I’ve read a lot of contemporary analyses of Rudolph Valentino and, this, I think, is one of the very best. A little florid in parts, and discounting several factors; yet, all-said-and-done, a great explanation of The Valentino Craze. One that puts us right in the moment with his many millions of loyal fans. And right in the moment in terms of January 1923, as this issue of MOTION PICTURE, hit newsstands in the USA in the first two weeks of this month. Posted in full. And titled: Invisible Cavalier of the Boudoir.
Thank you for reading this post in its entirety — I hope you enjoyed the article as much as I did. This latest post is part of the on-going look by His Fame Still Lives at Valentino’s life and career in 1923. A year that I find leaves me asking questions, when I peruse the biographies published so far. If you’re the same, then I invite you to join me on this year long day to day, week to week and month to month trip, as 2023 unfolds. I guarantee it won’t be dull. So see you here again soon!
On January 5th, 1923, VARIETY reported on behind-the-scenes negotiations about Rudolph Valentino’s future, between serious, heavy-hitting Hollywood power brokers. The names of the men mentioned are a revelation. Why? Because they feature so prominently in the future. Was Rudy’s career really in his own hands? It would seem not. Full article below:
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.
We read much about the early Movie Colony friends of Rudolph Valentino, those who knew him and helped him, before he rocketed to Stardom, in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921). And we know of those who attached themselves to him, claimed, even, to have discovered him, after fame, and, after his untimely death. (Persons too numerous to list here.) One individual we almost never hear of, is Actress Ruth Roland; who, on a trip to the United Kingdom, in the early Thirties, spoke candidly to an Interviewer about their closeness. This post is titled: Valentino Was My Friend.
Valentino Was My Friend
by RUTH ROLAND
The world-famous star of silent
days who has recently been
Rudolph Valentino, one of the most romantic figures in the history of the screen, died on August 23rd, 1926, yet hismemory is still treasured by thousands. In this exclusive article one of his few really close friends relates some hithertountold stories of his life.
“WHENEVER I think of my friend Rudolph Valentino, I think of a charming, courteous, sincere gentleman, who never forgot a friend. A man who could, and did, ‘meet triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters both the same.’
“I think of the first time I ever met him and we danced our first dance together, back in the days when films were silent and he was Signor Guglielmi.
“I think of the weeping crowds at his funeral. And then I think of what is left of him, lying in the Forest Hills Cemetery.
“I was just beginning to be a somebody in those days when I met Rudolph first. I was working in ‘Who Pays,’ and our mutual love of dancing drew us together. We found our steps suited, as we became frequent partners and won contests together, too.
“He was new in Hollywood. He ‘extra’d’ and played small parts, but there were many days in the week when he was ‘resting.’ His remarkable good looks, his poise, not to mention his grace of movement, always attracted attention. He probably had his entire wardrobe on his back, but he looked [like] a [P]rince. His clothes were always well-pressed, his linen and shoes irreproachable, his hair sleek and shining, and his beautiful hands well kept.
“He used to come home, where my aunt, who keeps house for me, adopted him as her special pet. He had a standing invitation with us, for times were lean then, and he could at least be sure of a good meal any time he wanted one.
“Usually we would go home to eat, and then Rudolph’s melting brown eyes would glow with pleasure at the prospect of the evening dancing contests. We were in the finals at The Vernon Country Club against Wally Reid and his [W]ife Dorothy Davenport, and Rudy and I won the silver cup. I have it still, with several others.
“I remember one dancing contest in the finals of which only Ben and I and Rudolph and Pola Negri remained. It was a fancy dress dance. Rudolph and Pola were in Spanish costume, and made a strikingly handsome pair. I wore an original costume, representing a circus, and gained first prize for it.
“Rudolph used to like me to croon softly to him while we danced. In the early days his favourite song was ‘Tell me why I adore the things you do. Tell me why I can’t get enough of you. Tell me why you are wonderful to me,’ and so on. He loved music.
“I’ll always remember the way I had to turn Rudolph out of my car after we’d been out for an evening. He, like the perfect gentleman he always was, wanted to see me right home. But he lived down town, somewhere off 7th Street, and my home was a long way from there near Laurel Canyon. I knew he could not afford the taxi back again, and it was too far to walk when he had to be on location early the next morning.
“Rudolph always confided his hopes and ambitions to me, and we talked over his career step by step. Two things I told him that he never forgot. They were: ‘Be sincere and always work hard,’ and ‘never neglect your fans.’
“I remember the thrill of Rudolph’s epoch-making tango in ‘The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,’ and how sad it was that the Spanish Society girl who danced with him never lived to see herself on the screen.
“I remember when Rudolph and Natacha met, through Madame Nazimova, at whose home Natacha was staying at that time. She was an unusual looking girl, very attractive, with her dark colouring and air of mysterious allure.
“Rudolph liked ‘The Eagle’ least of any of his films, he said. ‘The Sheik,’ however, was one of his greatest, if not his greatest personal favourite. Had he lived he would have done even finer work.
“The last memory I have of Rudy was at a party. It was a party given by Bebe Daniels at her house on Los Felis [sic] Boulevard, and, for a wonder, I went alone. Rudolph was there, and he, too, was by himself. We neither of us felt like eating, so we went for a stroll in the garden.
“It was a perfect moonlit night, and I will never forget the way we two, who had not had such an opportunity for ages, talked and talked of the old days and the very beginning of our friendship. Rudolph said some lovely things to me that night. One of them was that, though he was so much courted and fussed over and flattered, he could count his real friends on the fingers of one hand, and ‘You, Ruth,’ he said, ‘are one of them.’
“He said, ‘No one really fools me. I know exactly how much this one or that one’s fine sayings are really worth.’ Bebe’s [G]randmother came out and said ‘What in the world are you two talking about out there?’ But we went on and talked for over three hours. I never saw Rudolph alive again.
“Much has been written about the spiritualist seances at which Rudolph is supposed to have spoken, and their genuineness has often been dismissed.
“I am able to describe accurately a seance which I attended in New York some years after his death.
Did Valentino’s Spirit Speak?
“A well-known [M]edium proposed getting the sprit of Valentino to reply to three questions put by me. I may mention that this particular [M]edium held a very high reputation, and people who were world-famous believed implicitly in his powers.
