Rudolph Valentino: The Connection–“The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” An Extra and Me

This is the story about how a chance online meeting opened a new perspective into the scene which introduced Rudolph Valentino’s tango to the world of silent film goers…the scene which led me to the discovery of my connection to this great silent film star.

When I created this blog, it was because one night the name “Rudolph Valentino” came to my mind like a bolt out of the blue as I was looking at very old family photographs. And, when I first wrote about The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse two years ago, just a few months into my journey with this site, I had no idea that in that film I would find my then unknown connection to Rudolph Valentino.

My discovery came about quite by accident after connecting with another member of I had joined because the pictures in the box in my closet made me want to know more about my family history. I didn’t know that this person had been doing extensive research on her family and along the way had compiled quite a bit of information about my family as it tied into her family tree. And it is this intersection of her family tree with mine that would reveal my–actually our–connection to Rudolph Valentino.

While talking, I recounted my sudden interest in Valentino and she recalled some stories that had been passed down through her family. Her interest was piqued and she began digging and started to put the pieces together. She had a worn out copy of Emily Leider’s Dark Lover and asked if I knew about it. Of course, I had already acquired the book and she pointed me toward a picture which showed the full frame of the famous tango scene in the movie which included one of her relatives, a granduncle. Next, came the revelation that my own granduncle had married into the family. It’s an indirect connection through a marriage but a connection nonetheless!! Needless to say, this was not only a shock, but also an impetus to continue researching the era during which Valentino and my family lived. This connection continues to inspire my research into the life of Rudolph Valentino. (See NOTE 1 below about the use of the term “granduncle.”)

My acquaintance from and I have since exchanged a great deal of information and has graciously agreed to allow this story to be told.

In many videos the famous “tango scene” in the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse is blurry at best and most cut off the sides of the frame. But clear black and white publicity stills and colorized lobby cards from the period show the scene in much better detail. In the picture below I’ve circled one of the extras watching Valentino tango. This man is our link to Rudolph Valentino.

Who was this man?

Variations of lobby cards

The clearest version of the full movie I have found uploaded to Youtube is the TCM presentation of the Turner/Channel 4 tinted restoration which features a score by Carl Davies. According to IMDb, this restoration included many scenes that had been deleted or thought to be lost. It is posted by Historic Hollywood on Youtube without a soundtrack and the timestamps below refer to this version which I chose to use as my source as it seems to be slightly clearer than other available versions. Of course, there are many short clips which have the soundtrack. Most seem to be clipped from Hollywood: Episode 6Swanson & Valentino curated by the Youtube channel Silver Screen Classics. (NOTE: I found other uploads that include the Davis music soundtrack on foreign-based channels. I cannot vouch for how long they will stay up at Youtube. However, this version, uploaded from a channel based in Iceland does appears to meet music licensing requirements.)

There is a brief flash of this extra’s clapping hands visible to varying degrees in some of the available videos at the right edge of the screen. But he is visible in all versions of the film in two scenes: (1) after Julio (Valentino) finishes the famous tango sequence and couples return to the dance floor, there is a glimpse of this extra dancing right behind Valentino and (2) later in the film the same extra appears behind Julio’s left shoulder as he dances with Marguerite (Alice Terry) at their rendezvous at what studio publicity would call the Paris “tango palace.”

I’ve drawn the following screen shots from the Historic Hollywood channel version showing…

Frank Varanelli, The Extra

~ Min. 13:49

Frank Varanelli clapping from the sidelines

~ Min. 15:22

An angry Julio–Frank Varanelli to the rear

~Min. 42:01

Julio and Marguerite at the tango palace. Frank Varanelli to the rear

Part of a studio publicity still from the time of the film’s release clearly showing
Frank Varanelli behind Valentino’s left shoulder during the “tango palace” scene.

Frank Varanelli also would “stand in” for Valentino at times during the production.


The story begins with the two granduncles that are key to this story…

Granduncle Frank #1– Frank Xavier Varanelli

Frank Xavier Varanelli, the extra I’ve identified above, was born on May 24, 1900 in Waterbury, Connecticut. There were six girls and two boys in a family–Antonio and Frank–with Frank being the younger of the two. Frank Varanelli was five years younger than Rodolfo Gugliemli, later Rudolph Valentino, who was born on May 6, 1895.

This pin holds pictures of the young Frank (Right) and his older brother Antonio (Tony) (Left). Their mother is pictured in the lower section of the pin.

