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: The Childhood Friend.
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!
The 100th anniversary of the release of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921) next month calls for further celebration — so here’s a contemporary synopsis and analysis I discovered last year while researching the Silent Era spectacular. For those who never saw the film it’s a really great intro. And for those who did, a sweet refresher, as to the main features of this main of all main features. For anyone interested, it was located on pages 63 and 64 of the Photoplay Plot Encyclopaedia, written by Frederick Palmer, and published by his Palmer Photoplay Corp., in 1922.
“THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE.”
(Metro production; all-star cast; adapted from the novel of Vicente Blasco-Ibanzez, by June Mathis; directed by Rex Ingram.)
While in no sense a prologue, the opening scenes of the story in South America prepare the way for the tragic drama which is enacted later in Paris and on the Marne. Madariaga, the Centaur, the enormously rich old cattle herder of Argentina, lusty and lustful, whose daughters have married outside of their own nationality, is the undisputed ruler of his broad acres and army of servants. He hates his German son-in-law. Toward his younger daughter’s French husband he has an entirely different feeling. But the German is the father of three sturdy sons, while the Frenchman’s wife has only presented him with a daughter. Madariaga does not relish leaving his vast estate to Karl Von Hartrrott’s sons. When Julio Desnoyers is born, the old Argentinian is so overjoyed that he embraces Marcelo, the boy’s father. Until the hour of his death, the old Centaur lavishes all his affection upon Julio and takes him with him on wild debauches in the towns, as soon as he is old enough to accompany his grandfather.
At the old Madariaga’s death, the estate is divided and all of his family go to Europe to live, the Von Hartrott’s in Germany and the Desnoyers in Paris. Here Julio’s father sets up an expensive establishment and buys a castle on the Marne, and becomes a collector of costly antiques. Julio, true to his training by his grandfather, begins a gay life and opens a studio where he paints pictures and entertains his friends and his models.
One of his guests is Marguerite Laurier, the youthful wife of the elderly Monsieur Laurier. Julio falls desperately in love with her and Marguerite returns his passion. Her husband discovers what is going on, and drives his wife from his home. Then comes the outbreak of the war and Laurier enlists at once, but Julio still continues his painting and his gay life. The sight of Marguerite putting on the garb of a Red Cross nurse does not arouse him, but when he sees her attending a blind soldier and recognizes the man as he husband, he commences to feel the call of war. Enlisting at last, he is sent to the front.
Meantime his father, learning of the advance of the Germans toward Paris, goes to his estate on the Marne, only to be captured by German soldiers and have his castle
turned into the headquarters of the officer in command, Von Hartrott being one of the lieutenant-colonel’s staff.
Julio and his cousin meet at night in a ditch between the lines. Both have been sent on dangerous missions. They recognize each other, but the game of war must be played to the bitter end. Both fire at close range and fall dead, side by side. Marguerite determines to stay with her husband before she learns of Julio’s death, the blind man having forgiven her. Later the father and mother of Julio meet a stranger in the graveyard who leads them to their boy’s grave. “You knew him?” they ask? “I knew them all,” replies the stranger, pointing to the thousands of graves. The symbolism is unmistakable.
As compelling, sincere, beautiful, as Blasco-Ibanez’ literary classic, this screen classic stands out,—a splendid exponent of the cinematic art. It is a powerful story, powerfully delineated. The action runs the whole gamut of the human emotions from bitterest tragedy to lightest satire and most fantastic humor.
The story’s dramatic quality makes itself felt early,—in the initial situations of the plot, where the seeds of hatred and of potential conflict are sown between the two sons-in-law of Madariaga. Steadily throughout the action, this dramatic force increases its momentum until it culminates in the soul-stirring encounter of the two youths—the son of the German, and the son of the Frenchman, on the field of battle. This racial antagonism, which is developed in a sound psychological way, is what gives the story its epic impact.
The theme: the upward struggle of humanity, is vivified and made concrete through the symbolism. The four horsemen, enemies of mankind,—Pestilence, Famine, War and Death, on their gigantic chargers, trample over the trivial concerns of mortals, strewing disaster and destruction in their wake. The idealism of a suffering world is symbolized in the character of the quiet, thoughtful Russian, the philosopher who speaks of peace and brother-love. He is “the stranger” that comes forth to meet the bereaved parents, the Christ who “knew them all.”
The tremendous situation VI (“Disaster”), is, patently, the foundation of this plot. VII (“Falling Prey to Cruelty or Misfortune” is used with great pathos when the bewildered Desnoyers is made a prisoner at his own castle. ix (“Daring Enterprise”) enters at several points in connection with the war incidents. Upon XIII (“Enmity of Kinsmen”) is based the climax. XX (“Self-sacrifice for an Ideal”) motivates the action of several of the characters. The love element brings XXII (“All Sacrificed for a Passion”) into play. The tragedy of the story is expressed through XXIII (“Necessity of Sacrificing Loved Ones”). The action is dramatic from beginning to end.
“The Four Horsemen” is a screen play that deserves study and re-study. The structure is not weakened but rather strengthened by the lapse of time, for it would be impossible to show the onward sweep of a world cataclysm more briefly, and, at the same time, as convincingly. The dramatic construction is good: the plot progresses logically to a logical termination. The characterizations cannot be improved upon. The characters, while typifying certain racial proclivities, are distinct individuals, with personalities of their own. Such material as the infidelity of the heroine, Marguerite, might be condemned because of censorship regulations, in a story less strong than this. Here, the sin of the young lovers is purified through suffering, and idealistic sacrifice. The boy turns bravely to face his death, the girl as bravely to face duty. The ending is tragic, and rightly so: it is an ending that grows out of the story itself. The terrible devastation is unforgettable. But there is hope and optimism too,—in the wistful, loving face of “the stranger.”
As long as the World War is remembered, it is safe to prophesy that this faithful screen version of it will endure.
And endure it has! I want to thank you for taking the time to read this intelligent 1922 synopsis and analysis of The Four Horsemen… Personally I like it very much. I hope you did too. At the time of writing I’m busy with completing my look at Rudy, Joan, Jack and Blanca, which will now be the March post. Swiftly followed by my entry for a Blogathon. There’s much to say about Valentino in 2021; and as the months pass I’ll be saying it. Do join me!
As the year 2021 is the 100th anniversary of the initial release of the Silent Era classic, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), I felt it would be a nice exercise to look into its inception and progression, and create a detailed Timeline. Something attempted only once before, I believe, by Leonard H. Gmuer.
As can be seen, the process by which this ambitious screen spectacular reached fruition, was a lengthy, yet straightforward one. And included are all the significant contributors, the many steps taken to make it possible, and, as much daily production information as was available to me.
Respected British Film Historian, Kevin Brownlow, has labelled it: “the first modern film”. And, though this might not, as he suggests in his Intro. to Gmeur’s Ingram biography, exactly be a compliment, it is a production that, despite the quality of others in 1920, stands alone. So plainly being: “… dazzling technically as it was aesthetically.” Here, then, is that Timeline:
Vicente Blasco Ibanez, prolific Spanish Author, and Creator of the novel, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, later transformed into the silent cinematic masterpiece, is born, in Valencia, Valencia Province, Spain, on January the 29th.
June Mathis, Stage Actress, turned Scenarist, turned early, pioneering, female Film Executive, who will be the Scenario Writer of the first true screen adaptation, is born, June Beulah Hughes, in Leadville, Colorado, USA, on June the 30th.
Rex Ingram, Silent Era film Actor, turned Story Writer, turned pioneering Silent Era film Director, who will direct and supervise the first true screen adaptation, is born, Reginald Ingram Montgomery Hitchcock, in Dublin, Ireland, on January the 15th.
Rudolph Valentino, Exhibition Dancer, turned Silent Era Film Actor, turned International Screen Heart-Throb, who will portray Julio Desnoyers, in the first true screen adaptation, is born, Rodulphus Petrus Philibertus Raphael Guglielmi, in Castellaneta, Puglia, Italy, on May the 6th.
Alice Terry, Silent Era Film Actress, and future Wife of Rex Ingram, who will portray Marguerite Laurier in the first true screen adaptation, is born, Alice Frances Taaffe, in Vincennes, Indiana, USA, on July the 24th.
Ibanez travels to South America, to lecture for a few months, but remains several years. While there, he plans a series of fifteen novels about all the individual nations, including Argentina. (Only one, Los Argonautas, was published.) During the half decade he spends some time living as a Cowboy. Establishes a small town, Cervantes, in Patagonia. And enjoys several experiences he will later use when writing The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
On the 2nd of July, ambitious, eighteen-year-old Irishman,Mr. Reginald I. M. Hitchcock, later Rex Ingram, an Artist, arrives in the U. S. A., as an ordinary passenger, on board the RMS Celtic. He will work that year at a freight yard, then, in 1912, study for a period at Yale. In 1913 and 1914 he will commence his acting career, shifting from Vitagraph to Edison, and then back to Vitagraph.
On the 23rd of December, aspirational, eighteen-year-old Italian,Signor Rodolfo Guglielmi, later Rudolph Valentino, masquerading as a Marchese, arrives in the U. S. A., as a First Class passenger, on board the S. S. Cleveland. He will quickly spend all his money, struggle for sixth months, then, secure a position as a Dancer For Hire, at Cafe Maxim, in New York. Working all of 1915 and half of 1916 as an Exhibition Dancer.