The [M]edium went through the usual spasms before going into a trance. As usual there was a ‘[C]ontrol,’ the voice of an Indian guide, who spoke in broken English at first and forgot about it later.
“At length the supposed spirit of Valentino’s mother spoke to me. She spoke in English, which was odd, for in life the mother of Rudolph could not speak one word of our language.
“Then the spirit voice of Rudolph himself came through and announced itself ready to reply to my three questions.
“My first one was, ‘What was the special name you used to always call a relative of mine at my house?’ The relative was, of course, my aunt, and his name for her had always been ‘Tanta.’ (Aunt.) It was soon obvious that the spirit did not know, though the last time we talked Rudolph had sent a message to ‘Tanta’.
“However, we went on to the second question, which was, ‘Where did we last meet on earth, and what happened then?’ I feel sure that, had my friend really been there, he could not have forgotten that almost prophetic conversation, but the ‘spirit’ was entirely flummoxed, and tried everything it knew to get me to reply to my own question.
“At last I was asked to put the third question, but I said, ‘That won’t be necessary, thanks,’ and left the seance. That was no more the spirit of Rudolph Valentino than I am Primo Carnera. (A Boxer.)
“Those who remember Rudolph Valentino need no seances to conjure up a spirit for them. I have many souvenirs of him: portraits with various inscriptions on them. ‘R. to R.’ was his favourite dedicatory effort to me.
A Grand Fellow
“He was a grand fellow, every inch of his 5ft. 10 in.; a good mixer always. He was not a saint nor an ascetic. He drank very little, and, like most Italians, he preferred wine. He was neither vain nor conceited. He dressed well because he took pride in his appearance.
“He went in for athletics, riding, etc., in a big way, and was anything but a ‘Sheik,’ a ‘Great Lover,’ or a woman chaser in real life.
“The last time they moved Rudolph’s remains, to make room for June Mathis, I asked his [B]rother to allow me to place my mausoleum at his disposal, for there would always have been room for us with Rudolph.”
Thank you for taking the time to read through this reproduction of Ruth Roland’s tribute to her Good Friend Rudy. The interview was published in FILM WEEKLY, on August the 25th, 1933, and clearly timed to coincide with the seventh anniversary of his tragic passing. I think that, despite the odd discrepancy, here and there, her recollections are solid, and align with those of the others who genuinely knew the pre-fame Valentino. And you can feel her sadness looking back. Feel her loss. And feel her empathy for those who who felt his loss too — particularly on the other side of The Atlantic.
In the mid. 1970’s, the Italian magazine, STOP, decided to commemorate half a century since the passing of Rudolph Valentino, with a thoughtful article, featuring a lengthy interview with one of his closest childhood friends; a man named: Guiseppe/Joseph Nico. In the month he passed, 95 years ago, it seems appropriate to post that translated interview here; an interview, which I can say is one of the most interesting items I’ve found, during the course of my research into the earliest years of this remarkable, endlessly fascinating man. I hope you’ll enjoy what I’m titling: Joseph Nico.
The place where I was born is called Rudolph Valentino’s Castellaneta. It is a small town located at almost the very tip of Italy, on a hill, overlooking the sea. Castellaneta is a famous city. And every year there’s a pilgrimage of thousands of women who still remember him, who cried and suffered for him, and that carry the handkerchiefs soaked with tears, on August 23rd, 1926, in boxes, the day their Lover left them forever.
Valentino, Star, was their Idol. For years he filled their lives and their dreams. The magnetic gaze of Rudy. His almond-shaped eyes. His smile. The way he kissed the women, and held them in his strong arms, caused guilty, sinful shivers.
Life was a little less harsh in those five years when their “Forbidden Lover” intoxicated with perverse fascination. In theatres, in cities large and small, and in modest provincial towns, where a muted piano translated, musically, the images flickering on the screen, so many sins were eaten, and husbands and boyfriends were betrayed with thoughts. Rudolph Valentino really had an almost magical power to bring down many virtues… his memory at a distance of fifty years has remained intact.
In France, the U. S., Australia and Japan, all over the [W]orld you can say, there are specialised travel agencies. And the place where the tourists stop is in Castellaneta, the city of Valentino.
In this week’s newspapers and magazines, from all corners of the [E]arth, there are long articles about Rudolph Valentino, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of his death. Here in Castellaneta his memory is still alive. Visitors who travel the road that leads to the town, can see, to the left, the monument that the city has erected. It’s a two metre high statue, ceramic and blue, which embodies the [A]ctor in the role of the Protagonist in his most famous – [final] – film The Son of the Sheik [(1926)]. Just nearby you see the house where the Star was born, on May 6th, 1895. A beautiful Baroque-style building with balconies.
We had the good fortune to meet with Mr. Joseph Nico, who is 81 years old, the same age [Valentino] would be if he were alive today. Joseph Nico has always lived in Castellaneta and was a Schoolfriend of Rodolfo. With him he also spent his early teens. Until Rudy moved to Sant’Illario.
The old man remembers a great deal about the childhood of Rudolph, who he knew well. Being his Playmate he received his confidences. His story is new and surprising in many respects. And also demonstrates the precocity of the sentimental youth who would become the greatest Seducer of the 20th Century.
“My childhood,” Mr. Nico begins, “was spent entirely with Rodolfo. My friend was a cute boy and breezy. He always had new ideas in his head and was also ready to implement them. Rodolfo came from a solid family. Borghese. (Bourgeois.) The father was a man of authority here in Castellaneta, and was the Veterinarian of the area. Dr. Giovanni/John Guglielmi had married a French Woman of noble birth, Maria/Marie [Berthe] Gabrielle Barbin. And at birth the child was baptized with the names: Rodolfo Pietro Filiberto Raffaello.
“To be honest, I found it odd that a guy of his position came to play with us, the children of poor people, but Rodolfo preferred ordinary people to the rich. Even when he returned from Hollywood to Castellaneta, and was here with his Isotta Fraschini, a kilometre long, he embraced us.
“Rudolph, as I said, was a smart one — and very early. The girls made him turn his head and he ran to them. I remember one episode, when we were about 10, to dismiss a lively compliment, a girl gave him a slap. Yet he, in response, just stroked her blonde braids. Everyone spoke of what had happened between the Son of the Veterinarian and small Luciana.