Date Unknown

My friend’s grandmother Concetta would marry Antonio, so she became the brother-in-law of Frank Varanelli. Therefore, he is my friend’s granduncle.

Granduncle Frank #2–Francesco William Socci

Francesco William Socci, my granduncle, was born on February 15, 1895 in Italy only a few months before the birth of Rodolfo Guglielmi (Rudolph Valentino). The latter arrived in New York on December 23, 1913; Francesco arrived a few months later on April 29, 1914. While Rodolfo would stay in New York without family, Francesco joined his older brothers in Waterbury, Connecticut. Michele had arrived in the United States on January 21, 1901 and went on to Waterbury; my grandfather Ernesto arrived on September 9, 1902 and immediately joined his older brother there. (See the Table of Contents on this site for prior posts about family histories.)

Ernesto was my mother’s father and Francesco (Frank) was her uncle; therefore, he is my granduncle Frank.

Michele (Michael) Socci in his Waterbury, Connecticut shoemaker’s shop, early 1900’s

Ernesto Socci (my grandfather) with his baby brother Francesco (Frank), date unknown

Early Lives

Francesco Socci was a World War I veteran. His draft registration card dated June 5, 1917 listed his name as “Frank Mary Socci.” (Perhaps “Mary” was just a misspelled version of his Italian middle name–another brother’s middle name was “Mario.”) He was apparently sending money home to his parents in Italy as he listed them as “two dependents.” His draft registration was submitted in Waterbury and this document also reveals that he had already declared his intention to become a citizen on April 16, 1917 as Francesco Socci. When he became a U.S. citizen under the Act of May 8 (1918) at age 23 on June 25, 1918 his name had been altered and he was formally named as “Frank William Socci” in his naturalization document. By August 1918 he began his military service.

Frank in uniform. He would serve in France in the American Expeditionary Force from August 1918-June 1919.

Frank, probably after World War I

Frank Varanelli was about 5 years younger than my granduncle Frank, but, as a resident of Waterbury, Connecticut, he was required to fill out a questionnaire–“Military Census–Form No. 1”– after the state passed an act on February 7, 1917 designed to “procure certain information relative to the resources of the State.” Frank stated that he was a U.S. citizen, 17 years old, single, had one dependent to support (unspecified), and that he had no physical disabilities. He also stated that had no real technical skills but the one thing he could do was swim. The military questionnaire did not ask about one particular skill that Frank already had or would be able to develop later–apparently, he had some ability to dance.

Unlike my granduncle Frank Socci, Frank Varanelli did not enter the military during World War I. The 1920 United States Census, which was conducted on January 5th of that year, lists Frank as being 19 years old and working for a grocery store as a “truckman.”

After the war Frank Socci resided in Brooklyn and Manhattan, New York before moving to Long Island, New York. Frank was trained as a barber in Italy and worked in this trade all his life.

A Marriage–Frank Varanelli’s Niece Marries My Granduncle

My friend’s grandmother, Concetta, had a sister named Giovannina. Natalina Maria Nicolo S— was born on December 24, 1904 in Brooklyn. She was known as “Marie.” And Marie, of course, was the niece of Antonio and Frank Varanelli.

Frank Socci would meet Marie in Brooklyn, New York. Although her extended family hailed from Waterbury, they apparently had never met any of the Socci brothers there, so this was a chance meeting.

The marriage license for Frank and Marie was issued on August 30, 1923 and their wedding followed on October 21, 1923.

Marie would eventually become a nurse. Unfortunately, I have no pictures of Frank as barber.

Marie as a young nurse

Date Unknown

Frank’s passport application picture, dated December 7, 1921. He planned to travel to Italy to visit his parents by July 1921.

October 21, 1923

Marie (center left) and Frank (center right) flanked by their wedding party.

Frank was 28, Marie was 19.

What’s interesting is that a marriage document lists the groom’s name as Francesco, not naturalized name, Frank.

Below is a “flow-chart” that summarizes the connection of the Varanelli-Socci families. The chart illustrates how it was my friend’s grandaunt Giovannina who would give birth to the niece of both Antonio and Frank Varanelli (my friend’s granduncles)–and how Natalina Marie would marry my granduncle Frank Socci.

So, my friend and I are connected through our granduncles by marriage…and it was her granduncle Frank who worked with Rudolph Valentino.

