Monday, May 10, 2010

Valentino's Scandalous Beard

Bewhiskered Valentino in New York, November 1924

I have a rather silly obsession having to do with Rudolph Valentino and this has everything to do with Rudolph Valentino sporting that beard for a project that was never filmed, The Hooded Falcon. People call me a heretic to cover up that gorgeous face with whiskers, so what? Personally, in my humble opinion, I don't think it detracts by covering up. It adds to an already very handsome countenance. Other "rudyfans" may disagree with me but I think he looked awfully dashing in that beard.

The fans of the time may have been dismayed since facial hair at that time was not common (Doug Fairbanks’ moustache being an exception to that rule). This was as true in real life as it was on the screen. Villains were traditionally those wearing the moustaches and beards. This was done often to distinguish them from the clean shaven, 100% all-American heroes who populated the screen. No upright young man would be seen in a moustache or beard, but to be a “baddie,” you just had to have a brush! The only other exception to that rule would be in the case of a period or historical film, case in point, the 1924 epic The Sea Hawk with Milton Sills bewhiskered as the hero.

Valentino in An Adventuress

The fuzzy Rudolph Valentino seen on this chilly November day was not the first time Rudolph Valentino wore a moustache or a beard. In private life, his face was no stranger to a little hair before he was famous. Several early photos of the young Valentino, still reasonably new to American shores, show him with a jaunty moustache. Once he began working in pictures on a regular basis, since he was often cast as a villain, moustaches and/or beards (of varying styles) could be seen such films as Stolen Moments, The Wonderful Chance and An Adventuress. In many cases, the facial hair was quite fake, applied by the make man or Valentino himself. The styles varied from a dapper handlebar to a small “Chaplin style” moustache. As shown above, he also sported a monocle to great effect!

Even though Valentino had been off the screen for some time, he was still a man of great influence in style and taste judging by the reaction to his appearance in New York. The public (and news hounds it seems) had short memories. Perhaps it was because Valentino was not the influential star in 1920 he was in 1924, his beard and moustache in the last portion of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were forgotten. They also failed to put two and two together and remember he sported some stubble in The Conquering Power, and came back at the end of that particular film with a very distinguished Van Dyke beard.

A relaxed Valentino on the Leviathan

As was the usual custom, the press saw him on the S.S. Leviathan before disembarking. Valentino returning in 1924 was news. Valentino wearing a beard was BIG news; more than that, this beard was revolutionary! Posing on deck with Natacha and alone (with his beard and a winning smile) Valentino’s image made the pages of virtually every metropolitan newspaper across the country, from New York, to Chicago, to San Francisco, to Los Angeles. The headlines made note, Rudolph Valentino had returned to U.S. shores, triumphant with a new contract, en route to his Hollywood home with a little more than his wife and the beautiful Nita Naldi in tow. Along with his new cars (which he had ordered the previous summer), trunk loads of antiquities, gifts for friends, costumes for The Scarlet Power (later retitled The Hooded Falcon), Valentino came home with something the Barbers of America would not stand for, a fashion revolution, a mustached and bearded face! Why if even 1/3 of the young males in America followed suit, the business of barbering would be ruined!

* * * *

Valentino Back With Whiskers—Don’t Want Foliage—Too Much Trouble—but it Grows on Rudy Tells Girls at Pier

New York November 10 (by Universal Service)

The Sheik came back home today looking more sheikish than ever. “Come out from behind that foliage Rudolph. We know you,” said a bevy of girls when Valentino and his wife tripped down the gangplank of the Leviathan.

“I can’t, it’s grown on,” said the sheik. It was a reddish black hirsute growth on chin and lips that gave the Valentino countenance a decidedly Moorish cast. “Don’t want it—too much trouble. But, can’t help it. New picture you know. After that, back to the barber shop,” declared Rudy.

The Valentino’s have been summering on the Hudnut Estate in Nice and are now back for work. “When we were in Spain, I was taken for a Moor, with no end of trouble,” said the sheik. “I don’t want to be a sheik.”

A few old timers standing by looked at Rudy’s whiskers and signed. They seemed to remember a time when two whiskered lads were just starting out in the cough drop world. “Maybe they’ll come back in style now,” they said.

* * * *

The Movie Sheik’s New Moorish Beard

Rudolph Valentino, the movie sheik, returned from Europe to the United States this week wearing a Moorish beard of reddish hue. He also wore cerise suspenders to match the whiskers. He has been in Spain in search of “color” for a picture in which it is said he will play the part of a Moor.

