with an honesty that refreshes and amuses, even today. Her general observations aside we learn that the cream of East Coast Filmdom were in attendance. King Baggot, Mary Fuller and John Bunny. Leah Baird, Mrs. Maurice Costello, Pearl White, Florence La Badie and Jane Fearnley. Claire Whitney and Fannie Burke. PLAIN MARY’s attention was, unsurprisingly, drawn to the pretty outfits worn by the actresses. Jean Acker’s, she told her readers, was: “… a white taffeta gown with [a] yellow girdle and [a] small white lace cap.”
If anything, Acker managed to maintain her position but nothing more. Of course, at the time, it might not have seemed this way to her. We, now, down-the-line, have the ability to look back and see the peaks and the troughs. I do wonder about the switch from film-making to board-treading. Was her orientation the reason? Had she, perhaps, rejected the advances of a powerful Executive? Nowhere did I see any mention of a Boyfriend, or Fiancee, in 1912, 1913 and 1914. Or, for that matter, see her linked in any way with any man, young or old. And the absence of a male in her life spoke volumes. Though there were indeed many successful single females – Frances Benjamin Johnston for example – the majority of women could only go so far alone. A Husband, while not essential, absolutely gave a woman a different standing in society. Performers in large numbers were often married while remaining a Miss. (Mary Pickford being perhaps one of the most obvious.) Issues with any man or men along the way could’ve led to her being overlooked for parts. And we can’t discount the very real chance that she’d already been forced to submit, to secure at least one, or more, of her previous roles. As so many, male as much as female, did.
I feel strongly that Catherine Tower was important to her emotionally. And I don’t think it a coincidence they knew one another and that Tower preceded Acker as Helen Morris in Within the Law. The announcement of Catherine leaving was followed just a month later with the news of Jean’s arrival. It could have been a friendly favour, with the established actress putting her forward, or, simply the promotion of her Understudy. However, Jean Acker’s future entanglement with an even greater theatrical personality, Alla Nazimova, suggests a pattern, and so the possibility shouldn’t be dismissed. It’s also important – essential – to point out that this was a person with no mother’s wing under which to crawl. The Pickford’s, the Gishes, the Talmadges, and others, all had a steely parent to defend them, and to battle the studios and studio bosses on their behalf. Her Father being disengaged she naturally sought out a substitute. And substitutes no doubt sought her out. In the case of Nazimova most definitely.
How long Acker’s agreement with Woods was is unknown. The available information doesn’t make it easy to deduce when she ceased to be a cast member. Signed up in the Summer of 1913, we see that she’s still Morris at the end of the year. As for Spring and Summer 1914, if Tower remained engaged (which she did), then it’s safe to assume that Acker did too, and that it was a one year deal.
The assumption is given weight by the fact her next film, The $5,000,000 Counterfeiting Plot (1914), was, as The New-York Tribune details, premiered at the New York Theatre, on Monday, August 10th, 1914. Being a social creature, Jean was probably present to hear the central character, William J. Burns, an actual Detective who played himself in the six part Dramascope Co. serial, talk on the subject of crime. (Before or after the screening.) Based on actual, recent events, the production was unusual in that it was a 6 reel/six part feature. In 1914 the majority of films that were created were just one or two reels in length – ten or twenty minutes – and so an hour long presentation was very experimental. Only the great D. W. Griffith had so far dared to challenge the belief Americans wouldn’t sit through anything longer than thirty minutes. His Judith of Bethulia (1914) had had a delayed release by his previous employers that March. Yet to create the game-changing Birth of a Nation (1915) he, himself, released six reeler The Avenging Conscience (1914) that same month. All Star, Eclectic, World and Pasquali each nervously issued their own five reelers.
THE MOTION PICTURE WORLD gave The $5,000,000 Counterfeiting Plot a three quarter page in-depth review. And the reviewer, Hanford C. Judson, singled Jean Acker out for praise. Stating that her portrayal of another Helen, this time Helen Long, daughter of a villain, James Long, a Counterfeiter, gave: “… by its simplicity a strong-heart interest to the whole that tells mightily.” (Not bad!) However, it would seem the fresh, documentary-style production, filled with actual people, events and locations, not-to-mention superb acting, was just a bit ahead of its time. Too clever and overlong. Had it been shot a year or so later, like The Italian (1915), it may’ve fared better. Despite the re-enactment of the Philadelphia-Lancaster counterfeiting case being skilful, and advertisements featuring Burns having impact, the US wasn’t ready for a crime epic. It played here and there and was soon forgotten.
Then, as much as now, a poor career decision could be fatal. And I suspect Jean suffered a little due to The Dramascope Co. spectacular’s lack of success. Something which would explain why she fails to be mentioned in the press as starring in anything for several months. That her standing in the film community wasn’t affected by her lack of work is proven by her appearance in the same paragraph as Edwin August of Kinetophote, Mary Pickford of Famous Players Film Co. (soon to be Famous Players-Lasky Corp.), Pickford’s Mother, Ormi Lawley of the Lubin Manufacturing Co., and fellow daring female, Pearl White. The occasion, being another Screen Club Ball, this time on Thanksgiving eve, at the Hotel Astor, to raise money for the Belgian Relief Fund. Jean being very much a part of the efforts that night; as well as, perhaps, beforehand and afterwards, along with her contemporaries.
Her other mention, in the Saturday, December 5th, 1914, issue of VARIETY, on page 23, is about her inclusion as a cast member in the forthcoming Famous Players Film Co. John Barrymore vehicle, Are You a Mason? (1915). (See above.) Based, by Eve Unsell (writer of the screenplay), on Leo Ditrichstein’s turn of the centrury farce of the same title, the film was to be the illustrious Barrymore’s third cinematic venture. His first outing being An American Citizen (1914). And the second The Man From Mexico (1914). Releases that were also stage hits translated to celluloid by Zukor’s concern. (In fact, so confident was Famous Players Film Co., that a fourth theatrical adaptation, The Dictator, awaited him.)
From advance publicity, we know that Acker was carefully selected for her part in the story of a feisty young man, who pretends to his ambitious wife, in accordance with her wishes, that he’s become a Mason. THE NEW YORK CLIPPER, on December 6th, 1914, declared in CURRENT FILM EVENTS BY RIK, that it was: “An unusually important cast of Broadway favourites…” that had been collected to support ‘Jack’ Barrymore. And further, Famous Players Film Co., had: “… deemed it advisable to entrust the parts to the able talents of this unusual coterie of stage artists.” (Jean Acker’s fellow performers were: Alfred Hickman, Charles Dixon, Charles Butler, Ida Waterman, Lorraine Hulling, Harold Lockwood and Kitty Baldwin.)
Filming took place in and around New York in January and February. However, time spent studying the comedic enterprise, doesn’t reveal Jean’s role, or, indeed, the parts played by some of the others. And due to the fact that the film, along with his two earlier efforts, is lost, it’s impossible to have much of an idea. The few stills there are that exist mainly feature the Star alone in exaggerated poses.
If the majority of pre-release promotion praised the production to the heavens, then ‘Wynn’, reviewing for VARIETY, aimed to return it firmly to earth, as screenings commenced, at New York’s Strand Theatre, on March 22nd, 1915. More of an attack than a critique, from the start the writer described Are You a Mason? as: “A decidely mild comedy…” And it didn’t get better. Monotonous, conventional and poorly directed, ‘Wynn’ felt it failed to exploit the many obvious opportunities for humour in the play. And in its original form perhaps it did. As it appears that Adolph Zukor took note, and a re-edited, shorter version was soon released.
Yet, audiences in the middle of the Teens were less demanding than crtics, and Are You a Mason? was successfully and no doubt profitably screened for many months. What flaws there were didn’t affect Barrymore. And ‘Wynn’ didn’t blame him for them anyway. Jean, though, was overshadowed. As with the The $5,000,000 Counterfeiting Plot a big production had failed to take her anywhere. She was, it seems, on the slide; and probably had a slipping feeling as the year progressed.