Frank Varanelli Moves West

…and Into Valentino’s Breakthrough Tango Scene

Marie’s uncle Frank would move west before she married Frank Socci in 1923. Sometime after the January 1920 U.S. Census canvas Frank Varanelli and his older sister Mary Patrina Varanelli left Waterbury. Mary was born about a year after Rodolfo Guigliemi (Rudolph Valentino) on June 29, 1896. Brother and sister headed west and settled in Los Angeles.

During July 1920 publicity reports were being published about the production including the dance sequences. Alice Terry and Rudolph Valentino were “rehearsing special dances” according to The Los Angeles Evening Express edition of Thursday, July 22, 1920, Page 26. A week later there was a report that Beatrice Dominguez, “a talented Spanish dancer,” would “do a dance with Rudolph Valentino” in the film (Los Angeles Daily Times, Wednesday, July 28, 1920. Part III, Page 4).

Frank Varanelli, the “truckman” who arrived in Los Angeles sometime after January 1920, soon found himself in the movie industry. He may have seen an ad in a newspaper ad or trade publication about a search for dancers. In a newspaper story published in November 1920, fed by studio publicity staff as production of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse was winding down, there was a detailed description about how “the French tango” promised to be “one of the features of the production.” The story actually focused on the “exhibition dance by Rudolph Valentino and Alice Terry which they had been practicing for the last month.” (NOTE: As detailed above, this item was actually first reported on in July.) A dance palace set was constructed and a “real French orchestra” was enlisted. Director Rex Ingram had a more difficult time recruiting 50 couples who could dance the tango because although the dance had been a craze a few years ago, he had to cast a wide net to all the dancers he needed for the “tango palace” scene.

The story also states that Ingram wanted the dancers to speak French. Whether he actually found enough couples with both tango and French language skills is unknown. But Frank Varanelli was chosen to be one of these dancers in this scene as well as the earlier bar scene set in Argentina. He had no speaking part and it’s unlikely he spoke French, but he apparently could dance well enough to be chosen to be one of the final one hundred chosen from among three hundred contenders to earn a spot in the cast. (See NOTE 2 below about problems with teaching “French” extras for speaking parts.)

Director Rex Ingram “was compelled to call about 300 persons before he could get a hundred that could perform the steps to this sinuous dance.”

The Journal and Tribune, Knoxville, Tennessee

Sunday, November 7, 1920. Page 24.

Frank Varanelli

After The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Frank Varanelli didn’t just do a one-off as an extra in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. In fact, he had a rather dramatic turn in the original 1925 version of the Phantom of the Opera, which starred Lon Chaney, Mary Philbin and Valentino’s friend, Norman Kerry. (See NOTE 3 below about the different versions of this film.)

The Reel Journal, Boxoffice Media LP

October 3, 1925, Page 940.


Here is the story passed along in 2015 to my friend from the business partner of Alex, who was the son of another of Frank’s sisters, Lena. This man (noted as “V)” was good friends with Lena and she would often talk and share stories about the family with him.

Your great Uncle Frank and Lon Chaney were good friends.  Frankie learned a lot about makeup and special effects from him and he passed them on to Alex.  On his occasional return to Connecticut he would love to scare the hell out of his sisters.  Uncle Frankie was a stand in for Chaney and did scenes he didn't want to do or was too tired to do....In the film, the man behind the mask is your relative, Frank Varanelli.--V

This story is quite believable as Alex, who was an architectural designer, enjoyed practicing make-up design on his sisters and also trying looks on himself. He learned well, as shown in the pictures (below) of one of his transformations.

In recounting the story about The Phantom of the Opera, this friend of the family revealed that Frank was in the Bal Masque de l’Opera scene, where the crowd parts and the Phantom dressed as the Red Death sweeps down the grand staircase, turns, then goes back up. This sequence was filmed in technicolor. Shortly after this sequence, there is another scene in which the Phantom descends a small staircase as he leaves the revelers on the grand staircase.

Two film historians who provide commentaries on the film discuss how Chaney acted with his body. Scott MacQueen, who commented for the 2003 DVD version of the 1929 reissue remarked about how Chaney acted like mime, “giving the film rhythm” which he thought much of the film lacked. Historian Jon Mirsalis zeroes in on the actor’s hands in the Bal Masque de l’Opera scene.

So, in which scene did Frank Varanelli wear the mask of the Phantom? It is unlikely that an extra would have been used in an early technicolor sequence of such great importance. It’s more likely that Frank stood in for the star during the less demanding, brief scene in which the Red Death quickly and straightforwardly walked down the small staircase.