* * * *

When the Valentinos and Miss Naldi left New York they were hounded by a curious public and press, when they reached Chicago, more of the same. They were obliging as they posed before leaving Chicago, Rudy always dapper, tipping his hat, Natacha looking slightly bored and Nita, enjoying herself, looking at Rudy! Days later they finally reached their destination, the West Coast, they were greeted rapturously at the Santa Fe train station by hundreds of friends and fans. Newsreel footage shows Valentino laughing and smiling, waving to well wishers and shouting greetings to friends he spies in the crowd surging about the train. The Valentinos and Miss Naldi posed for the cameras, for the newsreels and were loaded with flowers. Through the crowds came the official greeting in the form of acting Los Angeles Mayor, Boyle Workman. Accompanying Mayor Workman was a representative of the Barber’s of America, armed with a straight razor poised for Rudolph Valentino’s throat! It was a publicity stunt, and several photos exist of Valentino laughing as the razor gets close to his beard! Rudy was obviously enjoying himself this day. He was back in California, about to begin work under the banner of Ritz-Carlton Productions, shooting a story penned by his lady love and co-starring his favorite leading lady Nita Naldi.

Valentino about to get a close shave

The good times continued to roll and Hollywood also took a few jibes at the bearded Rudy and the effect his whiskers would have on the film industry. Natacha may not have enjoyed it, but I suspect Rudy, eager to rid himself of the beard, likely laughed long and hard with one look at the editorial cartoon in Photoplay Magazine.

Doug Fairbanks, Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, Pola Negri, Charlie Chaplin,
Jackie Coogan and William S. Hart as shown in Photoplay Magazine's
scathing (and hilarious) commentary on the publicity
surrounding Valentino's bearded state.

The Hooded Falcon was not meant to be. All that survive are tantalizing costume shots of Valentino posing as the Moor. No costume tests appear to have survived of Nita Naldi. Rudolph Valentino wore a beard in his next film, Cobra, in the flashback sequence. This beard, however, was applied by the makeup man as Rudy had finally shaved.

Friday, May 7, 2010

A Trip to Castellaneta - by Jean Walker

A few years ago it was my pleasure to publish a quarterly newsletter dedicated to Rudolph Valentino. It was gratifying to have several excellent contributions by some of the subscribers. One of which was from a lovely lady from the U.K. by the name of Jean Walker - she made a trip to Valentino's birthplace of Castellaneta. Her piece has remained with me since I first read it, having yet to have the pleasure of a visit to Castellaneta (or Italy) myself. I emailed Jean in the hope she'd allow me to republish her piece here. Happily for us all she did. What follows is a delightful piece describing her visit to Valentino's birthplace, Castellaneta, Italy. The photos illustrating the piece were taken by Jean's son Michael. I apologize for the not quite optimal quality of the images. I searched in vain on my external hard drive for the original scans and could not find them. These were extracted from the newsletter file.

A Trip to Castellaneta by Jean Walker

Following a recent statement that my ambition is to visit all the places I know of associated with Rudolph Valentino and since I am turned eighty, I decided that immediately is a good time to begin and what better place to start than Rudy's birthplace, Castellaneta in Italy? Before I go any further, I should like to say how very much I am indebted to W. H. whose article in the Spring 2005 Newsletter helped me so very much since it contains lots of valuable information and advice for my visit, which took place in March of this year.

The Blue Sheik, Catellaneta, Italy

My son, Michael accompanied me on this voyage of discovery. We flew from London to Rome and then to Bari where we had already engaged rooms at the Hotel Victor in the city centre. This was a modern and most comfortable hotel which I would recommend to anyone who might be contemplating the journey.

The very next morning we rose early and took a train for Castellaneta. A pleasant and comfortable journey of approximately one hours duration and just as Wayne had said, a small local bus was waiting to take us to the town centre for a modest fee.
We explored the town on foot taking a great many photographs as we went along starting with the life size ceramic sculpture of Rudy in the lower part of Via Roma. Regrettably, this is not very well executed in my opinion, nevertheless it is gratifying that such a fine man is honoured and remembered in the place of his birth.
116 Via Roma, birthplace of Rudolph Valentino

Continuing further along Via Roma, on the right hand side, we come to No. 116, the building in which Rudy was born and where he lived until the age of nine at which time the family moved to Taranto.

