Rudy’s Career Roller Coaster Ride

Rudy’s experiences with the major studios he once called home can be likened to a “montagne russe” (roller coaster) in terms of propulsion and up and down motion. Universal was his first important employer, and four of the films he did there, along with his respective leading ladies (Carmel Myers and Mae Murray, each X 2) helped launch his career, their popularity at the time providing heft. In these movies, Rudy got to explore his playful side, even experimenting with pratfalls in “All Night.” He was also cast as a non-ethnic, certainly not the case later on.

Then, following a string of small roles and bit parts, Rudy signed with Metro to star in the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” an unqualified hit and the first instance of million dollar box office. Here Rudy was at the top of his game, the pieces coming together to create one of his most memorable roles. All that, and the tango too!

In a move one could only deem blasé, the studio then cast him in a series of lackluster, though at times interesting, follow-up films where his innate luminescence always ended up transcending the material. In truth Rudy probably would have created interest with the visual equivalent of reading a phone book; such was the magnetism he projected. Personally I like everything he did on screen, all his roles to greater or lesser extents, because they exuded magic, an ephemeral, quixotic spark.

Metro’s indifference soon translated to Paramount’s gain, as he started working at Famous Players-Lasky where they immediately cast him in what was to be his seminal part, Ahmed the Sheik. Loads of interest and box office cash resulted and Paramount knew they had a phenomenon on their hands. Unfortunately, they, like Metro, did not follow up very well. Several decent pictures ensued but only one other really notable one, “Blood and Sand.”

Rudy’s final employer was United Artists, the studio founded by Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffin. His last two films were quality projects, and each allowed him to shine, again at the top of his game. By all accounts, he was delighted with his work in “The Eagle” and “Son of the Sheik” the latter providing an opportunity to reprise Ahmed, this time père et fils (father and son.) The roller coaster ride ended on a high point, and Rodolfo left this world at the peak of his fame, a level of renown that continues to this day! ~ Wayne Hatford

Agnes Ayres

“My co-conspirator, for that is how we felt and even remarked upon while constructing the ‘Sheik’ films. We exchanged pregnant glances off set and sometimes on, when demanded by the director. Some would say my performance as the Sheik was eye-popping and it was that at times, again as the director so required. But, all in good fun!

Agnes was both very down to earth and quite a proper lady, though she also did not blush when there was a slightly risqué joke being shared. She and I discussed our roles a fair amount, especially during the second outing. I lament the chagrins she faced with her husband and personal life. Post-Sheiks, she apparently was high strung and had some difficulties reconciling her reality. This was not foreshadowed in our interactions; I was unaware of it at the time.

Agnes so graciously returned, as you know, for a small role in “Son of the Sheik.” I think our work together was solid and I shall forever be indebted to her for a great deal of my success or rather how I most impressed the public, which was in this vehicle, not my preferred means of conveyance but ultimately rather effective. There was never any romance between us yet we were able to play at that, hint of its existence in how we comported with each other. She remains in spirit but we are not in touch at the moment. Dear Agnes, such a formal name! She found herself in a position of great envy, breathing life into Mrs. Hull’s confection.” ~ Rudolph Valentino

(Excerpted from “Rudolph Valentino The Untold Story” ~ 2014)

Homme Fatal

It was with his character in “The Sheik” that Rudolph Valentino cemented the image of ‘homme fatal.’ This role imbued him with the mystery of the desert, piquing the imaginations of women around the globe. In fact, after the release of this film ‘sheik’ became a code word for men who exuded danger, adventure and sexual allure, those whose charms were seen as irresistible. The term was also used derisively in some quarters, but in the long run that had little effect on Valentino’s popularity with fans. His brand of exoticism triumphed, and the imitators (other screen ‘latin lovers’) could never replace him.

I invite you to view both Sheik films and make up your own minds. Was this indeed the role he was destined to play, the one he is often most remembered for now?