The expressive hand of Lon Chaney
The stand-in

How Frank and Mary Varanelli Moved in Hollywood Circles

Mary Varanelli also sang and did extra work in film and she seemed to always have her camera ready to take pictures of life in Hollywood. She would send photos back home to her and Frank’s sister Lena. Hal Roach. Tom Mix. Will Rogers. These are some of the personalities that Frank and Mary had contact with as their lives unfolded in Hollywood.


The connection of the Varanelli’s to Hal Roach was particularly interesting. Roach’s long career in Hollywood was born at the start of the silent film era and in 1921 he created the Our Gang (Little Rascals) series. Mary Varanelli took this behind-the-scene shot from the Our Gang set and also photographed her brother Frank at the studio.

Picture taken by Mary Varanelli on the set of Our Gang–Date Unknown
Frank Varanelli (Left) with friends on the Hal Roach Studios lot, behind the main studio offices–Date Unknown

The Historic Los Angeles site is a treasure trove of information, maps, illustrations and photographs related to the development of Los Angeles, including Berkeley Square, a gated community first planned in 1903. In 1920 Roach purchased an existing house at 22 Berkeley Square where he would live many years before moving to Beverly Hills around 1934 (See NOTE 4 below). Before building a full studio, Roach would sometimes film his projects on the square and at his house. This photo from the Historic Los Angeles site shows the filming of a Stan Laurel short, A Mother’s Joy (released on December 23, 1923).

The front of Hal Roach’s house at 22 Berkeley Square, Los Angeles, circa 1923 during the filming of A Mother’s Joy starring Stan Laurel.

The highlight box provides a clue to the photos below…

Source: Historic Los Angeles website

The Varanelli siblings spent time at Roach’s house and posed for photographs on what seems to be the second-floor porch. Compare the highlighted area in the above shot to these pictures of Frank sitting on the railing and Mary posing with a pair of maids. By the time of this photo Frank was working for Roach in some position at the house. The inscription on the bottom of the photo calls him a “buttler” (sic) but it is likely that he was also acting as a chauffeur or general assistant around the house. Sadly, this house and others on Berkeley Square would be lost to highway development.

Frank Varanelli (Left) and Mary Varanelli (Above) with maids at the Hal Roche house, sometime before 1934.



Will Rogers went to Hollywood in 1918 after years on the vaudeville circuits and following his time with the Ziegfeld Follies in 1917. His first silent films were made for Goldwyn Pictures, but in 1923 he started a year-long stint with Hal Roach Studios where he made twelve films. I’ve concluded that the picture below was mostly likely taken during that year by Mary Varanelli behind the main Hal Roach Studio’s office building after looking at pictures of the building and observing the types of windows on several sides of the structure.

Will Rogers and an unknown man behind the main Hal Roach Studios building.

Inscription reads:

“William Rogers posed for me for a picture, Mary”

Frank Varanelli did some extra work with Tom Mix and actually developed a relationship with the silent movies’ “King of the Cowboys.” I don’t know when the Varanelli’s first met Tom Mix, but they were definitely friendly during the 1930’s. According to the family, Frank and Tom did socialize on a regular basis. The talkies virtually ended Mix’s prolific movie career and, after nine films at Universal Studios starting in 1932, he finally made his final film appearance in in a serial in 1935. Mix drank, was married five times, had many affairs, made a lot of money and spent even more. In 1937 he bought a Cord 812 supercharged phaeton and he posed with it for Mary Varanelli; she would send it to her sister Lena back East. On October 12, 1940, Tom Mix died in Arizona when his car overturned after speeding through construction barriers at a bridge that had been washed away by a flash flood.

Tom Mix posing in front of his Cord. Date Unknown, sometime between 1937 and 1940. Inscription on the back of the photograph (Right)


Mary Varanelli continued her interest in singing and dancing and passed her performing instincts onto two of her four children–the two girls, Frances and Beatrice. As recalled by the family friend:

Auntie Mary was a singer and dancer in the movies. Both girls were beautiful. Frances was an extra in the movies and we often saw her in films. Beatrice also worked in films but not as much as her sister. Frances had a few speaking parts....She was in several scenes from "I Married An Angel" as part of an elaborate party scene. Another movie she was in was "Shanghai Gesture," there is a scene where she is in a cage that is pulled up to a window.--V

I Married and Angel was the last film Nelson Eddy and Jeannette MacDonald made together and was released in January 1942, with the New York opening in July 1942. Only trailers for this film and a few short clips are on Youtube so it’s not certain if she is visible in these scenes.