Does this explain her professional disappearance for almost 36 months? It’s hard to say for certain. And yet she mysteriously vanishes from the business as far as I can see for that length of time. Four years of irregular mentions and images suddenly end and the reason isn’t clear. Had her lack of a contract hampered her? Did her choices over time spoil things? It’s seldom that a single decision ruins things; yet, a series of mistakes most definitely can. There’s little doubt that between 1914 and 1915 she moves with some difficulty from project to project. And that, despite the size and scale, they turned out not to be the opportunities she’d thought they’d be. Jean’s faltering at this time, would, I imagine, make her future success all the sweeter. And in Part Two I’ll be looking at those successes and the sweetness in the same detail that I have in Part One.
Thank you for reading this post in its entirety — I appreciate it. As usual, any and all references and research is available to anybody who asks, if they’re not already provided in the text, as a link, or, as an image. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about Jean Acker’s early life and career as much as I enjoyed writing about it. The second installment, looking at her years of stardom, and her meeting and marriage to Rudolph Valentino, will be posted a month from now, at the start of 2020. See you then!
There are few people more dedicated to preserving the memory of Rudolph Valentino, or promoting him and championing him and his career, than Mr. Tracy Terhune. As well as being a Preservationist, a Promoter and a Champion, he’s also a serious Collector; and thus an important Custodian, when it comes to Valentino-related artifacts and ephemera. His knowledge is immense. His generosity, kindness and openness even greater. He’s an Administrator of the long-established We Never Forget Valentino group on Facebook. And importantly, organises the annual Rudolph Valentino Memorial Service, which takes place each August 23rd, at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, in Los Angeles, at 12:10 p. m., the time of the passing of the Great Lover in 1926.
Tracy has kindly taken time out from his busy schedule to engage in a Q & A session with His Fame Still Lives. (Questions are in British English and answers are in American English.)
1. Tracy, hello, and thank you for agreeing to speak with HFSL. Two months ago, once again, you organised and hosted the Rudolph Valentino Memorial, at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, in Los Angeles. It must’ve been quite a task to pull it all together. Can you take us through the process? What exactly does it take to organise such an event?
The Valentino Memorial is such a time-honoured Hollywood event and I am so proud to be a part of it. The main part is to plan in advance, and I try to line up at least two speakers. That is the hardest part of putting on the event. People who have written books or recent projects are always considered. Some people even reach out with an idea. Some are declined, such as one year, a person wanted to hold a seance in the middle of the Memorial. Once the speakers are confirmed, I reach out to fill the rest of the program, which includes reading a selection of poems from Day Dreams, and the reading of the ending of the 23rd Psalm. If the Memorial is on a certain year, we may theme it accordingly, such as the 90th anniversary of the Memorial. The short videos that are shown are all custom-made specifically for the event, and contribute greatly to the Memorial itself. Some pay tribute to past participants, or to refresh the memory of a person who has a Rudy connection, such as Mae Murray or Ann Harding. Also, every year we have a short video, which I call the “Valentino Tribute Video” and it is done solely to stop and remember Rudolph Valentino. It changes each year.
I design and order the banners and also I design and print the programs. Sometimes additional ‘hand outs’ are given to those who attend, for example, this year, a hand-held fan with Rudy’s image and the date on it was given out. Other times it was recreation of the Mineralava ticket or a pin-back button for the 90th anniversary. The Cemetery provides the podium, the chairs and microphone. This year is the third year the Memorial has been broadcast on Facebook Live. That has proven to be very popular. All this comes together and makes what we all know as the Valentino Memorial Service.
2. I know that you’ve been organising and hosting the Memorial for quite some time now. For those who don’t know as much as I and others do, can you tell us how you got started, and maybe some of the highlights for you over the years??
I got a call from the Cemetery saying Tyler Cassity (the owner of the Cemetery) wanted me to be on the committee of organzing the Memorial. Bud Testa, who had done it on his own for nearly 50 years was in ill health, and Tyler wanted to bring a group together to plan the annual event. That is how I got started and this would be 2001. My first Memorial I attended was in 1996 and I have been at every one since then. The first time I spoke was 2002 to close the service with reading the prayer card that was handed out at the Valentino funeral in 1926. In 2004 my book came out which chronicled the entire history of the Valentino Memorial and I was the main speaker that year.
In those days there was a lot of turnover at the Cemetery and it wasn’t uncommon to come back the next year and it would be all new people running the place. In 2006 they had no one for the Emcee, and I said I would be willing, and I have continued since then. One thing is the guiding force in everything I do for the Memorial; that it is not about me, it is about honouring and remembering Valentino. Nor do I invite anyone who I feel would bring disrespect to him or to the Service itself. No speakers appear in “costumes”. Ask anyone who’s attended in the past few years and I am confident that they will tell you it is fun and interesting, but that it is a dignified, respectful event.
3. And going back further into time, I’m interested to learn of your very first inkling of Rudy. In other words: at what point in your life did you become aware of him?
I was first aware of Rudy because of the Brownlow Hollywood Series that I saw on public television. In the early 1980s I used to go to local revival houses to see silent films. My first silent film was Wings. At Universal around this time Mary MacLaren came in to visit and she told us about her dressing room being next to Rudolph Valentino’s on the Universal lot. It wasn’t until 1995 that the Silent Movie Theatre in Los Angeles was showing the Brownlow restoration of the The Four Horsemen.
I went in and saw that, and thought he had amazing screen chemistry and presence. I sought out books to learn more about him, and the only ones were at used bookstores, most of them highly fictionalized however. I came across the Irving Shulman bio and it was the first I read. It is still my favourite Valentino bio.
4. After you’d become aware of him and his career what were your thoughts? Before you knew as much as you do now? How did he strike you as a person early on?
My first impression of him was how sad, and lonely a person he was. He was used by everyone, I mean everyone. He was un-valued by the studios. (He left Metro, because they declined his request for a $50 a week raise, and they let him go! This after The Four Horsemen!) He was horribly used by his two wives. One had a sagging career and started using his name, yet, she had no qualms about dragging that name through the mud in the divorce trial. The other had an insatiable desire to be a power to reckon with within the movie industry and he was the means to obtain it. He was used by his Business Manager. The fact he wrote to his brother asking him to please write to him because he needed to know somebody still loved him. That’s very sad.
5. And what would you say was your biggest misconception — if you had any??
I only knew the standard legend that Rudolph Valentino was the Great Lover. I went into it assuming he was a big chaser of women, living up to his screen reputation. Nothing could be further from the truth. In private he was a quiet, homebody type, who enjoyed the company of those he trusted, a small circle of select friends within his social circle. That is who the true Rudolph Valentino was.
6. You have a vast collection of Rudy-related items which has grown over time. I’d like to ask you which was the very first thing you acquired and when??
The very first items I obtained were the Luther Mahoney items. They are pictured in the 1975 book about Valentino by Jack Scagnetti. I had recently read the book and saw those items pictured, and remember thinking: ‘I wonder who owns those now’. Two weeks later I attended a local memorabilia show and there they were, all in plastic bags and marked: “Personal Property of Rudolph Valentino”.
It turns out after Luther Mahoney’s death his daughter Madeleine Mohoney Reid inherited them, but she had recently died and they were sold off to a dealer, who in turn was selling them off piece by piece. I thought it was sad these were all kept together, and now this was happening. I bought several of the items and that is how I got started. That would be about 1997.
7. Having been lucky enough to see your Valentino collection three years ago I know that it’s very varied. I wonder if you could give us a quick overview of what it contains?
I have a good selection of photos, some quite rare. I enjoy lobby cards, and the one six-sheet from Society Sensation. It takes up a whole wall. What I enjoy most are items from the estate and personal documents. I have put most of my collecting efforts towards that area.