World War One commences, on the 28th, when the Austro-Hungarian Empire declares war on Serbia; following the assassination, the previous month, of its Imperial Heir, by a Serbian at Sarajevo.
By the 4th, the declaration has led, one by one, to the involvement of Russia, Germany, France and Britain. (With Italy initially remaining neutral. And the Ottoman Empire joining in October.)
From the 6th to the 12th, Germany, on the one side, and France and Britain on the other, fight the First Battle of the Marne, to the East of Paris. This important early conflict will feature in the yet-to-be-written The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Ibanez will later lecture in North America about the writing of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. How, thanks to his friendship with the French President, he was allowed to visit the trenches at the front, with the General commanding the Fifth Army. And how he was the first civilian to visit where the battle he was to write about occurred.
According to a later interview (with a Reporter for THE RICHMOND PALLADIUM, printed on Thursday, October 30th, 1919), Ibanez first thinks of writing The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in this month.
Vicente Blasco Ibanez spends the entire year formulating the planned novel in his head.
Metro Pictures Corporation, the organisation that will eventually produce and distribute the silent film version of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, is founded, by: Richard A. Rowland, George A. Grumbacher, James B. Clarke, Joseph W. Engel, Louis B. Mayer, Otto N. Davies and James A. Fitzgerald.
By the Spring of 1915, 23-year-old Rex Ingram, previously an Actor (as Rex Hitchcock), and more recently a Photo Play Writer, has begun to assist established Fox Film Corporation Director, J. Gordon Edwards. (In the Autumn he will be employed as a Director (with his own Assistant) by World Film Corporation.)
By late 1915, June Mathis, former Actress, has begun working as a Scenarist for Metro Pictures Corp. in New York, under Department Head, Arthur James. (Mathis will, with each passing year, become more and more important and influential. Eventually becoming the Scenario Department Head herself.)
According to a later interview (with a Reporter for THE RICHMOND PALLADIUM, printed on Thursday, October 30th, 1919), it will take Ibanez just four months to complete The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. (Apparently writing 18 hours a day.)
In the Summer, 21-year-old Rudolph Valentino, still Rodolfo Guglielmi, gets his first taste of film-making, when, in return for a few dollars a day, he works as an Extra, in The Quest of Life (1916). He will repeat the experience three further times this year, in Seventeen (1916), The Foolish Virgin (1916), and Patria (1917).
Debout les Morts!
At some point late in the year, a short film based on Ibanez’s recently completed work is issued in France, with the title: Debout les Morts! (Which translates, approximately, as Standing Dead.)
In the June 23rd edition of MOVING PICTURE WORLD, Arthur W. Courtney reviews The Blood of the Arena (1917), a Spanish film (by Cosmos-Kinema), that interprets, for the screen, Ibanez’s same titled 1908 novel.
P. Malaver and J. Sobrado de Onega, the creators, have some success with it in Mexico. And it perhaps indicates, to anyone paying attention, that the Author’s work has cinematic potential. (The Blood of the Arena will be re-interpreted by June Mathis, for Famous Players-Lasky, in five years, with Rudolph Valentino starring as the Toreador Juan Gallardo.)
In the Autumn, Alice Terry, currently known as Alice Taffe, works, in return for a few dollars a day, as an Extra, in Alimony (1917). And, according to legend, encounters Rodolfo Guglielmi, who is also an Extra. By 1919 she will emerge as a player of small parts — for example, in Wally Reid’s The Love Burglar (1919).
It is announced, that E. P. Dutton & Co., publishers, are preparing the publication, in America, of an English translation of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, a new work by Ibanez. (The novel has already been released in Europe – Spain, Italy, France, etc. – the previous Summer.)
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is published in the United States and unleashed on the public. The authorised translation is by a woman named Charlotte Brewster Jordan. And the novel is priced at $1.90 (which is equivalent to $32.70 in 2020/2021.)
Reviews of the late August U. S. publication of the Book of Revelation inspired novel are universally laudatory. In the BOOKS AND THE BOOK WORLD section, of The Sun on Sunday, on September 1st, 1918, a full page review is headed: “‘The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’ Is a Work of Genius From the Hands of the Greatest Iberian Novelist.”
By the close of the year The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is a history-making Best Seller. With the first edition triumphing, despite its lengthy title, North Americans not knowing the Author, the price, the phrasing and the number of pages. According to The Sun on Sunday, on December 29th, 1918, over 70,000 copies had so far been sold.
After issuing an English translation of his new novel, The Shadow of the Cathedral, Ibanez’s American publishers re-publishThe Blood of the Arena as Blood and Sand, and prepare Mare Nostrum (Our Sea) and La Bodega (The Saloon) for publication. As a consequence his standing in the country improves further still.
It is reported that Joe Weber is negotiating with E. P. Dutton & Co., Ibanez’s U. S. publisher, with the hope of securing the dramatic rights to The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. (These talks come to nothing.)
NOTE: it is later revealed, in Motion Picture News, that multiple negotiations had been occurring.
Such is Ibanez’s notoriety, that a Reviewer of La Bodega, in The Sun on Sunday, states: “We used to think Spain was Carmen. This was wrong. It is—now, at any rate—Vicente Blasco Ibanez.” Further:
“Colossol and sinister shapes shadow the pages of his novels. The air is hallucinated. Unlikely persons talk with passionate vision of social utopias. …. It is, nearly always, transcendent art. The novelist paints what he sees; no man could do more and none should do less.”
It is reported Vicente Blasco Ibanez will travel to the States to lecture at Columbia University.
In an interview, conducted with a Journalist in France, Ibanez reveals his plans to write a novel about the U. S. A. Also, that the themes of his lectures, during his tour, will be: how he came to write The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse; how Europe regards the United States; and how to write a novel.
Late in the month, on the 27th, according to a report on the following day, Vicente Blasco Ibanez arrives in the country.
On Friday, October 31st, Ibanez visits the New York offices of the Fox Film Corporation, and views there a copy of Evangeline (1919), directed by Raoul Walsh. (Any negotiations entered into with William Fox are ultimately unsuccessful.)
In the evening, on Monday the 3rd, Senor Blasco Ibanez makes his first public appearance in the States, when he lectures in the auditorium of the Horace Mann School, at Broadway and 120th Street, New York. The theme is Spain’s role in World progress. According to a report in THE EVENING WORLD, the following day, he informed his audience that his books were the product of Spain. Also saying: “… that the future of the world lies in the Americas, where the sons of Spain and England will be supreme.”
On the 5th, it is reported that Ibanez dismisses both the typewriter and dictation, as useful when writing a novel.
On the 7th, VARIETY reviews Clara Kimball Young’s comeback vehicle, Eyes of Youth (1919). Though he fails to be listed as a cast member, and is overshadowed by Gareth Hughes, Rudolph Valentino’s performance will convince June Mathis of his suitability to portray key Horsemen character, Julio Desnoyers.
On the 9th, an interview in The Sun on Sunday, Vicente Blasco Ibanez throws light on the German characters in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Revealing how, before WW1, many Spanish-speaking Germans had made a life for themselves in Argentina; learning Spanish in the Fatherland, in preparation for their move to South America.
During the afternoon of Monday the 10th, Senor Blasco Ibanez makes his second public appearance, when he speaks about The Spirit of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, at Aeolian Hall, in New York. This second talk, to a mainly Spanish-speaking audience, is reported about, as follows, in the NEW YORK TRIBUNE, on Tuesday, November 11th, 1919:
“He spoke of the early days of the war in Paris, when it seemed as if the world was about to pass away: the deserted boulevards; the closed shops. He felt as if he were in Pompeii, or some other city of the dead, he asserted. Then he went to the battlefield of the Marne. It was there that he had the vision of his four horsemen, and many of the characters of the book he subsequently wrote were drawn from life.” (From Page Three.)
NOTE: in an interview, printed on December 3rd, the Writer reveals that Marcelo Desnoyers (the Father of Julio) is based on someone he had known in Argentina.
On the 16th, an interview conducted with a Spanish-speaking Journalist is published, in which Senor Ibanez reveals that Blood and Sand will be transformed into a play, and that the stage and film star, Lionel Barrymore, will probably portray Gallardo in a filmed version. He also explains to the Reporter that a number of (un-named) film concerns are already interested in adapting his works. That he is currently negotiating with them. That if the screen versions of his novels are a success, he will return, annually, with cinema-ready projects. And that his next work is about a Spanish woman who travels to the United States to go into Motion Pictures.
On the 17th it is announced that Metro Pictures Corp. has secured the rights to the novel. (Showing that Ibanez was keeping very quiet about it on the 15th.) The conclusion of the negotiations allows the company to adapt The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse for the screen in the U. S. A., and, to distribute it nationally and internationally. Metro Pictures has also optioned: Mare Nostrum, Blood and Sand, and La Bodega.
In their 29th of the month issue, Motion Picture News reports, that pressure from hundreds of American exhibitors, for a picturization of Ibanez’s novel, forced the company’s hand.
At the start of the month of December 1919, June Mathis arrives in New York, for a month-long working vacation. Her plan, is to rendezvous with Vicente Blasco Ibanez somewhere – Chicago or Cleveland – convenient to him, as he’s embarked on his lecture tour.
Maxwell Karger, the Metro Pictures Director-General, announces that The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse will be a Screen Classics production. (In other words: no expense will be spared.)
In their 27th of the month issue EXHIBITORS HERALD announce that Karger has begun to make “selections for the cast”.
