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!
In the Summer of 1924, Rudolph Valentino was photographed, dressed in the costume of a Peon, during the creation of A Sainted Devil (1924), the second of two spectaculars that brought to a conclusion his contract with Famous Players-Lasky/Paramount, following his return to the studio, after his ‘One Man Strike’. For a long time this epic promotional portrait session has fascinated me. Why? Well mainly due to the fact that there are just so many shots. Valentino is captured from every conceivable angle. And throws, at both us and the photographer, a whole range of intense expressions.
In view of the fact my planned post (about Jean Acker) is now of mammoth proportions, and requires separating into three parts, I’m bringing forward, while I arrange that, this simple but interesting offering, originally planned for 2020. If anyone has or knows of any further images – of what appears to be the most extended shoot of the series of extended shoots he engaged in – I’d love to hear about them/see them. If none emerge, I suspect, as arranged here, that they come close to representing up to three quarters of the photographs taken on that day, with some naturally being rejected as unsatisfactory at the time of printing. Enjoy!
THE HALF-LENGTH SHOTS
This effective half-length shot seems to exist only as a series of crops. However I’m left wondering if there’s another or others out there somewhere.
Some close-ups are extreme, at the time, or cropped since. This is just the slightest of head turns and was used for industry promotion. (See below.) In these more intimate photographs his outfit has been adjusted.
This close-up I particularly like for the wry smile.
A characteristically intense look from Rudy that was seemingly used in recent decades for a postcard. This image has been cropped by myself and others into an effective hyper close-up. (See above.)
Valentino’s garb alters again for this image.
THE FULL-LENGTH SHOTS
Rudolph Valentino had previously posed in doorways to promote films. It was, to some extent, probably expected that he would do so for A Sainted Devil, and always do so, entrances being a such big part of his film persona, as well of that of his contemporaries. It was also an opportunity to display the full costume, which, in the left image particularly, is somewhat reminiscent (probably not accidentally), of his look in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921).
Thank you so much for viewing this post. As stated, this is a substitute for the original, which is about the life and career of Jean Acker, and her association with Rudolph Valentino. That lengthy post will now be split into three, with Part One appearing next month, and parts Two and Three in January and February. See you all in December!
It’s time to finally tackle the arrest of Rudolph Valentino in 1916. Perhaps the oddest and most impenetrable of all of the odd and impenetrable incidents in his 31 years. And an occurrence so awful, and unforgettable, that it would haunt him for the rest of his short life. Here, then, without delay, is: September 5th, 1916.
During a 2017 research trip to New York I made an amazing discovery. At the end of my stay, I found myself in a large, dusty, and surprisingly chaotic, forgotten-looking room. I’d been advised to visit the seventh floor of the typically solid Manhattan building by a very helpful member of staff at the New York Public Library. In going there, they said, I might be able to find a record of a private prosecution I was sure had been instigated in 1924. After slowly and patiently looking under the right letter in the ancient index (which appeared untouched for decades) I drew a blank. Just one of those things when you’re researching. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.
Stood there, it occurred to me I should try to see what I could find under the letter G, or V. (G for Guglielmi and V for Valentino.) Closing the wooden drawer I’d been looking in, I went first to V, where I found nothing. Switching to G, I was Third Time Lucky; as there, staring back at me, on old, but pristine thin, yellowed cards, were the details of a series of Supreme Court prosecutions, actioned in 1917, by none other than Rodolfo Guglielmi, against varied publications and publishers at that time: Star Company, Inc., Sun Print & Pub. Assoc. and Tribune Assn, etc. (Amazingly there were four variations of his name: Rudolfo, Rudolf and Rodolefo being the other three.)
After securing photocopies of the cards I hurried over to the place where I could access the Supreme Court Clerk’s Minutes; hopeful that they would contain some information. There, however, I hit a bit of a brick wall. Files were very much off-site. An order had to be placed on a Friday at the front desk. Once an order was made it took between 3 to 5 business days for the paperwork to arrive. And the next day – you’ve guessed it – was my final full day in the USA.
I waited almost 12 months to see the material – the third person I asked to access it on my behalf did – but it was absolutely worth it. Within the ancient files was a wealth of never-before-published documents, detailing what was happening, up to, on, and beyond that fateful day. Contained, were the accusations against him in 1916; his claims against all of the different titles and their publishers, in 1917; their respective counter arguments that same year; and, most valuable of all, a typed transcript, of a seriously in-depth interview with Valentino, from 1920. However, before we delve deeply – and we will delve deeply – into the sensational contents, let’s look at the reports about the apprehension of Rudolph Valentino.
It was on September 6th, 1916, that Americans in practically every major state in the country, read of the arrest, the previous day, of two New Yorkers: Rodolfo Guglielmi and Mrs. Georgia [sic] E. Thym. Most of the pieces were repetitive. A fake Italian Nobleman, and an older, grey-haired woman, had been “arrested” at 7 a. m. and taken into custody for questioning. Their capture had been made possible due to information provided by an un-named gentleman at Narragansett Pier (at Rhode Island). They had been, it was reported, apprehended to assist with an investigation. And the pair had provided some valuable intelligence.
Other news titles went into greater detail. Such as the New York Tribune, which printed a lengthy, two column report, on Page Four. “District Attorney Smith” had conducted an early morning vice raid, it said, at: “… a house on Seventh avenue, just below Central Park…” Rodolpho [sic] Guglielmi and Mrs. Georgia [sic] E. Thym had been “brought out of the place” and: “… held [on] $10,000 bail by Judge Rosalky in General Sessions, as material [witnesses] against Detective William J. Enright…” (Det. Enright was “under indictment for accepting bribes” (or protection money) from brothels.)
Further, on “arrival at the District Attorney’s office” “the ‘Marquis'” had asked to contact a friend. Calling “Police Headquarters” and asking for Frank Lord, Second Deputy Commissioner, he apparently said: ‘I’m in bad Frank; I wish you’d come down and help me out.’ When quizzed that evening – the 5th – at the Prince George Hotel, by a reporter, Frank A. Lord dismissed the detained man’s claim that they had dined in: “… the domino room of the Cafe L’Aiglon, in Philadelphia.” Lord admitted to being acquainted with “the Marquis” but only in the company of others. Saying: ‘This afternoon he called me on the telephone and said he was Rodolpho [sic]. I didn’t know him until he finally said he was Miss Sawyer’s dancing companion …. I told him I was unable to help him.’ (The Deputy Police Commissioner is a person of interest that we’ll return to later.)
The “bogus count or marquis” – he’d confessed to masquerading as an Aristocrat – was: “… handsome …. about twenty years old, and [wore] corsets and a wrist watch.” (He was 21 by this time.) In addition: “He was often seen dancing in well known hotels and tango parlors with [Bonnie Glass] and Joan Sawyer.” And had, it was revealed: “… made statements which, if true, are of immense importance in [the] investigation.” according to the District Attorney (Judge) Edward Swann. (Pictured above.) When asked by the New York Tribune if anyone of social significance was involved, or if he intended to have raided “the ten vicious resorts named by [the] Narragansett Pier society man”, or if there was any evidence against the “resorts”, Swann was vague. All of the men and women involved, he answered, weren’t in the Social Register; he would act only when there was ‘ample evidence’; and he was unable to ‘go into’ what evidence they already had at that time.