“On the rare occasions there arrived in the countryside a travelling show, he was always in the front row, and devouring, with his eyes, the actresses. The Chanteuse especially polarising his attention. To see them better Rodolfo would sneak behind the scenes. And then return and tell us all what he saw, with such a liveliness and seductive colour, that we were spellbound for days.
“The Parish Priest, when he learned of this behaviour, scolded him in front of everyone, and didn’t allow him even Confession. However, he charmed the older man and moved him and was allowed both Confession and Communion. The two remained good friends. And when he was famous and rich, and came back to his home town, he gave many dollars to the Parish.
Joseph Nico fails to tire of telling stories. His elderly memory is lively. And wakes up when he rummages through the distant memories of early youth.
“Only at school,” he continues, “my friend didn’t do well. He didn’t like to be bent over books, and preferred games and entertainment. Bravado with friends. In that time women used to fill skins with oil for sale. In the morning a cart passed to collect oil for a cooperative. Rudolph was hiding behind a door, and, before the man could pick up the skin full of oil, he broke the skin with a large stone, that then flooded the road with the slimy liquid. Rudolph’s Father, who the Cart Driver had gone to to complain, raised his hands to Heaven, and compensated the poor man for the damage. Rodolfo was then put in the corner. Then double-locked in his bedroom. But the room had a small balcony which was near to the gutter pipe. So, without a second thought, Rodolfo opened the window and slid down the pipe to the street, where I was waiting for him.
“For beautiful clothing Rudy had a real fanaticism, and his Mother sent him around looking like a [P]rince; yet, his clothes didn’t last long due to the violent games in which he indulged. On Sunday, however, at Mass, my friend was really dapper. I still have in front of my eyes his blue sailor suit with white spats, hair combed and parted, and smooth and shining with grease.
“At the parties of rich friends he was always present because all vied to invite him. But it was the girls who often pressured their brothers to make sure he wasn’t missing. His charm and conversation had an effect on them. And they were all in love with him. In Castellaneta there were many handsome boys, yet none was like him, no one had his eyes, his magnetism. The most beautiful girls were his friends.
“Yet one was able to resist and her name was Felicity Sasserego. She lived in Saint Hillary where Rudy went to complete his agricultural studies. He confided in me that he was in love with her. Yet she wouldn’t have anything to do with him. And didn’t trust that ‘Rooster’ that was behind all the skirts. Rodolfo for the first time in his life wept for love. He who would later be able of reach for millions of women tasted the bitterness of defeat. And perhaps it was this disappointment that ripened his resolve to seek his fortune far from his Homeland.”
The memories of the elderly friend of Rodolfo stopped here. Tears forming in his eyes and running down his cheeks. Mr. Nico can’t help but think that if Valentino had stayed there in Castellaneta he wouldn’t have become one of the most famous men in the World, but would, perhaps, still be alive; and be there beside him, to drink a good glass of wine.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading this translation, of an enlightening, yet all-too-brief interview, with Mr. Joseph Nico, the childhood friend of Rudolph Valentino. And I hope that you’ll return to read the next post about the greatest Seducer of the 20th Century. Do like this post and comment if you have the time. Thank you!
It’s taken me quite some time to write about Rudolph Valentino’s pre World-War-One stay in Paris. Why? Well, there were just other more pressing topics, I suppose. Not that this point in his life isn’t one which requires proper examination — it does. So, without further delay, here’s my look at what was an extremely formative experience, for the man then known as Rodolfo Guglielmi. A post that I title: Paris, City of Light.
For an individual that was half French, on his Mother’s side, the capital of France was an understandably attractive destination. Though born in Italy (in Castellaneta, in Puglia), he had, thanks to Marie Berthe Gabrielle Barbin, his Mother, a dual identity from birth. There’s little doubt that her lullabies were in her native tongue. And that she spoke to him in French as much as in Italian — as she probably had with her earliest offspring, the sadly short-lived, Bice; and, Rodolfo’s older Brother, Alberto. Any French-speaking between the siblings – Alberto, Rodolfo, and their younger sister, Maria – was naturally reinforced by chit-chat with Mrs. Guglielmi. And between her and their maternal Aunt Mrs. Galeone. Despite not being a Teacher it’s likely she taught them to both read and write French too.
Bedtime stories, we know, were told to the already dreamy and escapist little Rodolfo. And we can easily imagine his questions prompting them. Tales of daily life back in France and of relatives there; of his late, maternal French Grandfather, Pierre Philibert Barbin, who’d constructed the local railway line and the impressive railway bridge; of French kings and queens and heroes and heroines; and of the awful Franco-Prussian conflict, of 1870-1871, when Donna Gabriella had endured the Siege of Paris and The Commune. Though the Guglielmi children were firmly rooted in Italy, and were Italians submerged in local bounty, it’s hard to imagine them not enjoying French cooking. And while their devout Maman may’ve been seated in, and prayed and confessed at, a Castellanetan church, we assume she continued to observe French saints’ days. Due to all of this and more, while it very much existed in his head, his mind’s eye, from quite early, the so-called City of Light was a place he could almost smell and touch. A metropolis he seemed to know without having actually known it. And, that from far away, seductively outstretched her arms to him.
If France and its capital, Paris, had called him all his life from a distance, when he found himself enrolled at the Marsano School of Practical Agriculture, at Sant’Ilario Ligure/Saint Hillary Liguria, late in 1910, that call became very hard to resist. The location of the college, high above the resort of Nervi, and not too distant from sophisticated, cosmopolitan Genoa, was one which brought him closer than ever before to the French border. Consequently, a day trip in his uniform to picturesque Nervi, would’ve exposed to him to glamorous international visitors — Nervi having been, for well over a decade, a retreat and a place of recuperation, for nobles and notables. As far back as 1898, the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess of Baden had visited their Daughter, the Crown Princess of Sweden and Norway. In 1900, the Ranee of Sarawak, Lady Brooke, stayed for a period. In 1905, Mr. Hay, the U. S. Secretary of State, had been resident in order to rest and improve his health. And just a few years before, the great Eleanora Duse, a fellow Italian, had recovered from a serious chest infection there. Perhaps, just as important for the romantically-inclined teenager, it was a very popular destination for honeymooners.