8. What’s the most unusual item that you have?
The 1920s mirror from the master bathroom in Falcon Lair which would have reflected Rudy’s face daily. The mirror was built into the wall and was original to the house which was built in 1923. It was given to me by the then owner of Falcon Lair as he had planned to remodel the bathroom and it would not be retained. True to his word, on my next visit, it was protected in bubble wrap waiting for me. Truly a one of a kind piece!
9. What’s the item that you cherish the most?
Three things. The Demi Tasse silver cup and saucer that is listed in the estate catalog as “This was Mr. Valentino’s personal set”. Also, the famed Eagle ring that he wore in three films: ‘A Sainted Devil’, ‘Cobra’, and of course ‘The Eagle’, where the ring actually became part of the plot line. I plan to donate this to the Academy for their new museum and I hope this happens. Lastly, his United Artists contract signed by Rudy.
10. Was there ever anything that you wanted that you couldn’t acquire?
Sometimes in auctions there are several items and I have to pick my battles. I have missed out on some items I would have liked to have but that is fine.
11. And if you don’t mind to share it with us which was your most recent acquisition?
Two Rudolph Valentino signed ocean liner farewell dinner menus, both from different voyages, that have the dates of the trip. One was signed by him and Nita Naldi. The other was signed by him to Louise, his personal Cook at home. He talks about how the food on this menu may sound good, but Oh! for Louise’s cooking! Very funny and heart-felt.
12. Looking back over Valentino’s all-too-brief life and career, what, in your opinion, was his greatest achievement? (If you feel there was more than one please tell us!)
I think his greatest achievement was something he did not live to see and that would be his enduring legacy. I would like to think he would be pleased to know that a Memorial would continue to be held 93 years after his passing. That people still care, each in their own way. That is an achievement and honor that none of his contemporaries in the movie industry are afforded.
13. And which, in your opinion, is his greatest performance and/or greatest film?
He was superb in The Four Horsemen. I think Moran of the Lady Letty is an often overlooked performance. I liked his pairing with Gloria Swanson in Beyond the Rocks. But I think his best film by far is The Son of the Sheik.
14. Why do you think people were so drawn to Rudolph Valentino, and why were women, particularly, so enamoured of him?
For females of his day it was the escapism that movies offered women and Rudy was the embodiment of that escape, the forbidden love that would whisk you away from the dishes and laundry, to passion and romance. For men, it was that he himself wanted to be like Valentino, to have that alluring charm for use on women.
15. I’m sending you back in a time machine to the Twenties. You’re in Rudy’s presence for a short while, maybe disguised as a Reporter, what do you ask him?
I’d ask him for his spaghetti recipe we’ve heard so much about.
16. If you could’ve given him one piece of advice what would it have been?
I’d have suggested he not marry Jean Acker nor Natacha Rambova; both were huge mistakes in completely different ways. Then I would kindly suggest he not take the negative articles too personally, to grow a thicker skin towards that.
17. If we know what his appeal was in the past, what is it about Valentino today, do you think, that continues to attract people to him?
His charisma still leaps from the screen. He still resonates with an audience. Valentino is forever. Long after we’re gone, someone, somewhere, will be watching ‘The Son of the Sheik’.
18. Valentino stirs up controversy, now, as much as he did in his lifetime. What do you think about this?
This is so true. I think it’s sad as well as unfortunate. So much hate has been unfurled in the name of Valentino. In my opinion there is pure fiction being published about Rudy even today by people; some, who call themselves ‘scholarly’! I believe fiction, hearsay, innuendo, and guesswork is being touted as fact. For the most part they are very much ignored within the Valentino Community.
19. Finally, what’s next for you, when it comes to Rudolph Valentino? Do you have any burning ambitions? Anything you’d like to do, or see happen, with regard to him?
I do have a couple of projects I am toying with. I’d like to update my book Valentino Forever, and also, I’d like to put together a photo. book of the history of the East coast and West coast funerals and the aftermath, using photos I have in my collection.
I would love to see the Brownlow ‘The Eagle’ released to Blu-ray. They are releasing a Blu-ray of the movie but it is not from that print source. Only two original camera negatives exist for Valentino films. ‘Cobra’ is one and ‘The Eagle’ is the other. A print was struck a decade ago and shown at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. It was razor-sharp and crystal clear on the big screen; you could see the gleam in his eye. It is a shame that print is locked away.
Tracy Terhune, thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions, about yourself, and about Rudolph Valentino. I really appreciate it.
Thank you, all, for taking the time to read through Mr. Terhune’s fascinating interview with HFSL about himself and Rudy. This is the first, of what’s planned to be, an irregular series over time. If anyone who enjoys this Valentino-focused Blog thinks that a person is deserving of being interviewed I’d love to hear your suggestion/s. Anyone respectful of Rudolph Valentino and his work and legacy will be considered. See you in November!
Debtor. Bankrupt. Business Failure. Wife-Beater. Child Kidnapper. Wanted Man. Fraudster. Not individually pretty labels, are they? How about collectively? Applied to one person? A person at times close – very close indeed – to Rudolph Valentino. A person, we’re led to believe, who was his loyal Sponsor and Protector in the United States. The unsavoury character in question? Frank A. Mennillo. A man apparently erased from the narrative. Purposely pushed aside and diminished. Not given his due. My findings indicate he never was the Godfather it’s claimed he was. That he was a Hanger On. And that he might very well have been a reason Rudolph Valentino never had any money. This post is titled simply: Frank.
Thanks to modern tech. it’s very easy to get to know the subject of the post this month on His Fame Still Lives. It’s all online. And it makes for interesting reading. Born April 10th, 1882, in Naples, Italy, like countless numbers of his contemporaries (including of course his future friend), he emigrated to America when young; though, unlike Valentino, he didn’t travel there in style.
Francesco Mennillo – his middle initial wasn’t used at this time – was just 22 years old when he boarded the S. S. Perugia, a vessel known for transporting marble, pumice, soap, olive oil and macaroni, etc., at Naples, on June 11th, 1904. The ship’s Steerage paperwork reveals that he travelled alone; his occupation was Merchant; that he was able to write; was a Southern Italian; had paid for his own passage; was carrying just $20; would be living with his cousin (on Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn); that he’d never been in prison, wasn’t a Polygamist, an Anarchist, or a Trouble Causer; that his health was good; and that he wasn’t deformed, or crippled.
Proof he spent the twelve months after arrival (on June 26th), living and working in the USA, is found in his 1905 petition for naturalization documents. (It was necessary to remain within a state for a year, and be resident in the country for five years, to be able to apply for citizenship.) That he was on his way to citizenship is the reason he declares, in 1906, on his return to America on the S. S. Italia, that he’s a Non-Immigrant Alien. And in that Manifest we see he’s still a Merchant; is single; brings $50 into the country; and is living with his brother, at Hester Street, Lower Manhattan.
This journey from the United States to Italy and back again was one he made practically every year between 1906 and 1911. (He failed to cross and recross the Atlantic only in 1907.) In 1909, by which time he was married, and was calling himself Frank, he returns on the S. S. Roma in the September. That his brothers, Ciro and Giovanni (respectively 22 and 12 at the time), followed him, on the S. S. Virginia, that December, suggests he’d been helping them to get ready eight weeks previously. (That the elder, Ciro, was at the time a Farmer, indicates a move which would significantly improve his prospects.)
His trip out and back, on the S. S. Madonna in 1910, was followed by a more impressive one the next year. In the Spring of 1911, he returned from Liverpool, Great Britain, on the Cunard Line Liner, RMS Lusitania — the ship famously torpedoed and sunk by the Germans just four years later. Though this was apparently a Second Class voyage, it’s safe-to-say, that with the assistance of immediate family, and contacts made in both New York and Naples, he was doing well. And had progressed, in a few short years, from Merchant or Trader, to Importer, had been married, and seen the birth of his son. (The petition for naturalization includes later info. about Arnaldo, who was born on March 7th, 1910.)
