Commingled pandemonium and sadness at Rudy’s wake

To mark Rudy Valentino’s 95th Jahrzeit (death anniversary), I’m sharing the fourth section of Chapter 23, “Death of Valentino,” from The Twelfth Time: Lyuba and Ivan on the Rocks.

“Why again are we returning to the city during a heat wave to go to a wake for someone we never met?” Ivan pesters as they get off the subway on Tuesday. “I hate crowds, and I can already hear all those loony women screaming and weeping.”

“Because our grandkids will love to hear the story of how we went to the viewing of a famous moviestar who died in our adopted hometown,” Lyuba says. “And Kittey and Viktoriya were fans, though not crazy and obsessed like Anastasiya.”

“Do I see a riot in progress?” Eliisabet asks. “I’m sure he’d be so proud of his so-called fans for turning his wake and funeral into a three-ring circus.”

When they join up with Alla, Vera, Natalya, Fyodora, and Anya Godimova, they notice smashed windows in the approaching Frank Campbell Funeral Home and a number of police on horseback. Ivan wishes he hadn’t been talked into leaving their happy shore vacation to witness this madness.

“I don’t like seeing so many police in one place,” he says. “It brings back bad memories.”

“I’ve seen those uniforms in newsreels.” Vera points. “They’re Italian Blackshirts. What are they doing here?”

“There’s still time to turn around and go back to the shore. Who knows what all these police might do to us if they think we’re among the crazy people smashing windows and fainting. I wonder how many coffin-climbers they’ve had to restrain so far.”

“Police in this country only arrest you or use physical force if they have a good reason,” Eliisabet says. “They’ll see we’re normal people not causing trouble.”

“Clearly you haven’t seen many movies,” Viktoriya says. “A lot of cops arrest or follow people who haven’t done anything. They have God complexes like doctors.”

“That’s meant to be funny!” Kittey protests.

“I don’t think it’s very funny to see people, even in fictional situations, having their basic civil liberties violated.”

As they get closer to the funeral home, they see several policemen hauling a screaming, weeping, hysterical Anastasiya out the door and through the street. Anastasiya is fighting against the cops and trying to climb over them to get back into the funeral home, loudly protesting she’s a very important woman. Dagnija, who came as her companion, looks extremely embarrassed for her.

“Why does this not surprise me?” Katrin asks. “I just knew Nastya would be among the crazy, hysterical fans rioting and fainting.”

“How come dead people have to be displayed before they’re buried?” Tatyana asks. “It’s nicer to remember them alive, not lying in a coffin.”

“It gives people one last memory and chance to say goodbye,” Lyuba says.

“If that bad guy had killed Papa before you killed him with the fire poker, I wouldn’t have wanted to see him dead in a coffin.”

“Mama killed a guy with a fire poker?” Fedya asks. “When did it happen?”

“Our last day in Russia, a man from the secret police came into our house in Pskov and made his case for me being the escaped criminal everyone was looking for,” Ivan says. “Before he could fire his gun, your mother crept up behind him and hit him on the head with a fire poker. When he started to move, she stabbed him in the heart.”

“Wow, you’re really brave,” Fedya says proudly, smiling up at her. “If you hadn’t killed that bad guy to protect him, I never would’ve been born. Babushka and Dedushka think you don’t love Papa, but if you hated him, you wouldn’t have done that.”

“Yes, your mother’s the best life partner I ever could’ve asked for.”

A phalanx of police are assembled around the funeral home, and only allow Lyuba’s party to go in a few at a time. First Kittey, Vera, and Natalya go in, having been the biggest fans, followed by Viktoriya, Alla, and Fyodora, then Katrin and Sandro, then Eliisabet and Nikolay, then Kat, and finally the Konevs. Lyuba starts sobbing hysterically at the sight of the pale, emaciated body in the coffin.

“Can we go back to Long Island now?” Ivan asks, looking uncomfortably at the dead actor before shifting his gaze back to his children.

“Can you promise you’ll never take sick and will always look after your health, Vanyushka? He was only three years older than you, and might’ve lived if he’d gone to a doctor sooner.”

“Of course I’ll take care of myself for you and the kids. Hopefully I don’t have any longterm effects from breathing in all that iron residue and lifting all that iron. My cough is slowly going away too.”

“I never want to lose you so young. He must’ve gone through such agony before God finally put him out of his misery. Promise me you’ll die on the same day and hour as I do, when we’re old, not in the prime of life.”

“I’ll try my best.”

Someone calls to them that their time is up. Lyuba takes Katya from Ivan and walks out with Tatyana, while Ivan takes Fedya and Darya by the hands.

“Bye-bye, Mr. Moviestar.” Fedya waves. “I hope you have a good time with the angels.”

WeWriWa—A very special namesake

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

The book formerly known as The Very First was released today in e-book format. The print version, which has a different cover, releases in another week or two. I had to do 23 August as the release day because that’s the birthday of one of my protagonists. It truly was hashgacha pratit (Divine Providence) that I chose that date all those years ago, since it turned out to be the Jahrzeit (death anniversary) of my favorite actor, Rudolph Valentino, and the birthday of Keith Moon.

