America’s First Movie Idol

America’s first movie idol was an immigrant from Castellaneta, Italy, born in 1895. He came to America in 1913 and worked menial jobs before he became a vaudeville dancer and drew the attention of casting directors. The silent film, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in 1921, made the “Great Lover” into an instant star with a memorable scene of him dancing the tango. With rakish good looks, Rudolph Valentino, born Rodolfo Guglielmi, was Hollywood’s first sex symbol with millions of adoring fans.

Soon after the opening of his last film, he became ill with a ruptured ulcer. On August 23, 1926, Valentino died a young man of 31. Fans numbering over 100,000 lined the streets of the church in New York City to pay homage to their fallen idol. After the funeral, a train carried his body to Hollywood, where he lay in state for several days. Thousands of fans rioted, smashed windows, and tangled with police to get a glimpse of the deceased star. Many celebrities attended the funeral, including Gloria Swanson, Douglas Fairbanks, and Mary Pickford. His present lover, actress Pola Negri, declared herself chief mourner and fainted several times in the presence of photographers from the transport of his body at the train station to his graveside. A colossal floral arrangement spelled out her name.

For 30 years, on the anniversary of his death, a mysterious “Lady in Black” left a single red rose on his tomb. The most reliable identity of the woman is Ditra Flame, who Valentino visited at a hospital when she lay gravely ill at the young age of 14. She stopped her annual pilgrimage when other imitators showed up.

There was something magical about Valentino’s appeal. His tumultuous private life became overshadowed by the legend on the screen.

Sources: This Day in History,

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About Susan MIlls Wilson

Susan Mills Wilson is a native of North Carolina where she writes romantic suspense. She is the leader of the Charlotte Writers Club Mystery Critique Group and a member of Charlotte Writers Club. Subscribe to Susan’s blog at
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