So, a surprise it is, to see in THE BROOKLYN DAILY EAGLE, on May 16th, 1912, that he’s listed the previous day, as a Debtor, owing $241.55 to a C. Frankel, with a judgement against him in favour of the Claimant. What had gone wrong, we might wonder, that he’d been unable to pay an amount today equivalent to more than six thousand dollars? Clearly things weren’t so great for Mr. Mennillo just one year on.
While Frank had been busying himself in the US, and travelling to and from Italy, young Rodolfo Guglielmi had also been on the move. In the year Mennillo emigrated alone the Guglielmi family shifted as a unit from Castellaneta to Taranto. In 1906, when the then, Francesco, headed back to America on the S. S. Italia, Rudy lost his father, and was sent away to a distant school in Perugia, where he spent several unhappy years; the serious unhappiness continuing until he found himself at agricultural college, at Nervi. After an ill thought-out trip to Paris, and many wasted months back at Taranto, at the very end of 1913 he climbed aboard the S. S. Cleveland, hoping for a fresh start in New York.
Was Frank A. Mennillo waiting to meet him when he arrived? In my opinion no. Having looked in great depth at the available evidence, I see nothing, anywhere, that gives even the vaguest hint that Mennillo had advance knowledge of his arrival, or, was at Brooklyn to greet him. (It’s actually claimed they met at Ellis Island, which First Class passengers were spared.) Consequently my March post (New York Timeline (1913)) didn’t mention it. The fact Valentino doesn’t allude to him once in his letter to his mother would be the first reason to doubt the assertion. After all, who would travel such a distance, getting ready to meet with a good friend of the family, which we’re told Frank was, and fail to devote even one sentence to them? There’s nothing. And here’s a second reason. Why, when he went into detail about his earliest weeks in the USA, with friends and family, two wives, a Manager, and journalists by the score, did he opt to leave out any Padrone? None of his intimates, between 1913 and 1926, ever recalled him telling them he’d been met, taken care of, or assisted in any way by anybody. Because he wasn’t. He was, as all – all – the material shows, alone, and finding his own way for the best part of three to six months. (And all confirmed by his older brother Alberto, when he was interviewed, in depth, in 1977, for the series HOLLYWOOD, broadcast in 1980.)
Yet the reason that Mennillo wasn’t Rudy’s Guide/Sponsor/Patron/Benefactor, has less to do with the lack of verification and more to do with his personal circumstances. This was a man who wasn’t in a position to help himself, let alone an eighteen-year-old who’d just arrived and had never left Europe. On May 14th, 1914, on page 16 of the New York Tribune, we see, once again, that “Frank Mennillo” owes a large amount of money (this time to L. Afeltra), and the judgement has gone against him. However this was merely a prelude to the total collapse of his business dealings in the November. As can be seen, on November 23rd, 1914, on page 14 of The New York Times – the Court Calendars column – Frank was expected to appear at the District Court, at 10:30 a.m. that day, for bankruptcy proceedings. Almost immediately the extent of his indebtedness was made public:
FRANK MENNILLO, salesman, of 367 [sic]
Broome [Street], filed petition individually and
as a partner [in] the former firm of Mennillo &
Lignanti, importers, with liabilities of $20,378
and no assets. Among the creditors are P. &
D. Samengo, Naples, Italy, $18,000, goods sold
in 1911; Bank of Rome, Naples, $1,200; and P.
Ballentine & Sons, Newark, $500.
From the New York Tribune.
Breaking down the information, we see that Mennillo was, in today’s money, a cool half million dollars in debt — not, to borrow a hackneyed phrase, something to be sniffed at. And that he also had no properties, no vehicles, nothing he could sell. We further learn that he was partnered in his endeavours by a Mr. Lignanti. And the partners owed money mainly to their fellow countrymen. (Lignanti and P. & D. Samengo have eluded me but P. Ballentine and Sons were manufacturers of strong beer.) We can see, as well, that the sum of $18,000 had been owed for several years, since 1911. And if we add together in our heads the three larger totals we understand a further $678 was owed to others. All of them, whoever they were, just as upset as the main creditors.
A person declared bankrupt in the Winter of 1914 had undoubtedly struggled for a good year. Perhaps even eighteen months. (In 1912 he was already a Debtor.) So the idea that Frank A. Mennillo could have been providing significant support to Rudolph Valentino at the time is nonsense. And if he was, then why do witnesses, such as ‘Dickie’ Warner, later say Valentino wasn’t living in great accommodation? And a wealthy, successful and well-connected fellow countryman, would’ve found a Dependant a good position somewhere. A really great one. And yet Rudolph was forced to go about looking for work. Went from menial job to menial job. Had, at one point, no job. Before finding a position as a Taxi Dancer. Obviously this isn’t a person with someone looking after them. Nothing suggests it.
It was late 1914. New York was booming. But Frank A. Mennillo was bust. Washed up. The following Spring things went from bad to worse. On March 24th, 1915, it was widely reported that Frank and wife, Zelinda, both now living at Bay Twenty-Ninth Street, in Brooklyn, had appeared in front of Supreme Court Justice Kelly. The reason: “… a suit for separation…” The reports laid bare that the marriage was on the rocks. Mr. Mennillo objected to his partner working as a School Teacher (at an Italian school conducted by the Children’s Aid Society). She preferred teaching to performing “domestic duties”. For her part Mrs. Mennillo claimed she’d been subjected to: “… cruel and inhuman treatment.” Not surprisingly Zelinda Mennillo was awarded custody of the five-year-old boy. (The report was wrong about the child’s age.)
I’ve no idea how you might feel about Frank abusing – perhaps physically hurting – his wife Zelinda. Perhaps you’ll think that it was just between the two of them and nothing to do with anybody else. However, I know for certain you’ll be as shocked as I was, that, soon after the judgement, he went to his son Arnaldo’s school (St. Hyacinth’s Academy, at Hawthorne, NY), kidnapped him, and told all who asked he’d packed him off to Italy. We know this to be a fact, due to newspaper reports, like the one in THE BROOKLYN DAILY EAGLE, on May 20th, 1916. Titled FATHER SURRENDERS SON, and subtitled Keeps Away Himself–Now Deputie [sic] Seek Him, the two paragraph column details how “Frank Mennillo” was at that time being sought by: “A squad of deputies of Sheriff Riegelman…” Having previously ignored a court order – maybe more than one? – to produce his son Arnold, now six, the small child had been suddenly and mysteriously produced (by a relation).
The brief, info.-packed TBDE article, concludes with the following: “Justice Blackmar …. instructed that Mennillo be brought into court to answer the charges against him.” That no further report was forthcoming doesn’t of course mean that he wasn’t. The issuing of “A warrant for contempt” as well as “a writ of attachment” was very serious indeed. His disappearance until 1917 suggests to me that he was given jail time and a fine. Certainly his assets, such as they were, would’ve frozen; making it impossible for him to do much in the short-to-medium term.
At the point Frank and Zelinda were at odds, in May 1916, and throwing verbal punches at one another in court, the now twenty-one-year-old Rodolfo Guglielmi (using the name Signor Rudolph), was engaged in his own ‘pas de deux’ in another arena. Having, from March to September 1914, endured six long months of terrible ups and downs, he had, quite literally, landed on his feet, when he secured work as a dancer-for-hire, at Cafe Maxim (or Maxim’s), at 110 West 38th Street, in Manhattan. This was followed by a year of exhibition dancing with Bonnie Glass. And then, when she retired, a switch to a rival female dancer extraordinaire, named Joan Sawyer.
However, his naming of Sawyer as the Other Woman, during the divorce of his on-off dancing partner – unbalanced Heiress Mrs. de Saulles – from her philandering husband, two months later, proved disastrous. And his options fell to zero when he was arrested in the September and the arrest was front page news. After laying low for half a year (due to acute embarrassment and being required to remain available for further questioning), he left the East Coast, in the Spring of 1917; heading West with a show: The Masked Model. (Appropriately titled considering his desire to disappear.) This mode of escape, once again, alerts us to the unlikelihood he had any serious support. A Godfather would simply have sent him the funds.
