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Valentino Forever: The History of the Valentino Memorial Services Paperback – April 15, 2004
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Many colorful characters were involved in the services, the most famous of whom were the Ladies in Black. The first known Lady in Black--considered by most who follow the memorials to be the original--Ditra Flame, is covered extensively and her essay "Red Roses At Noon" is printed in its entirety at the end of the book. Other Ladies in Black included a former Ziegfeld Follies star who was Valentino's last date before his sudden death who claimed to have been his wife and bore his child and would plunge into drug addiction. Another Lady in Black announced she was taking over for her mother who she claimed was an early love interest of the actor and the true original Lady in Black.
Other peculiar characters who attended the memorials at one time or another included Amanda, the spiritualist, "Rudolph Florentino" who had made his apartment into a shrine for the star, dressed in sheik garb and tried to communicate with Valentino through seances, a speaker who talked about Valentino's reincarnation, visitors dressed in gaucho or Arab attire, etc. This quasi circus atmosphere makes for some fun stories, not to mention the in-fighting between competing Valentino Guilds as well as the guilds and Valentino's family. The book does slow down in spots as the memorials themselves were bogged in a rut of repeating speakers and stories.
There are many photos of the services most of which were never before published. It is the definitive account of the Valentino Memorial services. My main criticism, though, is the organization and presentation of the book. The book runs in chronological order but, it would have read more smoothly, I think, if it were divided up with more sub headings. Terhune mentions Rudolph Florentino at one point (quite an intriguing name), but doesn't explain who he was until later. There are many long quotations but they are not indented. They are printed like the rest of the text and, sometimes running for multiple paragraphs, I found it easy to lose track of where the quotes begin and end. There are also quite a few typos.
Presentation aside, this book is a must for those who cannot get enough Valentino. It includes a foreword by Emily Leider (also a Valentino Memorial participant) who wrote the definitive Valentino biography, "Dark Lover." An epilogue is provided by Donna Hill who runs a Valentino website and is working on a book. It is 239 pages and very well-illustrated; albeit the illustrations are photo copy quality, they are rare and unusual.
Tracy Terhune has taken great pains to take us back through the years to experience the grief and remorse felt by family and fans in 1926 and onward through the decades as the memorial services continued amid acrimony between competing factions of Valentino fans and the drama of the mystery of the original and one and only "Lady in Black." Having amassed an amazing collection of original materials that belonged to Ditra Flame, the Lady in Black (it appears she never threw anything away and thank goodness she didn't), Mr. Terhune sets out the story, the highlights, the bitch fights all in an entertaining and very readable fashion. One cannot help but be impressed with the photographs in the book. It is profusely illustrated, many of the photos are one-of-a-kind and have not been seen since they were used in the newspapers in August 1926 (if they were previously published at all). It's fun to see all the players through the years and all the new faces who were born decades after Valentino died, who take part in paying tribute to this day.
While books on Valentino's life abound, the story of the ritual of the only annual memorial held in Hollywood for a departed star was a story that needed to be told. With a literal cast of thousands, Mr. Terhune does just that, he tells it like it is, warts and all when warranted! Ultimately, the book is quite touching and heartwarming to think that there are still so many people who are touched by this silent and shadowy figure. It is a unique phenomenon, a story that needed to be chronicled and Mr. Terhune wove a tale that is quite an entertaiing read. Anyone who loves old Hollywood would love this book.