According to the Biographer, Emily W. Leider, in her biography, Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino (2003), Rodolfo sought the embrace of Paris in 1912. But did he? It’s a question we ask because there’s evidence to suggest otherwise.
In her Doctor of Philosophy Dissertation, Rudolph Valentino: The Early Years, 1895-1920, published in 2009, Jeanine T. Villalobos states:
“… by Spring 1912 he was still unemployed and without direction. And so, Valentino would remember in his autobiography, he ignored his ‘family’s entreaties’, and ‘pocketed what little money [he] had and dashed away to Paris to see what might be seen.’ His claim that he went against his family’s wishes is contradicted by Alberto’s account, who would remember that the trip had actually been a gift from [Gabriella] for Rodolfo’s fine performance at San’Illario.” [Sic.]
However, the existence of a communication with old friend, Bruno Pozzan, from July 1912, reveals he planned to holiday in Milan that Summer; before returning to Sant’Ilario Ligure/Saint Hillary Liguria, to sit his final exams. Surviving records, preserved at what’s still, today, a centre for agricultural learning, and which I had the good fortune to see, prove beyond doubt that he graduated at the very end of October that year, and not before. (Please see above.) In my opinion it’s inconceivable his Mother would reward Rodolfo for doing well before graduation. Or, sanction his expedition, at the all-too-tender age of 17. Also, the six or so weeks between the end of October and the start of Christmas, isn’t the stay of several months that we’re informed of by Villalobos, in her Doctor of Philosophy Dissertation. Begging the further question: impulsive though he certainly was, would he have dared to skip the Festive Season? We might wonder, too, if he would travel to Paris at a time of year virtually guaranteed to be chilly, and more than a bit depressing. With dark mornings and even darker evenings.
While he doesn’t supply a definite month, or year, in the third edition of his book of recollections, Valentino As I Knew Him (1927), S. George Ullman highlights his accomplishments at the Marsano School of Practical Agriculture, as being the main motivation for his trip. And, how his conquest of “that metropolis” was a sweet one, so long as he had sufficient funds. As we see:
“… success seemed to go to his head, for nothing would now do but that he must go to Paris to conquer that metropolis. At first, since he had some money, he was quiet successful, for youth and manly good looks he found to be at a premium.
“As soon, however, as his money was gone, he found things vastly different and, in a panic, he sent home for more funds.”
From pages 23 and 24.
We can’t totally rule out the closing weeks of 1912 and shouldn’t. Yet the fact that, according to the family, there are no postcards, letters or photography, to firmly fix the sojourn in the twelve month period of 1912, does open up the possibility it was early 1913 that he travelled to the capital. (A present that Christmas?) And this supposition is given weight by Robert Florey, who, in his talks with his friend Rudolph Valentino, in 1923, for a proposed biography, was told by him he was “hardly eighteen years old”, and he was relating occurrences “ten years later”. Neither of which suggests 1912, as Rudy was eighteen in the May of 1913, and 1923, is a decade removed, exactly, from 1913.
Whenever he experienced it, either in the Winter of 1912, or, the Spring of 1913, Paris was at her zenith. “… expressing herself in whatever task, high or low, she may undertake.” (As it was put in The Genius of Paris, in The Times newspaper, on Thursday May the 8th, 1913.) This being the year of Igor Stravinsky‘s Rite of Spring, Apollinaire’s Alcools, Synthetic Cubism, Marcel Proust‘s Swann’s Way, and Alain-Fourniers Le Grand Meaulnes. To employ a well-worn and overused phrase, it was: the place to be. And the teenage Rudy was right there in the middle of it.
Of course what was to prove to be significant later, was to sweep away, forever, the old, wasn’t really the focus of Rodolfo Guglielmi. His focus, was that she was “the city of pleasure”; and this he sought at this time far more than he sought “the city of thought”. And yet, if we turn to the Paris that’s described in Cecily Mackworth’s, Guillaume Apollinaire and the Cubist Life (1961), we find ourselves presented with somewhere where pleasure and thought combine. Which assists us in seeing the City of Light as Rodolfo Guglielmi saw it. Beyond the stones that spoke. And the history – centuries of it – at every turn. (Much of which would’ve been apparent to our story and history-loving young Adventurer.)
Mackworth’s careful, forgotten biography of the Poet Apollinaire, frames the city as if it were a painted scene. And, crucially, gives us a central character who walks its streets, and mixes with its populace. In fact, a fellow Italian (at least by birth, having been born in Rome, in 1880); of parents of differing nationalities; that was multi-lingual; blessed with: “… inexhaustible physical and mental energy…”; loved to cook; was a lover of innovation but also a traditionalist, and wasn’t exactly great at handling money, according to friend Rene Nicosia. (Nicosia thought his associate unbalanced.) In Chapter Two, the Author quotes her Subject as having said the following: “What can I do to be happy like an innocent child?”
Alcools, the title of Guillaume’s important and ground-breaking anthology, translates as alcohols plural, and is representative of a desire to experience life instantly, in a single gulp, rather than in an orderly way; which really couldn’t be more appropriate, when considering Rodolfo’s own desire to grab life with both hands. The essence of Apollinairean Aesthetics, Simultaneity, is at the core of this Child of Southern Italy’s experience of France’s foremost city. A city which gave and gave, yet, also, took and took. Simultaneously, he enjoys the all too visible and resonant past, as well as the vital, throbbing present. Gadgets of the day. Transportation. The fashions. And personalities.
And personalities that the Poet Apollinaire knew. Marinetti, Picasso, Ricciotto Canudo, Max Jacob, Modigliani, Paul Leautaud, Sar Peladan, Stanislas de Guita, Robert and Sonia Delauney, Vlaminck, Andre Derain, Francis Carco, Suzanne Valadon, Utrillo, Jean Cocteau, Pierre Reverdy and many, many others. All of them making the city what it was and what it would become. ((Filippo Tommaso) Marinetti, Riccioto Canudo and (Amedeo Clemente) Modigliani being just three Italians who made their home and their reputation in France. Luigi Russolo being another.)