There’s no doubt that Frank – now using his middle initial – and Rudy were West, and at San Francisco, in the same year. Did their paths cross? I don’t believe so. We know that Mennillo was in the company of the Maffeis – D. V. Maffei, President of the Association of Italian Employees, and his son, William – in the October. (He travelled from East to West with William Maffei that month.) Yet, by the Autumn, Guglielmi was very firmly in L. A. He had been in S. F. in the June. And this is clear from his Draft Registration Card (on which he requested and received exemption (due to being an Alien)). So for them to have connected Frank would have had to have been there earlier too. If so, why was Rodolfo enjoying the company of Mr. and Mrs. Spreckles, and in and out of employment, and, on his way South after encountering Norman Kerry, formerly Norman Kaiser? And why are there no photographs of the two of them together at this point when there are several of him with others?
After a difficult 1918, when he lost his mother, had little film work, contracted influenza, and was tormented by a whole host of other problems, Rodolfo Guglielmi, now going by the name of Rodolphe De Valentina, and variants, was, in 1919, beginning to succeed in Moviedom. And though fame was still some way off, it was ahead, even if he didn’t know it. For Frank A. Mennillo the year began with his being linked to the already established American Olive Co. It not being difficult to search for the concern, on the internet, I’m curious to know where the idea Mennillo established it comes from. A relatively quick check revealed the American Olive Co. was in fact set-up before he ever placed a foot on Californian soil. For example, on August 27th, 1905, in the LOS ANGELES HERALD, at a time, you’ll recall, when the then Francesco Mennillo was concerning himself with getting settled on the East Coast, we see that the company was busy altering a factory building, at 1701 East Adams Street, to the tune of $5,000. Likewise, I wonder how he introduced the olive to the country, when, as early as 1907, the American Olive Co. was supplying “finest Ripe Olives in pint and quart cans” to retailers in Oregon. Cans! Which demonstrates a canning process in advance of Mr. Mennillo introducing one. It’s also a mystery how he was put out of business by any food poisoning scandal if the business wasn’t actually his. (A search for this disastrous breakout proved fruitless.)
That he did indeed own a share of the producers is proven by a March 7th, 1919, news item about Corporation Permits. (Shares issued were also issued to him.) As the extent of his holdings aren’t revealed, it’s possible that his interest was significant, and he was a driving force behind their expansion at the time; evidenced by a series of advertisements for label machine operators, and 50 women to peel tomatoes, etc. Yet was the expansion a good idea? And was Frank the person to mastermind it? Or, in any way, oversee it, if he did, in any way, oversee it? Perhaps not. After all his business dealings in the East had collapsed spectacularly.
That September/early October we see he went up the coast for ten days. Stopping: “… a day or two at the Belvedere in Santa Barbara …. from there [motoring] north [to visit] various olive ranches and other property…” that he owned. Of course this sounds good. Until we think about how a former bankrupt had managed to secure the necessary funds to acquire it. I think it’s safe for us to assume he borrowed heavily and was unable to keep up the repayments. And that at some point or another his disastrous past caught up with him. That he’s moved on entirely by the following year is emphasised by a report in THE MORNING PRESS, in July 1920, where we see he’s at the Ambassador Hotel, in L. A., in the company of Christian Demutopolos, a Greek Consul in the USA, Mr. Panagspolos the Consul General, and a Prosper Letternich.
That same month, twenty-five-year-old Rudolphe De Valentino/Rudolphe Valentine, was East, in his own sphere: Motion Pictures. The trip, necessitated by him being summoned to an interview, in April, about his arrest in 1916 and subsequent suing of the publishers of the varied titles that reported it, had led to two parts. First, as Joe Klingsby, in The Wonderful Chance (1920). Then, as Jose Dalmarez, in Stolen Moments (1920). However, there was a third part awaiting him, one that would finally secure him Stardom. The role of Julio Desnoyers in Metro Pictures Corp.’s The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921).
Anyone who ever read a biography about the life of Rudolph Valentino will know that The Four Horsemen (1921) was a huge hit. And he himself was a hit, nationally and internationally — particularly with females. No decent, well-researched biography fails to disclose his success, later that year, in The Sheik (1921); or, how The Sheik transformed him from a Star into a Superstar. His struggle to disassociate himself from the character that made him a Household Name – a battle he would ultimately lose – would begin in earnest the very next year. However, the role he hoped would lift him artistically, that of Juan Gallardo, in Blood and Sand (1922), didn’t reach the Valentino-hungry public until after he’d been arrested for Bigamy, and had embarked upon his One Man Strike. (To secure better working conditions and greater freedom at Famous Players-Lasky Corp.)
The sudden disappearance of the American Olive Co. in the national press in 1919/1920 does suggest it went out of business. Nowhere did I find a short piece, or a report of any length, that provided a reason (which you’d expect if the shut down had been notable). Whatever happened it’s clear that Frank A. Mennillo had turned his back on produce by the start of the new decade. In 1920, as we saw, he was associating with Greek diplomats on the West Coast. Later that year, in the September, his very definite involvement with The Italian American Republican League, would’ve seen him present at their convention in New York; the purpose of which, was, to: “… solidify the sentiment of voters of Italian origin in favor of Senator Harding and Gov. Coolidge in the November election.” At the gathering, at which representatives from 23 states were present, Frank was a witness to: the setting up of committees to organise women voters; Judge Pallotti’s resolution to repudiate the League of Nations; the endorsement of the Republican platform in full; the elevation of F. H. La Guardia to permanent Chairman; and the reading out of letters, to attendees, from Harding, Coolidge and Cabot, none of whom were able to be present.
Was it due to Frank being busy in the political arena that he failed to assist Rudy when he was accused of Bigamy? And was it his obligations in that sphere that prevented him from helping while he was out of work for six months? Wouldn’t a Padrino have put all responsibilities aside and stepped in? You’d think so. Unless he wasn’t a Padrino in the first place? That Frank A. Mennillo was indeed busy making the most of his connections at the time, is thrown into sharp relief, by a fascinating report on the front page of The New York Times, on Thursday, October 18th, 1923.
Titled, in capital letters, FRANK OF CONGRESS USED IN STOCK DEAL, the news item exposed a serious breach of Congressional rules by Mennillo. Specifically, that he’d sent out letters inviting ‘brother Republicans’ to invest in the [Auto Rim Lever Lock Corp.], not only on Congressional headed paper, and inside of Congressional envelopes, but also using the franking system of the Congress — an improper act and an illegal one. We read how one recipient (“a Republican of standing in New York”), who’d tipped off several newspapers, had described it as “one of the most extraordinary documents” he’d ever received. And how, when quizzed by telegram, the Congressman concerned, M. O. McLaughlin, of Newbraska, President of the company mentioned, denied knowledge of any letters, despite his signature being on them. (The entire letter was, to everyone’s embarrassment, reproduced by TNYT.)
According to the reporter “F. A. Mennillo” was quick to admit, under extreme pressure no doubt, that it was he, not the Congressman, who’d been at fault. How, without the knowledge of M. O. McLaughlin, he’d sent out the 150 invitations; 50 of which, maybe to the most important people, he admitted, had been franked in Washington. The lengthy explanation sounds concocted. And is full of excuses. Obviously it brought to a close his political career — not that it really was, ever, a political career as such.
His position as General Manager at the Auto Rim Lever Lock Corp. – their product, in case you’re wondering, was a patented device that made it easier to change automobile tyres – seems to have continued, however. In the following year he gave both Rudolph Valentino and Valentino’s Business Manager, S. George Ullman, the opportunity to purchase shares in the operation. And we have proof of this, in an image of the share certificate, given to Rudy by Frank, after he’d bought $1,000 worth of shares, on June 28th, 1924. (See above.)