The Shanghai Gesture had its New York opening in December 1941, with a general release in January 1942. This film noir crime movie was directed by Josef von Sternberg and starred Gene Tierney, Walter Huston, and Victor Mature. The full movie is available on Youtube. At time mark 1:11:03 the sequence of cages being hoisted up outside a window as “an appetizer for our male guests” begins, first with one cage followed by a group of cages (actually four). Frances is in one of these cages.

Today, Mary Varanelli’s legacy in “show business” is alive through her granddaughter who has become an Emmy Award-winning producer (See NOTE 5 below).


Frank Varanelli, who married twice but remained childless, had no one to carry on his legacy when he eventually left the film business. He returned to the work of his youth. The United States Department of Commerce 1950 Census of Population and Housing reveals that the then 50-year-old Frank was once again working as a “truckman,” specifically as a truck driver for the Mayflower Moving Company. Frank would pass away in 1967 and his sister Mary passed in 1999.

Maria, Frank’s niece and my granduncle Frank Socci also never had children and would divorce in the mid-1940’s. Maria remarried but within a few years she become the victim of an auto accident in 1950. Frank Socci would also remarry and finally have a family, which included a daughter who was interested in acting. My granduncle Frank would work as barber well into old age, passing away in Florida in 1988 at age 93.

Of course, Rudolph Valentino would have a much greater film legacy than the extra who danced behind him on the set of a “tango palace” and a more glamorous life than this extra’s sister who enjoyed taking photographs on Hollywood back lots. And Valentino would naturally live a far more luxurious life than the extra’s niece who became a nurse and who married a barber–a marriage that created the connection to Valentino that my friend and I both share. Yes, the connection may be indirect, but it is a real connection, hidden for one hundred years, and finally brought to life now.

“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” 

–Attributed to Pericles, Athenian statesman (NOTE 6)


1. Like the term “grandparents” the terms “great-uncle” and “granduncle” are both used to designate relations two generations away. uses the term “granduncle” and that is the term I’ve used in this essay. Their chart showing the relationship is located here.

2. Apparently, according to a publicity squib, the efforts to find French-speaking extras went so far that Ingram and June Mathis were trying to teach extras to speak French and finally “were induced to make up and go on long enough to portray the parts.” The Evening Star Journal, Lincoln, Nebraska. Tuesday, February 8, 1921. Page 3.

3. The original 1925 version of The Phantom of the Opera was reissued in 1929 with sound, partial Technicolor, reworked title cards, with scenes removed and new scenes added. Lon Chaney was not involved in the changes in the 1929 version. The original version exists as the New York General Release print which is available at The 1929 version restoration produced by Kevin Brownlow, David Gill & Patrick Stanbury features a reconstructed, synchronized soundtrack and is available here on Youtube. There are varying presentation on the details on how the film was altered and these are listed in the SOURCES below and as cited in the discussion above.

4. The house Roach moved to in 1934 was a Southern colonial mansion originally owned by Priscilla Dean and then by Pola Negri before it was purchased by Roach. In the two pages that are available from a story in Architectural Digest, Roach’s first house in Berkeley Square, which was definitely NOT a “Southern colonial mansion,” is never mentioned.

5. Mary Varanelli’s granddaughter, April Jones, provided her “Mini Bio” to the IMDb site:

April Jones is an Emmy Award-winning Executive Producer and Director known for developing and overseeing innovative content for broadcast and multi-media platforms. Collaborating with the likes of artists such as Bobby Flay, Kevin Hart, Amber Tamblyn and Ice Cube, her multi-hyphenate body of work spans prime time series, acclaimed lifestyle and culinary programming, as well as cutting edge short-form and branded content.

6. The quotation by Pericles, according to, is “likely a modern paraphrasing of a longer passage from Thucydides‘ History of the Peloponnesian War, II.43.3.” It is quoted on page 118 in Flicker to Flame: Living with Purpose, Meaning, and Happiness by Jeffrey Thompson Parker, published by Morgan James Publishing, New York, 2006.


Newspapers and other publications as cited in the text and NOTES.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and The Phantom of the Opera, Youtube videos as cited.

American Film Institute Catalog, Phantom of the Opera.