~ Wayne Hatford

Synchronicity in “Son of the Sheik”

Having just viewed Valentino’s final film again, this time at the Castro Theater in San Francisco, I was struck, not only by the perfection of the script in terms of visual story-telling, but by what this role obviously meant to him on a soul level. He somehow knew that this was to be his last cinematographic effort and he wanted to leave us begging for more, to go out at the top of his game.

What is most interesting to me is that by playing both roles Valentino chose to reveal his inner self, seemingly in conflict, in the personas of the Sheik, paterfamilias, still vital and stubborn despite his age, and Ahmed, his prideful and passionate son. The script uses their perceived differences to advance the plot but my contention is that this role was particularly integrative for Valentino. Since he would never reach the age of fifty, he got to experience what being older might feel like, wearing the skin of the Sheik, père. Indeed, it must have been fun for him to play at that through the use of make-up and camera effects.

Valentino, as perhaps no other actor ever could, was able to project the father/son bond, on both sides of the coin, when they appeared together in split screen. How else could two characters be so solid and warm in each other’s presence while at the same time fully maintaining their respective individualities as defined by the script? The big fight scene near the end says it all, especially when the camera reveals father and son briefly linking hands as a sign of their mutual trust and support.

In my opinion, this dual role was therapeutic in some sense as, according to biographers, he did not have a strong bond with his own father. Here he was able to experience that, of his own volition. Having completed this film and already aware that it was going to be successful at the box office before he died, Valentino was able to leave this world knowing that he had given it his all. That is why, I believe, his star became fixed in the firmament and has never dimmed: because he truly showed us his heart!




Mysticism, Exoticism, and Eroticism in “The Young Rajah”

Not only was this picture bold in addressing prejudice and racism, it attempted to normalize clairvoyance as well as provide audiences with a window on another culture, East Indian societal and religious points of view ~ things that were foreign to most American moviegoers in the 1920’s and therefore considered exotic.

Here we have June Mathis creating allure, magic on the screen, with Rudy in the leading role! But she is also fashioning the fable that is her script to reflect some of her most strongly held principles, and that is what gives this film an extra punch. June was very much the metaphysician in her personal life, participating in numerous séances and automatic writing sessions, often in the company of Rudy and Natacha, who were also believers in life beyond death. So, because it can, given the story line, “The Young Rajah” embraces mysticism ~ in short, the “bigger” picture, to an even greater extent than some of her other efforts.

Although Paramount may have considered this production low budget, they did employ Natacha to design the costumes, which must have cost plenty! Her renderings, I contend, introduced elements of another “ism” into the mix, eroticism. Amos, Rudy’s character, was very much at ease in his own skin, and the nature of his costumes, swathing him in pearls for example, added to that luster, and at the same time helped create a certain languor. That said, the character was also very vital, athletic and sporty ~ like the wild cat he held in his arms in one scene, always ready to spring into action.

One could easily make the case that given the costumes she designed for Rudy in this film, Natacha was more than willing to share him with the world, and she most certainly was successful in that endeavor!

Wayne Hatford

The Promise of Daleford

One of the most intriguing aspects of “The Young Rajah,” Rudy’s final film at Paramount prior to his self-imposed hiatus from that studio, is that it confronts racism, the idea of the “other” ~ those who are somehow different from us.

As others have also noted, the all-American boy look was the standard for leading men in pictures when Rudy burst upon the scene, became a star, in 1921. He almost single-handedly changed that calculation and, right on cue, lots of Latino-looking actors were suddenly offered contracts at pretty much all the major studios. Rudolph Valentino cracked the code. And his character in “The Young Rajah,” Amos Judd, did the same.

Amos was of East Indian origin in the script, mostly raised in the US, and a student at Harvard. He met Molly Cabot, Wanda Hawley’s character, at a “Reincarnation” party where the guests dressed in costumes that reflected who they thought they might have been (and/or wanted to be) in a “past” life. Kudos to June Mathis, by the way, for slipping this idea into the script! Doing so reflected her personal interests, also her desire to inform, as well as entertain, moviegoers.