By that Summer Valentino had put his differences with FP-L/ Paramount to the side and commenced filming of his second and final film for them: A Sainted Devil (1924). He was, he thought, secure. Back on top. He looked forward to working with J. D. Williams’ Ritz-Carlton Pictures; a lengthy break in Europe; and realising Natacha’s The Hooded Falcon. He also, after building up nothing but debt during his never-ending strike, had money. Something Mennillo would’ve known.
Of course it’s all part of the story that Rudy was a terrible spendthrift. And he was. As so many many witnesses, including Natacha, testified. He could easily spend more than he was earning, and did, however he was also what’s called A Soft Touch. And it’s my firm belief, based on a later incident, at which I’ll be looking here, that Frank tapped his super-famous fellow Italian for cash. Possibly large sums. Call it a hunch, or whatever you like, but he’s demonstrably hanging about in the later, more successful years, rather than the earlier period of uncertainty and struggle.
The comeback of Monsieur Beaucaire and A Sainted Devil wasn’t the plateau Rudolph Valentino thought it would be. And, though he couldn’t see it at that time, the out-of-the-frying-pan-into-the-fire move to Ritz-Carlton Pictures, was to drag him down to a place he hadn’t been to since before The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. So, marvellous it appeared to be, when he was rescued by United Artists, and his first outing, The Eagle (1925), was a Smash. That he was tied into a highly dubious contract, once more largely brokered by the inept Ullman, which required him to locate the funds for the final three of five productions, mattered little in 1925. All that would sort itself when the time came. Yet it didn’t. Consequently, after his second spectacular, The Son of the Sheik (1926) had been completed, and he was on the road promoting it, he began to feel the heat about Vehicle Three.
Whatever was going on behind the scenes that Summer – we know a tired and stressed Rudy stayed East for longer than planned, and talked with the President of UA, Hiram Abrams – it was all to end in tragedy in the August. His collapse, at a private, early hours party in Manhattan, and subsequent hospitalisation and tragic death, led to one of the greatest outpourings of grief ever seen in the United States. And right there – yes you’ve guessed it! – was Frank A. Mennillo.
Frank had been in Rudy’s company on and off during the previous twelve months. We see them, for example, with Mae (Murray) and another gent., in a photograph taken in New York, before Rudy and then Mae sailed for Europe, in late 1925. That they saw one another on his return in the January is highly plausible. However, as Frank A. Mennillo was seemingly East and Rudolph Valentino was very definitely West, from February to June, they next saw each other late in July at New York. And it’s likely they spent some time together from the beginning of the following month, until the 15th, the day that Valentino was taken to hospital.
On page 216 of his book, Valentino as I Knew Him, S. George Ullman states, very clearly, that when he realised, on Sunday the 22nd, that Rudolph Valentino was weakening, he contacted: “… Frank Mennillo, one of Rudy’s dearest Italian friends.” Mennillo, Ullman recalls, arrived in the early evening. And, after being informed of how serious things really were, they went in to see Valentino in his room. Frank, we learn, spoke to Rudy in Italian, but Rudy responded in English, saying: “Thank you, Frank. I’m going to be well soon.” (That’s all we get.) Then we’re informed that: “All during the night the doctors, Frank Mennillo and I kept watch.” S. George Ullman going into the room every hour to see how he was faring. According to Ullman “At about six o’clock” they chatted. Then Valentino began to fade. There were some final words. A Priest was called. There was a single unintelligible word in Italian. And he passed away.
As I plan to write in the future about S. George Ullman, I’ll leave aside my issues with the account, and focus on the fact that Frank A. Mennillo was conspicuously involved before and after Rudolph Valentino was dead. And available, when Rudy’s brother, Alberto, arrived in the USA at the start of September. It was of course the case that many persons offered their assistance, as anybody would, in such a situation, yet was it simply this that led to him being at the centre of things? It strikes me Mennillo would’ve been extremely useful to Ullman when it came to dealing with the Guglielmi family. Helpful, when it came to persuading Valentino’s vulnerable, distraught older brother that an autopsy was unnecessary. And that his remains should definitely be interred in California, rather than returned to Puglia. Was it just this? I wonder. Is it possible that Frank knew what had really happened at The Mysterious Party? And was it sensible to keep Mr. Mennillo inside of the tent rather than outside of it?
I speculate in this way due to the fact that, in the following year, Frank A. Mennillo paid S. George Ullman a visit. The reason? To borrow $40,000 from the estate of his recently deceased Dear Friend. Yes still a lot of money! And the equivalent of over half a million today. Why, we might ask, would such a supposedly prudent man as Ullman grant such an incredible request — and he did grant it. What was in the background of Mennillo that would inspire such confidence? I haven’t seen a thing. (And use of the frank of Congress was in 1923 quite some time after he’d become Valentino’s Manager.) So I seriously wonder – really, I do – what it was he saw that I can’t. Perhaps someone can point out to me how a serial business failure could merit such an enormous monetary award? And if you imagine that late in the game he was a success? He wasn’t. And just how much of a disaster he continued to be, can be seen by looking, one last time, at what’s out there for all to view.
How badly things were going after the establishment of California Tomato Juice, Inc. is apparent when we inspect the Fifteenth Census of the United States in 1930. Being just three short years since Mennillo secured tens of thousand of dollars from a dead man, we might expect to see him doing well, prospering, living off the fat of the land, as they say. What we see instead, is that he’s living alone, without any wife or family, at a place called the Carlton Hotel, South Figueroa, Los Angeles. A hotel, occupied, not by people doing well, prospering, or living off the fat of the land, but by office workers, waitresses, salesmen and saleswomen, secretaries, soda fountain operators, cashiers, milliners, and musicians. Ordinary people. Getting by. Surviving. Hoping for a better life. And Frank’s occupation? He’s one of fifteen living there that have no occupation, are unemployed, and without prospects.
Frank A. Mennillo had tumbled far and fast without anybody to milk for money. Once he’d stood beside his friend Rudolph Valentino and basked in the reflected glory. Now, just a few years on, he stood alone and in the shadows, a nobody, without a job. I searched for mentions of him in the early to mid. Thirties and found none. His last few years were probably rather depressing — they certainly look it. And California Tomato Juice, Inc. was so obscure and low key, that it only gets highlighted in the state press, in 1935, when it finally goes out of business.
In November 1936, Associated Press informed Americans that Frank A. Mennillo, ‘the Olive King’, was dead. The short, three paragraph obituary framed him as a pioneering genius, trumpeting his connection to President Warren G. Harding, and claimed he’d been the Chairman of the Italian American Republican League. He was, the report said, born in Naples, Italy, had been at University there, and arrived in the USA in 1904. He had got his start in importing in New York, moved West, and then, in 1915, started the American Olive Co.
While there had been several Olive Oil Kings – Elwood Cooper and Charles Phillip Grogan are two examples – I saw no evidence Frank had been crowned thus in his lifetime. And while the connection to President Harding was genuine, in that he’d helped him in his bid to be elected, Mennillo had never been Chairman, as far as I’m aware. (That honour having been bestowed upon La Guardia.) Born in Naples, Italy, was correct; though I’d question his ability to study at Naples University and commence work as a Merchant by the age of 21/22. (I accept I may be wrong about that.) And he was not the person who established the American Olive Co., which was very much up and running before 1915.
The write up is plainly an attempt to present Frank as something other than he was. It looks good. And I can see that it was taken at face value when he was written about in the recent past. Which is a bit of a shame, because behind the white wash is a much more fascinating tale; but either you scrub off that white wash or you don’t. Francesco Mennillo/Frank Mennillo/Frank A. Mennillo/F. A. Mennillo had an interesting life. That said it really wasn’t any more interesting than a lot of others in his day. And it certainly wasn’t the life that’s been out there up until now.