Architectural Digest, April 1990 “Hal Roach: A Legendary Producer’s Beverly Hills Estate” Pages 186-undetermined.

IMDb (Internet Movei Database). April Jones, “Mini Bio.”

IMDb (Internet Movie Database). The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. “Alternative Versions.”

IMDb (Internet Movie Database). The Phantom of the Opera. “Alternative Versions.”

The Phantom of the Opera, Wikipedia entry.

Tom Mix, Wikipedia entry.

Turner Classic Movies, Hal Roach Biography, Life Events.

Turner Classic Movies, I Married an Angel. Film Details.

Turner Classic Movies, The Shanghai Gesture. Film Details.

Will Rogers, The Official Licensing Website of Will Rogers. Biography.

Rudolph Valentino…August 23, 1926…At Rest

May 6, 1895–August 23, 1926

A Remembrance by Friends

There was quiet mourning for Rudolph Valentino, away from the crowds. There were private friends, friends who will remain unknown to us forever…A simple remembrance from two friends, placed ninety-six years ago in Variety on Wednesday, August 25, 1926.

“Time travel me back.
Let me say good-bye again.
A minute more,
a moment,
a chance to see. . .”
― Sarah Crossan, Moonrise

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.”
― Thomas Campbell

“Friends come into our lives and friends leave our lives. But friends never leave our hearts. And best friends always get to stay in the best places in our hearts.”
― John M. Simmons, The Marvelous Journey Home

Source of the quotations: The Fifty Best In Loving Memory Quotes

November 27, 1921–A Night of Terror in New Haven, Connecticut as “Sheik Week” Begins—-A Deadly Fire, Multiple Deaths as a Prologue Goes Horribly Wrong

At some theaters across the U.S. and Canada, the presentation of The Sheik was accompanied by a “prologue” before the film was shown. Music, singing, desert scenes–all were presented to put the audience in the mood for the film. But one prologue went drastically wrong…

At the New York premiere on November 6 at the Rialto at Times Square, Manhattan, several opening features entertained the audience. In the review by Harriet Underhill carried in the New York Tribune the next day, a description of the program was included.

New York Tribune, Monday, November 7 1921. Page 8

Out in Calgary, Canada, a scene “showing a tent in the desert” was offered at the Capitol Theater.

A tent in the desert; a very pleasing baritone …”

The Calgary Daily Herald, Tuesday, November 29, 1921. Page 8

On the same day, in Winnipeg, Canada, at another Capitol Theater, the prologue furnished “a realistic scene from the very heart of the hot, sand-covered desert, with colorful lighting effects playing its whole gamut of glitter upon it. The curtains part with the sun partially clouded….”

“The colorful background changes into many pleasing hues, the glitter of all vanishing with the opening scenes of the feature.”

The Winnipeg Evening Tribune, Tuesday, November 29, 1921. Page 10

In both theaters, a song titled “Till the Sands of the Desert Grow Cold” was presented, This was a popular song composed in 1911. There are several renditions on Youtube, but this video by Tim Grayck which features a 1912 recording by Donald Chambers also has lyrics to follow along with to about Minute 1:30 and really gives a sense of what audiences going to see The Sheik may have experienced. Here is a link to the full lyrics for the song, which was composed in 1911.

These spectacular introductions to The Sheik certainly got the audience in the mood for the film…but, on the first day of “Sheik Week” a terrible tragedy occurred in New Haven, Connecticut that evening of November 27, 1921.

As the late newspaper editions hit the streets, the headlines revealed the the evolving story of horror.

The New York Evening World, Final Extra,
Monday, November 28, 1921. Page 8
The New York Tribune,
Monday, November 28, 1921. Page 2

According to The New York Tribune, the frame building was already 100 years old. It had been a church before it was sold to Yale University and was used as an auditorium and music school for 20 years. One story said that the building was altered for use as a movie theater six years before The Sheik was booked for that night.

