These Women were so Distraught after Rudolph Valentino’s Death they Committed Suicide
These Women were so Distraught after Rudolph Valentino’s Death they Committed Suicide

These Women were so Distraught after Rudolph Valentino’s Death they Committed Suicide

John killerlane - February 3, 2018

When silent movie star Rudolph Valentino died in 1926, his death sparked off riots and a number of women committed suicide. Throughout his short acting career, Valentino endured much negative media speculation about his sexuality and had an often troubled private life. His death at an early age contributed to his iconic status and also cemented his legacy in Hollywood. Today, Valentino is still fondly remembered as one of the greatest stars of the silent movie era.

Rodolfo Pietro Filiberto Raffaello Guglielmi, better known by his screen name, Rudolph Valentino was a Hollywood silent movie star famous in the 1920s. Born in Castellaneta, Italy on May 6, 1895, Valentino moved to America in 1913 aged eighteen. Initially, he struggled to find work and ended up living on the streets. He worked as a gardener, a dishwasher, a waiter, and then as a taxi dancer at Maxim’s Restaurant-Cabaret, where older wealthy women happily paid for the pleasure of his company.

Around this time, Valentino befriended a Chilean heiress named Blanca de Saulles, who was unhappily married to a successful businessman, John de Saulles. Following their divorce, Valentino testified at a custody hearing on behalf of Blanca, claiming that he had evidence that John de Saulles had been engaged in multiple affairs, including with a dance partner of his. John de Saulles then used his connections to have Valentino jailed for a few days on bogus vice charges, which, while untrue, still damaged Valentino’s reputation to the point that he found it difficult to get work.

When Blanca later shot her husband, Valentino decided to avoid the impending trial, and left New York for Hollywood to pursue an acting career, and changed his name to Rudolph Valentino. However, Valentino’s exotic good looks made him stand out among an era of a more rugged and therefore considered more masculine Hollywood contemporaries, which resulted in him being cast in a series of smaller roles, mainly as villains.

These Women were so Distraught after Rudolph Valentino’s Death they Committed Suicide
Rudolph Valentino publicity photo for Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. thevintagenews.com

Valentino received his big break when he landed the leading role of Julio in the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. The movie was released in 1921 and went on to be massively successful. It was one of the first films to gross $1 million. However, despite the success of the movie, Valentino’s exotic looks proved too much of an issue for the studio executives, and they refused to offer him a pay rise or any other starring roles. Valentino ultimately broke ties with them and began working for a different film studio, Famous Players-Lasky.

These Women were so Distraught after Rudolph Valentino’s Death they Committed Suicide
Rudolph Valentino as Juan Gallardo in Blood and Sand. thevintagenews.com

Rudolph Valentino publicity photo for Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. thevintagenews.comValentino was cast in the lead role in the movie The Sheik, which proved to be another hit and the role for which the actor is best remembered. Valentino’s went on to star in Blood and Sand, The Eagle and The Son of the Sheik. Valentino’s unique good looks and his starring role in romantic dramas won him the affections of millions of women and earned him the reputation as “The Great Lover” of the silent movie era.

These Women were so Distraught after Rudolph Valentino’s Death they Committed Suicide
Rudloph Valentino, publicity photo from the movie Blood and Sand. wikipedia

Valentino’s Death

However, Valentino’s “pretty boy” image was considered to be effeminate and because of this, it resulted in a lot of speculation and conjecture about Valentino’s perceived homosexuality. These stories surrounded the star throughout his career. Valentino had been married twice, to Jean Acker and Natacha Rambova but the press speculated as to whether these were, in fact, “lavender marriages” to hide Valentino’s homosexuality. Questions about his sexuality are said to have deeply hurt Valentino and he actively confronted journalists who published stories propagating these rumours.

In what turned out to be his last movie, The Son of the Sheik, Valentino received a favourable review from the New York Times which also added that the “desert rough stuff and bully fights” contained in the movie left “no doubt about his masculinity.” An indication of Valentino’s popularity and allure among his female fans was demonstrated following the premiere of the Son of the Sheik in New York. Despite temperatures close to 100 degrees, thousands of his fans swarmed around the movie theatre hoping to catch a glimpse of the star. When he was leaving, Valentino was mobbed and in the frenzy had his clothes ripped off by women overcome by desire!