And that’s why I wrote this post: to put the record straight. I’m not happy about people being misled for personal gain about Rudolph Valentino’s life. And they’re being totally misled in the case of Frank A. Mennillo. Of course they were friends, good friends, and as all good friends are they were there for each other. And yet these were not equals in any sense. I believe I’ve shown, with many examples, that the idea Mennillo was in a position to really help Valentino is a baseless one. It was Rudy who was useful to Frank, not the other way around.
I found no evidence that the two ever met before 1918/1919. And I didn’t see it presented in concrete terms by anyone anywhere that they did. No photographs. No letters. And no witness testimony. Nothing. Second or third hand memory recalled and passed along isn’t satisfactory. When people have been dead seventy or eighty years you really need to see something solid. For me their being in New York at the same time is a coincidence. They may, possibly, have encountered each other, but I don’t see how, when these are people moving in very different circles in 1914, 1915 and 1916. When we look at San Francisco we see the months don’t match. As well, once more, there are no photographs, letters or witnesses. And when Rudy is East, in 1920, it isn’t due to Frank, as Frank’s not East at that time. However, with the pair in the L. A. area, in the late Teens, we do have the right conditions for a first meeting. Perhaps one day I’ll find something that confirms it. I’ll be looking for it as-and-when-I-can I promise you.
I want to thank you for reading this post all the way through. It’s a long one, but there was no way to make it any shorter, without omitting vital information. I welcome any feedback. And if you have a question, or wish to see anything presented here, then please just ask me. I’ll be back next month, when the post will be: New York Timeline (1914).
Perhaps my favourite story about Rudolph Valentino is the one related by Viola Dana, in the 1970s, when Dana contributed to Episode Six of Hollywood. As the bitter-sweet tale is about Christmas, and Christmas is approaching, I felt it would be an appropriate final post before the end of 2018. So here goes!
Dana begins to tell her tale right after we learn that it’s 1919, and Rudy’s wife, actress Jean Acker, has left him. It’s Christmas and he’s depressed and lonely. As follows:
I said: What are you doing for Christmas?
He said: Well, nothing.
I said: Haven’t you any place to go?
He said: Well, no, I don’t.
I said: Well you sure do. I said: You’re going to come home with me. This is our Big Night. My mother and father will be there. And the presents. And you’re going to be right with us.
He said: Oh that’ll be marvellous.
So we made him Santa Claus. I had a red cape. And we put a red hat on him. And we got cotton and put a white beard on him. And he… handed out the presents.
A lot of people have… it’s made me laugh… a lot of people, you know, said, oh how well they knew Rudy… and what they did for him and all that sort of thing. And I think, hmm, well, there was one Christmas they forgot about Rudy, before he was anything. After he did The Four Horsemen that was… different.
Viola’s vivid, compact account is crammed with detail. The two friends encountered each other somewhere in LA (seemingly on Christmas Eve.), and after hellos and small talk the conversation naturally switched to the subject of Christmas. It appears she sensed he wasn’t just alone on the street but was also alone full stop. And once her suspicion was confirmed, told him, in no uncertain terms, he wasn’t going to stay alone. That night – maybe the next morning – they dressed him up as Saint Nicholas, and got him to hand out all of the gifts. When she reflects on how things were after he became a Star (as Julio in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse) the umbrage is noticeable. Before he achieved fame nobody had any time for him; after, many claimed to have been there to assist.
Dana gives us a wonderful festive gift herself when she delivers her recollection. It’s a package filled with insight into her life and his. And yet it leaves us seriously wondering on two fronts. First of all, how could he possibly be so solitary, at a time of year that’s all about joining together with friends and family? And, secondly, who were the people that weren’t there and later claimed to have been so helpful to him for so long?
At the end of 1919 Viola Dana had much to celebrate. The year had seen the release of no less than eight of her starring vehicles. One in January, two in March, another in April, two more in June and July, a further one in the November, all followed by one more in the December. (The actual total was nine if we include the re-release of a 1917 film Blue Jeans.) As the issuing of the last of the eight, The Willow Tree, was just days away, on the 29th of the month, The Teens were unquestionably ending on a high. And with a new decade ahead who knew what she might yet achieve.
Professional success was, perhaps, all the more satisfying due to her having lost her first husband, John Hancock Collins, in the Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918. His sudden demise, that October, robbed her not only of her partner, but also the person responsible for writing and directing her films. (The first of 1919, The Gold Cure, was their last as a Star Writer/Director team.) Despite this terrible blow – perhaps because of it – she continued working, managing to actually strengthen her position at Metro Pictures Corporation, her studio; thanks in large part to June Mathis; fully, or jointly responsible, for no less than four scenarios: The Parisian Tigress, Some Bride, The Microbe and The Willow Tree.
If we get the impression from her Hollywood interview that Dana wasn’t a personality with airs and graces, it’s confirmed by a laudatory Motion Picture Magazine profile, late in 1920, titled: Peter Pan Dana. The writer, Hazel Shelley, states early (in paragraph one) that: “… Miss Dana doesn’t exercise her queenly prerogative and sit commandingly on her throne, she mingles democratically with her subjects and does her share of the work and a bit more.” That she was a person who snatched “every bit of joy and fun” that she was able to out of the hour. And that the green-eyed, long-lashed Actress was a jolly comrade: “… a fearless child, demanding and getting out of life—everything.” With an omnipresent mood that was: “… a combination of pep and jazz and giggles.” Such, then, was the person who rescued Rudolfo Valentino. An individual who was never above anyone. That lived her life to the fullest. And that was a lot of fun to be with. Exactly the sort of company he required at such a low point.
1919 had for Viola Dana been a year of steady solid progress. The exact opposite was the case for Rudolph Valentino. If his name changes – Rudolpho De Valintine, Rudolphe De Valentina, Rudolph Valentino, Rodolph Valentine, Rudolfo Valentino – aren’t, all by themselves, indicative of instability, then the varying quality of his roles certainly is. Going, as he did, from a minor cast member; to a bit part player; to a key cast member; to again a minor cast member; to an uncredited extra; to a minor cast member; and lastly, once again, to a minor cast member. Without the security of any kind of contract at a studio he was adrift, anchorless, at the mercy of the turbulent waves of the sea that was the industry at the time.
Working alongside Mae Murray, in The Delicious Little Devil and The Big Little Person, two Universal Special Attractions directed by her husband Robert Z. Leonard, appeared to be a progression, yet, cruelly, took him nowhere. Interestingly, who exactly threw the lifeline is questionable, due to the recent discovery of an interview, with Leonard, in which he takes credit for adding Rudy to Murray’s films. The hopeful approached him one evening at an establishment asking him if he could be her dance partner. So impressed was ‘Bob’ that he added him, first to one film, and then to a second. (The fact he confuses the productions with Princess Virtue and Face Value isn’t necessarily of consequence.)
In Virtuous Sinners, in which friend Norman Kerry starred as a Society Crook, he barely registered. (A blessing as it was a ‘picture’ so terrible that Wid’s DAILY suggested it would be suitable only for: “… a single day’s showing …. in a theatre catering mainly to transients.”) In A Rogue’s Romance he fared a little better (clearly making the most of his role as an uncredited Apache Dancer), but was far from a significant participant. And in his next, The Homebreaker, he again wasn’t credited. Several stories at this time underscore his quiet desperation as he bounced from one project to another. One, related by Sessue Hayakawa, in his 1960 autobiography Zen Showed Me the Way, features Valentino going to see the Japanese Actor and almost pleading to be included in any future production. Hayakawa explains to his reader it was an impossibility, however, due to them being far too similar to one another.
According to Emily W. Leider, on page 92 of Dark Lover: the Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino, it was at this point that Dorothy Gish requested Rudy be included in the cast of her next vehicle Out of Luck. Though he wasn’t exactly a main character, it was, without question, a significant step up from everything he’d done since working with Mae. And it was to also inexorably lead him to the role of Clarence Morgan in Eyes of Youth; the role understood to be the singular reason Mathis cast him as Julio, in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921).