There was different reporting on how and where the fire started– from an ember from an incense lamp in front of the screen (The New York Tribune) or from a flash from the left wing of the stage which set the curtain a blaze (Daily News). The difference is understandable as the scene would soon turn into chaos. The incense lamp seems to be the most likely scenario given The New York Tribune background report:

1–Filled to Capacity…
3–Oblivious Audience in the Other Theater to the Rear…

The New York Tribune,

Monday, November 28, 1921. Page 2

2–…The Film Had Just Started
4–…A Death Trap

One hundred Yale students, some of whom became victims of the fire, were in the audience and they tried to urge order, but exits were blocked. People were trampled and many in the balcony were trapped as flames moved from the proscenium arch of the stage and climbed rails and onto the seats. People in the balcony jumped down onto those below who were trying to escape. The New York Evening News reported that many children were in the audience and parents were injured as they tried to lift them above the mass of flailing bodies surrounding them. People already standing in the lobby waiting for the second show were pushed back into the street as a rush of people tried to escape through the house doors of the theater. The walls caught fire and flames swept to the side where there was one window which opened on to the fire escape, which was the site of a horrific scene:

…charred beyond identification…”

Daily News, New York, New York

Monday, November 28, 1921. Page 1

Although every piece of firefighting equipment in New Haven reportedly rushed to the scene, the Rialto was completely destroyed, along with the Hyperion theater building at the rear.

“…The fire burned for more than two hours and a half…”

Daily News, New York, New York

Monday, November 28, 1921. Page 2

Lawrence R. Carroll, the manager of the theater and his assistant, James Carter, were initially detained by authorities but were released on their own recognizance (The New York Evening World, November 28, 1921, Page 8). The Final Edition of the Daily News reported that the coroner was prepared to issue manslaughter charges against Carroll (Monday, November 28, 1921, Page 2).

With unfortunate irony, while Sheik Week was starting to celebrate the smashing success of The Sheik, the lives of many who were eager to see the film lost their lives while survivors of the New Haven tragedy were left with frightening memories of what should have been a night spent enjoying the most popular film in the country.


1. The Prizma Color system, according to Wikipedia, “was a color motion picture process, invented in 1913 by William Van Doren Kelley and Charles Raleigh.

2. The New York Evening World from November 28, 1921 carried another film-related story right next to the New Haven theater fire headlines along with a full banner across the top of the paper. That story was titled “Arbuckle In His Own Defense Goes On Stand And Gives His Version of Actress’s Death.” It’s a story still remembered to this day, unlike the fatal New Haven fire.

Link to the video of this blog on Youtube.


Newspapers as cited in the text

Rudolph Valentino: His Body Ravaged As He Died, He Received “Giggles” in Death

(This post now is in video form on Youtube.)

The intense media interest in the death of Rudolph Valentino finally reached its end on September 7, 1926 when his 2nd funeral was held in Los Angeles and he was finally interred in the crypt at Hollywood Cemetery (now called Hollywood Forever Cemetery).

The day was in marked contrast to the out-of-control days in New York City when his public viewing was held. Originally planned to continue until Friday, August 27, it was cut short after the viewing deteriorated into an uncontrolled, mob-like event.

In an article under the headline “Premonition of Early Death,” John W. Considine, Jr., who produced Valentino’s pictures, revealed that “Valentino several times remarked to me, “I shall die young. I know it, and I shall not be sorry. I would hate to live to be an old man.” (The Tribune, Scranton, Pennsylvania, August 24, 1926, Page 2 (Dateline: Los Angeles, August 23, Associated Press).

He got his wish, but much sooner than he would have anticipated. And one of his wishes as he fought for his life was that he would have a public viewing in the event he died.

The News-Herald (Franklin, Pennsylvania)
Tuesday, August 24, 1926, Page 9

Valentino had suffered greatly and had wasted to a shadow of the image he projected on the screen. The morticians who received his body at Campbell’s Funeral Church had a difficult job to do. A “secret embalming process” supervised by W. H. Hull, claimed Valentino’s body would stay in it’s final state “practically forever.” It was the same process used to embalm Enrico Caruso, who had died in August 1921 in Italy.

The Miami Herald (Miami, Florida) Tuesday, August 24, 1926, Page 8

Additional text from The Tribune (Scranton, Pennsylvania) Tuesday, August 24, 1926, Page 2
Dateline: Los Angeles, August 23rd, A.P

In The Times Union (Brooklyn, New York) dated Wednesday, August 25, 1926 (Page 15), reporter Ted Le Berthon recounted what had transpired the day before (August 24) in an evocative piece entitled “VALENTINO RIOTS A MORBID ORGY.”

...Rudolph Valentino's cold, lifeless image, waxen and unreal, laying like a flat, smashed thing, beneath a glass cover, on the second floor of Campbell's Funeral Church, was the goal of this stubborn, screaming crowd....[About 2  P.M.] By now, reporters and cameramen had been permitted to view the dead Rudy in his last personal appearance. Peering through the glass coffin cover was like looking through a glass case in a museum. 

