Rudolph Valentino is one of the great silent film stars of his time, as well as one of the greatest male “sex symbols” that Hollywood has ever known, so much so that he deserves the nickname “Latin Lover”.
``The son of the sheik`` movie (1926)
``The son of the sheik`` movie (1926)
FROM ITALY WITH LOVE
Rodolfo (Rudolph) Guglielmi was born on 6 May 1895 in Castellaneta (in the province of Taranto): at the age of 18 he leaves Italy but not like any emigrant, as he comes from a good family, speaks four languages and leaves with an expert diploma in his pocket agrarian and $ 4,000 inheritance. He landed in America in 1915 in search of fortune, and initially worked as a dishwasher in a night club, but thanks to his prowess and his skills as a dancer, he also began to be the companion of elderly wealthy ladies.
When one of these kills her husband for him, Valentino, frightened, escapes to the province, enlisting as a dancer in the Al Jolson theater company. Here he is noticed by an actor who recommends him in Hollywood. The charming Rodolfo Valentino made his debut on the screen in 1919, and for a few years he only played Latin “rascal” roles, until, in 1921, he was noticed by a talent-scout named June Mathis, who proposed to Metro Goldwyn Mayer to make them the protagonist of the adventurous genre film, “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” (1921) by Rex Ingram, of which the scene in which Valentino dances a passionate tango with grace and sensuality remains memorable.
Despite the actor’s success in this film, the studio subsequently employed him only as a supporting actor in cheap films, even denying him a decent salary.
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THE LATIN LOVER WITH A DARK CHARM
In 1922 Paramount hired him offering him a very advantageous contract as the protagonist of “The Sheikh” by George Melford, a mixed adventure and sentiment film, in which Rodolfo Valentino, in the role of an ambiguous and seductive Arab sheikh, inflames the screen thanks to his magnetism and its disturbing Mediterranean charm.
Starting from this film, Rudolph Valentino becomes the prototype of the foreign lover, bearer of dark charm, all slicked hair, rapacious eye and sexual strategy in the name of passivity. In a short time he becomes the first star literally invented by the fantasies of the female audience.
Meanwhile, after an unhappy marriage not even consummated with the lesbian actress Jean Acker, the actor begins a passionate and tormented love story with the sophisticated and charming stylist Natacha Rambova, who wants to transform him into a refined actor with an immense artistic sense, the opposite, in short, of the virile and sensual Rudolph Valentino that the female audience loved.
Valentino’s complicated private affairs headlines in the newspapers and feed his tireless lover myth. Although not everything was openly disclosed by the press, the murmurs about his prevalent homosexuality however begin to circulate through double meanings, allusions and pricks. On the rather “articulate” sexuality of the star the American press is not really happy that an “extra-communitarian” stole all the hearts of American women: the insult thrown in 1926 by an anonymous chronicler of the “Chicago Herald Examiner” is famous. he called “pink powder puff“, accusing him of being an effeminate dandy, corrupting American customs. In part, these rumors stem from a chauvinistic hostility towards a model of man a little too far from the stinking cowherd that John Wayne would have been the embodiment of.
However, beyond the controversy and defenses to the bitter end of its allegedly unprovable “heterosexuality, the facts remain today: namely that Valentino is the first true star, the first male “sex symbol” produced by the nascent cinema industry , proud representative of Italian latinity, and that to date his “sex appeal” has not lost any of its sparkling glaze.
Valentino shares with other super-stars of the cinema the fate of a few (five) intense years of delusional success, followed by a tragic death, early and sudden. The end reaches him in fact at just thirty-one years, due to an attack of peritonitis, shortly before entering the “avenue of the sunset”, and above all before the triumph of the sound that would have shortly condemned most of the “stars” to oblivion of silent cinema. His acting style was admired by other greats, including Charlie Chaplin.