was one of the most popular male stars of the silent film era. He was a
major sex symbol during the Great Depression, seducing America's female
population with his Latin looks and flashing eyes. Born Rodolfo Alphonso
Raffaelle Guglielmi in Italy on May 6, 1895, he arrived in the United States
For awhile, Valentino held a job as a gardener in New York's Central Park when he became a nightclub dancer, replacing Clifton Webb (a future film star in pictures such as "Laura" and "Cheaper by the Dozen") as the dancing partner of an exhibition dancer known as Bonnie Glass. Unfortunately, Valentino was soon caught in a scandalous society divorce. He left New York with a theatrical company and traveled to San Francisco and then to Los Angeles.
an old friend in Los Angeles by the name of Mae Murray (the future glamour
queen who would later star in films such as "Mademoiselle Midnight" and
"Circe the Enchantress"), who found him work in his first film, "Alimony,"
in 1918, which lead to more minor roles in other films. Once more, Valentino
found himself in the middle of, another romance gone bad when his marriage
to an actress, Jean Acker, fell apart on their wedding night. This was
shortly after Valentino starred in the film, "Eyes of Youth," in which
Valentino played a professional co-respondent hired to romance Clara Kimball
Young. In 1921, Valentino received a major break when he MGM's script department
chief, June Mathis, suggested him for the lead in Rex Ingram's "The Four
Horsemen of the Apocalypse." Valentino's role, however, would become the
film's starring role as production ran. The film's premiere came on October
30, 1921, in New York. The film was a big success, but the relationship
between Valentino and Metro became bitter when the studio refused to increase
Valentino's weekly salary from $350 to $450 during the filming of "Camille."
Less than a month after "Horsemen"'s premiere, Valentino left Metro for
Paramount Pictures, which secured him a weekly salary of $500. There, Valentino
starred in his most popular role in the film, "The Sheik," an adaptation
of a best-selling novel by E.M. Hull. In the film, Valentino plays Ahmed
Ben Hassan, prince of the desert, who has his eyes set on a woman played
by the actress Agnes Ayres. The entire country practically went mad with
"Sheik-mania," making Valentino the most popular star in Hollywood and
one of the highest paid when Paramount doubled his
On August 23, 1926, less than five years after his big break in "The Four Horsemen of Apocalypse," Valentino's life and career came to a sudden stop when he died in New York of peritonitis. It might be hard to understand how Valentino managed to become the object of desire to much of the world's female population. Compared with the male sex symbols of today, Valentino seemed a little over-the-top.