While Rodolfo Guglielmi had to have spent the majority of his time in pleasure-seeking, that pleasure-seeking would’ve exposed him to what’s termed: the Heroic Era of Bohemianism. Montmartre and the increasingly fashionable Left Bank. Montparnasse, with its Cafe du Dome, where rich Germans and Americans congregated, and La Rotonde (Cafe), the Slav rendezvous. (At the time that Valentino was in Paris Pablo Picasso regularly visited Rotonde — as did his enemy, Vlaminck, a Partygiver.)
Of course I don’t suggest, for a minute, that Rudolph Valentino, as he was later known, met and chatted with any of those people mentioned above, let alone Pablo Picasso. There’s no evidence he appreciated what’s known as Modern Art, or, subscribed wholesale to modern viewpoints. However, he was in the same city at the same time as these figures, and therefore might’ve seen them; and they, of course, him. And in the forthcoming version of his time in Paris in this post, he does meet with artists, plural; though, what type of artists they were isn’t actually revealed.
The city of pleasure-seeking creators of imagery and thinkers of thoughts was also a city of other interesting individuals. Occultism was extremely trendy/fashionable. Hashish and opium were utilized to reach deep into the unknown. Fortune tellers, sorcerers and Black Art practitioners were on hand. Such as: Madame Salamour, Marguerite and Madame Deroy. Josephin Peladan, or Sar Peladan, could read the future in shadows — a person’s shadow. Previously listed Poet, Max Jacob, tried to see the future with horoscopes. Anyone having looked properly into the life of Valentino, will be aware he semi-seriously dabbled in this area with his future Wife, Natacha Rambova.
The central character who walked the city’s streets in Guillaume Apollinaire and the Cubist Life (1961) is The Flaneur delineated in Maude Annesley’s My Parisian Year (1912). A Parisian male, with no true equivalent elsewhere, one of “hundreds”, who paraded from: “… the Madeleine to the Faubourg Montmartre …. strolling along as if there was no such thing as business in the world.” “… of every class.” “… dramatists, journalists, and writers of all sorts, fonctionnaires, business men, petits rentiers, boursiers, ‘sportsmen,’ artists, retired shopkeepers, actors, vieux militaires…” We can well imagine the wide-eyed, impressionable Rodolfo picking up stylistic tips, from these all too visible and loquacious gentlemen. Who stopped so suddenly, at kiosks and shop windows, that people would collide with them.
Was it in France that Rudy got the shopping bug? It wouldn’t be surprising, if he saw the stores Annesley describes, in some detail, in the same Chapter, VII/Seven. The paste jewellery sellers, for example, one with: “… an eye-torturing invention of turning stands.” The stands turning in different directions and lit: “… by whirling electric lights.” Or: “… the Gramophone shop.” an establishment where you could sit and listen to music on discs through receivers that you placed against your ears. (The Author wasn’t alone in enjoying standing outside and watching the expressions of those hearing: “… operas, ‘pieces,’ songs, singers and so on…”) Any new shop opening, she informs us, was instantly noticed by “The Flaneur”.
It seems likely that Signor Guglielmi found himself, along with flaneurs and others, stopping to look too. A pastime in the metropolis. And and not just at windows. Bill-stickers pasting elevated boarding bills were a “great attraction”. New roads and houses being built attracted crowds. As did streets, where traffic was prevented due to repaving, and a chattering “cheap-jack”/Street Seller might be stationed, surrounded by flaneurs. Paris was, in these times, a place where small and large crowds gathered around performances, or, demonstrations. An old man selling mechanical toys. Perspiring strong men lifting cannon balls or each other on a single hand. Or a blindfolded Clairvoyant describing a person they couldn’t see.
According to Maude Annesley flaneurs could be seen: “… from after lunch up to quite late at night. “The busiest time…” being “… the l’heure de l’aperitif–five to seven.” A time, she tells us, when the cafes were at their fullest. The Flaneur seated at a table with his “favourite drink before him”. A “concoction” created by a Sommelier. “… a few drops of this, a spoonful of that, and a dash of the other…” the mixture then having either iced water or “eau de seltz”/fizzy water added to it. In Annesley’s opinion the l’heure aperitif was a charming spectacle. And one that was very much a part of: “… the joie de vivre of the Parisian.”
American Kate Carew’s reporting from the city, in late January 1913, is another angle, on what she, herself, labels: “Childish, playful Paris.” In KATE CAREW CREEPS INTO THE CENTRE OF PARISIAN GAYETY, we enjoy a light-hearted view of France, the French and their Capital. One in which we see the inner workings of French Life. And this is useful when considering the fact Rudy could easily have been accommodated by his Great Uncle Alphonse Barbin. (Though this might’ve somewhat cramped his style.)
Carew’s full page piece bursts with inside information about Parisian Life; a life lived between December and April, when the city wasn’t crawling with tourists. Her stay in La Belle Paris, commences at Gare du Nord train station, with effusive kisses on the cheeks from her hosts. And ends with her observation that the city was: “… a quaint little village …. the playground of a charming, simple folk…” In between she happily endures: “… the season of the Reveillons, of Noel, of St. Sylvestre and la danse et le bridge.” Bridge playing being extremely popular at the time.
Major discovery it was, that to be a single woman amongst married women and men, was to be viewed with suspicion. And so much so that it was necessary, at the dinner table, to talk loudly and never to whisper to the man next to her, so that the other women could hear. Also, that private evening gatherings, even of as many as 30 persons, were often, ‘sans ceremonie’, or without formal attire. And that to wear a fashionable low-cut evening gown was to invite the question: ‘Aren’t you afraid of catching cold?’ Card playing in Paris, was, she discovered, a very different affair to card playing in London. In the French capital it was a noisy and jolly pursuit, with much chatter; whereas, in the British capital, it was a far more sober activity, quieter, and less filled with conversation.
Katie doesn’t inform us which theatre she attended or what the play was about. However, she does explain that performances ended late (usually at about midnight); meaning that getting to bed early, particularly on Christmas Eve., was an impossibility. After much eating and drinking there was dancing. “Round dances and square dances, all very decorous. No ‘turkey trots’ or ‘bunny hugs.'” Such fashionable, up-to-the-minute stepping, considered shameful by Bourgeois Paris.
