Valentino in Vaudeville

Rodolpho Guglielmi (The boy who would become Valentino) was 18 years old when he arrived at Ellis Island from Italy in 1913. Without a lira in his pocket, he immediately proved he was the smartest young man in these annals by applying for, and receiving, the position of “gigolo”. He was thereby well prepared for his later screen roles. He knew whereof he spoke. Whether or not he bedded his wealthy dates is not within our purview to speculate. However, he certainly danced with them, and did it so well, that he was soon doing it on stage instead of dance halls. His specialty was (surprise!) the tango.

In 1915, he was spotted by Clifton Webb’s old partner Bonnie Glass, and the two teamed up, performing in vaudeville and nightclubs for about a year. After Glass, his partner was Joan Sawyer (who’d introduced the world to the rumba with her previous partner Lew Quinn). Valentino’s touring brought him out to the West Coast, and this is how he and Hollywood discovered each other.

He started out playing bit parts in about 1918. By 1921, he landed the lead in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The following year, he appeared in The Sheik, and became an unprecedented Hollywood sensation. Women all over the world swooned over this exotic-looking stud who galloped into camp on a camel, snuck into tents by the light of the moon, and then…fadeout until the next morning. Several more such films followed, including his last, The Son of the Sheik in 1926.

220px-Thesonofthesheik

He died tragically at age 31 of peritonitis. 80,000 screaming, howling, weeping women attended his funeral. Valentino was married twice: to Jean Acker and to Natacha Rambova. 

To find out more about performers like Rudolph Valentino and the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous. And if you’re a real Valentino fan, my I recommend Donna Hill’s Rudolph Valentino, The Silent Idol: His Life in Photographs, a resplendent pictorial survey, available here.

7 comments

  1. Valentino was from Italy but his parents were Spanish and French respectively. People from Italy are classed as Latino as it was a Latin speaking place. He was darker skinned than most movie stars of the time though and that was very unusual. He was often called ‘The Dark Lover’.

    There are various pics of his funeral on the net. Over 100,000 people were said to have turned up in New York and people did commit suicide – one woman took poison whilst staring at his photograph and a boy killed himself surrounded by photographs of Valentino.

    If you watch his films you can understand why he made them swoon – although some of the films are a dated and comical you can see by the way he holds himself and moves on screen that he was very sexy.

    The son of the Sheik is said to be his best film if you haven’t yet caught the magic Rudy onscreen.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. wow… I didnt know he was from Italy– I actually thought he was Latino. lol, so much for Hollywood typecasting.

    I’ve always found him fascinating and was always intrigued by these stories that women supposedly killed themselves after his death. Do you know if there are any photos or videos available of his funeral?

    Liked by 1 person

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