The rear view of 116 Via Roma

This edifice, which I believe is of 19th century construction, is quite imposing and very pleasing to the eye though it does have about it a slight air of neglect, in need of a minor facelift to restore it to its former splendour. Even so it was with a thrill of excitement that at last I was able to gaze at length on the house where it all began on 6 May, 1895. We were able to examine both the front and the back of the property at leisure. On the wall at the front of the building is an elaborate bronze plaque of pleasing design, bearing in Italian the words "Rodolfo Valentino nome che in terra lontano significo Arte e Belleza Italica".

Commemorative plaque at 116 Via Roma

After continuing a little further along the Via Roma, a right hand turn took us into Corso Umberto, a quiet road with on the left hand side a small park where we rested for a while enjoying the peace and serenity of the sunny afternoon before continuing our stroll. Reaching the top of the street one first comes upon the imposing Church of San Michele, this church is on the edge of the old town and almost immediately next to it is the frontage of an ancient building which was undergoing extensive renovation. We were told that this was part of an old palace with spacious grounds behind it.
Corso Umberto
Church of St. Michele
We did wonder if this could possibly be a part of the old palace where Rudy's mother was companion to the Marchesa Giovanazzi, however, we could elicit no further information on this score so continuing onwards and upwards we came to the very old and in my opinion most beautiful part of Castellaneta. Here one has the sensation of having gone back in time to an earlier and more leisurely period. Everything was a pleasure to behold, smaller streets and passages branch off this thoroughfare. Many of these offshoots are named Vico, which is I believe a colloquial version of what we in England call wynds or alleys that still exist in our older towns. If only there had been time to explore individually some of these tempting diversions instead of a mere cursory glance, however, our meanderings eventually brought us to the Museo Valentino which was the highlight of the visit. The museum was closed but this we had expected and planned to return later in the day when, we were given to understand that it might be open, so for the moment we contented ourselves by taking pictures of the art nouveau plaque outside and the huge head and shoulders picture of Rudy opposite the entrance.

St. Domenico Cathedral (undergoing restoration)

Continuing onwards we eventually arrived at the piazza where stands the Cathedral of San Domenico, a magnificent building begun in the 15th century, this building was also undergoing renovation work, and was closed to the public, so we contented ourselves with taking photographs of the exterior, eventually, strolling on past the cathedral to a vantage point from where we could see the rear of the cathedral, and what a surprise! We found we were standing almost at the edge of an appalling gorge, the deepest and most horrifying gorge that I have ever seen, but with the most wonderful panoramic views across the Puglian countryside. This was obviously the ravine, forbidden territory to the young Rudy, where despite his father's orders to stay away from there, he frequently carried out his boyish imaginary adventures and deeds of derring do.

At this point we decided to retrace our footsteps back to the starting point in the Via Roma taking in en route, the fine Municipal Square, which contains a poignant First World War memorial commemorating the many men of Castellaneta who had lost their lives in the 1914-18 conflict, after which we made for the old railway station, long closed but with the sign saying Castellaneta Citta still in position. This would have been the station used by Rudy and his family on journeys to Taranto, Bari and elsewhere.

By this time we were famished and decided that the next step must be 'Osteria Rodolfo Valentino' as recommended by W. H., and what a wise choice this was to prove. I can only echo W's description that the service and the food were impeccable, the food was amongst the, best that I have ever tasted and believe me, I have eaten great deal of Italian food over the years.

The place was immaculate, with pictures of Rudy in some of his roles adorning the walls and everything spotlessly clean and tastefully arranged. The owner, Vito, was most attentive and courteous, as also were the waiters. Vito talked to us at some length, eventually insisting on presenting me with a souvenir of the occasion in the shape of a ceramic pot made locally. It was indeed a happy occasion for all, soon however to be slightly spoiled for when we returned to the Museo Valentino at the time suggested and though we waited patiently for what seemed like hours, it did not open at all that day, and so we returned in time to catch the last train back to Bari in a mood of mixed elation and dejection. Well, perhaps another time, who knows!

The street leading to Museo Valentino

It is only fair to say at this point that everywhere we went in Puglia we were treated with the utmost kindness, courtesy and gentle interest We were sorry when this wonderful vacation came to an end. I shall always remember the people of Puglia, especially those of Bari and Castellaneta with great affection.
Jean Walker at Osteria Rodolfo Valentino

Again, I'd like to express my gratitude to Jean Walker for her permission to reproduce her original article.