The book opens in August 1938. Young Cinnimin Filliard is now in her attic bedroom with her new roommate Katharina Brandt, now called Katherine Small and nicknamed Sparky. Cinni’s father, a former immigrant who now works with immigration himself, helped to bring Sparky’s family to the U.S. from Amsterdam.

Sparky inspected the posters. “I’ve seen some of these people at the movies, except the man in the headdress. He has very deep eyes.”

“You haven’t seen him because he’s been dead for almost twelve years. This is Rudolph Valentino, a famous moviestar from the Twenties. He died when he was only thirty-one, before movies had sound. I was born on the anniversary of his death, and my middle name would’ve been Rudolph had I been a boy. My aunt Lucinda gave me my middle name. She still wanted to honor him in some way, so she found another seven-letter name that started with R, Rebecca.”

During the last major edit, I made the age of Cinni and her friends deliberately ambiguous. At most, it’s stated they’re under twelve. Long story short, for 7-8 years I’ve been struggling with the realization that I may have made them a bit too young when I created them.

Keeping their age ambiguous for at least one book leaves the door open for either slightly aging them up or keeping their age as-is and continuing to explain it as part of what makes this fictional Atlantic City neighborhood so deliberately unusual. Each choice has a lot of pros and cons.

“Death of Valentino”

In honor of my beautiful Rudy Valentino’s 93rd Jahrzeit, here’s the third section of Chapter 26, “Death of Valentino,” of The Twelfth Time.

***

On Monday, shortly after noon, an official comes out of the hospital where Anastasiya has been standing vigil with a group of other fans since Saturday. She wonders if Lyuba would still make fun of her for doing this if she knew her stepsisters Vera and Natalya are among the women and teenage girls gathered to pray for their favorite actor and watch for any glimpse of him through the open window on the eighth floor.

Anastasiya sees his lips moving and hears words coming out, but can’t process anything after the word “died.” Like a chain reaction, many of the people in the crowd start screaming and fainting. She grows numb as she utters a loud scream and falls to the ground in the August heat. Everything starts spinning around her, and she hears a ringing in her ears and sees a bright light in her eyes. She’s barely cognizant of the weeping and screaming surrounding her.

“Would you like me to help you get home?” she hears someone asking after she comes back to herself, by which time some of the crowd has dispersed. “Surely our presence here isn’t needed anymore. God must’ve wanted Rudy more than we wanted him here on Earth.”

“I don’t live nearby,” Anastasiya hears herself choking out. “I live on the Upper West Side. I’ll give you directions and money for a cab.”

The young woman helps pull her to her feet and supports her as they walk away from the Polyclinic and towards a line of cabs heading north. “I’m Dorothea Hasenkamp. What’s your name?”

“Anastasiya Voroshilova.”

“The lady who runs the uptown salon and makes all those pretty wedding and bridal party dresses? I love your designs, and I’m also smitten by the gorgeous gowns your second-in-command Dagnija makes. Can I get a sneak peek at some of your upcoming creations in your apartment?”

“Perhaps you will,” Anastasiya mutters as they climb into a cab.

As if the shock of learning her favorite actor was just taken away by the Angel of Death at the young age of thirty-one weren’t already enough, another shock awaits Anastasiya when Dorothea helps her into Katrin’s penthouse after they step off of the elevator when it reaches the top floor. Dagnija, Mrs. Whitmore, Mr. Rhodes, and Dmitriy are all there in the living room. Anastasiya faints again.

“Are these servants?” Dorothea asks.

“Hello,” Dagnija says. “I am Miss Voroshilova’s second-in-command at our salon, and these are her best friend’s butler and Miss Voroshilova’s nanny. The baby is her son Dmitriy. He is going to be nine months old in five days.”

Anastasiya comes back to herself when she hears Dagnija revealing this secret to a complete stranger. “Mrs. Whitmore, Mr. Rhodes, what are you doing here? If Mitya took ill, you should’ve called me instead of going to all the trouble to bring him here! He’ll recover sooner at the shore, where they’re not having a heat wave.”

“I let Miss Liepaitē in about an hour ago,” Mrs. Whitmore says. “She heard you were back in town, and wanted to discuss some of her new designs. As for myself and Mr. Rhodes, we figured you must really miss Dmitriy, and decided to surprise you by coming back with your darling little baby. It’s not right for a precious little boy to be looked after only by a nanny and a wetnurse. Now you can do the majority of his caretaking before you return to Long Island. Mr. Rhodes came as my male escort, in case anything untoward happened on the train and subway, or if anyone broke into the penthouse.”

“You have a baby?” Dorothea asks. “What’s his full name? I assume you kept your single name if you’re not a Mrs. but have a baby.”

“Dmitriy Rudolf Voroshilov,” Dagnija says. “He’s named after Rudolph Valentino and Grand Duke Dmitriy Romanov.”

