Once America’s heart-throb, Rudolph Valentino (1895 – 1926) has vanished into the mysts of time, leaving many followers to recreate his legend, often without the benefit of fact. Some of these myths include his lack of posterity and his sexual orientation.
One author who has poured over 15 years into researching film legend Valentino is Evelyn Zumaya who published her magnum opus, Affairs Valentino, in 2011 only to see her book taken off the market due to a vicious legal attack against her publisher by a cabal of detractors who were indignant at her truthiness. The legal complications of fighting well financed opponents took its toll on the author's stamina, who requested a cessation to distribution.
However, there are still copies of the book floating around and the author has a website excerpting some of her findings which should be truly fascinating to the Valentino celebrity fan and film historian alike.
Valentino lived a rags to riches to rags life after arriving in America nearly penniless from Italy. He made his way into movies during the heyday of silent films, a time which included super stardom on a scale which usually eludes most actors. His fame created a cult which endured long after his sudden demise in 1926 from an infection due to complications from an operation to treat gastric ulcers he had experienced for several weeks prior to his death on August 23, 1926.
Many myths have attended his death but none of the salient ones have any foundation in fact. Some of the more salacious ones may have been encouraged by his manager and friend George Ullman who stooped to some rather tacky efforts to generate publicity for his dead friend in order to bring solvency to his estate which lay in shambles.
Ullman was appointed executor of Valentino’s estate which did not even have enough funds for his funeral, a service for which Ullman paid. Later, through clever, sometimes tasteless, and Herculean efforts, Ullman revived the fortunes of the estate, bringing its worth to around 3 million dollars within a few years of its subject's death. For all of this effort, one might think that the family would be grateful, but that was not to happen.
An incomplete will was used as the basis for liquidating Valentino’s estate, which stipulated that his brother, sister, and former wife were to inherit it. They took large advances against the estate prior to the discovery of a codicil added by Valentino shortly before his death stating that Jean (1914-1996), his alleged nephew, was to inherit the estate if he survived to age 25 – something which he did quite handily.
Unfortunately, this amendment did not see the light of day until 2 years after probate began and court decisions had been decreed. Zumaya pieces together a very plausible explanation of who did it – one of Valentino's employees who was a crooked ex-cop. In any event the judge ordered Ullman - not the erroneous heirs - to repay the estate - something which became impossible due to the collapse of Valentino enterprises by corrupt and incompetent court appointed receivers.
Why would Rudy leave his estate to his nephew? One could argue that he had a falling out with his brother, Alberto, and other next of kin, leaving him without any sympathies for them. However, that explanation overlooks the closeness of Valentino’s relationship with Jean and the striking resemblance between the two. It also overlooks statements by Valentino’s brother late in life in which he inadvertently revealed the truth about Jean.
Zumaya has pieced together evidence from papers and other previously unpublished and unacknowledged sources hypothesizing that Jean was actually Valentino’s son from a brief lusty affair he had with a woman in Italy. She speculates that Valentino brought great shame to the family by engaging in such passions which resulted in the pregnancy of this unknown woman. In order for his staunchly Catholic family to save face, they packed him off to America and left his brother Alberto to raise the boy.
During the height of his fame, Valentino returned to Europe in order to adopt his son, but the Italian courts could not see justification for returning him to Rudy.
The legal battles Ullman endured after discovery of the amendment to Valentino’s will bankrupted him – the product of a ham-fisted and rigid court – which in turn, and concomittant with the corrupt administration of the estate, left nothing for Jean when he came of age – a grievance he held against Ullman nearly until the former manager’s death.
One would think with all of the well known affairs and his offspring that rumors about Valentino being gay would be laughed out of the room, but psychological projection and insecurities are a powerful force as the publisher of Affairs Valentino discovered.
The history of the famous legend has at least 3 distinct periods with the first one ending c. 1960 and the second ending c. 2000. In the first period, Valentino is nostalgically and shallowly remembered for who he was with a great deal of myth and puff added to his fame. In the second period – the time of the great sexual revolution – Valentino’s sexuality, rather than his life, became of the subject of focus with many irresponsible and unsourced biographies published alleging that Valentino was possibly, and then absolutely, gay.
Valentino’s latest biographer – Zumaya – shreds these lies and misconceptions to smithereens. She shows that what has passed for fact requires extreme suspensions of disbelief to embrace the notion of a homosexual Valentino.
The latest period of Valentino biography begins the period of scholarly study in which Valentino’s entire life is examined – not just the sexual aspects – and are done with bibliographical sourcing. With evidence in hand, authors have drawn more realistic and factual portraits of Valentino which assess him as a person and a man of his times. Zumaya easily is the gold standard in this respect.
Although we have no specific interest in Valentino, we were fascinated by the myths surrounding him and the newly discovered case that he indeed left a son, Jean, who eventually came to live permanently in America, taking up a career as a sound engineer.
We tip our hats to Zumaya who has contributed to the truth about an historic film personage and hope that she is able to publish her book again after cooler heads prevail.
Various Articles, www.rudolphvalentino.org
Personal correspondence with Affairs Valentino publisher
Copyright 2010-12 Tony Bonn. All rights reserved.