By the end of the party, Amos is smitten and then he finds out that Molly and her father have rented a house in Daleford, Connecticut for the summer, which is where he lives.

So, Daleford, a mythical New England town, with solid American values! Amos fits in, but does he? There is some degree of racism implied, couched in the hostility directed at him by several fellow students, and a touch of the overt, in Molly’s case. She is very attracted to Amos but can’t get past his exoticism, darker complexion, commenting to her father, who supports the idea of their being a couple, that she “ couldn’t marry a man that was not of her own people” even though she has already discovered that his mother was European. By dint of a few plot machinations, however, Molly sees the light, literally and figuratively, her love for Amos rising above her own objections.

June Mathis was blunt in this film, two of the inter-titles referring to Molly’s views as prejudiced. She also injected respect for all religions, as well as a plea to judge people by the thoughts they think, not by the way they look. Ms. Mathis was a gifted screenwriter and even though this script did not quite hit the mark for the audiences of the time, I applaud the fact that she, and Rudy, were willing to take on these issues, especially given that Rudy had had some experience with them himself as an Italian immigrant.

This is an important film, for all sorts of reasons, not the bagatelle it was once thought to be. We are indeed fortunate that it has been restored and is available on DVD.

Wayne Hatford



Valentino Filmography: “Beyond the Rocks”

One of my lighter efforts, where I was engaged, given the part, to toy with my celebrity, as was, and also did, my co-star, Gloria Swanson.

Dear Gloria, what a sparkling soul, that eternal twinkle in her eye! How fortunate I saw myself, being cast with someone of her stature, perhaps the lead female at Paramount in those now seemingly remote times. A series of ‘set pieces’ that film, strung together by wispy wires, what we know as plot. High society romp, an excuse for both of us to be clothes horses! Costume changes galore! Style-setting we were, and gallant was I, with Gloria’s character, furiously kissing her hand but also suavely disguising that ardor. She, and I, really enjoyed certain aspects of that screenplay ~ the social whirl and the exoticism implied by our coupling. Scandalous it was at the time, just a bit juicy. Marrying in haste, or for money, ends up laying waste. Trite perhaps, but true. And Gloria knew that too! Savvy she was! We both joked when not on camera, had some flippant moments. What a grande dame! I have nothing but the utmost respect for her ~ as a woman, as an actor!

Loved the in-studio scene where I rescued her on the snowy cliff, and the French flashback with its incarnational reverberations and import. An excellent way to read the entrails of our connection ~ as characters, of course! Parfois, nous avons parlé français sur la scène, pour mieux décaler nos efforts (sometimes we spoke French on camera, in order to better unleash/bring forth our efforts.) Paramount almost had a big hit here and the film did do reasonably well but it needed polishing, better continuity. Natacha dressed me to the nines, plus fours, and tuxes too. Such were the social circles depicted. So glad this film was revived and people were able to see it aglow, lo, so many years after the fact. Rumored that Gloria and I had rapport. Yes, that was true. We giggled at our fame and success while being faithful to what the public expected us to do.

The message was that turbulence in the water and barriers such as rocks can have some pretty startling results. Unexpected consequences, unforeseen conclusions always lie, just beyond the rocks.” ~ Rudolph Valentino

Valentino Filmography: “Blood and Sand”

Of all the channelings I’ve done on the films of Rudolph Valentino, this one, I think, is perhaps the most poignant. Rudy revealing some parts of self in a very personal way and, at the same time, providing us with an in-depth analysis of his character, and this film….

Let us take a good look at “Blood and Sand” (Paramount, 1922) perhaps the gutsiest of my films ~ in more ways than one. My character is Juan, an everyman lost in the woods of his own making. He has certain dreams which involve escaping the abject poverty of his clan and their chosen profession, “zapateros,” shoemakers, as you call them in Spanish. His father is deceased so that firm hand is nowhere to be seen. His mother does her best with a slightly recalcitrant, devil-may-care son. But Juan, like so many men, puts women on a pedestal, more perhaps than he ought, and this is both his salvation and curse. He uses the male energy of his being to interact with nature, with brute force represented in the person of the bull, a literal dance with death though it’s really a metaphor for life, a dance for all time.

