Before there were movie stars, there were silent movie stars.
Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina D’Antonguolla, or more commonly known as Rudolph Valentino, was a big name in the 1920s, and his short life provided a large impact on the Latino community.
Born in Italy, at the age of 18 Valentino left for the United States to try his luck. He had a hard struggle securing any sort of financial stability, working odd jobs. It wasn’t until 1917 that his career started to break free. In that time, Valentino joined an operetta company. When the group disbanded he joined another stage production that brought him to Los Angeles, and then San Francisco. In San Francisco, Valentino befriended an actor by the name of Norman Kerry. Kerry’s the man who convinced Valentino to try his hand at film acting.
When he first began screen-acting, he played a lot of small roles in movies and was usually cast as a villain or a gangster. But this wasn’t good enough for Valentino. He wanted to be playing different parts, bigger parts…as any actor would :)
Opportunity shined upon him in the year 1921. While he was filming a movie called “Stolen Moments” (notably his last film where he plays a villain), Valentino had started to read a novel called The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, written by Vicente Blasco Ibanez. After finishing the novel, Valentino learned about a company called Metro (prior to its merge with Goldwyn Picture Corporation to create Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) had acquired the rights to the plotline. The screenplay written by June Mathis, the first female executive in the history of film. She was allowed to give her input on who should direct and star in her adaption, and she chose Valentino, having seen him act in “Eyes of Youth” and being impressed with his work. “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” went on to not only be the sixth highest grossing silent film ever but skyrocketed Valentino to stardom.
Coming off of the set of “Four Horsemen”; however, Valentino was pushed back into small roles via Metro Pictures, including a small part in “Uncharted Seas” (made in 1921). This was due to reasoning that Metro didn’t want to push Valentino as an actual star. Valentino continued to make a few films with Metro, but once again the one he was most successful with was a film written by June Mathis, “The Conquering Power”. The film did well at the box office but more importantly it was another great performance by Valentino. When the film was released, Valentino returned to his former home of New York and realized there was another path he could take in Europe after connecting with some French producers. These meetings prompted him to quit Metro and travel abroad.
As it turns out, quitting Metro was the best decision Valentino made. He began to work at Famous Players-Lasky, and producer Jesse Lasky (who later went on to become one of the founders of Paramount Pictures) cast him in a film called “The Sheik” in 1921. Valentino played the starring role, a role that gave him the respect and success he deserved. From this role came his given nickname, the “Latin Lover.” The film itself was highly successful, and Lasky realized he could use Valentino’s star status to his benefit. Valentino went on to star in films such as “Moran of the Lady Letty” and “Beyond the Rocks.”
In 1922 Valentino went on strike against Famous Players claiming that he was not making enough money. Oddly enough, Valentino owed Famous Players money so they filed a suit against him. The studio tried to settle by offering him a new salary, but Valentino refused the offer. Then due to a misreport, word spread that Valentino had a new contract deal with the studio. Even though this wasn’t true Famous Players went on to make sure he wouldn’t be able to accept any employment from any other studio.
Valentino now restricted from acting he was now available to pursue other ventures. Luckily, George Ullman saw Valentino as a perfect frontman for his cosmetics company due to his massive amount of female fans, so Valentino went on a dance tour to promote the Mineralava Beauty Clay Company in 88 cities in the US and Canada.
In 1924 Valentino returned to the world of film, coming back and starring in “Monsieur Beaucaire.” He also starred in “The Sainted Devil”, his last movie through Famous Players. Through another company, Ritz-Carlton he filmed “The Hooded Falcon” and “Cobra.” Also in 1924 he joined United Artists thanks to influences such as Charlie Chaplin. Through United Artists came “The Eagle”.
In 1926, “The Son of the Sheik” was filmed and sadly, this was Valentino’s last performance in a film. In August he suffered from a variety of ailments, and he fell into a coma and died on August 23, 1926. The actor’s death caused riots in the street as one million people tried to pay their respects at his funeral.
Valentino left behind several marks in history. He published a book of poetry and he recorded music in 1923. In 1925, he had formed his own production company. Over the course of the last century post-death, Valentino has been depicted in a variety of literature and in 1972 the “RUDOLPH VALENTINO AWARD” was established, for more details check out http://www.rudolphvalentinoawards.com/.
Even though his journey wasn’t an easy one, Rudolph Valentino made a large statement in the history of Hollywood that minorities should not be treated any less and that they were just as talented as the Anglo actors.