“Death of Valentino”

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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.

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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.

Thomas Meighan

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This is edited and expanded from an entry in my “Too Young, Too Soon” series on my old Angelfire site, written around 2005–07.

Thomas Meighan (9 April 1879-8 July 1936), one of the top sheiks of the silent screen, was a fellow Pittsburgher. His father, John, was president of Pittsburgh Facing Mills, which made foundry facings. His mother, Mary, was a homemaker. The Meighans were fairly well-off.

When 15-year-old Tommy refused to go to college, his dad put him to work shovelling coal in the mill. After a single week, he realised he didn’t want to do such hard, thankless work for the rest of his life, and resolved to pursue higher education after all.

Tommy set to work studying pharmacology at med school, but came to feel he was made for different things, and lost interest in medicine. Tommy began working for $35 a week in a stock company.

Tommy eventually made it to Broadway, where he scored leading roles and big successes. It was here he met fellow actor Frances Ring (4 July 1882–15 January 1951), sister of popular singer Blanche Ring. They quickly became inseparable, and married not long after they met.

Their marriage was one of Hollywood’s longest, happiest, and most successful, though they sadly never had any children.

In spite of what an established name he made for himself, Tommy decided to switch to film acting in 1914. His first film, Dandy Donovan, the Gentleman Cracksman, was made in London, and earned him a contract with Famous Players-Lasky (now Paramount).

Though Tommy was 36 when he began making U.S. films, he quickly became popular. Both he and Lon Chaney, Sr., hit true stardom with The Miracle Man (1919), of which only three minutes now survives.

Tommy’s star continued rising through the Twenties, and he co-starred with leading ladies including Mary Pickford, Gloria Swanson, Leatrice Joy, Norma Talmadge, Lois Wilson, Bebe Daniels, Louise Brooks, Lila Lee, and Renée Adorée.

Through most of his film career, Tommy earned $5,000 a week. At his peak of popularity, he earned $10,000 weekly.

When Rudy Valentino was arrested for bigamy in 1922 (having married Natacha Rambova less than a full year after his divorce from Jean Acker), Tommy was one of the people who came to the rescue with raising bail money. Though he barely knew Rudy, he nevertheless sold his gold coin collection.

Tommy’s talking debut, The Argyle Case (1929), was a huge success, but at fifty years old, he worried about future popularity. He preoccupied himself with Florida real estate until returning to the screen in 1931. Tommy played fatherly figures in his final films.

During the Great Depression, his successful, eponymous Meighan Theatre in New Port Richey, Florida, was forced to close. This theatre has since reopened, and now bears the name Richey Suncoast Theatre.

Around the time of Tommy’s final film in 1934, he was diagnosed with cancer. The next year, he had surgery at the now-razed Doctors Hospital of Manhattan, which had a reputation as a “fashionable treatment center for the well-to-do.” It was also the main Manhattan maternity hospital for uptown mothers.

At 7 PM on 8 July 1936, at his home in Great Neck, NY, Tommy lapsed into a coma. At 9:10, he passed away with his dear Frances, his brother James, his sister May, and family friend Stella Errol by his side. He was 57.

Tommy was always very generous with his money, regularly donating nice chunks of change to the Federation for the Support of Jewish Philanthropic Societies and Catholic charities alike.

 

June Mathis

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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

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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!

A scorching swan song

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Happy heavenly 70th birthday to Freddie Mercury!

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The Son of the Sheik, Rudy Valentino’s unintentional swan song, had an advance première screening at L.A.’s Million Dollar Theater on 9 July 1926, and went into general release on 3 September. Now 90 years old, it’s held up most incredibly well, and easily stands as one of Rudy’s greatest performances.

It’s obviously a sequel to the runaway 1921 success The Sheik, and was likewise based on a novel by Edith Maud (E.M.) Hull. Ms. Hull wrote the sequel in 1925, six years after the release of the first book. The Sons of the Sheik features the twin sons of Sheik Ahmed ben Hassan and Lady Diana Mayo. Ahmed, Jr., is in the desert, while Caryll is in England with his grandpap.

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The sequel is so much better than the original, for so many reasons:

A much better director! TSOTS was directed by George Fitzmaurice (most of whose films are sadly lost), while The Sheik was directed by George Melford. A lot of The Sheik‘s shortcomings have been blamed on Melford egging his players on to overacting. He wanted a commercial hit, not a serious, quality, artistic masterpiece, and it sure shows. TSOTS isn’t one of the greatest films of all time either, but at least it’s a very solid, quality film.

Much better chemistry between the romantic leads. Yasmin is played by the beautiful Vilma Bánky (née Koncsics [Kon-cheech]), known as “The Hungarian Rhapsody.” She also was Rudy’s leading lady in 1925’s The Eagle. In both films, they make such believable, intense, complex couples. With Agnes Ayres in The Sheik, sparks don’t really fly.

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A much better script, with a more believable love-hate story, compelling subplots, and great secondary characters. Both source novels were trashy pulp fiction, but the screenwriters of TSOTS (the legendary Frances Marion and Fred de Gresac) did a much better job than Monte M. Katterjohn did with The Sheik.

A very tongue-in-cheek, campy spirit, with the sense that Rudy was having a lot of fun spoofing his own image and the original film. I love all the light comic relief, particularly from the wonderful character actor Karl Dane and Hyman Binunsky. The latter gets on the nerves of both the good guys and bad guys!

Fun intertitles, like “The night was young at the Café Maure. Not a knife had been thrown—so far.”

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Rudy plays a dual role so well. Early split-screen technology also allowed both the young Ahmed, Jr., and the older Ahmed, Sr., to appear together in a few scenes. For the reprised role of Sheik Ahmed, Rudy had a moustache and beard. Based on his performance, I could easily see him as having transitioned well to an elder actor. Someone once suggested he would’ve been great as the title role in The Godfather.

It’s got everything—romance, adventure, action, drama, lust, revenge, swashbuckling, intrigue, comedy, you name it.

Much better acting from everyone.

I love the interactions between father and son, both serious and funny.

Great pacing!

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When the film starts, we’re introduced to a band of vagrant outcasts, “entertainers by profession, thieves by preference,” headed by André (a Frenchman) and Ghabah (a Moor), “whose crimes outnumber the sands.” André’s daughter Yasmin dances to support the troupe, and is unhappily betrothed to Ghabah.

In the Touggourt marketplace a few days ago, Yasmin met and fell in love with young Ahmed, who gave her his ring. They’ve been regularly, secretly meeting in the ruins.

One night, Ghabah spies Yasmin getting ready to go out, and he runs and tells André. They track her to the ruins, where they capture Ahmed. He’s lashed to a grating in the ruins, and tortured quite horribly.

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During the torture, Ahmed is led to believe Yasmin never loved him, and was the bait to lure him just as she supposedly lured many another. His loyal servant Ramadan (Karl Dane) leads a rescue mission, and Ahmed recovers at a friend’s house.

Ahmed concocts an extremely un-PC, shocking plan for revenge, and abducts Yasmin from the Café Maure. As disturbing as this revenge is for a modern viewer, I love the moments when Ahmed’s face displays hesitancy. That helps to make his actions somewhat more tolerable.

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The plot thickens when Ahmed, Sr., discovers his son isn’t home yet, and goes to confront him. I won’t spoil anything that happens after this, but suffice it to say, it all helps to make this a 5-star film.