Vice raids weren’t uncommon that year in the United States. Input the words Vice Raid into the search box of any decent online newspaper archive and story after story will confront you. Important, I think, is the fact there was a great deal of unhappiness with the way in which vice squads were often entering a property without a warrant. That there was serious over zealousness on the part of squad members and their superiors is proven several times. For example, the entry into the home of Mrs. Rose Kennett, by two policemen, Howes and Elliot, reported on THE WASHINGTON HERALD‘s front page, on March the 22nd, resulting in the issuing of warrants for the arrest of the two men. In June, on the 7th, by which time Detective Howes was on trial, THE WASHINGTON TIMES revealed that, contrary to earlier reporting, it was their higher ranking Superintendent, Major Pullman, who’d sanctioned “forcible entry”, and told them to: ‘get in’ in any way they could. (There was a suspicion that Kennett was renting out rooms for liaisons and illicit sex.)
RAIDS SHOW LID WAS OFF HERE, CRITICS ASSERT was the punchy headline on Page One of the Philadelphia newspaper the Evening Ledger, on July 17th. Sub-headed, Vice Rampant in City, Administration Opponents Say, the piece, which continued on Page Two, suggests a Police Department also characterised by heavy handedness. 552 arrests had been made in “the Tenderloin”, or corrupt district, in just one night — the 15th. However many innocents had obviously been caught-up in the trawl. Interestingly: “The raid was directed entirely against disorderly houses.” “Director Wilson”, the organiser, aimed to: ‘… wipe out all flaunted vice in Philadelphia.’ (An objective, it was stated, which had the full support of the Mayor, Thomas B. Smith.) Wilson was, he said: ‘… not through.’ And made a point of announcing: “We will rush these cases.” So great was the rush that every detainee was processed in just 16 hours. $50,000 in deeds “passed over the bench”. “$1,000 in small fines was collected”. And: “More than $10,000 in cash bail was accepted.” Further: “Men who proved they were only frequenters of the houses were fined $10 and costs and were allowed to go. Most of the girls were held under $300 bail for court, while proprietors of the resorts were held under from $1,000 to $1,500 bail. (These figures contrast sharply with the bail set for Guglielmi and Thym.)
At the same time as the general, national push (genuine or otherwise) to eradicate disorderly houses, and the expanding exposure of how police forces were sometimes protecting ‘resorts’, or brothels, there was also a very real probe into the activities of blackmailers. So topical was it, in fact, that in January, Author Amelie Rives‘ blackmail-themed play, The Fear Market, was running at the Booth Theatre in New York. (Amelie Rives was also-known-as Princess Amelie Rives Troubetzkoy; and was, as a result, the sister-in-law of Prince Paul Troubtezkoy, friend to Rudolph Valentino.)
While The Fear Market was receiving luke warm praise from the Drama Critic of the New York Tribune, unwritten theatrics were taking place regularly in court rooms, as a result of the capture and indictment of Don Collins, alias: Robert A. Troubillon. (His actual name, it was discovered, was Arthur L. David.) According to THE EVENING WORLD, on Wednesday, January 12th, 1916, Collins/Troubillon’s “White Slave Ruse” had “netted” an estimated $250,000. (In today’s money almost six million.) He and his male and female accomplices had: “… preyed on wealthy and prominent men visiting Atlantic City and other Jersey resorts…” Their tactic, to target the unaccompanied man with a “fascinating female”, who would seduce him and take him to a hotel. Once in a room, two fake Department of Justice officials would arrive, arrest the pair, and escort them in an auto. to Philadelphia; where, at “the Philadelphia branch of the Department of Justice”, they would suggest first going to have refreshments. While the arrested man was at his weakest, it would be revealed that prosecution could be avoided, if a large fine was paid. Then, after fake documents were produced, and signed, and the fine paid in some fashion, the relieved person was free to go. The amounts were, it appears, always in the region of the thousands. ($2,500, $5,000 and $4,000 are sums listed in the newspaper report as having been secured.)
If the Collins prosecution, which rumbled along at the start of the year, is an eye-opener, the revelations printed in Western newspapers, on February 22nd, are eye-popping. In Washington and Oregon states, several titles – The Tacoma Times, The Seattle Star, The Daily Capital Journal and the East Oregonian (Daily Evening Edition) – put out front pages laying bare the criminality of: “A huge blackmailing syndicate, operating the entire length of the Pacific coast…”
“Actual photographs of leading
businessmen and club men in
compromising positions are in
the hands of the Sheriff and will
be used as evidence against the
From the front page of The Tacoma Times, Tuesday, February 22nd, 1916.
The sensational revelations – how Lillian [Peters] and Isabel [Clayburg] had “lured” older successful men “to a fine residence” and compromised them and taken photographs with concealed cameras – sparked a cross-country search for other such gangs. In late April it was reported (by Associated Press) that arrests were imminent in New York. “The Typical blackmailing gang is described as including two men and two women.” the single column, two paragraph report disclosed. In August, on the 5th, Goodwin’s Weeklygave up space on Page One to the subject. Quoting “William J. Burns” of New York” who had declared: “… that the great crime of the age is blackmailing.” And that: “… it is carried on mostly by elegantly dressed and accomplished men and women…” Those targeted were: “… wealthy married [women] …. Wealthy, respectable men …. College or school boys with money …. The daughters of wealthy families …. Married men …. Wealthy people with family skeletons.” And in the same month, on the 13th, THE WASHINGTON HERALD was up-front about how “Society bandits” were extorting large amounts from: “… wealthy patrons of Atlantic City, Cape May, bar Harbor and other fashionable coast resorts…”
Seen in the briefly detailed context of the drive to tackle ‘disorderly houses’/’resorts’, and the simultaneous crack-down on blackmailing by blackmailers, particularly blackmailing of the wealthy married woman and daughters of wealthy families, the offences of which Rodolfo Guglielmi and Georgiana E. Thym were accused that month, don’t seem so out-of-the-ordinary, or isolated. However, while they may be far far easier to understand, the accusations aren’t any less surprising to see, or to contemplate, even today. In fact they’re seriously surprising.