So popular has The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse book been with Americans, during the past twelve months, that it is now, according toTHE NEW YORK CLIPPER, in its 125th edition.
On January the 2nd, VARIETY reveals that Marcus Loew, of Loew’s, Inc., is imminently about to purchase, outright, Metro Pictures Corp. The deal is publicly stated as being the result of a fallout between the Director-General, Maxwell Karger, and the Treasurer, Joseph (W.) Engel. The rumours will prove true. And have far-reaching consequences for all those involved in the creation of The Four Horsemen…
On January the 3rd, it’s reported, in Camera!, that Mathis has just arrived back in Los Angeles, after having met with Ibanez in Chicago, very late in December, while on her way West. Following a bad start – her lack of Spanish or French disappointed him – they had warmed to one another. And, during their 90 minutes together, reached an understanding about the way forward. June explaining she had read the novel and made a mental outline; so there was, as yet, no anticipated script. Vicente making some “wonderfully inspirational suggestions” and demonstrating his “knowledge of the making of motion pictures”. Miss Mathis listening to Senor Blasco Ibanez speak of Argentina and the pre-War Paris Tango Craze. Ibanez also telling her, through his interpreter, that he knew of her having “picturized” Out of the Fog (1919) and To Hell With the Kaiser (1918), and that he could see them collaborating on other novels. And that he would see her in California later in the month. (It would be February before they saw one another.)
NOTE: Vicente Blasco Ibanez’s unknown “suggestions” are noteworthy. And his stressing of the Tango Craze suggests he and he alone originated the idea of a dance sequence.
On January the 10th, in the first of several contradictory announcements, it’s reported that the company Director-General, Maxwell Karger, will depart from L. A. on the 19th, and travel to New York, where he will commence preparations for the filming there of The Four Horsemen… (after a six week break in Florida). Accompanying him will be George McGuire, M. P. Staulcup and June Mathis.
NOTE: the flurry of announcements this month regarding Karger, hint strongly, between the lines, at serious issues between the top executives at Metro Pictures Corp. Issues previously confirmed.
Marcus Loewofficially acquires Metro
On January the 12th, Marcus Loew, of Loew’s, Inc., signs an agreement to purchase Metro Pictures Corp. Snapping-up the financially troubled company outright. And promising to be the international distributor of 25 motion pictures annually.
NOTE: this takeover, and the ensuing cash injection, is what makes the creation of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921) a possibility.
On January the 20th it’s announced that Maxwell Karger will head East with Marcus Loew and Richard A. Rowland in order to prepare the shooting of the film there.
On January the 22nd, on his way to Los Angeles, Vicente Blasco Ibanez lectures (on the Spirit of the Four Horsemen) at the University of Arizona at Tucson. As the Author speaks no English, as before, his words are first spoken by an Interpreter.
On January the 31st, (THE) MOVING PICTURE WORLD, reveals that the new Owner of Metro Pictures Corp., Marcus Loew, of Loew’s Inc., is heading West with Richard A. Rowland and Joseph W. Engel, to confer there, with William E. Atkinson and Maxwell Karger. It is then expected, as previously stated elsewhere, that Karger will head East to prepare the supervision of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which it’s planned will be shot on the Atlantic Coast.
On February the 7th, Motion Picture News, reports that Senor Ibanez is expected within days at the Metro Pictures Corp. studio, in Hollywood, to look over the work, thus far, of Miss Mathis. At about the same time, Richard A. Rowland will be present, due to the absence of Max Karger, who was not yet returned to the West Coast. The trade publication states that production would commence that month — which it didn’t.
NOTE: Karger did return West before again heading East.
At some point soon after his arrival, Vicente Blasco Ibanez is filmed in a short scene on a set recently used for The Cheater (1920), for a pre-release promotional trailer, for the eventual The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse film. Alongside VBI in the short promo., are: Mathis, Karger, Rowland, Loew and Viola Dana (good friend of Valentino). Source: (THE) MOVING PICTURE WORLD.
NOTE: the survival status of this promo is unknown and it’s presumed lost.
In their February 21st edition EXHIBITORS HERALD reveals that the recent illness of Ibanez has slowed script progress.
In the February 28th edition of (THE) MOVING PICTURE WORLD, a whole page (1447), is devoted to the news that Metro Pictures Corp. has serious expansion plans. (Metro to Build Big Studios in East; To Get More Stars and Scenarists.)
The February 28th issue of Motion Picture News indicates that The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse was originally projected to be completed and released by May 1920. (This was clearly not just wishful thinking, but also, poor projection on someone’s part.)
NOTE: the same edition states that the motion picture will be filmed on the East Coast.
Late in the month, it’s announced that Scenario Department Head, June Mathis, has completed the script for the filming of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. (This is the first draft.) Vicente Blasco Ibanez having personally assisted her while in California.
NOTE: what this first draft looked like and contained is unknown. Certainly the scenario altered a great deal as the months passed.
On the heels of the (THE) MOVING PICTURE WORLD piece, Marcus Loew, the new Owner of Metro Pictures Corp., trumpets his intentions in an announcement that’s widely reported in the trade press. He will invest $15,000,000 in the company. , $2,000,000 of which, will be spent on a new production facility, at Long Island.
NOTE: the death knell is sounded at the studio, for Mathis (and also Nazimova), when he states, that due to the rising cost of plays and books, original material will, in the future, be created by Bayard Veiller.
Following a summons, Rudolph Valentino arrives in New York, ready to answer questions about his detention in September 1916; and, to discuss his suing (in 1917) of the publications that reported it. No doubt aware of the filming of Ibanez on The Cheater (1920) set, and the fact that the production is moving along swiftly and no Male Lead has yet been cast, while there, he approaches Maxwell Karger, who had been present at his wedding to Jean Acker, in early November 1919.
NOTE: according to Liam O’Leary, Ingram’s original Biographer, the project was briefly shelved.
Rod La Rocque, Antonio Moreno, Francis McDonald and Carlyle Blackwell.The men that Valentino beat to the part of Desnoyers. See below:
While at a loose end Valentino secures roles in two productions. The Thug, later retitled The Wonderful Chance (1920). And Stolen Moments (1920). These will be his final pre-fame films.
At the start of the month June Mathis arrives in New York to discuss her script and the production at the Metro Pictures Corp. offices. Her return to the city is expected to be a lengthy one. “It’s like being home again!” she’s reported as having said. Just an hour after her return she’s at work at her desk. (Source: (THE) MOVING PICTURE WORLD 05/06/20.)
NOTE: it’s during this two week stay that she meets with Rudolph Valentino and offers him the role of Julio Desnoyers. His salary is initially fixed at $100 per week, but, will climb during the shoot to $350 per week. (Source: REX INGRAM Master of the Silent Cinema, Liam O’Leary, The Academy Press (1980.)
On June the 10th, it is revealed that The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is to be shot on the West Coast, rather than the East. (Source: Wid’s DAILY, 10/06/20.)
On June the 16th Mathis departs New York and heads West to oversee the filming of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Karger remains firmly in the East.
NOTE: we don’t know when Rudolph Valentino eventually followed her; but it would’ve been by late June/early July at the very latest.
Research has revealed that June Mathis employed what was termed: the shooting on paper method. In essence, planning with her team, far in advance, how the picture would be shot. And while this was not her invention, she was certainly a pioneer of the technique; which required: technical knowledge, clear thinking, the power of visualization, and a rounded conception of the film prior to camera work. (Source: A HISTORY OF THE MOVIES, by Benjamin B. Hampton, Covici Friede 1931.)
Filming finally commences towards the end of the month. (The 20th.) It will be a four month/16 week long shoot. July to August to September to October to November 1920.
On July the 4th it’s reported that the commencement of filming is imminent. It has already been decided that it will be: “… a Rex Ingram production.” Production and story issues are acknowledged. Mathis will be advising Ingram. And the casting is almost complete. Thus far some of those cast are: Maurice Costello, Stuart Holmes, Alice Terry, Frank Losee, Rudolfo Valentino, Brindsley Shaw and Nigel de Brullier.
NOTE: Costello and Losee didn’t remain part of the large cast.
The Director is quoted as having said: “… if you make your human angle interesting it doesn’t matter where or when you lay the scenes of your story.” The Scenarist is quoted as having said: “… incidents, both dramatic and along comedy lines, growing naturally out of situations, are to be created…”
On July the 5th, the Los Angeles EVENING HERALD reveals that John B. Seitz [sic] will be in “command” of ten camera men and their cameras during the duration of the shoot.
NOTE: Seitz’s middle initial was F. And it would actually be 14 cameras.
On July the 7th, Wid’s DAILY announces that Alice Terry has been selected as the Female Lead, Marguerite Laurier. (Valentino is mentioned but not his part.)
On July the 10th The Four Horsemen… is projected to be completed and ready to screen by October. (More wishful thinking.) (Source: (THE) MOVING PICTURE WORLD.)
Also on July 10th, in the same trade publication, June is quoted extensively. She praises Rex, calling him “one of the greatest directors”; reveals that her adaptation is faithful; that Julio will be a “society tango dancer”; and the most important scenes are to be: “…those depicting the Battle of the Marne.”
Also on July the 10th, JuneMathis is likewise quoted in Motion Picture News, in a piece that’s a part of a six page look at Metro Pictures Corp. and the near future for the company. She reveals that Maxwell Karger was originally meant to be in charge in New York but already has several productions underway. And that it was he that hired Rex Ingram (undoubtedly as a result of her pressing him to do so).