A Winter visit to Montmartre, on New Year’s Eve. 1912, was likely to be ‘harmless’ and inoffensive, she was informed. Compared with the naughtiness that bubbled up in the Spring and Summer months. Carew very much hits her stride at this point, when she writes about climbing: “…up to the heights of Montmartre…” to commence: “… exploring ‘Hell,’ ‘Heaven’ and ‘Annihilation.'” A place she finds peopled, not with milling non-French, but with natives, weaving their way here and there, amongst: “… the red lights and flames and snakes of Hell and the skulls and coffins…” “… real Montmartre element-apaches and their best girls, honest laborers and their sweethearts…” Next she relates how she enjoyed the “entertainments in the tiny theatres attached” to the cabarets there. And: “… blushed a bit at the vulgarity…”
Perhaps Kate Carew’s most interesting foray, considering Rodolfo Guglielmi’s eventual, future occupation, is her visit to: “… a picture theatre, the largest in Paris.” A place: “… packed from top to bottom with palpitating, eager, childish humanity waiting to be thrilled.” Carew finds that they got what they paid for. As follows:
“And what do you think thrilled them?
“Not scenes of crime or adventure or risky, vulgar scenes.
“There weren’t any of these.
“Mothers united to their little children, brothers and sisters’ sacrifices, erring ones restored to favour, etc.
“The more absurdly sentimental a scene was the more it was appreciated.
“Things which would have made the same class of people in London smile coldly and murmur ‘Slush!’ and cynical Americans mutter ‘Nonsense!’ delighted simple Paris to her very soul.”
It strikes me as almost impossible, that the later Valentino failed to follow in the footsteps of this inquisitive Journalist, in entering “the largest” movie palace in the city. And if not that, then another, smaller, yet no less busy one, nearby; or, in another arrondissement/city district. And if so, received, like Carew, an education. Saw the power of the new medium to delight and move. To elicit “constant ahs! and ohs! of appreciation”. To even cause some viewers to cry.
The version commences with Rudy recalling the relief he felt, when he escaped the city after overcoming several ups and downs there. And reveals it was stories (“Certain fantastic adventures…”) of the capital that inspired him to go. Accounts of trips that he’d heard during his time in Venice, in 1909, while attempting to win one of the 30 places at the Engineering School of the Royal [Italian] Navy.
Next, we see that his mind was made up, when he encountered a Parisian female, or a woman heading for Paris, on a train, as follows:
“... I had the distinct sensation of entering a novel rather than a second-class compartment; in an atmosphere that lit up and smelled of love at times, and that at times surrounded me with darkness, mystery.
The beautiful woman who had attracted me, with her precocious forms, her black pupils which lit up with irresistible flashes of voluptuousness, her lips as tender as rose petals, fully justified my guilt.”
Consequently, he asks his Mother if he can “follow this woman”, securing money from his widowed Parent, “her paternal inheritance”, in order to leave to: “…fight and to win the battle of his life.”
Wondering, as we read, if this attractive person is real, or merely symbolic of his destination, we eventually see that she’s very much flesh and blood. However, the constant use of the phrase, Fata Morgana – mirage on land or sea – when referring to her, is a little confusing. Or perhaps he refers to the opportunity that presents itself: to plunge into the pool that’s Paris. As seen here:
“And I can indeed assume that if this Fata Morgana of unexpected and colossal fortune had not flattered me, I would not have risked my little money and my own fate for that woman.”
“… in the depths of my soul there was neither esteem nor love for the [C]ourtesan who was at my side and who, I understood very well, attracted only my ardent desire for a [woman] in the morning of her virility!”
Rodolfo then relates that he arrived in Paris at night. A “thousand lights” sparkling. The “city of fashion and sensuality” lighting “high flames” in his soul. Further:
“I immersed myself with my woman, who introduced me to her artist friends and their following of lovers, in the vortex of pleasure. The operetta with all its champagne, its revelry, its sensuality badly disguised as sentimental lace, the operetta of the [T]abarin, the long vigils in tails, the thousand adventures of workers, the operetta with all its colours and its dazzling and ephemeral lights; that’s what my life was like.”
So we see that the hardly eighteen-year-old Rodolfo is “immersed” in a “vortex of pleasure”. A vortex which is generated by nights at the operetta; which is a whirl within the greater whirl of the wider city. Cheap yet fun. Colourful and “dazzling”. Having described the location, the atmosphere and the sights seen, he next touches on the effect upon him. How he’s fundamentally changed:
“Having lost every hindrance and every country shyness, softened the line of my figure and acquired the elegance of the stroke, I danced, I loved, I was disputed; I enjoyed moments of supreme pleasure, I felt the deep abatement of morning awakenings after the satiated desires of women and champagne. I was running for a bad slope.
“Having got into the habit of spending one hundred francs as if they were pennies, it made me a great [L]ord.My impeccable clothing which I now knew how to wear[,] with that barely perceptible snobbery which is at the height of nobility and from which I never fell, as it was easier, into ridicule; the pallor of my cheeks, the male line of my figure, all of this – friends and lovers themselves reiterated it to me in the languid pauses of amorous oddities – all this therefore made sure that the most beautiful women did not deny me their favours.”
According to this account Rudy’s inhibitions were swept away in the ebb and flow of Parisian Nightlife. He relaxed. And consequently found himself able to dance with ease. His dancing obviously making him even more appealing than he already was — so handsome, poised and well-dressed. He admits to lovers plural. Clearly telling us he expanded his carnal activities beyond the nameless Courtesan. And these lovers were mirrors who reflected back to him who he was. So confident and alluring had he become, that: “… the most beautiful women” couldn’t deny him: “… their favours.”
The use of the word “nobility” is interesting. Was Rodolfo Guglielmi already pretending to be an Italian Marchese? Or did he simply not deny it if he was asked? If not, he was surely rubbing shoulders with the titled; the sons and daughters of European nobles, who sought fun and distraction, and freedom, from their stiff and mannered Victorian Era parents. Sought to immerse themselves in a more interesting, stimulating culture. To apply a later term, A Scene, that was peopled by: artists, prostitutes (of both sexes), performers, homosexuals, writers, transvestites and other fringe types.
And yet we sense already – “I was running for a bad slope.” – impending danger. This Youth, unlike those he’s encountering, isn’t cushioned by a wealthy family, solid connections, or any safety net. And he confesses as much:
“Hence the prodigality to which the exuberance of my youthful desire urged me would certainly have led me to lose my health if first, by fortune, I had not finished losing my money, and to the last cent.
