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.

Rudolph Valentino Week, Part IV (Filmography)

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Between 1914–26, Rudy starred in 38 films, 14 of them in the leading role. He began with uncredited bit parts, gradually moved up to secondary roles (often as a villain), and finally got his big breakthrough with the incredible 1921 blockbuster The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Screenwriter June Mathis was very impressed with his 1919 cameo in Eyes of Youth (one of star Clara Kimball Young’s few surviving films), and put her career on the line when she chose this relative unknown for such a huge role.

Rudy never forgot what June had done for him, believing in him when no one else did, mentoring him every step of the way, helping him to get the best roles, serving as a surrogate mother figure, being so loyal and kind. She was also one of the Hollywood élite who helped to bail Rudy out of jail when he was arrested for bigamy in 1922, having married Natacha Rambova before being divorced from paper wife Jean Acker for an entire year.

In a 1923 interview with Louella Parsons, Rudy said: “She discovered me, anything I have accomplished I owe to her, to her judgment, to her advice and to her unfailing patience and confidence in me.”

When Rudy passed on, he had some serious debts, so June lent her burial vault at Hollywood Forever. Sadly, June herself died the next year, and her husband gave up his own crypt for Rudy. They’ve been side by side for almost 90 years now.

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Amazingly, almost all of Rudy’s stardom-era films have survived, giving him a very good survival record for a silent star. Most of the silent stars whose entire or near-entire body of work survived were the big-name stars with total or a great level of creative control, and who took care to preserve their own archives.

Some of Rudy’s earlier films were edited to showcase him and rereleased after his breakthrough, and so survive only in fragmented form.

The lost films are starred.

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My Official Wife (1914)*
The Battle of the Sexes (1914) (surviving fragment only)
La Corsara (Italian film) (1916)*
The Quest of Life (1916)*
The Foolish Virgin (1916)*
Seventeen (1916)*
Alimony (1917)*
Patria (1917) (partially lost)
A Society Sensation (1918) (only 24-minute reissue survives; original cut was 50 minutes)
All Night (1918)

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The Married Virgin (1918)
The Delicious Little Devil (1919)
The Big Little Person (1919)*
A Rogue’s Romance (1919)*
The Homebreaker (1919)*
Virtuous Sinners (1919) (print exists in Library of Congress archives)
Nobody Home (1919)*
Eyes of Youth (1919)
Stolen Moments (1920) (only 35-minute reissue survives; original cut was six reels)
The Isle of Love, a.k.a. An Adventuress (1920) (only 39-minute reissue survives)

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The Cheater (1920)*
Passion’s Playground (1920)*
Once to Every Woman (1920)*
The Wonderful Chance (1920)
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921)
Uncharted Seas (1921)*
The Sheik (1921) (which I kind of almost wish were a lost film!)
The Conquering Power (1921) (hugely underrated!)
Camille (1921)

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Moran of the Lady Letty (1922) (now available in a gorgeous print that’s like night and day compared to the horrible VHS copy I first saw!)
Beyond the Rocks (1922) (miraculously found in 2003)
Blood and Sand (1922) (my very first!)
The Young Rajah (1922) (A near-complete print surfaced in Italy in I believe the 1970s, but due to lack of funds, much of it deteriorated. The DVD pieces together stills and surviving footage.)
Monsieur Beaucaire (1924) (has noble intentions and a great theme about being true to yourself, but it got lost in all that damn wig powder and bloated length)
A Sainted Devil (1924)*
Cobra (1925) (with a gorgeous print courtesy of the original camera negative)
The Eagle (1925) (set in Catherine the Great’s Russian Empire)
The Son of the Sheik (1926)

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The most ideal starting vehicles for a new fan are The Four Horsemen, Blood and Sand, The Eagle, Cobra, and The Son of the Sheik. I’m also very partial to The Conquering Power, though Rudy is only in about a third of the film and it’s more a starring vehicle for Alice Terry. If you want to see Rudy in more of a man’s man role, go for Moran.

Of the pre-stardom films, I’d most recommend All Night, as well as Eyes of Youth. Though Rudy only has one scene near the end of the latter film, he’s absolutely marvellous. It’s easy to see what June Mathis saw in him.

I highly recommend NOT seeing The Sheik first! It’s very unrepresentative of both silent cinema and Rudy’s talents.