NOTE: the July announcement that Bayard Veiller is to be made Metro’s Western Chief of Production, and in charge of supervising “all literary material considered for screen translation”, will’ve been a body blow for June Mathis. She will eventually exit as a result.
On July the 17th it’s reported that Pomeroy Cannon has been signed to play Madariaga.
Also, on July the 17th, Motion Picture News reveals that Rex Ingram is completing filming of Hearts Are Trumps (1920), with “eighteen cast members”, at the old San Juan Mission at San Juan Capistrano, California.
NOTE: it appears, that Ingram went straight from directing Hearts Are Trumps (1920), to directing The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921).
On July the 19th it’s revealed that 10,000 sheep at a Bakersfield ranch will be utilised for an outdoor Argentine scene.
On July the 24th, it’s reported that the experienced C. S. Widom, formerly at Goldwyn Pictures Corp., has been employed as special Costumier for the film.
On July the 27th, Wid’s DAILY reports the fact that Rudolph Valentino has been cast as the Male Lead, Julio Desnoyers.
On August the 1st, it’s reported that Great War Veteran, Captain Robert de Couedic, of the Blue Devils, a recipient of the Croix de Guerre, has been engaged by Rex Ingram to: “… drill the French battalions that will participate in ‘The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.'” The article suggests that Ingram, formerly of the Royal Flying Corps, may direct by flying over the giant set in a plane. (The engagement of Couedic was previously reported, in July, in the LOS ANGELES EVENING HERALD.)
NOTE: this report, doesn’t mention the fact, that the German extras were trained by a German army Veteran, Curt Rehfeld. (Source: REX INGRAM Master of the Silent Cinema, by Liam O’Leary, The Academy Press (1980)). This was something that Paul Ivano, good friend of Rudolph Valentino, pointed out in his interview for the Thames Television series Hollywood (1980). Ivano was himself drafted-in (on Valentino’s recommendation) to advise those constructing the French village.
On August the 7th it’s announced that Walter Mayo has been secured to be the Art Director. (Source: EXHIBITORS HERALD, 07/08/20.)
On August the 14th Motion Picture News announces that production is: “… going forward without delays.”
By mid. August the interior scenes in Argentina are almost complete. And part of the crew and cast are at Bakersfield shooting exterior scenes. While construction continues on the Desnoyers’ chateau, and nearby small village (created to be destroyed), the art studio scene will be shot. By this point “A miniature army of carpenters has been working in double shifts for weeks…” to prepare the castle and the habitation. (Source: the STOCKTON, DAILY INDEPENDENT, 18/08/20.)
That accuracy is of the utmost importance, is underscored by a report that Rex Ingram, June Mathis and their military advisors, are consulting actual French war communications and a battle map.
On August the 21st, (THE) MOTION PICTURE NEWS reports, under the heading Strong Cast for Ibanez Film, on how Rudolph Valentino has been “summoned from New York”, to portray key character Julio Desnoyers. As follows:
“Rudolph Valentino has been summoned from New York, to play the part of the hero, Julio Desnoyers, who develops into a tango king in Paris in the dance frenzy that preceded the opening of the war in 1914. Mr. Valentino was selected from Miss Mathis’s recollection of his playing with Marjorie Rambeau [sic] in ‘The Eyes of Youth’ [sic]; he realized her ideal of the youthful Julio—a poetic, dreamy type of twenty-three years.”
NOTE 1: this is seemingly the first mention of the fact that Mathis recalled his brief appearance, as Clarence Morgan, opposite Clara Kimball Young in Eyes of Youth (1919), and that because of this he was selected, as he “realized her ideal”. It definitely precedes any reports about Ingram’s control of casting. And, his own claims (such as the one in Behind the Screen (1923)), that it was he that was responsible for his inclusion. (Though obviously Rex had seen Rudy around over the years and remembered him.)
NOTE 2: Valentino will prove himself to be: “a hard-working conscientious actor.” From: REX INGRAM Master of the Silent Cinema, by Liam O’Leary, The Academy Press (1980).
It is later reported, that for the scene set in a port cafe/dive bar, shot at some point in August 1920, 500 men were gathered from San Francisco and Lower California to add colour and atmosphere. Few were willing to discuss their pasts. And Mathis apparently dubbed the studio: “The Port of Missing Men.”
On August the 28th, Carroll H. Dunning, V. P. of Prizma, Inc., makes a public pitch to Metro Pictures Corp. in the pages of Motion Picture News, for the inclusion of a colour sequence/sequences in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Specifically the apocalyptic four horsemen scene.
NOTE: they were successful in their overture.
Also on August the 28th, Motion Picture News reports, that all of the exterior Argentine work is completed and that interiors, “which require almost all members of the cast.” are next to be captured.
Some time in late August, dailies/rushes are screened of the impressive dance scene, in the Argentine cafe/dive bar. A taste of this scene, which isn’t in the original novel, is then sent to the Author, Ibanez, for approval. (Source: (THE) MOVING PICTURE WORLD.)
On the subject of the cafe/dive bar scene Rex Ingram a little later said the following:
“Of course it was obvious that he was the exact type for the young tango-hero of the story. Even after I started with him, though, I had no idea how far he would go — not at the very first. But, when he came to rehearsing the tango, Rudy did so well that I made up my mind to expand this phase of the story.”
On September 11th, while shooting continues, the film, as would be anticipated in line with industry norms, is announced as being a Fall release. This was obviously not to be.
In the same edition the following appears:
“Rudolph Valentino is a familiar figure to the early rising residents of Hollywood, California. Not that Mr. Valentino arrives home when others are preparing to greet the rising sun. But the handsome Metro player, who is enacting the leading role in the colossal picturization of ‘The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’, by Vicente Blasco Ibanez[,] goes for a horseback ride every morning before starting work.
“Mr. Valentino, who is an expert horseman, has a handsome mount which he will use for many scenes of this sensational Ibanez story. He has been rising at five o’clock each morning to beat the rising thermometer.”
NOTE: by this point in the filming of The Four Horsemen…, it’s been realised, for some time, how amazing the cafe/bar scene is, and, Valentino’s performance in it. And from August/September he begins to be built up as a Star.
On September the 18th, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is listed with other releases, as due to be issued on October 1st, 1920. (This is not to be.)
On September the 25th, the Battle of the Marne scenes are yet to be shot, according to the issue of (THE) MOTION PICTURE NEWS published on that day.
In the same issue it’s reported that Alice Terry has worked almost every day in front of the cameras. Her few days off have been spent with: “… her tailor or her dancing instructor.”
Also in the same issue, it’s revealed that Vicente Blasco Ibanez is pleased with the still shots and footage, sent to him for approval. The material in question is of a diseased Argentine port and the interior of a cabaret. The piece suggests there was originally more to the segment. And that the dance between Julio and his partner ended in a kiss which lasted for 75 feet of film.
NOTE: in Rex Ingram: Hollywood’s Rebel of the Silver Screen, by Leonhard H. Gmuer, epubli (2013), there’s a story of the kiss, between Rudolph Valentino and Beatrice Dominguez. As follows:
“Rudolph Valentino, playing in Metro’s production of ‘The Horsemen of the Apocalypse’, [sic] was told by Director Rex Ingram to kiss the Castilian beauty until he said halt. Valentino started in and kept it up while the cameraman turned 75 feet. When it was over Valentino said: ‘Now don’t you think we ought to rehearse it and get it a little more nearly perfect?’ [To which] Rex Ingram said: ‘You’re excused.'” (Source: Ray Davidson, Little Trips to Los Angeles Studios, The New York Dramatic Mirror, August 14th, 1920.)
Early in the month, the November issue of MOTION PICTURE CLASSIC hits newsstands, and inside, Rudolph Valentino is the subject of a lavishly illustrated two and a bit pages. (Pages 18, 19 and 75.) Titled, Enter Julio!, with photographs by Shirley Blanc of L. A., the C. Blythe Sherwood profile/interview, is a light-hearted, yet informative look at the Hero of the yet-to-be completed The Four Horsemen…
On October the 9th, it’s reported that Wallace/Wally Beery has been added to the cast, and that he will portray Lieut.-Col. Von Richtofen. (Source: Motion Picture News.)
On October the 16th Motion Picture News announces that Rex Ingram has concluded filming of The Four Horsemen… This seems unlikely considering other reports. (See above and below.)
Curiously, the same issue reveals, that a “portable power plant” is to be used for night-time shooting in about three weeks.
The week beginning Monday, October the 25th, the Battle of the Marne scenes are shot in the Hollywood Foothills. (Source: (THE) MOVING PICTURE WORLD, 30/10/20.)
In a report, by GIEBLER, the following month, in MOVING PICTURE WORLD, the filming of the German invasion of the French village is described. The Director had organised a switchboard with lines running to 100 points. And from it, Ingram could request the collapse of a roof, the falling of the church steeple, or the explosion of a shop front with ease. A siren being used to call a halt to the firing, from a nearby battery, so that the smoke could clear, ready for further destruction.
Preparations for the four horsemen sequence are reported on in Motion Picture News. As mentioned, previously, by June Mathis, the inspiration is a rare Albrecht Durer etching. This rarity has been supplied, by Arthur Denison, a Collector.
At the close of October, Alice Terry manages to finally secure a short break, and travels to Big Bear Valley for a few days. (Five according to EXHIBITORS HERALD.)
Late in the month Marcus Loew witnesses some important scenes being shot during his stay in the West. (Source: Motion Picture News, 06/11/20.)
