This is edited and greatly expanded from an entry in my “Too Young, Too Soon” series on my old Angelfire site, written in 2005.
June Mathis (née June Beulah Hughes) (30 January 1887–26 July 1927) was born in Leadville, Colorado, the only child of Dr. Philip and Virginia Ruth Hughes. Her parents divorced when she was seven. The name Mathis came from her stepfather, widower William D. Mathis, who had three kids from his previous marriage.
June, a sickly child, went to school in San Francisco and Salt Lake City. She began performing in vaudeville in San Francisco, and joined a travelling company at age twelve. At seventeen, she began playing ingénues.
Eventually she made it to Broadway, and became quite successful. She was able to support her mother, now widowed, with her income.
June decided to turn her focus to screenwriting after thirteen years in theatre, so she moved to New York to study writing. Every evening, she went to the movies as part of her studies. Though she didn’t win the screenwriting competition she entered, her entry earned her job offers.
House of Tears, her first script, was directed in 1915, and parlayed her into a Metro contract in 1918. June saw screenplays as a way to elevate films into a true artform, beyond cheap, quickly-forgotten entertainment. She was one of the first to include physical settings and stage directions in her scripts.
June and her mother were living in Hollywood by 1919, and June soon rose to the head of Metro’s scenario department. She was their only female executive, and one of the first women to head any film department.
Her incredible résumé includes Greed, Ben-Hur, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the 1921 version of Camille, The Day of Faith, In the Palace of the King, The Conquering Power, Blood and Sand, Hearts Are Trumps, The Young Rajah, and Out of the Fog.
June’s stories frequently featured mysticism, the paranormal, spiritualism, and the occult. From a young age, she believed everyone has certain vibrations, which we can use to our advantage if we’re vibrating in the right place, on the right wavelength.
June always wore an opal ring when she wrote, believing it gave her inspiration and ideas.
We have June to thank for giving Rudy Valentino his big break. Based on his six-minute cameo role as cabaret parasite Clarence Morgan in Eyes of Youth (1919), she thought he’d be perfect as leading man Julio Desnoyers in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. June also got Metro to hire Rex Ingram as the director.
She took an immense risk when she decided to cast Rudy, and had to prove she knew what she was doing. June sensed he could handle the role of Julio, based on the promise she saw in the cameo, and how his physical appearance fit Julio’s description to a tee.
Rudy was forever grateful for how she believed in him when no one else did, helping and mentoring him through the entire production of The Four Horsemen, every step of the way. She became a surrogate mother figure, and continued looking after him and getting him the best roles.
They were extremely close until Rudy and his wife Natacha rejected June’s script for The Hooded Falcon (a film which never came to be). June was highly insulted to be asked to rewrite it, and ended their relationship. Happily, they reconciled at the première of The Son of the Sheik.
June married Italian cinematographer Sylvano Balboni (pictured above) on 20 December 1924. They had no children.
June’s greatest, most selfless kindness to Rudy came after his untimely death at age 31. Because Rudy’s finances were such a mess, June lent her crypt at Hollywood Forever Cemetery (then called Hollywood Memorial).
When June died of a heart attack at age forty the next year, Sylvano in turn gave up his crypt to Rudy and moved June’s ashes to her original crypt. Mentor and mentee have been resting side by side for almost 93 years.