Wednesday, 6 May 2015

The Beautiful Gardener's Boy

On the occasion of the 120th anniversary of the birth of the World's first "screen idol" superstar, the gorgeous Rudolph Valentino - here's a fascinating (and little-known) story about the Great Man's "lying in state" after his untimely death at the age of 31, courtesy of Lawrence Quirk:
It was August 1926. The body of Rudolph Valentino lay in state at Campbell's Funeral Parlour, then at Broadway and W 66th St. in New York. Outside, in the broiling midsummer heat, on the steaming pavements, milled many thousands of the fabulous screen idol's female admirers (and more than a few male ones). Their voices were loud and raucous, the faces clammy with sweat. In their eyes could be read fascinating variations on the prevailing wild hysteria that had washed over New York since the news of Valentino's death of peritonitis at Polyclinic Hospital on W 50th St. on Monday, August 23rd.

Inside the chapel, swallow-tailed, wing-collared, grim-faced attendants pushed and shoved at the unruly fans, who refused to keep their places in the line as they filed by the flower-banked open casket. Some boldly leaned forward to touch the waxen face; others attempted to grab "souvenirs" - a coat button, part of a tie (some had even come armed with scissors), a lock of the greased-down black hair - whatever they could get.

Mortuary aides moved forward and pushed them roughly away, sometimes in the nick of time, and shortly other Campbell employees came rushing in with a glass cover for the bier, while nearby guards, newly deputized as reinforcements, hollered "pass on!",ignoring the pleas and wails of the tearful women who, hour after hour, over those hot August days, came to gaze and sob and pray - and all the while had not the slightest inkling that they were looking not at the body of the man who had been dubbed by the press Rudy Le Bien Aime (Rudy the Well-Beloved), but at a cleverly fashioned wax effigy...
In death, as in life, it appears Rudy would maintain an immaculate deception. The article goes on:
Shortly before his death, a Chicago newspaper had poked public fun at Valentino in the cruellest terms. It seemed that powder puffs had been installed in the men's room of a Chicago ballroom; the perpetrator claimed, loudly and shrilly, to the press that he had been inspired by Valentino's slicked-down, oily hair, then-novel wrist watches, slave bracelets, and other appurtenances of meticulous male grooming, 1926 style. Dubbed by the paper "The Pink Powderpuff" and "Rudy the Beautiful Gardener's Boy" (he had gardened in his obscure youth), Valentino had reacted with hysterical, defensive rage. He went about muttering, at times screaming, to all comers that the men of America had turned against him, that they were castigating him as a weak effeminate - and worse. Soon he was publicly challenging the unknown writer to a duel, determined as he was to "prove his manhood.."

...Valentino, of course, was unduly and obsessively concerned with public slurs against his masculinity because he was harbouring a secret that, if widely broadcast, could apply the coup-de-grace to his already shaky career. He had been humiliatingly impotent with both of his strong-minded wives, Jean Acker, the actress, and Natacha Rambova, the designer, ladies of eccentric cast who had buzzed busily among the Lesbian circle that surrounded the outré, sinisterly flamboyant actress Alla Nazimova of Camille and Salome fame. The marriages had been farces (once he had even been arrested for bigamy) and it was rumoured that he had used these unlikely ladies as "fronts" to obscure his bisexual bents.

Valentino had come a-cropper with the temperamental and tyrannical Natacha Rambova in a particularly lurid way, as her interference in his recent pictures (she was a filmic set designer and artistic consultant) had resulted in unpleasant comment on the effeminacy of his costumes and facial make-up in the ill-fated 1924 opus Monsieur Beaucaire, for which segments of the press had labelled him a "fop," "dandy," and "prancing popinjay".

Valentino in truth had been a passionate, and indiscreet, Adorer of the Male since his obscure beginnings in the small Italian town of Castellaneta ...which, at 18, he had been forced to leave because of one homosexual liaison too many. In America by 1913, he had been a tango dancer in New York cabarets, had "gigoloed" with both women and men, and had figured - and more than peripherally - in more than one domestic scandal, including the murder of a husband by his wife. Circa 1916, he had even been arrested in a house of prostitution in Manhattan. (After he became famous, the studio seized and suppressed the police records after some fancy bribery operations.)
The more I read about the man, the more I adore him...

Rudolph Valentino (born Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d'Antonguolla, 6th May 1895 – 23rd August 1926)

Read our previous tribute to Rudy


  1. Yes, I have always adored him too, and I wonder how many adoring male fans tried to cop a feel of the poor actor laying in state. I'm guessing he'd be a bit rigid. And I too have installed powder puffs in a latrine.

    1. "Powder puffs in a latrine" - isn't that a chapter in your forthcoming memoirs? Jx


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