According to the same edition, by this point (the end of October/start of November), Rex Ingram has been directing the Battle of the Marne scenes for a fortnight.
NOTE: according to MOVING PICTURE WORLD, in their issue on the 30th, Ingram himself expected to take just one week to film the battle scenes. With 5,000 people correctly dressed. And with all of the necessary equipment.
On November the 13th, it’s announced that Metro are planning to work with Composer Louis [F.] Gottschalk. (Source: EXHIBITORS HERALD.)
On November the 15th The Los Angeles Times reveals that filming of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse has finally concluded. And that all that remains is for the allegorical scene to be shot.
On November the 20th, more details emerge about the collaboration between Metro and Louis Ferdinand Gottschalk, the Great Nephew of Louis Moreau Gottschalk. Gottschalk, already experienced at creating music for films (with D. W. Griffith and others), will compose totally original music, to accompany the action from start to finish.
It’s likely that well before the end of the month of November cutting (or editing) has begun. If the cafe/dive bar scene was viewed as early as August, no doubt this was an ongoing process; and, for speed, selections were made as the shooting rolled along.
The 14 individual cameras, shooting from varied angles, sometimes all at the same time, have captured approximately 500,000 feet of film; an amount which would obviously take a long time to view. 18 or so days, it’s estimated, or 2/3rds of a whole month, at the rate of 8 hours per day
At the start of the month, Metro Pictures Corp. reveal, in a press statement, some interesting facts about the production. As follows:
Rex Ingram is reported as having stated, that producing The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse on the West Coast, has meant that it cost half what it would, had it been produced on the East Coast. An announcement which was expected to encourage producers to remain in California. (Source: the LOS ANGELES EVENING HERALD, 20/12/20.)
NOTE: Ingram doesn’t appear to credit Mathis and her shooting on paper method with helping to keep costs lower than they may’ve been. ($800,000.)
On December the 22nd a film poster design competition is announced. The first prize is $500. And the closing date is January the 15th, 1921.
In their December 25th edition EXHIBITORS HERALD profiles 27-year-old Rex Ingram. The tone he strikes is a modest one. And he alludes to seeking one day to give up directing to be a Sculptor.
On December the 31st a large advert. appears in VARIETY that puts Ingram front and centre. (See above.)
For the entire month the film has been in the hands of the cutters and editors. Exactly when cutting commenced is unknown. Likewise when it concluded. Yet commence and conclude it did.
Across the United States and the World publicity begins to appear for what will be promoted as A Million-Dollar Screen Production. Meanwhile cutting continues.
NOTE: the Editor, Grant Whytock, will produce three negatives; from which the prints will be created.
At some point, either late in December, or, at the start of the month, June Mathis and Bayard Veiller “clash” at the West Coast studio. A clash that’s been brewing since his instalment as Western Chief of Production the previous year. (Source: VARIETY.)
On January the 12th, Mathis and Ingram depart for New York, with “the first completed print” of the film. (They will spend approximately six weeks in the city.)
On January the 16th Wid’s DAILY devotes it’s front page to The Four Horsemen… and to Ibanez. Stating the novel has so far sold about one and a half million copies in the USA. And that an estimated four and a half million citizens have read it.
Rudolph Valentino is featured with Alice Terry,and what appears to be Virgina Warwick, in an advert. for Victrola, in PICTURE-PLAY MAGAZINE. (See above.) Charles Carter’s text makes much of his dancing in the film and provides a thumb nail sketch of his life up to that point.
On January the 29th Camera! reports that The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is expected to be ready by February.
On February the 5th it’s revealed that The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse will be presented at the Astor Theatre from February the 20th. This doesn’t happen. (Source: Motion Picture News.)
The same report details how a print is being sent to Vicente Blasco Ibanez, in Southern France, via London; where it will first be viewed by Metro’s British Distributor, Sir William Jury, of Jury Imperial Pictures.
On Monday, February the 7th, it’s reported that there will be a private screening of the film, at the Ritz Carlton hotel in New York, on Thursday, February the 10th. This preview is to present it to the East Coast executives and to detect any issues that require fixing. (The presentation is staged by Hugo Riesenfeld.)
On February the 17th, it’s announced in Wid’s DAILY, that The Four Horsemen… will begin an indefinite run at the Lyric Theater, on March 7th, 1920.
“Ingram’s ‘Four Horsemen’ A Pictorial Triumph“
On February the 20th Wid’s DAILY reviews the film. On the whole the review is favourable, with just a couple of intelligent criticisms. About the dance scene the Reviewer says the following:
“… the tango dance in the slums of Buenos Aires; possibly the best dance ever put in pictures…”
The New York Premiereand the L. A. premiere
On Friday, March the 4th, Wid’s DAILY reports that the opening of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse has been brought forward, to Sunday, March the 6th, 1921. And that the top priced tickets for the premiere are $10 each. ($145.00 or so in 2020/2021.)
On Sunday March the 6th, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse premieres at the Lyric Theater, New York. According to VARIETY, on the 11th, “the house was jammed.” (Once more the presentation is managed by Hugo Riesenfeld, who, according to VARIETY, clothes it: “… with artistic musical and vocal features.”)
NOTE 1: it would seem that compositions created under contract by Louis F. Gottschalk were framed/arranged by Riesenfeld. (Oddly Gottschalk’s name isn’t mentioned.)
NOTE 2: June Mathis cables Rudolph Valentino to tell him of the success of the film on the East Coast. (Source: Natacha Rambova.)
$4,500 – $65,000 currently – is taken on both the Monday and the Tuesday. And $10,000 – $145,000 currently – in advance bookings on the Wednesday.
On March the 7th and 8th, the first proper screenings, approximately 1,500 people are turned away on both days, as the theatre fills to capacity.
However, on March the 7th, an anonymous Reviewer, writing for the New York Tribune, is matter-of-fact. The “long heralded film” was more or less literally translated and lacked the smoothness of the magic story-telling in the original. The best moments, while worthwhile, were isolated and sporadic. And it was the Beast and the quartet of horsemen that were the “outstanding feature”. The musical accompaniment heightening their effectiveness. Further:
“It is a spectacle first and foremost. The human interest is secondary.”
On the same day, in the THE NEW YORK HERALD, another unknown Writer present is more laudatory. For them the money spent had delivered a: “… memorably successful picture.” With: “… the shimmer of actual life …. and the pulse of battle…” The attention to detail was noted. And the audience reaction – regular applause – recorded. The Reviewer particularly enjoyed Valentino’s portrayal of Julio. (Finding him a natural and forceful actor who looked Argentinian.) And felt the direction of the many cast members by Ingram to be masterful. Further:
“Though somewhat protracted toward the end, it meets the threefold demands on a picture—dramatically, scenically and pictorially—keeping the emotions strung up until the final rush from the theatre.”
On Wednesday, March the 9th, at 8:30 p. m., The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921) has its West Coast premiere, at the Mission Theater, at Broadway, Los Angeles. For the entire day the medium-sized venue is closed, to prepare for what would be termed, a “gala performance”, by the LOS ANGELES EVENING HERALD on March the 8th.
As well as “the 32 principals appearing in the picture”, the gala performance is attended by “stars, directors and officials of the film industry”, and members of the general public. Rudolph Valentino is accompanied by Natacha Rambova who later recalled the following:
“When that evening came, every star in the Hollywood firmament gathered at the theater, an impressive audience, yet many, I knew, had come to scoff and say, ‘I told you so!’ The picture colony was sceptical. The film had been made at unheard-of expense by a new, almost unknown director. With a woman at the head of it and an unknown actor in the lead, what could one expect of it. It would be the ruination of the Metro Co.
“During the running of the film not a sound could be heard in the theater, except here and there a stifled sob as the story unfolded. About the middle of the picture Rudy reached out and took hold of my hand, which he held tightly in his own until the end. I knew he wanted to feel that there was just some one who cared and understood. We were both weeping from mingled emotions—joy at success, which was now assured, and sorrow from the tragedy of the story.
“It was finished. A moment of hushed silence was followed by a thunder of applause. Rudy was almost swept off his feet by the crowd, who thronged to congratulate him, many of whom he did not know. It was spontaneous appreciation of a thing well done.
“But his one aim was to reach the door. He wanted to be alone. I understood. During the ride to my bungalow I don’t think a word was spoken—just a brief ‘Good night’—and he left me for his own bleak little apartment.”
I want to thank you for reading this Timeline through to its conclusion — no small feet, it must be said. I hope that it’s been as enjoyable to peruse as it was to compile; filled, as it is, with interesting nuggets, some old, some new, but all throwing light on one of the greatest films ever created. Most sources are included in the text or added as a link. However, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask them and I’ll do my best to answer. See you again in February!
The plaque which commemorates Valentino studying at the Marsano agricultural school.
So engrossed have I been, recently, in writing my book about Rudolph Valentino, that I’ve failed to devote myself to His Fame Still Lives. But there it is. The post I planned for late April has been moved to June. And to make sure there’s a post in May, I’m today presenting some images from my trip to his former place of education (close to Nervi, near Genoa), in 2015. This latest installment is titled simply: Sant’Ilario.
In 2014, I managed to get to Taranto, Martina Franca, and Castellaneta, in that order. And, as a result, was left wanting more. So, the following year, I decided to go to take a look at the other places in Italy Rudy had known well in his early years. Having been to where he’d lived, where his father had been born, and, to his own birthplace, it was clearly now time to go to the two places where he was otherwise resident and educated: Perugia and Sant’Ilario. (I also managed a fruitful archive stop as well.)