It’s only due to the fact that, in the Spring of 1917, the then Rodolfo Guglielmi decided to attempt to prosecute the publications he felt had defamed him in their reporting, that we know what we do about what he was believed – I stress believed – to have been doing, at the apartment at 909 Seventh Avenue. Naturally the legal teams of the publishers that he was suing decided to scrutinize the files held by the Police. What those files contained was believed lost. (The files have been lost – the contents probably purposely destroyed – for many decades.) Yet, in the investigations of Macdonald DeWitt, the Attorney acting on behalf of the Sun Printing and Publishing Assoc., we see exactly what those lost folders contained, due to their contents often being faithfully reproduced. As follows:
I. AS A SEPARATE DEFENSE TO THE ENTIRE COMPLAINT
II, III, IV, V, VI
VII. That shortly prior to September 5, 1916, the said District Attorney and his Assistant District Attorney, James [E.] Smith, were informed that the said Georgiana Thym had extorted a large sum of money from a person whose name is unknown to this defendant, by a [threat] to expose to the wife of said person a disgraceful and adulterous act of which her husband had been guilty. That said District Attorney was also informed that the said Georgiana Thym …. kept and maintained a house of ill fame or assignation in order to afford the patrons and frequenters of said apartment an opportunity to indulge in unlawful sexual intercourse and complaints to the same effect had theretofore been made to the Police authorities of the City of New York. That shortly prior to September 5, 1916, the said District Attorney …. and Assistant District Attorney Smith …. were informed by one Tyneberg that his wife having become acquainted with the said Georgiana Thym had been accustomed to visit the apartment of said Georgiana Thym for the purpose of associating with this plaintiff [Rodolfo Guglielmi] with whom she said she had become infatuated. That the said apartment of the said Mrs. Thym was a disorderly house where men met women for the purpose of unlawful sexual intercourse; that upon one occasion Mrs. Tyneberg had visited said house and had been drugged; that upon awakening she had found herself in bed with this plaintiff [R. G.] and was told by this plaintiff [R. G.] and by Mrs. Thym that a flash light photograph had been taken of her while in bed with this plaintiff, which she could have upon the payment of $2,500.
That prior to September 5, 1916, and in the course of said investigation …. James E. Smith …. was informed by one Shotwell that he, said Shotwell, knew this plaintiff [R. G.] and the said Georgiana Thym at whose house he’d repeatedly been; that her house was used as a house of assignation and that plaintiff [R. G.] lived in said house with her; that he, said Shotwell and plaintiff [R. G.] had, shortly prior thereto, agreed that on September 5, 1916, this plaintiff [R. G.] should induce a certain young and wealthy [woman] (whose name is unknown to this defendant), whom the plaintiff [R. G.] had met and danced with a number of times at hotels and restaurants in the City of New York, to go with him to the apartment of said Thym; that upon her doing so, said Shotwell should go to the relatives of said woman and inform them that she was in danger of compromising herself with this plaintiff [R. G.] and that unless said woman was promptly induced to leave said apartment and to free herself from association with plaintiff [R. G.], she would be ruined and her reputation compromised; that he, said Shotwell, knew said woman and this plaintiff [R. G.] and that he, Shotwell, would agree to induce said woman to leave plaintiff [R. G.] and return to her home that night without publicity upon payment of a large sum of money, which sum plaintiff [R. G.] and said Shotwell had agreed to thereafter divide between them. … Shotwell further informed said District Attorney Smith that he and plaintiff [R. G.] had frequently, during the year 1916, obtained large sums of money from the family and friends of young and wealthy women by means of the aforesaid trick…
Said Shotwell further told said Assistant District Attorney Smith that upon one occasion this plaintiff [R. G.] had induced a wealthy girl to go with him to the Thym apartment; that after she had reached there, Shotwell had gone to the girl’s father, told him that his daughter had been induced to go to the Thym apartment where she was held prisoner but that he, Shotwell could get the girl to return …. for a cash consideration; that the father had refused to be blackmailed and had called for the police; that afterwards several policemen had gone to the Thym apartment and had forcibly taken out the girl; that the reason no arrests were made was that Mrs. Thym had paid Detective Enright and other members of the Police Department …. sums of money to protect her against police interference and in consideration of which said Enright and others agreed that she might continue to use her apartment as a house of assignation and that she would not be prosecuted for such offense.
Swann, Smith, Thym, Guglielmi and Enright, are all names we’ve seen before, in the New York Tribune‘s report on September 6th. Tyneberg? And Shotwell? These are individuals who are totally confined to the pages of the defence of the Sun Printing and Publishing Assoc. by Macdonald DeWitt. They appear in no article, or piece, anywhere, at the time or afterwards. And are, therefore, certainly extracted from direct testimony to District Attorney (Judge) Edward Swann, or to Assistant District Attorney James E. Smith, or both, or from testimony in court. (Less possible.) Macdonald DeWitt raked through what was then available to them and put it to use in order to defend their Client six months later.
What we make of the damning testimony now, in 2019, is the question. In essence there are four, definite, described criminal acts. The blackmailing of the wife whose Husband had engaged in a disgraceful and adulterous act. The blackmailing of Mrs. Tyneberg, who was infatuated with Rodolfo, and had been photographed in bed with him. The nameless woman that knew Rudy through his dancing and was in danger of compromising herself. And the young, wealthy girl, whose Father refused to be blackmailed, and called the Police. (Who were subsequently bribed by Mrs. Thym.) The accusations of Mr. Tyneberg and Mr. Shotwell – particularly Shotwell’s – are incredible. The information (to James E. Smith): “… that he and plaintiff [R. G.] had frequently, during the year 1916, obtained large sums of money from the family and friends of young and wealthy women by means of the aforesaid trick…” has us naturally pondering. Thinking: is any of this true? And if not, then what sort of personality could possibly conjure-up such imputations, and, have the nerve to deliver them to the Assistant District Attorney? Obviously placing themselves in a difficult position as a result? Questions. Questions. Questions.
In Signor Rodolfo, the fourth chapter of her 2003 biography, Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino, Emily W. Leider devotes half of Page 72, all of Page 73 and half of Page 74 to September 5th, 1916. Two pages, or so, in all. On page 73 Leider asks her own questions and proceeds to tell us that: “… they aren’t all going to be answered.” Why was Rodolfo at Georgiana’s apartment? Was he there to enjoy “a prostitute”? If so why were there no prostitutes there? John [L.] de Saulles, at the time being divorced by his wife of just a few years, Blanca E. de Saulles, was, she presumes, the businessman who spitefully informed the authorities. Was Rudy followed to the premises? And why did the investigators consider him to be, not a Customer, but more of a Proprietor? And: “On what grounds, if any, did they base their assumption?”
Looking back at what’s reproduced here – paragraph VII – from the response to Rodolfo’s action against the Sun Printing and Publishing Assoc., in the Spring of 1917, we’re able to add most of the missing jigsaw pieces. Rudy was at 909 Seventh Avenue because he lived there – I’ll enlarge on this – and therefore wasn’t there to procure sex. There were no prostitutes present due to people being allegedly brought there to be blackmailed. John L. de Saulles wasn’t the vengeful informant, because, if he was, his name would appear; and the names that appear, are: Mr. Tyneberg and Mr. Shotwell. (Mr. Tyneberg being the Businessman husband of a Victim and Mr. Shotwell being an Accomplice confessing all at Narragansett Pier.) He hadn’t been followed as he was a resident (as already stated). And the investigating team viewed him as they did due to all of the startling testimony they’d received prior to September 5th.
Compared with the incredibly detailed information that we find in the response by the Defendant to the action taken by Rudy, the “court records” Emily W. Leider accessed and referenced (Case #111396, Court of General Sessions, People v. William J. Enright, September 5th, 1916, New York City Municipal Archives), are curiously lacking in detail. According to them/her, neither Rodolfo or Georgiana were accused of “any crime”, though they were indicted as: “… operators of a bawdy house that paid protection money to a policeman.” This indictment, luckily, is also reproduced in full, in the defence of the Sun Printing and Publishing Assoc. (See above.)