Just two weeks later and at the height of his fame, Valentino took ill and collapsed in his suite at the Ambassador Hotel in New York before being rushed to hospital. After an initial diagnosis of appendicitis, it was later discovered that Valentino was suffering from perforated ulcers mimicking appendicitis, a condition which became known as “Valentino’s Syndrome” which was named after the famous star. As Valentino’s condition worsened, thousands of his fans formed a vigil outside of the hospital and anxiously awaited news. Unfortunately, Valentino’s condition continued to deteriorate and he died on August 23, 1926, aged just 31.

News of Valentino’s death was greeted with a kind of mass hysteria, where a number of heartbroken women were so devastated that they committed suicide. It was said that two women attempted to take their lives outside of the hospital where Valentino died, while a woman in London drank poison while holding a picture of Valentino. A young man who was reported to have committed suicide was found lying on a bed which was covered with photos of Valentino.

The day after Valentino died, an estimated 100,000 people gathered outside of the Frank Campbell Funeral Home in New York where the star’s body was reposing. It was reported that the crowds stretched for eleven blocks. In the chaotic scenes that followed, some people tried to force their way into the funeral home, smashing windows and sparking a day-long riot. More than 100 mounted officers and NYPD Police Reserve had to be called in to restore law and order.

These Women were so Distraught after Rudolph Valentino’s Death they Committed Suicide
Actress Pola Negri who claimed to be Valentino’s fiancée. wikipedia

Inside the funeral home, actress Pola Negri, who claimed to be Valentino’s fiancée and that the two were due to be married, was visibly devastated. Reportedly Negri threw herself across Valentino’s open coffin in despair and fainted. Supposedly this action sparked off more chaos among the already hysterical crowd outside, who broke through a huge plate glass window. Afterwards, Negri was said to shriek continuously in front of the press, while making declarations about her love for the late star: “My love for Valentino was the greatest love of my life. I loved him not as one artist loves another, but as a woman loves a man.”

These Women were so Distraught after Rudolph Valentino’s Death they Committed Suicide
Valentino’s funeral in 1926. wikipedia

Publicity Stunts

It was said that the four men who formed a guard of honour at Valentino’s funeral were Fascist Blackshirts, sent over to New York by Benito Mussolini, but it was later revealed that these men were in fact actors hired by the funeral home as part of an elaborate publicity stunt. It was also said that the body on display was actually only a wax replica and that Valentino’s body was locked in one of the rooms at the back of the funeral home, but this has been continuously denied.

Valentino’s body remained at the Campbell funeral home for three days to allow his heartbroken fans the opportunity to say their final farewells to their beloved star. Valentino then had two funerals, one in New York and the other in California. At one of the funerals, Negri organised a large floral arrangement of red roses and white blooms which spelt out her first name “POLA”.

These Women were so Distraught after Rudolph Valentino’s Death they Committed Suicide
Rudolph Valentino’s grave. thevintagenews.com

Just as Valentino had been on the receiving end of much media speculation about his sexuality and personal life while he was alive, it was no different after the star had died. Newspapers published stories claiming that Valentino had been in fact killed by either a jealous husband or a scorned lover. While these stories may have sold newspapers, there was absolutely no truth to them.

In a tradition, which lasted for decades after Valentino’s death, a mysterious woman in black visited Valentino’s tomb in Hollywood, placing twelve red roses and one white on his grave. It is believed that the original lady in black who began this tradition was Ditra Flame, who claimed that Valentino had visited her when she was gravely ill in hospital when she was fourteen years old and gave her a single red rose. Flame is said to have abandoned this tradition after three decades when a number of other women in black began imitating the tradition on the anniversary of Valentino’s death.

Many have questioned whether Valentino would have continued to have had a successful movie career after the end of the silent movie era and the introduction of movies with spoken dialogue, claiming that actor’s thick accent would have hindered his career. Others dispute this and claim that Valentino’s star quality and natural charisma would have ensured a lasting career in Hollywood.

 

Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

Smithsonian Mag: The “Latin Lover” and His Enemies

The 13th Floor: The Life, Death, Afterlife, and Curse of Rudolph Valentino.

Biography.com: Rudolph Valentino.

History.com: This day in history: Rudolph Valentino dies.

Vintage news: When Rudolph Valentino died in 1926, over 100,000 people swarmed the streets of New York City in riots during the funeral and several women committed suicide.

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