Born Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Piero Filiberto Guglielmi.
Valentino was born to Marie Berthe Gabrielle Barbin (1856 -
In 1912, he left for Paris where he spent less than a year before losing his money and asking his mother to send him funds to return to Italy. When he returned to Italy he was unable to secure employment and everyone was sure he would never succeed in life. His uncles decided he should be sent to the United States where they felt he could learn to be a man.
Valentino joined an operetta company that traveled to Utah where it disbanded. From there he traveled to San Francisco where he met the actor Norman Kerry, who convinced him to try a career in cinema. At the time, Valentino had only acted in background scenes of a few movies in New York.
He began to play small parts in quite a few films. He was typically cast as a "heavy" or "gangster". At the time, the epitome of male masculinity was Douglas Fairbanks: fair complexion, light eyes, and an All American look. A leading man should never be too romantic. Thus Valentino was the opposite and seemed "exotic".
By 1919, he had carved out a career in bit parts. It was a bit part as a "cabaret parasite" in drama The Eyes of Youth that caught the attention of the powerful screenwriter June Mathis who thought him perfect for her next movie.
Mathis cast Valentino as a male lead in her next film The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which was directed by Rex Ingram. Ingram and Valentino did not get along and it was up to Mathis to constantly keep the peace. Released in 1921, the film was a commercial and critical success and made Valentino a star, earning him the nickname "Tango Legs". It also led to his iconic role in The Sheik and The Son of the Sheik.
Blood and Sand, released in 1922 and co-
To ensure that his name remained in the public eye, Valentino, following the suggestion of his new manager George Ullman, embarked on a national dance tour, sponsored by a cosmetics company, Mineralava, with Rambova, a former ballerina, as his partner. During the show, the couple would dance, a beauty contest would be held, and Valentino would have a chance to talk against the studio followed by a promotion of the products. The tour was a success making him about $7,000 a week. During the same period, he published a book of poetry called From Day Dreams, and had his biography serialized in a movie fan magazine.
On May 14, 1923, while in New York City, he made his first and last record, consisting of "Valentino's renditions" of Amy Woodforde-
During this time period he also traveled to Europe and had a memorable visit to his native town. Back in the United States, he was criticized by his fans for his newly cultivated beard and was forced to shave it off.
In 1925, Valentino was able to negotiate a new contract with United Artists which included the stipulation that his wife Natacha not be allowed on any of his movie sets (it was perceived that her presence had delayed earlier productions such as Monsieur Beaucaire). Shortly thereafter, he separated from Rambova and started dating actress Pola Negri. Around this time, he mended many personal and professional relationships which had been damaged because of Rambova; including his relationship with his "Little Mother" June Mathis.
During this time, he made two of his most critically acclaimed and successful films, The Eagle, based on a story by Alexander Pushkin, and The Son of the Sheik, a sequel to The Sheik, both co-
On August 15, 1926, Valentino collapsed at the Hotel Ambassador in New York City. He was hospitalized at the Polyclinic in New York and underwent surgery for a perforated ulcer. He told his manager George Ullman to contact Rambova, who was in Europe. Upon hearing of his condition, she responded back, and they exchanged loving telegrams, and she believed a reconciliation had taken place. The surgery went well and he seemed to be recovering when peritonitis set in and spread throughout his body. He died eight days later, at the age of 31.