After taking the public bus – the best way to get near to where the establishment’s located – I walked the final distance up to the location from the S. Ilario church. As I’d arranged to meet with someone senior there, at a specific time, I went into the entrance way, and was soon taken to meet the individual. (This had been arranged through a contact in Genoa.) Then, after a short guided tour, which included seeing what I was told had been Rudy’s desk, I was taken to view his school records, as well as a couple of the text books he would’ve used. Afterwards, I was free to investigate the grounds, of what’s still a busy educational facility. As you’ll see, I snapped away, capturing, as much as I was able, some of the older structures, many of which had obviously fallen into disuse a long time before. It’s a magical spot, up high, looking out over the sea. And it wasn’t too difficult to picture the young Rodolfo Guglielmi there, between 1910 and 1912, with his life ahead of him. At the conclusion of my visit that afternoon, I really did feel I was just that little bit closer to him, and that he was closer to me.
The thirteen stops along the winding route. And the bus itself.
The view halfway up through the bus window.
Saint Hilary’s church. The final stop on the bus route.
The final approach. And the first glimpse of the institution.
The gates, at which Valentino had himself photographed, in 1923.
The interior plaque detailing the Founder and the establishment of the college.
A room door, with images of Rudolph Valentino as he appeared in The Son of the Sheik (1926), Camille (1921) and Monsieur Beaucaire (1924).
Pages in a textbook used by Rudy and his classmates.
Two further pages in a textbook used by Rudy and his classmates.
The cover of the volume that holds all of the examination results of Valentino and his contemporaries. (Sadly an attempt had recently been made to steal this.)
Rodolfo Guglielmi’s details in the volume (with an accompanying image).
The well-known image of a uniformed Rudolph Valentino and a contemporary. Probably taken around the time of their graduation. The institution had a military feel.
A negative of a classroom at the start of the Thirties. I was informed that the rooms had changed little by this time.
A structure that Rudy would’ve known during his time at the agricultural school.
The main entrance.
A sideview of the building. (No uniforms in the 21st C.)
A view from above of terracing. There is a great deal of terraced land around the complex.
One of the greenhouses.
A crumbling balustrade.
A much repaired stairway almost certainly used by Rudy during his time there.
Thank you for taking the time to look at this latest post on His Fame Still Lives. It’s a taste of what I saw and found that day, and I may add to it, when I have the time, or, create a fresh post, with further images and information. As I said I plan to publish my second April post sometime in June. And Part Three of my look at Jean Acker should follow that. See you next month!
Wonderful it is, to be invited to contribute to the April 3rd to 5th, 2020 Classic Literature On Film Blogathon, hosted by Paul, from Silver Screen Classics. As His Fame Still Lives is focused monthly on Rudolph Valentino, it’ll come as no surprise that it’s one of his films that’s the subject. Which one? Well, read on and see!
It’s amazing, considering his on-screen persona, that Rudolph Valentino appeared in only two motion pictures that were adaptations of great classic works. After all, this was a Twenties Super Star that veritably dripped with: emotion, romance, tragedy and history. All of his post fame vehicles – there were fourteen in total – are seemingly crammed, at least in our minds, with everything that makes a written work eternally appealing; which, according to Esther Lombardi, is: “… love, hate, death, life, and faith…” In visual terms, we think of him classically — in fact, he was promoted thus. Astride a horse. On a throne. Brandishing a rapier. Masked. With Terry, Ayres, Swanson, Lee, Naldi, Daniels, D’Algy and Banky in his arms. Ageless, spine-tingling, resonant, reverberating imagery.
And yet, as I stated, just a pair. And from the same company and unleashed in the same year. Of these two productions, The Conquering Power (1921), based on Eugenie Grandet (1833) by Honore de Balzac, and Camille (1921), based on La Dame aux Camelias (1848) by Alexandre Dumas fils (both, incidentally, modern interpretations), I choose the latter. Not only is it, in my opinion, the better tale, it’s also the superior movie. And, as it has at it’s heart, as the Star and Anti-Heroine, the distinct, larger-than-life Silent Era personality, Alla Nazimova, it guarantees to be something of an information confetti bomb. (NOTE: while it’s true that the basis for, The Eagle (1925), Alexander Pushkin’s Dubrovsky (1841), is of the classic period, I don’t include it, due to it not only being an unfinished work, but also, because Pushkin wasn’t a novelist of the stature of either Balzac and Dumas fils. Also, it hasn’t reached the same heights, in terms of adaptation; as a ballet, an opera, or a play, for example.)
It was on Page Six of their Saturday, December 18th, 1920 edition, that Camera! THE DIGEST OF THE MOTION PICTURE INDUSTRY revealed, in a brief sentence, that Alla Nazimova’s next vehicle for Metro Pictures Corp. was to be Camille. Her planned super-production, Aphrodite, based on the 1896 Pierre Louys novel, had been put to the side, and was expected to follow. According to the Star’s Biographer, Gavin Lambert, this change was due to the Director-General, Max Karger, being: “… shocked to discover just how perversely erotic and violent a movie…” had been outlined. Far more likely in my opinion is that it was shelved simply because Famous Players-Lasky/Paramount had secured “world rights” twelve months previously. Besides, a tale based on the brief life of a consumptive Prostitute, who’d died in Paris, in 1847, wasn’t exactly Sunday School territory. (Lynn Gardner’s excellent 2003 look at Dumas fils’ inspiration can be enjoyed here.)
Regardless of the reasons that La Dame aux Camelias was settled on – most likely at the suggestion of June Mathis – there’s little doubt the great Diva Nazzy sought to revive her flagging film career. To this end, it was seemingly decided, early in production, that the adaptation would break with previous picturizations (of which there had already been many), by being set in the then present day. And, that it would also, as Michael Morris points out in his biography of Natacha Rambova, Madam Valentino: The Many Lives of Natacha Rambova (1991), “… reflect the latest developments in European architectural and fashion design.” Something which wouldn’t only assist with promoting the motion picture, but also: “… foster in American film audiences a greater appreciation for art itself.” Nazimova’s other means of refreshing herself, was to secure a Leading Man of note, namely: Rudolph Valentino.
Valentino, who’d already completed work on the The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), the yet-to-be released Metro Pictures Corp. film that would make him a Star, was busy filming Uncharted Seas (1921), when he was brought to the attention of his future Wife. A moment she described in detail, exactly a decade later, in her serialized look at his life and career, and their life together: The Truth About Rudolph Valentino. ‘Mlle. Rambova’, who’d been been tasked, by Nazimova, with the design of both the costumes and the sets of Camille, hadn’t failed to notice her future Husband around the studio. Known to all as ‘The Wop’, he was an: “… aggressive, affable young man …. who, with his friend Paul, a young Serbian cameraman, was always under foot, determined to be seen.” (Natacha later heard from him that he’d bet Paul (Ivano) she would notice him one day. And that her chilliness and remoteness was a challenge.) Further:
“The introduction finally came while Mme. Nazimova, whose [Art Director] I was, was searching for a leading man. For weeks she had been combing Hollywood for the proper Armand for her “Camille.” Dozens of aspirants had applied, but something was wrong with each of them, until we had well nigh despaired of a hero. Then June Mathis, who had written the script of “Four Horsemen,” told us of the young Italian who had played Julio in that picture and whom she considered a genuine find. She suggested we give him a trial. Without much hope, we agreed to look him over.
One day, in Hollywood, the door of my office opened to admit Nazimova, followed by a bulky figure dressed in fur from head to foot. I had a glimpse of dark, slanting eyes between brows and lashes white with mica, the artificial snow of the camera world. Down his face perspiration was streaming in rivers, to complete the ruin of his makeup. The effect was not impressive. Here, I thought, is the very worst yet.”
Rambova goes on the explain how the “polar bear” shook her hand (a little too firmly), “apologized for his appearance”, and revealed that he’d been standing in the sun for two long hours “making close-ups of an Arctic scene”. Before dashing back, he asked her to: ‘Please say a good word for me to madame.’ Despite having noticed his “dazzling smile”, and having received, before his departure, a click of the heels and a polite bow, Natacha continued to be sceptical; that is, until they were forced together to see if anything could be done about his “patent-leather” hair. As she revealed later in the relevant installment: “The Armand of our script was an unsophisticated French boy from the provinces, who certainly had never seen hair pomade.” After much protestation, Rudy was persuaded to shampoo his locks, and then further persuaded to have his hair curled. “When finished the effect was not so bad.” Natacha explains. Adding: “Madame was delighted and even Rudy grew amenable when he saw the result of the screen tests. There was nothing he loved like characterization; to be all dressed up for a part fired his romantic imagination. It was agreed he should be our new leading man.”
Rudolph Valentino certainly had before him a great opportunity to become a character and to be dressed up. Likewise, there’s no doubt that, despite her waning popularity, the chance to work with the legendary Nazimova was indeed a once-in-a-life-time one. One which would enable him to improve himself, as well as to rise up a level in the business. Did Alla – Peter or Mimi to her friends – communicate to him what she communicated to Gladys Hall and Adele Whitely Fletcher in late 1921? That she’d planned never to portray the Lady of the Camellias until she had: “… forgotten how she had seen ‘Camille’ played.”? It’s hard to say. Certainly, she knew in him, as we see when we view it, that she’d found the sort of Armand Duval that her persona, Marguerite Gautier, could love. Yet, if she thought that she could overshadow the rising Star, and make him secondary to her, she was very much mistaken.
