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Italian-American actor Rudolph Valentino was admired as the “Great Lover” of the 1920s.
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Rudolph Valentino, born on May 6, 1895, was an Italian-American film actor. After immigrating to the United States in 1913, Valentino moved to Hollywood, taking up small film roles until he landed his breakout role as Julio in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921). Idolized as the “Great Lover” of the 1920s, he starred in several romantic dramas, including The Sheik (1921),
Blood and Sand (1922)and The Eagle (1925). His star status was evident after his sudden death in 1926 -- at just 31 years old, the actor suffered a ruptured ulcer, causing fans to grieve worldwide.
One of film's first sex symbols, Rudolph Valentino grew up in Castellaneta, Italy, as the son of an Army officer and veterinarian. He attended military school, but he was rejected from the service. In 1912, Valentino went to Paris, but he failed to find work there. He ended up begging on the streets until he made his way to New York City the following year.
In New York, Valentino worked several menial jobs before becoming a nightclub dancer. He partnered with Bonnie Glass for a time, replacing Clifton Webb (who later became an actor). Valentino joined a national touring production, but it folded in Utah. The young performer then made his way to San Francisco where he resumed his dancing career. In 1917, Valentino set his sights on Hollywood.
At first, Valentino only landed bit parts, often playing the bad guy. In 1919, Valentino married actress Jean Acker, but their union was never consummated. According to several accounts, Acker locked Valentino out of their hotel room on their wedding night. According to experts, prior to the marriage, Acker had been in a romantic relationship with a woman.
Valentino captured the attention of screenwriter June Mathis, who believed that he was the perfect choice for the lead in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921). She had to work hard to convince the executives at Metro to sign Valentino, but they finally agreed. He stole the hearts of female movie-goers by dancing a tango in his first scene in the film. The movie was a box office hit, and the darkly handsome actor quickly became a star.
The mania around Valentino grew so rapidly that some women reportedly fainted when they saw him in his next picture The Sheik (1921). This desert romance told the story of a Bedouin chief who wins over a cultured, Anglo woman (Agnes Ayres). The following year, Valentino had another stellar success with Blood and Sand. This time around, he was a bullfighter who falls under the spell of a charming seductress (Rita Hayworth).
Valentino's reputation as a lothario was probably enhanced with his arrest for bigamy in 1922. Divorced from Acker in 1921, he failed to wait a full year before remarrying. He was taken into custody and forced to pay a fine after his 1922 wedding to actress and set designer Natasha (or Natacha, according to some sources) Rambova in Mexico. The pair remarried the following year.
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