“But I believe that not even this luck would have benefited me if fate had not hit me cruelly and [in a] salutary [way] to make me reflect on what I was doing and to make me return to serenely consider those around me.“
The confessing continues:
“The woman who had drawn me to Paris and pushed me into the path of vice had long since disappeared. It can be said that I had not even noticed. Other women had passed by my side, such as for one night, such as for whole days of intoxication.”
Vice? A word not used lightly we suspect. “… pushed me into the path of vice…”? We’re left wondering the extent to which he was pushed. How far did he go? The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines Vice as: moral depravity or corruption: wickedness. Google Search throws at us the following: “… vice is a practice, behaviour, or habit generally considered immoral, sinful, criminal, rude, taboo, depraved, degrading, deviant or perverted…” Whatever happened, as a result of regularly being in the company of this “woman”, she was eventually no longer there. And was supplanted by others: “… for one night …. for whole days of intoxication.”
Rudy then expands. Explaining that none had known how to “imprison” him. Or been “treacherous”. They were “insatiable” or “calculating”. Yet never wanting more than some: “… bank notes, a jewel…” or: “… a vigorous embrace.”
However, there was one who did embody treachery, As he tells us:
“… after having lived those three days that preceded my departure and which began when I met the female who must have been my last Parisian adventure[,] and the only one who has indelibly imprinted the mark of disgust in my soul.
“Don’t ask me the name of this woman; don’t ask me about her status. [She] is still alive and I have no desire to publicly qualify [her]. If [she reads] these notes of mine, [she] will undoubtedly recognize [herself]; and she will feel in my words all the contempt with which I honour her.
This anonymous woman was the Lover of his Friend. And he explains that the minute he was introduced to her he: “… felt a thrill…” he was unable to “understand”. Fear or desire? Or both? He wasn’t sure.
The associate was enduring the loss of his mother who’d recently died. And so lacking in funds was he, that he was unable: “… to honour her with a worthy burial…” The reason? “… all his possessions had [been] turned into jewels and a toilette for this woman to whom he remained bound with the tenacity of a castaway, looking for in her only one good smile, only one comforting caress.”
Rodolfo then explains what happened between the Lover of his nameless Friend and himself:
“We were in their apartment. Suddenly my friend got up abruptly and went out. I had offered to accompany him. He refused.
“I remained alone with her who, until then, had maintained a sphinx-like demeanour and had not animated the silence that, after her introduction, had formed between the three of us with just one word.
“When my friend went out, she got up.
“A robe with wide lapels of frothy white wool enveloped the magnificent line of her body.
“We had known each other [only] for a few minutes.
“We had been alone for a while. The echo of the thud with which my friend had closed the door still vibrated [in] the silence of the room. She stared at me sharply with a soft but very quick gesture as she freed herself of her robe and, in her dazzling nakedness, she pulled me close, sucking her lips greedily.
“I believed that her desire was [real] and, selfishly, I justified it.
“But, later, I understood. She wanted to run away with me right away. I replied that I could not. I had no more than a few hundred francs.
“And I showed her my [pocket book/wallet].
“She smiled; then deviated a little. She pointed to my rings, leant over them, she said they looked as beautiful to her as ever. She asked me for them.
“And she asked them while looking at me. And that look from her was my salvation.
“As I saw in that gaze all my Parisian life [lit] up, [and] I read in that gaze all the baseness of the desires by which I was surrounded[,] and all the humiliation that my dignity underwent by accepting them. I do not know how to say it better. I would have been a novelist if I had known how to write.
“From the house I immediately flew. And three days later from Paris.”
Extracted from La Vita di Rodolfo Valentino, Lo Schermo (The Screen), Rome, Issue 17, Dec. 11th, 1926.
So Valentino was a visitor at his friend’s residence and meets his friend’s Partner for the first time. A woman, and a questionable one, who, once again, remains an Enigma. A female with a “magnificent body”. Unafraid to reveal it to a near stranger she’d known for just: “… a few minutes.” Uninhibited. Aware of her beauty and its effectiveness. (Initially effective, anyway.) A person ready to leave her current Boyfriend and “run away” with another almost on a whim. A person he feels that he can be saved from, and ultimately reject, when she goes so far as to attempt to strip him of the little he has left; his jewellery. So awful was the experience, that he soon exits the City of Light, not to return for ten long years.
The episode is a remarkable one. So vivid, so startling — even today. How true is it? Hard to say. Just as it’s hard to say how true the entire section is, or, the rest of La Vita di Rodolfo Valentino. I like to see specifics and there are almost none. No names. No streets. No places. No dates. Very very little indeed. Which you’d expect if it was a confection. Yet, it’s undeniably in the spirit of Rodolfo Valentino; fills in the gaping void; and chimes with what we have to compare it with. For example, Villalobos, who, though she wonders if it wasn’t bragging, presents on Page 108 of her Dissertation, interesting lines that detail Rudy’s activities in Taranto. Activities which more than echo his behaviour in the French Capital:
“‘A little while ago,’ he writes Bruno [Pozzan], ‘a 17-year-old singer came to Taranto and with her I’m having an immensely good time. Then while I’m courting the singer, I was also making love to other girls, leaving one and then taking up with another.'”
And Leider, who, on Page 40 of Dark Lover, gives us the following:
“During his weeks in Paris, Rodolfo experienced at least two setbacks, folded into the glitter. and excitement. The first, predictably enough, was that he ran short of funds and had to wire home for money. The second, more mysteriously, involved some kind of unpleasantness with a young music-hall dancer.”
A source which doesn’t predate his first trip to the city, yet, very much predates his second, the potted history of his life, in ACTEURS D’ECRAN: RUDOLPH VALENTINO, Les Bons Soirs et le mauvais (supplement), (page 3 of 4), Bonsoir, Wed., May 9th, 1923, compresses his escapade into a single sentence:
“He left to attend the agricultural school in Genoa, which he left to get in touch with life. His beginnings were joyful, and he spent a few thousand pounds, both in Paris and on the Cote d’Azur, until the day his family cut him off, putting an end to his easy existence and his excesses.”