Anastasiya wants to die of shame, and almost forgets about her grief over her son’s second namesake passing away after such a horrible illness.

“Are you divorced or a widow?” Dorothea asks.

“The father of Dmitriy is a Frenchman. He abandoned Stasya after their brief courtship and secret marriage in Paris last February,” Dagnija says, valuing her budding career enough to tell some white lies. “Now she is a chained woman, unable to remarry because her husband and baby’s father left them and can’t be found to have an annulment or divorce. If you ever wondered why an attractive, successful woman in her twenties is unmarried and doesn’t have any public suitors, now you know the tragic truth. We trust you not to spread around such an upsetting story.”

“How awful! What a scoundrel, to abandon a beautiful wife and his unborn son! Don’t you worry, Miss Voroshilova, I’ll keep your secret. I’d love to wear one of your wedding dresses when I get married, and I can’t very well do that if the rumor mill drives you out of business.”

“There’s a jug of milk in the refrigerator,” Mrs. Whitmore says. “Mrs. Kalvik-Nikonova used that new-fangled electric device to pump her milk so you could feed Dmitriy properly while she’s not here.”

“Couldn’t you buy artificial milk? It won’t kill him to drink infant formula for a few days, and Katrin’s milk won’t dry up, since she’s nursing her own baby.” Anastasiya wants to believe this entire day has been a nightmare, and any moment she’ll wake up, back on Long Island, Valentino making a full recovery from pleurisy, Dmitriy being cared for by anyone other than herself, her secret still confined to her inner circle and Dagnija.

“He’s used to drinking real mother’s milk. It won’t kill you to pour some of your best friend’s milk into a bottle and feed your son.”

Anastasiya curses her life as Dorothea and Dagnija help her onto a couch and Mrs. Whitmore hands her Dmitriy and an already-filled bottle. As she disinterestedly feeds him and drifts in and out of full awareness, she hears Dagnija excitedly talking to Dorothea about some of the secret upcoming designs at Voroshilova’s Weddingland Creations. If Dagnija didn’t know her shameful secret, she’d want to strangle her when she leads Dorothea into the room where some of these secret designs are displayed on mannequins. She can only hope someone with a good enough heart to help a stranger in need can keep her mouth shut about Dmitriy’s existence.

June Mathis

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.

How I fell in love with Rudy

In honor of Rudy Valentino’s 91st Jahrzeit (death anniversary), I present a piece edited from the final two paragraphs of an old Angelfire post entitled “The Most Perfect Moment of Just Knowing.” I’m always stunned to see how LONG many of my paragraphs were in those days, and how equally long and rambling my sentences were!

That same you-have-to-see-it experience, a translation from stillness to movement, took place on the night of 17 November 2004, when I first watched Blood and Sand, the first time I saw Rudy Valentino in motion. From the first time I remembered seeing a picture of him in 2001, I was mesmerised by how beautiful he was, what a kind, non-threatening face he had. However, I hadn’t had the chance to see him in motion until that night.

I know why my great-grandmother went to Pittsburgh every Saturday to see his movies. I was just riveted, couldn’t tear my eyes away from the screen. You can’t really put into words why, just that he had natural charisma, effortless sex appeal, intensity, drawing the viewer in, involving you, making the viewing experience personal, speaking to your soul, such natural, emotional body language, an incredibly expressive face, emotional, seductive eyes.

I genuinely don’t understand people who genuinely don’t understand the fuss over him, who truly believe it was just a product of the times. Usually they’ve only seen his most unrepresentative films.

I couldn’t believe how much more beautiful he was in motion. I felt weak, and my heart skipped a beat, when I first saw him on the screen. Such depth of emotional intensity can’t be manufactured or learnt in acting school. It was genuine, throwing himself into his roles, becoming the characters, looking so genuine and sincere in his interactions with the other players, esp. women.

I just knew I could never be more impressed by any other actor, modern or bygone. I roll my eyes when I read or hear the often-repeated complaint that all or most silent films or actors are guilty of “overacting.” I’ve seen so many talking films which are so over-the-top and overacted, and many modern-day actors don’t have as much talent in their entire bodies as some silent actors had in their pinky fingers!

People have forgotten what expressive body language looks like, how a face can express emotions without words. Forget the ridiculous eye-bulging in his most famous movie; his talents are much better-expressed in his other ventures.

I’m not interested in any modern actors. Someone who died 53 years before I was born mesmerised me in a way no modern-day wannabe ever could. Current actors don’t have “It,” that unexpressable magnetism and sex appeal. None of the modern-day male actors who are supposedly so sexy and in demand do anything for me.

You know beyond all knowing. Some people don’t want to believe in epiphanies, feeling they need to test out what they think before coming to a conclusion. But some things you either sense right away or you don’t. Most people don’t “decide” they love their child; they just know they’ll love him or her forever. Some things you just know.

P.S.: Happy heavenly 71st birthday to Keith Moon!