Camille (1921) commences with beautiful opening titles that immediately set the tone. The Camellia bordered text, after informing us METRO PRESENTS Nazimova, tells us, upfont, that it’s a modernized version. And then, after revealing that it’s Directed by Ray Smallwood, give us, one-by-one, the names of the triumvirate of women in reality responsible for the film. The Writer, June Mathis; the Art Director, Natasha Rambova; and the Star Producer, Nazimova. Interestingly, the tight cast of nine is headed by Valentino, as his name appears first in the list, followed by the other principals. Portrayed by: Rex Cherryman, Arthur Hoyt, Zeffie Tilbury, Patsy Ruth Miller, Elinor Oliver, William Orlamond and Consuelo Flowerton. With Alla’s main character, strangely, at the very end. If this was purposefully done, due to Rudolph’s fame by the time of release, or, was because he’s the first of the two main players to appear, is hard to say. Either way, it’s symbolic of her coming tumble from the top. (It could be that the version accessed was the later re-issue.)
After explanatory and scene-setting titles, the camera iris opens on an astonishing and eye-catching, fluid, marbled theatre staircase, apparently partly inspired by the style of Hans Poelzig’s recently completed, The Great Playhouse, in Berlin. At least two hundred extras descend the staggering construction. And soon we’re zooming in on Armand Duval and his good friend, Gaston Rieux; played, respectively, by Rudolph Valentino and Rex Cherryman. The pair chit-chat part of the way down as their fellow theatregoers pass them by.
We next see La Dame aux Camellias, Alla Nazimova, as she passes through an archway at the top of the steps, and pauses by the marbled parapet surrounded by men. An intertitle tells us: She was a useless ornament—a plaything—a bird of passage—a momentary aurora. This is an important moment already, as, when Camille is spotted by Gaston, and then by Armand, his friend, we see the instant fascination of the naive provincial with the decorative, and plainly worldly Marguerite. We also see Nazimova’s main character dressed in a striking, sheer, Aubrey Beardsleyesque, long-sleeved coat, covered in flowers, with a dramatic and over-long train, that appears to be edged with fur at its end.
When introduced on the staircase Marguerite is playfully dismissive of the – to her eyes and to ours – guileless new comer. As is her nature, she toys with him. And, after hearing that he’s a Law Student utters her first discernible line: “A law student? He’d do better to study love!” Armand is visibly pained, and yet remains so irresistably drawn to her, that, when the next character introduced reveals that the departing Camille will be hosting a supper party, he requests they go, which they do.
In a review, in the December edition of Motion Picture Magazine, Adele Whitely Fletcher declared, that she believed the settings: “… detracted from the characters and the action.” And it can be said, that the next scene, the party, is probably the best example of this competition between the decor and the players. The iris expands, this time, on the entry vestibule of Marguerite’s up-to-the-minute abode. And through a shimmery, see-through curtain, we see the Hostess and her animated guests arriving. After the curtain is parted, and they all pass through, we’re in the reception room; a space which forces the eye to move from the piano, to a pouf, to a rug, to an arch, to a day-bed, then back again, as the invitees enter before depositing themselves. (Rambova’s creativity hasn’t, however, yet run riot!)
Alla’s Marguerite escapes her pursuer (Hoyt’s Count), after being framed, nicely, in the largest arch of all, the dramatic, glass-doored entrance to her boudoir. Once inside, she manages to have a brief rest – her Servant, Nanine, tells her she’s ill and needs to call a Doctor – before the arrival of Rudy’s Armand, Rex’s Gaston and Tilbury’s Prudence. She initially looks exhausted, as she surely is, however, her look into the mirror, suggests an individual trapped, and unable to escape the whirl and tired of it. Yet emerge she must, and she does so, ready to entertain those gathered — something she’s clearly done many times before. Here, I love how she casually flicks the switch that instantly brings to life all of the decorative lights that edge the third archway; which is how a seated area, immediately to be put to use, is accessed. For me, the switched-on lights echo the way in which she switches on her own inner illumination, before exiting her bedroom.
The glassed-in alcove, with its food and drink laden tables, is where action is focused for the next few minutes. Armand, Gaston and Prudence arrive in a subdued manner, which contrasts nicely with the earlier, much more numerous arrivals. The party’s in full swing already as Marguerite rises to greet the trio. Then, learning that the muted and nervous Duval is crazy about her, she’s once more flippant. Saying to him, as she’d said already to her Lover, the Comte de Varville: “Not until you put a jewel in my hand.”
The supper party continues. Camille is frivolously solicitous of Armand, much to the distaste of the Count, who throws down his napkin angrily. Gaston, meanwhile, behaves like an expectant pet with Prudence, who denies him a forkfull of food at the last minute. To placate the unhappy Count, Marguerite Gautier rises from the seat she shares with the smitten youth, stands tall and breaks into a tributary, but unsatisfactory rhyme. Both the wording and her subsequent behaviour fail to alter the mood of her Sponsor. And, as she drains dry her glass, we see the fuming Count and the puzzled, confused Student Lawyer to her right. Two pathways: the current and the future.
An autobiographical song from the Hostess follows, which is interrupted by the arrival of Pasty Ruth Miller’s, Nichette; who, we discover, thanks to an intertitle: “… used to work in the dressmaking shop with Marguerite.” Alla and Patsy Ruth’s series of kisses on the lips are noteworthy here. As is her defending of her, against the really rather pathetic/sweet onslaught of Rex, as Gaston. Who, despite his drunken state, realises he needs to be more considerate and polite. (A look, here, between Cherryman and Miller, is all we need to see to know that something will develop between them.)
Next, both the intoxicated Gaston and the infatuated Armand are prevented, by Camille, from departing. The Hostess dances with Armand’s friend (much to the annoyance of the Count). The others occupy themselves. Then, the opening of a window, for air, induces a serious coughing fit, and Marguerite’s forced to retreat to her bedroom. Armand sees that she’s unwell and watches powerless. He approaches a drunken Prudence and says: “She is ill!” However, Prudence isn’t concerned, and tells him that: “She is always ill. Just when we are enjoying ourselves on comes that cough and our fun is spoiled!”
Feeling forced to act, Armand enters her sanctuary, and moves towards her once inside. It’s here, while outside the others distract the irate Count, by playing Blind Man’s Buff with him, that we have some of the most important exchanges between to two. Armand entreats her to allow him to call for help. Camille begs to differ. And warns him about who and what she is. Telling him to: “… forget that we have ever met.” At this he throws himself at her feet, saying, plaintively: “I wish I were a relative—your servant—a dog—that I might care for you—nurse you—make you well!” Again, Marguerite attempts to dissuade him, but fails. She accepts that he’s the key that unlocks the door to her prison cell.
It all reaches a terrific, dramatic peak, when Count de Varville finally breaks free from captivity, and bursts into Marguerite Gautier’s room, to discover her entwined with the young Law Student. He rages. She rages. While Armand Duval looks on, clearly pleased that she’s found the courage to break her chains, and to take control of her destiny. In a trice the partygoers – she calls them a “sponging pack” – are leaving. Allowing them to be alone together. And to enjoy a somewhat awkward embrace and kiss on which the iris this time closes.
The next, middle section of the film, is simpler, less artificial and almost dreamlike. We see the happy couple in an orchard in the countryside. (It’s plain that living away from the capital is agreeing with Camille.) Armand has bought and brought to Marguerite, the gift of a book; an antique leather-bound copy of Antoine Francois Prevost’s, Manon Lescaut, a story of doomed lovers. She asks him to inscribe it for her, and then to read it out loud, which he does. Which then leads to an extended imagining of action in the novel, almost a film within a film, with Alla Nazimova as Manon Lescaut, and Rudolph Valentino as Chevalier des Grieux. Except, that the imaginings are spoiled by Camille suffering a presentiment, where she sees herself and Armand as the cursed couple.
After being joined by the newly engaged Gaston and Nichette, who perhaps present to us an alternative, less unlucky union, the action moves from Spring to Summer. Marguerite is living quietly in a conventional house – in sin or not we can’t know – and preparing to sell her belongings, in Paris, to provide sufficient funds for her future. Prudence, who’s visiting her, presents a gift of fresh Camellias with the Comte de Varville’s card inside of the box. Yet Camille isn’t impressed. And tells her to: “Take them back to Paris, Prudence! They have no place in this house!” Prudence is then unsuccessful in trying to make her see sense, and return to her old, more certain if less free existence. An existence, for all its serious restraints, that will soon be seen to be more solid and dependable, than the one which has been hastily fashioned with her Student Lawyer Amour.
The arrival of William Orlamond’s Monsieur Duval, the Father of Armand Duval, is the point at which we see the bubble pricked with a pin. In a nutshell, the Parent requests that the Courtesan relinquish her hold over his son. Telling Marguerite: that the future happiness of both his children is at stake, due to the scandal created by her becoming involved with Armand. Learning, from him, that his daughter’s imminent marriage is in jeopardy, she seeks some way out, and suggests disappearing for a while. When this isn’t found to be acceptable, she falls to her knees, to beg that Armand not be taken from her. Yet she is answered by the Father with: “There is no future for your love—you must give him up!”