“The evidence must have been flimsy…” Leider states on Page 74. “… because two days after the raid their bail was reduced from $10,000 to $1,500…” However, it was not due to “flimsy” or insubstantial evidence, as much as it was due to “the plaintiff” asking the Assistant District Attorney to reduce his bail, if he could supply details to him of: “… a number of people who had blackmailed wealthy persons within the City of New York…” And also because the: “… plaintiff could give the [Assistant] District Attorney such information as would enable the [Assistant] District Attorney to arrest and convict said persons.” (That is, anyway, what the defence material details.)
For those wondering – and I’m sure some are wondering! – what Rudy’s complaint was and what he expected to achieve suing the various publication titles the multiple actions – particularly the action against the Sun Printing and Publishing Assoc. – tell us.
… FIRST COURSE OF ACTION
I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX
X. [Their article was] “… false and defamatory and [constituted a] libel upon this plaintiff…”
XI. [Their article had been] “… published and circulated …. maliciously, recklessly and carelessly without proper investigation…”
XII. [The] “… plaintiff had been grievously injured in his good name, fame and reputation and in his professional calling …. causing [him] to be shunned and ostracized by his friends and professional acquaintances and associates…”
XIII. [That] “… the …. [libellous] publication …. has …. contributed to the total loss …. of his earnings as a professional dancer, and has compelled plaintiff to abandon his said profession, thereby losing an annual net income of approximately Twelve thousand [five] hundred ($12,500) Dollars, and …. [the] plaintiff has likewise …. been deprived of a contract to perform as a dancer for a few hours each evening at Hotel Ritz-Carlton, for a remuneration of One hundred and fifty ($150.00) Dollars.
… SECOND COURSE OF ACTION
XIV, XV, XVI, XVII, XVIII, XIX
WHEREFORE plaintiff demands judgement against the defendant in the sum of One hundred thousand ($100,000.) Dollars, together with the costs and disbursements of this action.
That Rudolph Valentino, as he later was, was, at the time, in May 1917, seeking $100,000 in damages from one title’s publisher, and, it’s to be imagined, the same amount from all of the others (five or so altogether), is quite amazing. That’s a sum – $500,000 – that’s now equivalent to almost $13,000,000. In Paragraph XIII we see his “annual net income” was $12,500. And that he’d “been deprived” of a few hours dancing every night at “Hotel Ritz-Carlton”, for which he received $150. (Which was probably a weekly sum.) However, if we add $12,500 to $7,800, we only arrive at: $20,300. And as there’s no breakdown, only a single figure, with “costs and disbursements” included, we can’t really be too sure what it constituted. Did he times $20,300 by five? Whatever his, or his legal representative’s thinking was, it’s clear the amount is unrealistically high. Unless it was spread across the quintet of actions at a rate of $20,000 per action. But this is not made totally plain as far as I can see. (Rudy’s Attorney at the time was Mr. Louis H. Moos.)
What do we learn beyond this? Looking at the multiple actions, it’s clear that in the years 1918 and 1919, there was a delay in the progression of the prosecutions. Why? After being “commenced” on “March 14th, 1917”, on October 30th, of the next year: “… the parties …. entered into and signed a stipulation …. marking the case reserved generally.” And that “at the plaintiff’s request” it was again “marked reserved” on “June 9th, 1919”. (The reason is unknown, but Rudy was in California, and perhaps had insufficient funds to pay his Legal Team.)
It was in February 1920, that Mr. Justice Platzek ordered the examination of the now, professionally known, Rudolpho De Valentina/Rudolphe Valentine, in order to prepare for a trial that year. The examination, which was conducted at 11:30 a. m., on April the 14th, at the office of William A. DeFord, and was the real reason he was in New York that Spring, is one of the most exciting, as it’s a written record of pre-fame Rudolph Valentino actually speaking, as he spoke, rather than how he was interpreted and paraphrased after success in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921). The people present were: “the Plaintiff in Person”, using his true name: Rodolfo Guglielmi; Lyman E. Spalding Esq. and C. L. Gonnet, Esq., his Attorneys; and, for the Defendant, William A. DeFord. And there was also a Stenographer, by the name of Cleo C. Hardy, who took Rudy’s words as they were spoken “stenographically”, so that they could be transcribed and read and signed by the Witness.
It’s apparent, when reading the lengthy question-and-answer-session, on April the 14th, 1920, that the purpose was to take Rudolph Valentino back in time, and to see, from his point of view, what had transpired. Nowhere in any of the documents in the many files do his own opinions or his perspective appear. Everything focuses on the accusations against him and Mrs. Thym. And consequently it’s a fascinating read.
After giving his full name (Rodolfo Guglielmi), his age at that time (24), and profession (“Motion picture actor”); he reveals that he became a “moving picture actor” “Just about two and a half years ago.” (Seemingly ruling out any possible appearance in My Official Wife (1914).) After being asked how he was occupied prior to that he replies that he was a “professional dancer” “Since 1914” (the “October or November”). Then saying that his address at the time is: 61 West 55th Street, New York.
When asked about his address on September the 5th, 1916, he’s very quick to say that it was 909 Seventh Avenue, New York. He had, he says, been resident there: “… several months.” (Forever disproving he was probably a visitor.) Furthermore, he had, he tells DeFord, lived there previously and returned. (“I had been there before, and then I moved away from there, and then I came back again.”) About Georgiana, he says that she lived at the apartment alone, and rented him the room and made his breakfast in the mornings. And further: “The first time I was there, there was a roomer, another, a lady had the front room of the apartment.”
After confirming to his questioner that he knows the Assistant District Attorney but not Detective McGlynn, he is then asked about the morning of September 5th, 1916. To which he replies – there are a series of questions – that the policemen “busted in through the door”.
“Well, I came out in the hall when I heard the racket, they broke through the door downstairs, and some other detectives, they broke through the upstairs — the attic door. I came out to see what the racket was about.”
“I was confronted by several men with guns in their hands, and they asked me if I was Rudolph, and I says: ‘Yes,’ and someone came to me, afterwards I knew he was District Attorney Smith, and he said they wanted me down at Mr. Swann’s, so to dress.”
In Valentino’s version there’s no looking out of the window when the Vice Squad first pounded on the front door and told them to open up. As he tells it to William A. DeFord he was in the bathroom and then in the hall in his pajamas. However, the fact he was already out of bed suggests that he did appear at the window – the bathroom window? – to first see who was knocking, as was reported in some newspapers. The fact that they smashed their way in would be the result of entry being denied. And the guns in their hands are a sign they thought there could be trouble. (The weapons would, for me, come out after the refusal.) Like the officers that day we might wonder why it was that Rudy didn’t want to allow the officers into the premises.
After his description of the five-to-ten minute episode – which is like a dramatic moment in a contemporary play or silent film – we have Rudy’s exchange with the Assistant D. A. while he was dressing.
“… he come in and asked me, as I said, who I was, and where I came from, and I told him I came from Italy. When I asked him what reason he busted in that way, he says, ‘Are you [a] citizen?’ I says, ‘No.’ He says, ‘If you are no citizen, you have no right to ask questions.’ Then he told me to get dressed, or I would catch cold, and sarcastic things of that sort.”