One evening in early September, following his contribution to Eyes of Youth, at Harry Garson’s Garson Studios, Inc., at Edendale, Rudy found himself at a popular nightspot at Venice, called the Ship Cafe. After a while he spotted a New York acquaintance, Dagmar Godowsky, and went over to her in order to speak. According to Dagmar, in her lengthy interview in Rosenberg and Silverstein’s The Real Tinsel, when she introduced him to everyone at her table the temperature plunged. Everybody gathered – there to celebrate the conclusion of Alla Nazimova’s next spectacular – followed the furious Star’s lead and gave him the cold shoulder. Once the humiliated Rudy had withdrawn Nazimova berated Godowsky for daring to present a such a figure to her and her guests; a man notoriously caught up in the shocking de Saulles scandal two years earlier. “What in the world is all this? Why would she be so annoyed?” Miss Godowsky thought to herself at home. Why indeed!
Within a week Valentino became seriously acquainted with one of the young women at the Ship Cafe just days earlier. It was to be a meeting of two rather similar individuals. People somewhat battered and bruised by their recent experiences in life, and, during their time as performers on film. A little insecure. Lonely. Victims, both, of the great Diva Nazzy. Two unconnected souls needing connection, about to connect, without even the faintest inkling of the far-reaching consequences. But then, in the moment, who can see too far ahead?
Miss Jean Acker had also been invited to the home of Pauline Frederick that night, and instantly recognised the beautifully dressed, well-mannered European man so horribly insulted by ‘Madame Nazimova’. He asked her to dance. She declined. And instead they sat under “a California moon” and talked, and talked — and then talked some more. The discussion is unrecorded – the terrible Ship Cafe incident and the film-making business are two obvious topics – but we know they found themselves understanding and liking one another very much indeed.
Jean, more than three years his senior, perhaps spoke of her successful return to motion pictures twelve months earlier. How she’d occupied herself prior to that; her early career up to about 1915-1916; her beginnings at ‘Lubinville’ in 1911: and previously her early days employed as a Milliner. Rudy had his own tale to tell of course. How he’d recently worked with Clara Kimball Young, and, in reverse order, Dorothy Gish, Earle Williams, and Mae Murray. That before all of this he had been a dancer (on both coasts); had arrived from Italy almost six years ago; had emigrated at the age of eighteen; and was trained as an Agriculturalist.
A two month long courtship commenced, culminating in marriage, just before or after midnight on November the 4th, or 5th. (The Tuesday or the Wednesday.) It would seem Rudy had proposed several times – no less than seven according to one source – and on each occasion was gently rebuffed. On the Tuesday, while out riding, he suggested an elopement to Santa Ana, which was, once more, refused, as that evening they were to attend an important party at the home of Maxwell Karger, Director General of Metro Pictures. At the bash – a farewell celebration for the studio President, Richard Rowland and his wife – friends of the pair dared them to get married that night. After checking with Mr. Karger that it would be alright, they hurtled into Los Angeles in Acker’s car, secured a special ‘after hours’ license, located a willing minister (who was Rev. James I. Myers of the Broadway Christian Church), and returned to the Karger residence and were wed.
Considering the nuptials were spontaneous, and happened so late at night without any real warning, it’s surprising there was so much press coverage in the newspapers and in trade magazines. (Even VARIETY mentions it — twice.) We can of course assume that due to the fact it was a significant studio affair there would have been at least two or three journalists present. However, the fact it continued to be a story as late as December 20th – in Motion Picture News – is difficult to understand, when we consider the turn of events. Of course we don’t complain as the varied reports help us to piece it all together. And my favourite, due to its prophetic quality, is coverage in the November 22nd issue of Camera! In which Rudy’s recent, breath-taking fall from a balcony, in Ambition, later titled Once to Every Woman, and released in 1920, is compared to his dive into the arms of his first wife. The difference obviously being that in the 1920 Universal-Jewel Production de Luxe there was a soft landing.
As I plan, in the not-too-distant-future, a serious and in-depth look at the life and career of Jean Acker based on previous research, I won’t go into too much detail now about the events in the early hours of the next day and the next morning. It’s no secret that Acker slammed the door of her Hollywood Hotel room in the face of Valentino. Or that there was subsequently an odd series of encounters and incidents involving the couple in the four weeks between mid. November and mid. December. Suffice to say, that by the time Valentino reached Christmas Eve. 1919, he was a different man to the one that had been cheered and had his back patted at the start of the previous month.
The individual who accidentally met with Viola, on that Wednesday in the penultimate week of the year, was wondering if he would ever have a sustained run of luck. 1919 had been a roller coaster of ups and downs, yet he had clung to the handrail no-matter-what, and was as hopeful as he could be under the circumstances. After a two week break – the fortnight was supposed to have been his Honeymoon – he had commenced work under the banner of First National with Katherine MacDonald’s company, on her next vehicle Passion’s Playground. As far as I know, after this engagement, he was without a serious opportunity, until ‘Max’ Karger awarded him what turned out to be another small role, in the May Allison film The Cheater. (Hopefully, one day, the subject of another post.)
He did not, like his Hostess on Christmas Day, have the support of his family. This was a person who had long ago lost his father, and less than two years before, at the very start of 1918, had been deprived of his mother. His two siblings, Alberto, his older brother, and Maria, his younger sister, were alive but many thousands of miles away. Of course instead of actual family he naturally had friends that he could turn to — right? A person so busy in Hollywood over the course of a year surely wasn’t wanting in any respect in that department was he? He wouldn’t be left high and dry at a time of year that’s about family and friends?
There’s obviously a great deal of truth in what Viola Dana says at the very end of her contribution. Where was Mae Murray? Trying desperately all day to reach him on the telephone? No. She wasn’t. We might begin to seriously question if their walks together under the stars in Central Park in New York years earlier ever happened. If she ever knew him at all, in fact, before he spoke to ‘Bob’ at the Vernon Country Club in 1918. How about Emmett J. Flynn? His director twice. So eager in later years to broadcast how he’d given Rodolfo his start. He just had to be searching around for him didn’t he? No. Absolutely not. And the others? Norman Kaiser now Norman Kerry? And Dorothy Gish? How about ‘Dougie’ Gerrard his friend since 1917? And of course there were others — people like Frank A. Mennillo. Why was his Sponsor and Benefactor so absent? Could it be that he, too, wasn’t the friend he later claimed to be in the early days?
We wonder – I’m convinced I’m not alone in thinking this! – what would’ve happened to Rudolph Valentino 99 Christmasses ago had his and Viola’s paths not crossed. Where would the struggling Actor without prospects, without his wife, and without family or friends have ended up? I shudder at the thought. A chill comes over me just picturing him alone again as he was in December 1913. And I think, too, about young people just like him today. Without prospects. Without a partner. With no family to turn to or any friends on hand. Actually, let’s not think about that, as it’s just too awful to think about!
Instead let’s see Rudolph Valentino as he was on December 25th. In a busy, happy home. Part of the fun. Laughing. Enjoying delicious food. For 48 hours or so forgetting his many troubles. And maybe getting some good advice from Viola, or one of her famous sisters, or from their mother. Perhaps we’ve pinpointed a turning point. Perhaps spending time with them was just the tonic that he needed. As we know 1920 would be the year that he secured the role of Julio Desnoyers in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. A belated festive gift, maybe? What fame did certainly ensure was no more lonely Christmasses.
First of all I want to say thank you so much for reading this post all the way through — I really appreciate it. As usual I’m not adding sources here, but those not mentioned in the text, partially, or fully, are available to anyone who takes the time to ask. May I wish all of you a very enjoyable and memorable Festive Period. And if you are able why not think about including someone who has nowhere to go. After all, it might just transform them, and their lives, you never know. See you in 2019!