In the course of the film, Juan pursues his dreams which, in some cases, need to be refined. He is confused by his attraction to a woman of the world, Doña Sol, yet he perseveres with his wife, that all-too-angelic soul, as depicted in the film. Most men do not have contrasts drawn so sharply in their lives but this is a morality play. That is how I saw it at the time and the way that most in the audience perceived it too, a medieval morality play with the options writ large. The obsession, the blind obedience, the unquestioning nature of my character, Juan, leads to his destruction. And he still lives on, in the hearts of too many in the body. There are women with his qualities also so this film was not just instructive for one sex. He does not really see the consequences of his behavior and in the end suffers from a lack of insight.

Juan is a man of instinct. Good as a rule but, dear Readers, our instincts must also be refined, expanded, thought-upon and, at times, released when they no longer serve. Instinct can be confused with the vagaries of personality. We speak of them in metaphysical circles as guide posts which they are but then comes the necessary reckoning with the big picture, what the soul needs to have happen in a given situation. Sometimes we have contracted to play things out in such a way as would be considered a ‘bad’ end. Juan’s case was one of those. His dream was cut short by his untimely death, a foreshadowing of what occurred in my own life. I, too, like Juan, was stubborn in that I reveled in the realm of the senses, regaled myself with them everyday, sometimes imbibing or satiating myself a bit too much. I loved to eat, also a bit of the grape and, of course, all of the things of the body, the electricity of sex perhaps above all. But these things, while wonderful in and of themselves, can sometimes become a means to an end, literally and figuratively. Juan and I in some ways were like peas in a pod. I loved that portrayal, having the opportunity to step into that role. Tailor-made it was for me.

I became immersed. I was the letter, it was the envelope. We fit together like hand in glove. Juan Gallardo was one of the most salient parts I had as an actor, and this film, though a fable of Spain, continues to be relevant to all times and places. The lesson implicit in the script is that just about any form of gluttony does not pay. It is a perverse instinct that really must be tamed and we can only effectively work on it while in the flesh, where we can see its effects in all their glory. Juan worked with bulls but in a way was a pig, never knowing when to stop, to call a halt to his liaison with Doña Sol, to end his obsession with his virginal wife, to re-assess his over-reliance on physical prowess. If it felt good once, let’s do it again; that was his motto. There are times to walk away or change tunes and Juan did not avail himself of those opportunities. And, in a way, neither did I when I inhabited the body known as Rodolfo Valentino

Juan was also a love, sweet beyond belief in his roguish ways and therefore very attractive to both women in his life. The character presents the parable of saint and sinner.

This script, like all movie scripts, like all definable situations, is a dream, Juan’s dream; at least, that is how we are perceiving it in this discussion. We can look at it from many angles including, of course, from the points of view of the other characters and why they chose to participate.

 Again, I was perhaps more in sync with this role, both with the broad strokes and little flourishes, than with any other of my relatively brief career in front of the camera. Juan is I and I am Juan ~ not entirely of course, but there are remarkable congruencies.” ~ Rudolph Valentino [Read more…]

Valentino Filmography: “Monsieur Beaucaire”

