Rudolph Valentino. The Only Valentino. Rodolfo Alfonzo Raffaelo Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina D'Antonguolla. Or, as I like to refer to him, Rudy.
Why is there such a mystique connected to him? Is it like the whole James Dean thing, that he died tragically young? Because he was a shining new talent that made only a handful of films? Or is it because he was the very first movie idol?
But why was he the first movie idol, you ask? Okay, imagine you're female movie-goer in the 1920's. Imagine every actor looks like either Robert De Niro or Ben Stiller. Then imagine Brad Pitt makes a movie. Yeah.
I have a strange history regarding Rudolph Valentino. The first time I heard of him was probably around 1993. I got this book about movie stars, and on the back of it was a rather bad colored portrait of Rudy as The Shiek--it looks like he's wearing lipstick and rouge. That plus the blurb about him inside that mentioned how some men of the day referred to him as a "pink powder puff"caused me to decide he was the epitome of unmanliness. And so for several years, I mocked him whenever his name came up.
But in 2002, the Writers Group at college decided to do a mini-version of NaNoWriMo: we would write 30 pages in 30 days, instead of 50,000 words. And I decided this would be a fun time to write a very silly story making fun of romantic comedies. I forget how, but I decided it would be funny to write about a guy who thinks he's Rudolph Valentino reincarnate. I think I must have read long before that someone wrote a book called The Reincarnation of Rudolph Valentino, because the title popped into my head as being very perfect. And so I decided to learn a little about this Rudy fellow, so I could write this very silly story.
I found a perfectly marvelous website, called The Rudolph Valentino Home Page, that told me more than I thought I'd ever want to know about this guy I planned to mock. I started looking through the photo section, and this particular photo caught my interest. I'm not sure why. Something about his casualness--the tilted hat, the careless cigarette, the little smirk, the crossed legs--I'm not sure precisely what it was, but something about this photo said to me, "This guy was cool."
And while my story, "The Reincarnation of Rudolph Valentino" is very silly and does gently mock romantic comedies, it does not ridicule Rudy. Because the more I learned about him, the more intrigued I became. The more I started to feel a strange empathy for this immigrant playboy who became a lionized movie star only to die a lonely and hideously painful death.
But it wasn't until over a year later that I finally saw a Rudolph Valentino movie. I think it was early 2004, definitely pre-May, when I got The Shiek and Blood and Sand out of the library. And I fell in love. Again. Madly, hopelessly, desperately in love. I'm not sure why. I mean, yes, Rudy is cute. He's got a roguish smile, dimples, smouldery eyes, long and sensitive fingers...but honestly, something about him goes beyond 'cute' or 'hot' or any other common description. He is compelling. Something about him makes me watch him. If he's on-screen, I can't rip my gaze from him, and I'm always left wanting more and more and more.
So I bought The Shiek and The Son of the Shiek on dvd (put out by the company that put Combat! on dvd, actually). And as they are the only Rudy movies out on dvd so far, I despaired of getting to see any more for a very long time.
However, a friend of a friend recently provided me with a copy of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse!!! The movie that first made Rudy famous!!! And I just finished watching it about twenty minutes ago! Now, since it's Rudy's first movie, there wasn't nearly enough of him in it to suit me, but it does contain The Tango Scene (actually two of them), the one that reportedly caused women to literally swoon in the theaters back in 1921. Which I can understand, because he definitely has the power to swoonate me...