Six years. That’s the entire span of Rudolph Valentino’s career–and it will last in our memory forever. Today, Valentino’s ’20s dramas (including The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, The Sheik and Blood and Sand) seem like exercises in high camp; it’s hard to believe millions of women swooned with every flare of those nostrils. But swoon they did as the former gardener and gigolo became the matinee idol of the silent screen.
H.L. Mencken once called Valentino “catnip to women.” He demonstrated that there is no such thing as over-the-top romance once we suspend disbelief and step into the movie theater: We want the burning eyes and the ardent declarations, and we want ’em now.
D.W. Griffith once wondered, “Is this fellow acting…or is he so perfectly the type he does not need to act?” The answer is unclear, but what is clear is that every Latin lover who followed in Valentino’s wake–from Anthony Quinn to Antonio Banderas–owes him a debt of gratitude. Upon his death (at 31, from a perforated ulcer) two women committed suicide, and a riot broke out when hundreds who showed up for the funeral were injured in the crush to view his body.
In His Own Words: “I suppose they like me because I bring romance into their life for a few moments.”
Rudulph’s full name was Rodolfo Alfonzo Rafaelo Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d’Antonguolla. He lived from 1895-1926.