Artfully is how I approached this film, which is what Natacha and I had in mind; a big splash, my return to the silver screen after what seemed like a rather lengthy absence. Nice work if you can get it, to play dual roles, fey-ish and foppish though they both were on some level. But, I reveled in the details, got lost in some of them too: les dentelles (laces) ~ les mouches (beauty marks) ~ les perruques (wigs.) Tout ça (all of that) was a stretch for me but at the same time expressed aspects of what my characters wanted to be. The intrigue of the court ~ le badinage (banter) ~ les froux (flourishes) ~ les poux (lice) ~ well, they all were a mash up, blend, a lovely glass of port! Yes, “Monsieur Beaucaire” had that aspect to it, decadence, but masking the power that lurked below, under the surface, as personified by the King and court. Though I jumped at the chance to act ‘en papillote’ (figuratively, in parchment or curling paper) ~ I was constrained, as it were, by the weight of the visuals and all that de luxe. The most fun was to be a swordsman, the dashing and daring of my ‘real self ‘ as opposed to the barber/confidant. The female characters, I remember, were of the cardboard variety and that was all as it should be. No real connections with my co-stars in this outing, only superficial ones. Funny, no, odd to admit that now. Well, this was an exercise in excess, lots of trappings with a very slight story line to support them, sort of like wet wash hanging from delicate tree limbs. In our efforts to get things ‘right,’ we missed the big picture, and in making this observation I mean myself, Natacha, and the Director, so blinded by our desire to create a work of art were we.

Many critics panned this movie and I would say that the whole of it boils down to one of my least favorites. Top-heavy it was, like the hair pieces we all wore and fussy, like the ribbons that festooned our pantaloons. Light and shadow, having a field day! Unfortunately, stories of another century do not always comport well with the current one. Again, what I liked best was the swordplay, my chance to inject a little ‘Fairbanks’ into the picture. Paramount was sorely disappointed with its performance. Not the right vehicle for my comeback, but quite a few poses! Un bal masqué, the perfect metaphor for this film.” ~ Rudolph Valentino

Valentino Filmography ~ “The Sheik”

The imprint that continues its effect, even to this day. Not exactly my favorite role, but in some ways perhaps the most stellar of my career!

Have you ever seen a simpering Sheik? Neither have I so when Paramount proposed I take the part, and even though Natacha thought very little of it, I was determined to give it a ‘go,’ to imbue what Mrs. Hull had written with flesh and bone. Then, as we began to shoot, I soon realized that the script, and Director, were steering me toward stereotype, I, the Arab, who apparently actually was of European origin. Agnes Ayres was a peach, and I mean that in the fullest sense of 1920’s lingo. She fulfilled the other half of the puzzle and created, along with my efforts and character, great congruency with the original story. Yes, we were faithful to it but, of course, with certain liberties and truncations. Fun it was to embrace the accoutrements of the role ~ crescent-shaped blades, daggers, baggy trousers, turbans, capes and the like ~ rather exotic, the whole enterprise, for we were breaking new ground, cracking the code, the one that guaranteed that racial divisions stay intact. So that is why, from my current vantage point, I see this film as having been significant, a foot in the door for cross-cultural and ethnic connections ~ to make them more palatable to the public, expand consciousness.

The part called for great physicality, and I was more than ready to oblige. My prowess with horses and animals of all types came into play, added yet another ingredient to the mix. Did I over-do in a few scenes? Of course, Friends ~ as seen through your lenses. But, it was appropriate at the time, for what we wanted to accomplish, and what the Director required. Color had a role in this film too as certain scenes were given greater heft by the addition of tinting, the sands of the desert made more inviting perhaps than they would ordinarily be. An unexpected hit for Paramount, and a signature role, as it turned out ~ what I could not foresee when first it was shown.

Hard to believe but there were aspects of this film that were challenging for me. A little touch of priggery, superciliousness, in a few scenes when I spurn Agnes’ character, behavior which was not at all commensurate with my personal style and therefore somewhat hard to pull off. But I did, and effectively enough so that no one noticed I had to work at it. Women’s fantasies were raised, albeit tickled by the premise of this script, and enchantment reigned. Once upon a time, “The Sheik” was on everyone’s mental screen, and in a gaggle of cinemas too, a box-office champ of 1921. Quite a gambit! And so it was that I became elevated, risen, as a star. I suppose you could say I was truly hatched!” ~ Rudolph Valentino