Rudolph Valentino: The Tragedy Of A Hollywood Icon

May 22, 2022

Rodolfo Alfonso Rafaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina D’Antonguolla was born in Castellaneta Italy in 1895. He was a bit of a dreamer and was nicknamed “Mercury” as a youngster. When his veterinarian father died abruptly in 1906, his family sent him to boarding school followed by agricultural college. He took off to Paris in 1912, where he learned the tango, but was unable to find work. In 1913, he went to New York, where he first worked menial jobs before becoming a nightclub dancer at Maxim’s Restaurant-Cabaret. While there, he danced with upper class women for money and gave private lessons.

1921-Rudolph Valentino holds Agnes Ayres in a movie still, publicity scene from the film "The Sheik". Source: (Getty/colorized).

He met Blanca de Saulles and they developed a friendship. When she sued her husband Jack for divorce, Valentino testified against him in court. Jack apparently sought revenge, and Valentino was arrested at a brothel, after which he was jailed and taunted in the press; because of the negative publicity, he struggled to find work. Shortly after he was released, Blanca de Saulles shot her husband, and rather than being called in as a witness, Valentino left for the West Coast. In 1917, he found his way to Hollywood and began acting in bit parts, often as the villain. During his career, Valentino faced discrimination, as he had to deal with prejudices against immigrants, and he was denied roles because he was “too foreign” and had to contend with whispers about his sexual orientation.

1921-Rudolph Valentino holds Agnes Ayres in a movie still, publicity scene from the film "The Sheik". Source: (Getty).

He Never Consummated His First Marriage

He married Jean Acker in 1919, but the marriage was never consummated. According to some accounts, Acker locked him on their wedding night, and there is evidence that she had been in a romantic relationship with a woman. Years later, Acker would say that she did not sleep with Valentino because he admitted to having gonorrhea. They divorced in 1921, the same year he had his big break in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse; the screenwriter, June Mathis thought he would be perfect for the lead. After his appearance in this box office hit, he became a star, and the mania around him grew rapidly. His next film, The Sheik (1921) would help to define him as the irresistible, brooding lover, although he did not like this characterization.