Rudy claims never to have been shown any paperwork or subpoena. DeFord asks him, again and again if he’d been served anything, and his reply, persistently, is that he wasn’t. (Repeatedly in the papers it says that he was.) D. A. Smith said only that due to him being an Italian he would be: ‘… sending him back in six months to Italy.’ It’s after this that he explains how they were taken first to “Mr. Swann’s office by way of “the subway” (which doesn’t suggest they were handcuffed). Strangely, we then get several pages (from eight to fourteen), of discussion about Rodolfo wearing or not wearing a corset. (It turns out that he wore an athletic jockstrap not a man’s corset.) And if he wore a wristwatch that morning. (He did.) Or any perfume. (He didn’t.) That the Attorney for the Star Company wanted to establish if it was or wasn’t what was reported – a corset, a wristwatch, etc., – is obvious. Yet six to seven pages does seem rather over-the-top.
Rudy next reveals that he and Mrs. Thym were “taken before” Judge Otto Rosalsky, Justice of the Court of General Sessions of the Peace, in the afternoon of the day of their seizure. (He had, he said, seen the weapons, and gone where he was told to go without questioning it.) He and his Landlady were presented to Justice Rosalsky in his chambers. The exchange went as follows:
“As I came in Mr. Smith said, addressing Mrs. Thym, said ‘Here is Mrs. Thym, she has been keeping a disorderly house, and here is Rudolph, a pimp,’ he [said], ‘he has been procuring girls for her, and they divided the results.’ And before I hardly had a chance to say anything, to speak, I think Mrs. Thym said, ‘It’s a lie,’ and I was dumbfounded, I could hardly say anything, Mr. Judge Rosalsky asked Mr. Smith, ‘Are you sure?’ Mr. Smith [said], ‘Yes, we have got the goods on them.’ So he gave me a squint, and he say, ‘Ten thousand dollars bail, and send the woman up to the House of Detention’ — I think up a Hundred and something — ‘and the man to the House of Detention on Fifty-third,’ and we were ushered out.”
It’s at this point – pages 18 to 19 – that the questioning becomes more intense. DeFord puts Valentino on the spot over and over about what he remembers was said while he and Thym were in front of Rosalsky. The reason for his obsession becoming steadily clearer as the questioning continues. As follows:
“I want to ask you, to refresh your recollection, if Mr. Smith said in the presence of the Justice …. that Mrs. Thym had been engaged in the business of conducting a disorderly house and paying money to the police of the city of New York for protection for a number of years past?”
“Yes, he said that she had been keeping a disorderly house.”
Did he say she’d been paying money to the police for a number of years for protection in that business?
The Attorney acting on behalf of the Star Company then asks Rodolfo if it was stated that he’d been procuring girls, to which he answers that he was called “a pimp”, and that that was enough for him to understand what he was accused of. When asked if it was stated by the Assistant D. A. that he and Georgiana were guilty of: “… the running of that house, of extorting large sums of money from men or women who had frequented the house for the purposes of having illicit sexual intercourse?” he responded that he didn’t recall that being stated.
When asked by DeFord if he or Mrs. Thym had been charged with being blackmailers in front of the Judge he replied in the negative. He could only recall it being stated they were charged with running a disorderly house and dividing the profits. No recollection, according to him, that anything had been said about their extorting money. However, when his questioner asks if he’s saying that Mr. Smith might’ve said it but he doesn’t recall it being said, he answers, worryingly: “Might, and might not.” (Of course we have to consider that many years have passed and Rudy’s memory might not be helping him to remember everything as it was that day (which would be understandable).)
Rodolfo doesn’t recall the names Enright and Foley being mentioned. Or that: “… wealthy girls, of high social standing…” were talked of. Or that the “wealthy girls” not spoken of, according to him, were placed in compromising positions. And when asked if he can remember hearing that he and Georgiana were “to be held in bail as material witnesses he answers that he only heard: ‘… we have got the goods on them.’ And then:
“You know, do you not, that you were at that time simply held as a material witness?”
“I didn’t know nothing of the sort. I never had no dealing —“
“Did you have an attorney there at the time?”
When asked again if he understood the situation fully at the time Rudolph Valentino says that he only knew he was held on $10,000 bail — he didn’t know why. When asked if he was charged with a crime he says no. For information? No. Was any complaint made? No. And when asked if: “… a complaint or an [sic] information or an indictment wherein you were charged with any crime?” was shown to him his answer once more was: no.
What this is all building up to is obvious but we’re not there yet. A trap is being laid for him, and he naturally doesn’t see it, as he’s being asked question after question, and is stuck in his recollections and distracted. First of all, Rudy tells his questioner, William A. DeFord, that he wasn’t in the Tombs, but at the House of Detention at Fifty-third and Eighth Avenue; then, that he was there for three days; and then, that he was released on $1,500 bail. (The application for a reduction was made, Rudolph assumes, by his lawyer, Mr. Moos.) When asked if he was discharged without bail he answers: “I had a habeas corpus proceeding in the Supreme Court.” And when asked if he was discharged he responds: “Proved my innocence completely, and discharged.”
The questions that follow are about what exactly ‘the goods’ were. (The goods were what the Assistant District Attorney said they had on both Guglielmi and Thym.) Here we see that Rudy didn’t know. When asked what that meant he answers: “I didn’t know.” When asked if Mrs. Thym had made: “… any statement to Judge Rosalsky in your presence, in the course of that proceeding?” his answer is: “She protested.” Further: “She said it was a lie, it was abominable, things of that sort. She was nearly hysterical.”
It’s now, on pages 27 and 28, that we get another look into the lost/destroyed police files that have been a mystery for so many decades. (The belief is that they were spirited away once Rodolfo Guglielmi achieved Stardom in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921).) DeFord wished to probe a little regarding Rudy’s appearance as a Witness, at a proceeding at the Supreme Court, entitled: ‘The People of the State of New York, ex rel. Rudolph Guglielmi, against the Warden of the City Prison, Seventh District’. This “proceeding” was “on or about December 1st” that year. And William A. DeFord asks Rudolph Valentino if he was asked a certain question, that day in the Supreme Court, regarding what happened in Judge Rosalsky’s chambers, on the afternoon of September 5th. The question being:
“What was the first thing then that took place; who spoke first when you got in there?”
“Mr. Smith spoke first and pointing to Mrs. Thym said: ‘This woman is conducting a disorderly house and paying money to the police for eighteen years;’ and he says: ‘This young fellow Rudolph has been trying to get girls and is dividing the money with Mrs. Thym.’ “
Did Rudolph Valentino realise at this moment that he’d been outwitted by the Attorney acting on behalf of the Star Company? If not, the penny surely had to be dropping by the time he got to his next question, and the next. After DeFord clears up that Rudy was a lot clearer than than he was in 1920, about what was said in Judge Rosalky’s chambers on the afternoon of September 5th, 1916, he then moves on to how the pair were being held as Material Witnesses. (Valentino had told DeFord that he had no recollection of being told this.) However, in the proceedings, before Judge Philbin, in December of 1916, when asked about it he gave a different answer. As follows:
“And he didn’t say anything to you further than what you just said?”
“No. Mr Smith in his declaration, he said: ‘I want these people to be held as material witnesses,’ and he explained why, saying that this woman kept this house, just as I said before.”