The Cote d’Azur we’ll arrive at with Rudy, soon enough, in a future post. Meantime, we leave him about to depart La Ville Lumiere, poorer monetarily, if richer in knowledge. He has lived and loved, loved and lived. Quaffed champagne and drained bitter dregs. Danced in and out of the lives of several people. Encountered: intellectuals, swells, streetwalkers, vendors, bankers, occultists, addicts, artists, theatrical types, stall holders, general workers, shopkeepers, the beautiful and the ugly, politicians, the idle rich and the idle poor. In more ways than one eaten his fill. The Rodolfo Guglielmi we see in the well-known image of him in evening dress, upright, monocle in one eye, and pristine white evening glove in his hand, is a product of France not Italy, of Paris not Taranto. And it’s this totally transformed Rodolfo, worldly and polished, his horizon broadened, his appetite for adventure whetted, who’ll declare that Italy is too small for him — because it was.
Not for ten long years, after a series of downs and ups, will he return to France and it’s glittering capital. And thereafter, be drawn again and again, to almost his second home. A place where this dual on the inside and on the outside man would feel welcome, at ease, respected as an Artist, taken seriously. Did this internationally famous Valentino, so many times a French or France-related character on screen, smile to himself wryly, on occasion, during his stays there? Virtually guaranteed, I’d say!
I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading this lengthy look at Rudolph Valentino’s stay in Paris, City of Light. A stay that can’t, unless material suddenly emerges, ever be fully understood, beyond the bare bones that we have. That will always be a little frustrating when it comes to hard facts. As always, my sources are included as links, or, presented as an image. And I welcome your thoughts and any questions you might have. See you all next time!
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!
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, I’m dividing it into two, with the first post titled: The 1920 Interview (Part One).
PAGE 1 AND PAGE 2
As can be seen, the purpose of pages One and Two, were to fix in time and space the examination; establish the identities of those present and the procedure; and to note the objective. This being: to prepare both sides for an anticipated trial, where the Plaintiff, Rodolfo Guglielmi, could seek to secure damages from the Defendants, which were the varied publications he felt had defamed him in the wake of his seizure. In this instance: the Star Co. (As only one Q and A session was in the series of files it would seem this was intended to be shared by the defendants.)
Valentino had with him two gentlemen acting as his attorneys. And these were: Lyman E. Spalding, Esq. and C. L. Gonnet, Esq. His Questioner was William A. DeFord who was acting on behalf of those Rodolfo accused. There was also present a Public Notary, named John T. Sturvedant, who asked him to swear, presumably on a bible, to tell the whole truth. Also in the room, was Cleo. C. Hardy, a Stenographer. Her job being to faithfully record what was said, and then type it, so that the Plaintiff could read and sign it.
On Page Three the questioning of Valentino/Guglielmi by DeFord commences with obvious formalities. Full name. Age. Profession. Etc.
What we learn, at this early stage, is that Valentino had begun to dance professionally in the Autumn of 1914. Had started appearing in films late in 1916 and not before. (So nothing before The Quest of Life (1916).) That he’s currently accommodated at 61 West Fifty-fifth Street. And that he was living at and not visiting 909 Seventh Avenue in September 1916.
Page Four is full of questions – not particularly detailed – about Rudy’s status at the address and about his Landlady. William A. DeFord also begins to ask him about the men who seized him at the address four years before.
On this page, the then 24-year-old Rodolfo Guglielmi, is asked about what happened on the day of his seizure by the Vice Squad. (Which was September the 5th, 1916.) He explains that they broke into the address, armed with weapons, through both the front and attic doors. That he was in his pajamas. And that there were at least five men in total.
The account is a straightforward clearly honest one. And we can be forgiven, I think, for comparing it with a scene in a contemporary Silent Picture. This was a dramatic and unforgettable moment!
Page Six sees DeFord press Rudy about the name he was using at the time. The man in charge of the raid, District Attorney [James E.] Smith, addressed Rodolfo Guglielmi as Rudolph, his professional name, not his actual one. The initial conversation between the two is also of interest to DeFord. Rudolph Valentino states he was told that due to not being a Citizen he couldn’t ask any questions. And he also maintains he wasn’t served with any papers.
William A. DeFord asks more questions about papers or paperwork or any subpoena. And Rodolfo Guglielmi continues to answer in the negative. (The repeated questions suggest that DeFord thought it odd that no papers were given or read out to him at the time of his seizure.)
PAGE 8 TO PAGE 13
Pages Eight to Fourteen are mostly taken up with a strange exchange about a jock strap. Repeatedly RV’s Questioner asks if he was wearing a male corset or girdle that day. This was to see if the reporting in the newspapers was or wasn’t accurate — which it clearly wasn’t.
By Page Fourteen the questions are switched to queries about his fragrance that day and a wristwatch. Again to establish if the articles about him were truthful or untruthful.
By Page Fifteen, we see that William A. DeFord is trying to understand if, despite the non-exisence of an arrest warrant, Rodolfo Guglielmi felt compelled to go with the men, who’d woken him and his Landlady. Repeatedly he tries to explain that they had weapons and that this was an obvious incentive.
When asked the question: “Did you believe you were being arrested at the time?” He answers simply: “No.”
On this page DeFord continues to try to clarify the matter.
More questions from DeFord. This time about what was in the mind of Valentino.
We now reach one of the most interesting pages. The Interviewer asks the Interviewee to recall and describe exactly what happened, later, on the day that he was seized by the Vice Squad, headed by James E. Smith. Rodolfo Guglielmi then does so.
He remembers clearly being taken by DA Smith to see Justice Rosalsky. Rosalsky asking what the charges were. Rosalsky hearing that Rodolfo was a Pimp who’d been securing young women for Georgianna. Her reaction and his to this accusation. And that the Justice set their bail at $10,000 and sent them both to different houses of detention.
On Page Nineteen we see that DeFord wishes to be certain about what Guglielmi recalls. And he particularly wants to establish if there was any paperwork — which there was. The page ends 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 that Valentino answers in the positive. (She was accused of this in the chamber of the Justice.)
Thank you for taking the time to look at the first half of this interesting exchange. A pre-fame Valentino doing his best to answer some rather long and sometimes odd questions. And thank you, in advance, for any likes, or comments. I do welcome relevant opinions. As I also welcome questions. I’ll do my very best to answer any that come my way. And I look forward to posting the rest of this interview sometime 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!