Rudolph Valentino - The Silent Idol & Birthday Boy
It has been over 80 years since Rudolph Valentino struggled for that final breath on that hot and muggy August day. Silent film, Valentino’s art form died not long after he did. But many years later he is still remembered and revered. Hundreds of people visit his grave every year. His few films, when shown at festivals and revival houses always draw large crowds. Clearly there is still some magic left on that old silver screen.
Although his stardom lasted a brief five years, unlike those with much longer careers, he is remembered as an icon of the silent era unlike any other. His name still evokes a sense of mystery and of romance.
So on this day, not coincidentally Rudolph Valentino’s 114th birthday, I offer up a bit of shameless self promotion.. Please indulge me.
Fall 2009 will finally see the fully ripened fruit of my obsession with all things Valentino. That being the publication of my book, Rudolph Valentino: The Silent Idol - His Life and Films in Photographs.
The 1970's saw the birth of the "coffee table book". A large tome filled with luscious photographs. The form reached its peak in the 1990's, with the publication of beautiful large scale books on a number of photogenic Hollywood notables. Crawford, Garbo, Keaton, Chaplin, Pickford and Louise Brooks were all subjects in royal treatment (some more than once). But where was the book on Rudolph Valentino, that icon of silent film romance?
To date, no book has appeared and nobody else picked up the gauntlet, therefore the project fell to me. I’m a procrastinator by nature, so the gestation and labor period for this book was nearly the length of time that Rudolph Valentino lived. My original thoughts of “why won't someone” and "what if" or "wouldn't it be great if" slowly morphed into "why not me?" and eventually to "okay, let's just do it."
The Rudolph Valentino website had a much shorter gestation period. At the time I created it there was little about Valentino on the web. I said to myself "why not?" I learned some HTML coding, took the plunge, and created one of the ugliest websites known to man. It looks better now.. It’s still rather low on the tech scale and lacks bells and whistles, but I am proud of the content. I've been webmistress of the Rudolph Valentino website for the last eleven years ...which has only increased my desire to do this book. Happy Belated Birthday Rudolph Valentino-- the time has finally come to celebrate your life and films in pictures.
The book will have plenty of eye candy and, I hope, enough substance to keep the film fans happy. It is not intended as a full-scale biography, such as Emily Leider’s 2003 biography Dark Lover. My book will fill in a few gaps which have been ignored or not fully covered elsewhere, but please do not expect a full bio, it's the photographs that will tell the story. Many of the photographs included are from my collection. I've been blessed that many other collectors have generously allowed me access to rare images and documents. A great number of these images have never been published. Those that were previously published have not been seen since the 1920s. I’m grateful that I’ve been trusted with these treasures.
On screen Valentino was the personification of a romantic ideal, a supreme feminine fantasy. Off screen, he was more simple man, a simple man of paradoxically extravagant tastes, who loved animals, tinkering with machinery, and riding in the hills surrounding his home, Falcon Lair.
Rudolph Valentino’s life has been examined in many excellent books, but his interior life is still an enigma. Writing and correspondence, much unavailable to the public, reveal more of the inner man. Valentino fans have much to look forward to with two upcoming books, the first drawing on the Valentino/Guglielmi family archive which includes much of Valentino's personal correspondence and the second being the updated memoirs of S. George Ullman, Valentino's business manager and friend. Riches await.
The outer man, the charismatic, cinematic symbol and private person, we can examine though the many photographs that were taken during lifetime. That Valentino was handsome is a given. Charm and good humor, revealed in his more relaxed candid shots, are sometimes elusive on screen. It is said that Valentino rarely laughed and had little sense of humor. In private photos this tale is proven wrong, he often laughed and enjoyed life and its pleasures to the fullest.
A few names from the silent era still live in immediate memory. Louise Brooks and Buster Keaton still live in the public consciousness. Keaton is timeless, his comedy has not aged. In today’s more cynical world, it has become even more relevant. Chaplin, now seemingly out of fashion is much more an antique of bygone days (and the comedy people will hate me for making this blanket statement). Louise Brooks is an icon, a stirring presence who is better known today than she was during the silent era. Her cool appeal is the epitome of modern. Valentino deserves his place among this pantheon.
H.L. Mencken evocatively described Valentino after their brief meeting in 1926 as, “...one who was catnip to women.” Valentino’s name still evokes an aura of romance, a melancholy whisper of days gone by, an intangible dream. It is my honor to at long last present his life and films in pictures.