It’s at this point that Rudy, for some reason tried to argue that he didn’t know about being a material witness until he read it in the newspaper, while at the House of Detention. DeFord steers him back to the evidence. Telling him that he had said he was told he was a Material Witness, and that he himself had said he was told this in Rosalksy’s chambers, and had said so in the Supreme Court on December 1st, 1916. On hearing this clarification Rudy agrees that he said it. And William A. DeFord moves on to his Ace Card.
Rudolph Valentino had, he said, told him, categorically, that he’d never been accused of: “… blackmailing people you brought, women, and also women who came there, for the purposes of illicit intercourse.” DeFord then tells Valentino that Judge Philbin had asked him a direct question about this in the Supreme Court. As follows:
“What did he say about you?” (the question referring to Mr. Smith.)
He said I was supposed to bring girls to this house and that I was blackmailing with Mrs. Thym and dividing the money.”
The final hammer blow was when DeFord confronted Valentino with a series of questions and answers from the proceedings in the Supreme Court. The exchange was again about what had he’d been accused of. As follows:
Q “Now say again what Mr. Smith said you were guilty of.” A “Mr. Smith said I was guilty of bringing girls and blackmailing with Mrs. Thym society people, and dividing the amount.”
Q “Did he say anything further to indicate what he meant by bringing girls?” A “He said this woman had taken a disorderly house, that I was bringing these girls to try to blackmail society; he didn’t explain very much; he only just stated that fact.”
Q “Do I understand you to say that he charged you with bringing girls to the house that this woman was running?” A “Yes, sir.”
Q “And for the purposes of prostitution?” A “Yes, sir.”
Q “And you heard him say that to the Judge?” A “Yes, sir.”
Q “Did you deny it, tell the Judge that wasn’t so?” A “I couldn’t say anything. I didn’t have an opportunity to say a word.”
What are we to make of this engrossing question and answer session, extracted from Rudy’s recorded testimony, at the proceedings in the Supreme Court, on December the 1st, 1916? Beyond it being DeFord’s purpose to prove to Valentino that he’d been evasive, purposely or otherwise, when asked questions throughout the examination on April the 14th, 1920? (The Star Company’s Attorney was obviously seeking to find a way to bring an end to the action.) William A. DeFord does succeed in holding up a mirror to Rudolph Valentino when it comes to what he knew. But does it help us to see what he saw? Or to see anything?
It was a “fact” that Thym ran a disorderly house? That Marquis Guglielmi (Roma) was securing “girls to try to blackmail society”? Smith didn’t explain very much? Or was it, instead, a “fact” that the Assistant District Attorney stated what he did? Was Valentino not properly expressing himself as his second Wife sometimes said he did on occasion? At no point, unfortunately, does the Star Company’s Attorney make a point of asking him if he was a Blackmailer. And at no point, unfortunately again, does the Plaintiff say that he wasn’t. Though he did, it must be admitted, say, that at the habeas corpus proceeding, in the Supreme Court, his innocence was proved: “Proved my innocence completely, and discharged.” At this point DeFord begins to conclude the examination. However, before he does so, we have a revealing glimpse of Rudy’s life in the weeks before the incident, when he’s asked about an answer he gave, in December 1916. As follows:
Q “How long did you live with Mrs. Thym?”
A “For over about five months. I have been out of town, playing on the road; then I came back; I went out; then I passed all summer at another house because one night I tried to bring a girl into the house of Mrs. Thym and she told me I couldn’t have – be there; so she asked me to give up the room and therefore I had to give up the room; I went to live in 57th street and stayed all summer there. Mrs. Thym told me she had a room in her house free. I asked her if she would take me back. She said yes and I moved back on Thursday and the following Tuesday, the day after Labor Day, they came and arrested me. Only four days I had been in the house.”
William A. DeFord wanted to know if Rudolph Valentino had had any kind of discussion with James E. Smith, about getting his bail reduced, as a result of giving information that would help the investigation. When asked: “Did you ever have any such talk with him at all?” Rudolph’s answer is: “No, sir.” Yet DeFord wasn’t satisfied with the response and pressed him quite hard to get a different answer. Telling him flatly, but with great care, that he had indeed had such a conversation. And that the Assistant District Attorney had said the bail could be reduced, from $10,000 to $1,500 if he gave them useful details. (Details of people engaging in the blackmailing of figures in Society.)
Rudy shifts and says that there was a conversation, and that the Assistant D. A. did ask him to provide information, but that he had none to offer beyond what he’d already provided. (Exactly what that was isn’t clear.) When the Attorney pushes him, and says that Smith stated that Valentino had provided information, contrary to what he’d just told DeFord, he responds by saying: “… that is a pack of lies.” Then, after clearing up how his bail was reduced regardless the conversation turns to Rudy’s career. The quick sketch he provides, is one which appears to cast serious doubt, on the claims of those who said they’d danced with him, or worked with him, or that he’d been working for them. (One of the best examples being George Raft.)
If you have stuck with this to the conclusion then you deserve a pat on the back. I must say, however, that the length of this post is nothing, compared to the extent of the actual documents that were accessed. It was necessary to read the contents of the files countless times to make sense of what was contained — and they required further reading, as this post was being written, so that absolute accuracy and clarity could be achieved.
I was never able to accept there was no way of knowing why Rudy was at 909 Seventh Avenue, early on the morning of September 5th, 1916. For me there just had to be some way of finding out what on earth was going on. Of course that didn’t mean that I’d find out — but I wanted to try to. That I did discover why, is down to opportunity, intelligence and a big dollop of luck. (Lovely Lady Luck does help me out from time-to-time.)
The documents have enabled us to see beyond the lurid newspaper reports. To look into his actions against the varied titles and their publishers that he felt defamed him. To see why the prosecutions were delayed. And to hear Rudy himself relate his experiences at the time as he recalled them in 1920. However, I have to say, that while the discovery I made does assist, it doesn’t give us everything we need. And this is partly due to Rudolph himself.
Was he a procurer of women? Was he a Blackmailer? Did he jointly run a Disorderly House with Mrs. Thym? He was never found guilty of any of those crimes. Yet we must consider Tyneburg and Shotwell. Their testimony, seemingly not available to DeFord for some reason, is bothersome, to say the least. The United States was certainly feverish that year. Vice was seen at every turn. And the slightest whiff of wrongdoing was more than sufficient for a raid and the squads were at the ready. Yet, the two accusers gave information that, even now, seems substantial. And what about Frank A. Lord? As soon as he was able, Rudy contacted the Second Deputy Police Commissioner, in a desperate bid to secure his assistance. This was a person he knew and reached out to. So why was Lord so distant? Why would he pretend not to know him and then remember him? Did he, himself, have something to hide?
Perhaps there are other documents – such as the habeas corpus proceedings referenced by DeFord – waiting to be found. Material that will give us even more insight. If not, then we’ll have to accept that the blackest day in his life is a never-to-be-completed puzzle, that now has more pieces added, but is still far from the full picture we’d like it to be.
Thank you so much for reading this post. As always, the sources are available to anyone who contacts me, if they’re not already embedded into the text, or added as an image. This post will be followed, in time, by a New York Timeline for 1916, which will include the divorce of the de Saulles mentioned here; a look at The Missing Half Year; and a New York Timeline for 1917, that will conclude that series. See you all in October!