For some further reading and sight seeing of Valentino's birthplace, you can start with the wikipedia entry. While this site is currently not functioning, it will be a place to check back to. Here is another link to Castellaneta (thanks Joan).
I'm not sure of the current status of the Museo Valentino, it was closed a few years back, but I believe it is still operational.
Museo Rodolfo Valentino
Via Municipio, 19 Castellaneta, Taranto 74011 - Italy
Phone: +39 (0)99 8497236

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Happy Birthday Rudolph Valentino

115 years forever young is Rudolph Valentino
(photo James Abbe)

If Rudolph Valentino were to come back to earth for one day to celebrate his birthday, what would he think? Of course, the tinkerer, mechanically inclined person that he was, I would bet he'd love computers, gadgets and all the toys we enjoy today. I would bet he would be surprised that by now cars would not be flying cars. I would bet he'd be dying to board a space shuttle and blast off into space. He was a speed demon and daredevil, this would surely have appealed.

Rudy doing what he loved best on his birthday in 1926

The thing that I suspect would surprise him the most is the continued interest in his life and in the films he made. I'm sure he'd be pleased about all the fans who celebrate his life and the respect his cinematic legacy has left behind. Not viewed merely as a sheiky type with bulging eyes and flared nostrils, Valentino finally gets a little bit of respect. His work in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, The Eagle and The Son of the Sheik still hold up well today. Not all his films can be deemed to be "great" films, but the three films mentioned above do fall under that category. I am sure there are many who would disagree with me and that is A-okay. They show Valentino at his absolute best. There are also sleeper hits such as Moran of the Lady Letty in which Valentino really shines.

Who is seducing who?

The idealized and romaticized image of Valentino on the screen was not who he was at all. He was a human being, sometimes imperfect as we all are. He had his foibles and had some wonderful qualities. He was well loved by his friends and colleagues. He was a respected hard worker, though his motivations were often misunderstood. He was a terrible businessman and really had no idea how to manage money. He loved the good life and could also be a very soft touch and generous. He spoke several languages and also appeared to have a special rapport communicating with animals and children, which he loved.

Valentino and Kabar January 1926

He loved working on his cars, or anything mechanical to figure out how it worked. He took pride in trying to make the best films he could. He fought for his rights as a responsible actor to an extreme degree (again, poor businessman). That he dared to buck the system and fight for better roles and more control, he was as much a pioneer as Pickford and Fairbanks whom he longed to emulate as a producer of his own films. He was unlucky in love, and also lucky in love. His personal love story did not end happily, but he did have a great love in his life. He was a chameleon, a charmer and a fascinating person. He left this world far too soon.

Happy Birthday Rudolph Valentino. You've still got "it" after all these years.

Valentino eager to get a workout 1925

Rudy and Natacha 1924 (photo by Russell Ball)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Valentino's Letters

Valentino's mail catches up with him on board ship
Letter writing and penmanship is an all but lost art today. With the ability to dash off an email, a tweet or post status to your Facebook page, who takes the time to sit down and write a card or letter these days? It's very sad to think about, a real lost art.

Many things may be said about Rudolph Valentino, but the man had wonderful penmanship and wrote beautiful letters.

Here’s a beautiful example of both Valentino’s handwriting and his fine manners.

The transcription reads:

on board the RMS Aquitania

July 24, 1923

Dear Mr. Rosen,

The wonderful basket you sent came very much unexpected and we are very sorry that it came long after the boat had sailed depriving us of the pleasure of thanking you personally.

I do not know exactly how I shall ever be able to return the many courtesies you have extended to Mrs. Valentino and myself.

Trusting to see you upon my return. Please let me know if [I] can do anything for you abroad. With kindest regards to your Mother and yourself from Mrs. Valentino and myself.

I am very sincerely
Rudolph Valentino

Polite, courteous, what a lovely little missive. Valentino was a regular correspondent to family, friends and acquaintances across the globe. This was likely a benefit of the slower modes of travel in the 1920s. Crossing the ocean on the Aquitania or Leviathan, across the U.S. by rail, long waits during filming. Busy man that he was, Valentino took time to pen his thoughts and keep his friends and family up to date. In the letters I have been privvy to read, Valentino always wrote with a consistent hand, some humor and was polite and generous. Another common theme in some of his letters, lack of funds.

This letter is soon to be auctioned by Profiles in History in their Hollywood Memorabilia Auction #40.