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Life and Death of a Tango Pirate,
This review is from: Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino (Hardcover)
Rudolph Valentino was Hollywood's first Latin lover, and the prototype for all who came after. This detailed bio by Leider traces his boyhood in Castellenata, Italy, where young Rodlpho Guglielmi was a poor student, myopic, with a love of technology and gadgets, costumes and daydreams. He responded well to the nurturing of his mother, Gabriella, but not to the authority of his father, Giovanni. Restless and full of energy, as a child he was nicknamed "Mercurio," for the wing-sandaled messenger of the gods.
This olive-skinned, kinetic boy sailed to America (type "Rodolfo Guglielmi" into a search box at ellisisland.org and you will see the ship's manifest and view his entry, where the 18-year-old listed himself as an agriculturist at a height of 5'9") and eventually became "The Sheik," whose cinematic exploits were filled with adventure, violence-tinged sex, and plenty of hot tango dancing. Leider points out that Valentino's brand of European sexiness, where men wear jewelry and are not afraid of showing their emotions, grated on the nerves of post-WWI American men, who were annoyed by giddiness he inspired in their shingle-haired shebas and decried him as effeminate. Sexuality was beginning to be more pronounced in the `Teens and `Twenties, and Rudy's romantic but slightly dangerous style fit in beautifully.
Alas, Rudy's real life was not so serendipitous. Always seeking the nurturing control of mama, he married two women who were controlling but little else. Jean Acker was an actress and lesbian who slammed the door in her bewildered husband's face on their wedding night with no explanation. The exotic-sounding Natasha Rambova (really Winifred Hudnut from Salt Lake City, Utah), probably the love of Valentino's life, was reserved and icy, and eventually alienated Rudy's friends, co-workers, and studio bosses. His most consistent mother figure was undoubtedly June Mathis, the screenwriter who adapted the Vicente Blasco Ibanez novel "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" for the screen and insisted on the lithe Valentino for the part of Julio, which made him a star. He smoldered on the screen for five scorching years after that in such monster hits as "The Sheik," "Blood and Sand," and his last film, "Son of the Sheik" before his untimely death from peritonitis at the age of 31. Fans were so upset at this dreadful occurrence that a few committed suicide surrounded by his photos.
Although his wives may have had ambiguous sexuality, Leider (who seems touchingly besotted with her subject), consigns to the dustbin of history the notion that Valentino was bisexual, the much-ballyhooed slave bracelet be damned. Ironically, the screen's great lover lamented, "...In every love union there is one who loves more than the other...In my romances...that one has been I."
I would recommend this book to any lover of early cinema and Hollywood lore. Leider also includes postscripts on his two wives, both of whom exploited him shamelessly after his death, and his brother who attempted to fashion himself in the same mold but came up short.
Up to the very last page, I was able to still see in the heartsick, twice-divorced screen idol the dreamy-eyed Italian boy who came to America to seek fame and fortune, and blazed such a trail he still resonates 77 years after his death.