It being a fact Valentino was born in the region of Puglia, or Apulia, in Southern Italy. And it equally being a fact he sought to escape that locality and his country of origin. Meant it was important that I travel there if I was to understand him and his motives — and so in 2014 I did. During the trip I went to Bari, to Taranto and Martina Franca. My final stop, Castellaneta, the most important of all, is the subject of my post this month.
Hard as it is to believe, it really is five whole years, a half decade, since I was preparing to go to Puglia for the first time. If I doubt it, the red – Rudy’s favourite colour – file I created for the trip, full to bursting with flight info., maps, tourist pamphlets, postcards, emails, print-offs, invitations, guest house and hotel details, people’s mobile numbers, and restaurant bills and general receipts, is proof the trip commenced on April the 29th, and ended May the 6th. Impossible to dismiss. All there right in front of me. Every day. Every hour. Every minute. Every second.
Of course it helped me when organising that I was no stranger to the unusually shaped nation. Even as a child I’d had inklings. For example, when my Bestie, Neil (half Italian on his mother’s side), returned to school after the Summer, wearing shoes with bubbled, melted soles, I knew it was a place of extremes. And when my own mother talked about her journey to the resort of Rimini, in the Sixties, the previous decade, I began to appreciate it was romantic. (The image of her, sunkissed and seated on a Sea Swing, is one I treasure.) Winning first prize in a Reader’s Digest competition, in the Eighties, and acquiring a book about the Romans in Britain, helped me understand it was of historical importance.
Before viewing Summertime (1955), Death in Venice (1971), Don’t Look Back (1973), or The Wings of the Dove (1997), I journeyed to Lido di Jesolo. Just a cheap package holiday in 1983, with my Aunt, Uncle and Sister; but for the first time I was able to taste proper oven-baked pizza, swim in the Adriatic, and to see and fall in love with pastel-coloured, time-worn Venice. As a Fashion Student I spent happy hours turning the pages of VOGUE Italia and L’UOMO VOGUE. As a Fashion Editor I saw, wrote about, and handled, some beautiful Italian clothing. Over two decades, either for work, or a holiday, I ventured to: Milan, Florence, Venice, Portofino, Rome and Sorrento.
However the deep South I didn’t know. Sorrento, near Naples, for a 2011 family wedding, was the closest I’d been to what’s known as ‘The Heel’. After looking for both flights and accommodation (and finding and paying for both), I began to properly research where I was heading. Looking I could see that the different areas had their own flavour. Gargano e Daunia was known for its deserted beaches and fish eateries. Puglia Imperiale for the broadnesss of the horizon, bright shades and a harsh moon-like terrain. Bari e la Costa, meanwhile, was characterised by golden beaches, its ports and the walls and palaces at Bari. Magna Grecia, Murgia e Gravine was a rocky place. Valle d’Itria was somewhere filled with cone-shaped, stone buildings called Trulli, amongst the vineyards and olive groves. And Salento, with its never ending coastline dotted with coves, was an area enfolded by two seas: the Adriatic and the Ionian.
Bari e la Costa, I experienced at Bari, between April 29th and May 1st. And Magna Grecia, Murgia e Gravine, I appreciated at Taranto, Martina Franca and Castellaneta, from May 1st to May 6th. The first glimpse of Castellaneta, and its situation, was from the window of the train between Bari and Taranto. It hadn’t crossed my mind that I would see it on the way to the second location. But I did. In the distance. Perched on the edge of the ten kilometer long Gravina di Castellaneta, or Gravina Grande ravine. And though it was on the horizon, just in sight, I felt something, something I’ve no words to describe.
The modern station being some distance from the town – the one used in Rudy’s day is now defunct and closed up – our Host awaited us and our luggage with a car. Arriving at the remote guesthouse that sunny Saturday afternoon (after a drive filled with much conversation and a Falcon above us at one point) I was keen to collect myself. So much had occurred since touching down at Bari on the 29th. Many calls and emails there to finalise appointments and meetings. Downtime, with visits to churches, and walks by the port, and in the backstreets. Followed by a memorable but very crammed two days at Taranto and Martina Franca. All leaving me feeling a little overwhelmed. So I took stock. Walked in the fields near the converted farmhouse; took some photographs; returned to the accommodation and added to my notebook; slept; viewed my images and film clips; watched some TV; and ate a delicious Italian home-made meal.
The next day was to be a long one. I had most of the 4th to enjoy exploring Castellaneta. And then, in the evening, from seven p.m., I was to be at the Premio Rodolfo Valentino event at Teatro Valentino. (An awards ceremony celebrating Italian Excellence.) That it was Sunday was, on one hand, an issue, and on the other not an issue. It would be quiet and everything would be closed. But it would also be so quiet and so closed that it would be easy to walk about. I could wander in the streets of Rudolph Valentino’s home town to my heart’s content soaking it all up. I could trace and retrace my steps. Snap away with my camera until the memory was full. Stand and stare at his birthplace for as long as I damn well wanted.
The problem was that it was raining heavily in the morning. So I waited and waited and waited — and waited some more. However, after lunch it was still raining, and it became clear that it was time to head to the historical centre (with an umbrella) and hope for the best. What could go wrong? I was a Brit. and used to steady drizzle! At two p.m. I began my investigation. I had four or so hours to explore! Plenty of time!
Though I started my inspection at the Comune di Castellaneta map (see above) I felt it was good to just walk and see where I ended up. All the signage in the tightly packed Old Quarter drew me to the Museo Valentino; which I knew was closed on that day, and on the next. Yet it was still good to locate it, so I could return there on my final morning, on the 6th. Here and there I saw adverts for the recently released biopic featuring Gabriel Garko as Rudolph Valentino: Rodolfo Valentino – La Leggenda (2013). And also a few A4 posters for the Premio Rodolfo Valentino event that night (which Garko would be attending). It was clearly a big deal locally and regionally.
After an initial easy stroll along the narrow streets and alleys I went to check the location of the theatre for the event later. Then, walked to a wet Via Roma, the main thoroughfare in Rudy’s time and today. It was here that I began to see the extent to which Rudolph Valentino is remembered – cherished, even – in Castellaneta. We might scoff at mid.-price fragrances that bear his professional name. Or think it a little tacky that a dry cleaner is named after him. (Generally I’m against profiting from a man so profited from in life and after death.) Yet at his place of origin it works. It’s appropriate. In fact, to be able to see all of the many ways in which he’s referenced, more than a century after his birth, is rather wonderful.
Sipping a classic Cappuccino, in the now faded, Bar Valentino/Caffeteria Valentino, was a real treat, as the establishment features in a Sixties short film about him, and where he came from; with interviews with his contemporaries and then young residents. It also allowed me to spend a bit of time out of the rain. And gave me the chance to look at what I’d photographed so far and how those images had turned out. (In some instances not so good.)
Fortified by caffeine I walked again through the Ancient Heart. Snapping and also re-snapping as I went – I found a wonderful plaster frieze on a side street on this second walk – with the intention to next view Valentino’s place of birth and the statue that stands nearby.
Finally – finally! – I was in front of his first home! What a moment! To be there where the story began! And get a true sense of the size – not so big – and the location! I looked at it from all angles – even the back – and took photographs until I felt I’d properly captured it. Here was where Rudy was born, heard his first lullaby, took his first steps, spoke his first words, heard his first bed time story… Going inside seemed out of the question — because it was. Suspicious, nervous looks from above, from the current occupant, when I walked down the side steps to the rear, made it totally clear it was pointless to attempt to knock on the door, or to ring any bell. Besides, my Italian was limited to phrase book phrases, and helpful little words, such as: thank you, hello and excuse me, etc.
After studying the Sixties memorial – at the time being prepared for restoration and now fully restored – it was only five-thirty p.m. What to do? Back along Via Roma I went to see what else I could find (grabbing a snack along the way). That I discovered, accidentally, the defunct train station from which, I assume, Rodolfo Guglielmi and his parents and his siblings departed for Taranto, in 1904, was a nice reward for my effort. And though it had been modernised before being closed, this was undeniably the spot at which his Grandfather, Pierre Philibert Barbin, had toiled, when the railway arrived at Castellaneta in the Nineteenth Century. And of course was the reason that his Mother and his Aunt settled so far away from France. Afterwards finding the apparently – seasonally? – closed nearby Alhambra Bar Valentino, the exterior painted a deep Rudy red, was a nice little extra. Did the owners know about The Hooded Falcon? The ambitious, doomed project of Natacha Rambova? And Valentino’s love of Spain? There was nobody around to ask!
As I wrote in some detail about the Premio Rodolfo Valentino event, at Teatro Valentino, in a piece for Chris. Roman’s, All About Rudolph Valentino Blog, in 2014, I’ll skip to the following day, the 5th, and my day-long return (in better weather), to Castelleneta. The purpose of this second bite of the cherry, was: to meet and speak with a local Historian; to view the spectacular Gravina, on the edge of which the town sits; to visit the beautiful Cathedral; go to the rival Valentino museum (the Pinacoteca); and to take yet more photographs of those narrow streets and alleys.
My morning appointment was an eye-opener, and helped me to understand better the activities of Valentino’s Grandfather, on his mother’s side. The Gravina di Castellaneta was breathtaking, and I and my travel companion, enjoyed a delicious lunch there of Italian supermarket delicatessen treats. The mainly Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Cathedral (Cattedrale di S. Maria Assunta gia di S. Nicola), with its sensational and very convincing faux marble columns, and the many Saints, and the glorious decorated ceiling, didn’t disappoint. And later in the bright afternoon sunshine I saw Castellaneta afresh.
The rain of the previous day had somehow obscured many treasures. On that pleasant Monday in May I could see everything more clearly. I saw the architectural mix. All of the many waves of history. The subtle, and sometimes, not-so-subtle colours. The stairways leading nowhere and the blocked off walkways. The teeny tiny windows and impossibly small doorways. It all assaulted me. And I could see that, though there had been obvious modernisation, these were still, for-the-most-part, the streets that Little Rodolfo had negotiated so long ago. The arches under which he’d passed. The corners around which he’d appeared or disappeared.
After a day that had filled up my brain to bursting point I needed to rest. And so back to the accommodation I went, to unwind, have a sleep, and to load everything I’d seen onto my laptop and my separate hard drive. However, it was all far from over, as, following a late dinner, Rudolph’s birth day began to approach. (He was born on the 6th.) Back in Bari or Taranto – I don’t recall – I’d bought a bottle of MUMM champagne for the occasion. And this had already been passed to our hosts to chill in their fridge for about 24 hours (to guarantee maximum iciness). As midnight approached they joined us in our quarters to share the moment. That they had no flutes was brushed aside by me. (That they’d (amazingly) never drunk Bubbly before seemed to add to the celebration.) And a little after midnight, we opened the bottle, saluted Rudy, and for about an hour shared the contents four ways. The trip was almost over. But I was happy rather than sad. (Was it the champagne?)
The next day the sun shone again. After breakfast on the roof, and loading our luggage into the vehicle of the hosts, it was time to head for the Fondazione Rodolfo Valentino Museo (Rodolfo) Valentino. An hour or so was all we had. And of course it was far from sufficient. However, our flight out of Bari, at three p.m., dictated that we be on our way in advance of lunchtime, and the museum didn’t open until ten a.m.
As anyone who’s been knows, the museum is small, but packs a punch. Entry is through a narrow doorway at the end of an open, vaulted space. Once inside, there’s a large reception area, with a desk, where you pay your modest entry fee (of just a few Euros) and can pick up pamphlets and booklets about the area; get advice and information; or book a trip or guided walk. In the initial space there’s also a glass cabinet filled with the most significant publications about Rudolph Valentino. (In it I noticed several I own.)
Then you move from space to space, eventually returning to where you began. There’s a wealth of framed material to view as you go. Some real gems. Two or three rooms are devoted to huge printed reproductions of his films. And there are a couple of room sets. One featuring a bed he’s understood to have slept in. And another, with an exotic tent, with a male mannequin dressed as a Sheik. The reasonably sized cinema runs films and instructional videos — but there was no time for that on this occasion.
I must say I’ve nothing but praise for the individuals who established it and those who now maintain it. Though I would personally make use of the space differently, were I running it, which I’m not, and obviously never will be, the fact it exists at all, when it could easily not, is something to be grateful for. In time it may develop into something more than it is. Perhaps add more artifacts, expand, and become more interactive. If it doesn’t it will still be important, and of interest, to those that are knowledgeable and those who aren’t. It was certainly a great full stop to my eight day trip to Southern Italy.
Castellaneta was everything I hoped it would be and so much more. And I recommend it as a destination if you’re interested in Rudolph Valentino. For me, as I said at the start, it was an absolute must. Somewhere along the way I was in a conversation, probably at Taranto, and was asked why I would go to his place of birth so long after he’d left, and when there was nobody alive that had known him. It was a good question. And the only answer I had was that that didn’t matter to me. Yes he was long gone. Yes his family and friends were dead. Yes it had changed. But I could still see his former home. I could still see the Gravina. I could still see those narrow passageways and streets and walk them. And if it’s true that an individual is often formed by experiences in the first seven years of existence, then it goes-without-saying that I had to see where his character had been formed. And, having done so, I believe I do know him better than I did. Much better.
The downside? There’s always a downside! Is that it’s still remote and sleepy. You could, like I did, struggle to find suitable lodgings. (The excellent Masseria I stayed at has since closed due to poor business.) And it’s not a Hot Spot or a Happening Place. In the early evening everything closes. And, as far as I could see, there are few good restaurants. All that said the people are charming and many, particularly those under forty, can speak English fairly well. There’s plenty to do and see during the daytime. And if you can drive you won’t need to be chauffeured as I was. If you do want to go, I think I’d recommend being based at Taranto and travelling up there for the day, maybe twice.
Thank you for reading this post about Castellaneta and walking in Rudy’s footsteps with me from beginning to end. It’s been fun to look back at the trip and share it with you all. In the future – I don’t know when – there’ll be posts about Taranto and Martina Franca. And I’ll also be posting about my visits to Perugia and Nervi in 2015. See you in May!