I’d say, that within the confines of this drawing room, constructed at the Metro Pictures Corp. plant, for the purposes of the movie, we get a very good idea of Nazimova’s style of performing on the stage; and see, I believe, her best acting in the entire film. How she moves about simply in her plain house dress, carefree, and focused on a new life. How she deals with the irritation of the Intruder Prudence. How she expects the arrival of Armand in the automobile and hides childishly and excitedly under a blanket. How she reacts when she sees that it’s not him but his Parent. And how she battles the inevitable, and finally accepts there’s no way forward, only the way back to who she was and is. We also see fine early acting on the part of Valentino; who arrives at the residence recently abandoned by Marguerite, and discovers her note, written in on the Count’s calling card in tiny but clear handwriting. (In a nice touch their cars pass on the road in the rain.)
In Part Three of her revelatory 1930 serialization, The Truth About Rudolph Valentino, By Natacha Rambova, His Wife, Natacha explained to her readers how Rudy prepared for an emotional scene, particularly during the creation of Camille (1921). As follows:
“I remember particularly one scene in ‘Camille,’ the high point of the picture. It is where Armand, grief-stricken by Camille’s death, rushes to her apartment, where an auction is being held of all her private things. Here he sees and bids on a book he had given her years ago and which she had kept until the last.
Before doing this scene Rudy asked if he might go away by himself for a moment; then he returned and the camera started clicking. It wasn’t interrupted once. When the scene was finished tears were streaming down the face of every one of us, from director to prop boy. As for Rudy, later, I found him in a chair behind the set, head buried in his arms weeping like a child. This wasn’t make believe grief but real emotion.”
That a change is wrought in Armand Duval, is apparent immediately the camera iris expands on the Hazard d’Or; which an intertitle’s informed us, is: “… the smartest gaming place in Paris.” It’s now Autumn, and we see him gambling, immaculately dressed, his hair slicked, and with a beautiful girl on his arm. The female, named Olympe, brilliantly portrayed by Consuelo Flowerton (of the Ziegfeld Follies Spring Frolic of 1920), clings to him in a vampish manner. Another intertitle explains that she is: “… a new Daughter of Chance, whose golden beauty bade fair to rival ‘the Lady with the Camellias.'” And we believe it!
It’s here that we should pause to consider what’s certainly Natacha Rambova’s most incredible interior. The dark, light-absorbing concave room, features, again, a series of arches that draw the eye. The central arch is a performance space, or mini stage, that’s covered by a cobweb scrim, behind which exotically dressed females perform strangely. Above, is another, smaller arch, where a group of African American musicians busily play their instruments; no doubt cranking-out Jazz. And the arches to the left and right are curtained with a gorgeous semi-sheer material that features iridescent woven leaves.
It’s through the right-hand curtained archway, that the Count and Camille enter the space and pause. De Varville points out to Marguerite her former lover at the gaming table. And wickedly says to her: “Look at your broken hearted lover!” This first view of Duval for months is too much, particularly when Armand sees that she sees him, and lays his hand, sensually, on Olympe’s bared back. The close-up of Alla Nazimova is filtered and strongly lit. Yet we see her pain. And then she covers her face with her beautiful feather fan. While the Comte de Varville descends the steps into the sunken room, to place bets and gamble, she retires behind the curtain, just as she did, earlier, at her home.
Sometime after, needing a break from the table (where he’s been enjoying a serious run of luck), Armand Duval parts the curtain behind which Marguerite Gautier is resting, and gets a shock, when he sees her alone and seated there. She, in turn, is startled, as she senses a presence and turns and sees him standing. What follows now is pure Silent Era acting. And from two of the greatest screen personalities of the period. The pair must convey, without words, what they think and feel, and they do. The few words spoken are provided as intertitles. But we barely need them, so perfectly do Nazimova and Valentino express themselves with movements, gestures and facial expressions alone.
Despite toing and froing, and Armand’s desperate attempt to win her back, Camille can’t find the strength to go against her promise to his Father. When she says aloud that she promised she wouldn’t be with him, he believes her to be talking about a promise to the Count, and demands that she: “Say that you love him and I will leave Paris forever!” With deep regret and without feeling she says exactly that. He then drags her out of her hiding place and into the gaming room and denounces her. Humiliating her further by tossing his winnings in her face — a sensational moment, perhaps the most sensational in the entire picture. After a brief flicker of remorse he declares he’s through with her and with Paris and departs. Allowing the Comte de Varville to move-in, and to claim and kiss openly, and triumphantly, Olympe, Marguerite’s successor.
We’re now presented with the extended death of Alla Nazimova’s Marguerite Gautier, known also, as Camille and the Lady of the Camellias. To modern eyes, certainly to mine, this is a somewhat static, and undoubtedly indulgent section. (And for some at the time it was as well.) The passing of nearly 100 years hasn’t made Nazimova’s preferred ending – going totally against the actual written conclusion – any more sympathetic or powerful. In fact, it’s done the exact opposite. And yet, it’s what it is, and must be accepted as it is, and seen in the context of the times. (For a lot of cinemagoers it would resonate a great deal, many of them having watched loved ones die, similarly, in the recent Flu epidemic. And tears were no doubt shed in that more sentimental time.)
For ten minutes, prone, in her stylish bed, Camille approaches the end of her life. While Nanine, her faithful Servant, attempts to make that end as comfortable as she’s able. Yet, Nanine is powerless to keep at bay a group of bailiffs, who represent her creditors and have arrived to satisfy a Court Order. Thus Marguerite is subjected to a final humiliation when they arrive to look over, assess, catalogue and remove her earthly belongings, so that they can be sold to pay-off her debts. To make the interminable exit more palatable we’re given a flash-forward, rather than a flash-back, of Armand receiving from Camille a heart-felt final epistle. And, after the cruelty of the bailiffs entering her room and their attempt to take every last thing from her, including the copy of Manon Lescaut, given to her by Armand, she’s visited by a distraught but tender Gaston and Nichette, who’ve just married that day. Already in a state of delirium, The Lady of the Camellias utters some final, coherent words: “Do not weep, Gaston. The world will lose nothing. I was a useless ornament—a plaything—a momentary aurora.” Surrounded by the pair of newlyweds and Nanine she then expires; while gently calling out the name of Armand, and seeing himself and herself as they were during their affair.
It was, perhaps, the review in the September 24th, 1921 edition, of industry title, Motion Picture News, that best summed-up the starring vehicle at the time. Lawrence Reid, the reviewer, was forthright and upfront about the fact that the great Nazimova had: “… come into her own again with this modern version of Dumas’ tragedy of passion.” And had been given “a picture worthy of her expression” by June Mathis. An adaptation that was: “… intact except for the final ending.” Reid believed this to be a flaw and said so. In his review, he wonders about the reason; if it was “the shadow of censorship”, or maybe “recourse to a happier ending”, not knowing that it was, in fact, a conscious decision on the part of the Star, to diminish the impact of her co-Star and make herself the centre of attention. (Something others in the business heard of and communicated.) Yet, despite his powerful and moving performance being edited out, Lawrence Reid saw that Rudy had acted his heart out — and said so. As follows: “She is forced, however, to share honors in many of the scenes, with Rudolph Valentino, who demonstrates that the art he flashed in ‘The Four Horsemen’ was not a thing of the moment. He makes Armand a brooding, silent volcano of love who suppresses his desires until the supreme moment. His restraint is highly commendable.” (Watching it through it’s hard to argue.)
I fail to agree with the assessment, in Episode Six of Hollywood (1980), that: “The most impressive thing about Camille was its sets.” Impressive though they most definitely were, and highly talented and ahead-of-her-time Rambova absolutely was, there’s so very much more to the production. Noteworthy, alone-and-by-itself, is the fact that this was a realization driven along by three ambitious women, and in a period when very few females were able to steer anything at all in the film-making sphere. The acting of both Nazimova and Valentino, is, at many points, as already detailed, superb, and very representative of the skill of performing in a silent super feature at that time. And the supporting players – Rex Cherryman, Zeffie Tilbury, William Orlamond, and Consuelo Flowerton, particularly – are exemplary in my opinion. Of course it’s a period piece. Of course it’s not the greatest of the great silents. Of course it lacks not only the original tinting but also its original music. And yet it stands the test of time. Still entertains. Still moves us and makes us marvel. What bland, derivative, churned-out contemporary creations are going to be able to do that a century from now? Very few!
First of all I want to thank you for reading this 5,000 word post through from start to finish. I hope that it’s been as enjoyable to read as it was to research and write. This contribution, to the April 3rd to 5th, 2020 Classic Literature On Film Blogathon, will be followed by another diversionary piece, before I return, in May, to Jean Acker. I hope you’ll join me for that, later in the month, and I urge you, in the meantime, to check-out the other contributors to this marvellous exercise, at Silver Screen Classics, here: https://silverscreenclassicsblog.wordpress.com/
While I busy myself turning my mammoth look at Jean Acker’s life and career, and her life-long association with Rudolph Valentino, from a three part post to a four part post, an opporunity presents itself for me to reshare my hour long chat about Rudy on local radio last year. The interviewer, Alan Porter Barnes, quizzes me during the sixty minutes, about how I first became interested in Valentino, allows me to talk about my travels, my Blog, Rudolph’s amazing career and some of his most important films, and asks me about my planned book about the Immortal Superstar. Along the way we play no less than four related tunes: Rudy singing Kashmiri Song (Pale Hands I Loved), The Beatles singing The Sheik of Araby, The Bangles singing Manic Monday, and Years and Years and MNEK singing Valentino.
The interview and the four tracks can be heard in full here: