Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Valentino Mystique The Death & Afterlife Of The Silent Film Idol by Allan R. Ellenberger

In 1926 when “The Great Lover” of the silver screen, Rudolph Valentino, died at the age of thirty-one there was absolute mayhem and mass hysteria in the city of New York.  Crowds of thousands rioted outside Campbell’s Funeral Church, clamoring to get inside to see the body. The even broke the plate glass windows in front trying to get inside. Mounted policemen wielding nightsticks rode through the crowd. Hundreds were injured, part of the funeral home had to be turned into a makeshift hospital to treat the trampled, fainting women, and those injured by the broken glass. Suicides were even reported, one woman took poison surrounded by photos of Valentino, saying in her final note that without him she just didn’t have the courage to go on.

This unique book focuses on the death, not the life, of Valentino, and attempts to document every aspect of the star’s passing, from the diagnosis of his illness, through his operation, hospitalization, and eventual death, and the settling of his estate afterwards. Since this is not a cradle to the grave biography, it really helps if you already have some prior knowledge or are a dedicated Valentino or silent film fan, and with the book’s high price tag, upwards of $35, as many of the classic Hollywood and theatrical history books published by McFarland are, I honestly don’t see this as a book to attract someone new to the subject.

The second half of the book is a tour guide of sites in New York and California, some no longer existent, that are, or were, associated with Valentino. And there are several appendices that address such topics as the infamous Pink Powder Puff editorial that attacked Valentino’s masculinity, and may have contributed to his death by causing his undiagnosed ulcers to worsen, as well as various eulogies and tributes to the dead star, lists of mourners who attended his funeral, and his last will and testament.

While this is an interesting book, and as a Valentino fan I did enjoy it, but most of the information about his illness and death can be found in Emily Leider’s excellent biography Dark Lover, which can be purchased at a much cheaper price. If it weren’t for its short length, I would think that this would have worked better as two separate books, a history of Valentino’s final days and a Valentino visited or lived here tour guide, but without the one to pad the other, both would have been very short, more like articles than books.

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