“He only weighed 102 when he died,” one employe of the undertaking firm whispered.

His nose was sharply defined, a little ridged; he face, pitifully small, and inclined, for some reason, to one side. Those eyes, that had “burned to the cores of women’s beings,” were closed. That face, that wore make-up so often in the bustling multi-colored cinema studios, was delicately powdered. The thin, sunken lips were thinly rouged, the brows penciled. It did not seem possible that this was Rudolph Valentino. From the eyes of those standing about, one sensed a sickening desire to be away, quickly. 

The heavy smell of flowers suggested great fields of death. One wondered if some substitution had not been made. Surely this mashed body, with claw-like hands was not the ardent lover, in whose veins had coursed fiery blood, consuming a romance-hungry world in its glow, made ubiquitous by the universal markets of the cinema.  

Ted Le Berthon’s description is an accurate depiction of Valentino’s body, as shown in this picture
Source: Images

Le Berthon describes how at “About 3 o’clock [on Tuesday, August 24], it was decided to admit the first line of the city’s mourners.” It was raining and the line went up a winding staircase to the room where Valentino lay. Le Berthon relates the mood of the visitors:  

…disappointment about his burial clothes, giggling, and surprise over his thin hair…

The following day, on Wednesday, August 25, the body had been relocated to the ground floor to help keep the lines moving more efficiently. The reporting by United Press described how the bier was placed in the center of the room and how the crowd circled and exited through a side door through a florist shop adjacent to the Campbell’s Funeral Chapel. Although there were still “giggling girls of high school age” waiting to enter when the doors opened at 9 A.M., the United Press story commented that “While yesterday the throng was perhaps a bit inclined to be unexpectedly gay, today the attitude seemed change. There was more showing of reverence…The scene was more somber–an atmosphere heightened by dull, drizzling fog” (The Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, August 25, 1926, Page 2).

When the doors opened at 9 A.M., the first two people on line were two tourists from Terre Haute, Indiana, who had arrived at 6 A.M. Margaret Kenley and Josephine Attman had planned to leave the day before but “We couldn’t return without seeing Valentino…We were going home yesterday but we simply had to stay” (The Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Wednesday, August 25, 1926, Page 2).

Another visitor was a woman who said she had seen Valentino two years before:

The Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Wednesday, August 25, 1926, Page 2
United Press Story, syndicated in many newspapers

The early reports of “more reverence” on Wednesday were soon revised in late editions of papers like The Brooklyn Daily Times:

The Brooklyn Daily Times, Late Edition, Wednesday, August 25, 1926, Page 3

The Dayton Herald in Dayton, Ohio came to this conclusion in their Wednesday edition (Page 4):

“excited curiosity…laughing and chatting…”

George Ullman’s full comments were reported by the Associated Press:

"This has gone far enough," Ullman said.  The lack of reverence shown by the crowds, the disorder and rioting since the body was first shown, have forced me to this decision.  Tonight at midnight the doors will be closed to the public and the body placed in a vault here in the funeral church until Monday. It will be viewed only by friends and associates."  (A.P. syndicated report from the Fort Worth-Telegram, Fort Worth, Texas, Thursday, August 16, 1926, Page 4.)

Ullman was still shaken by what he had seen. On Thursday, August 26, he was quoted in a United Press report: “I loved Valentino so,” he said, “that I thought the whole world would reverence him” (Courier-Post, Camden, New Jersey, Thursday, August 26, 1 926, Page 14). From the same newspaper:

“normal decorum and dignity now prevails…”

Among those in the mobs, there were surely some who truly mourned Rudolph Valentino…possibly those who wept as they filed past his funeral bier. But perhaps the purest demonstration of distress came from his beloved animals. The story about his beloved dog, Kabar, howling at what seemed to be the moment of his master’s death, is well-known. But there was another–Yaqui, the horse Valentino rode in his final film, The Son of the Sheik.

The Dayton Herald, Dayton, Ohio, Wednesday, August 25, 1926, Page 1

At the end Valentino’s animals mourned him, without judgment...

Yaqui and Valentino in The Son of the Sheik

Kabar and Valentino, returning from Europe on the Leviathan, January 1926

Sources: As cited within the text

May 11, 1921 — Valentino Writes a Check: Reconstructing The Fascinating Backstory About This Very Special Collectible…

On May 11, 1921 Rudolph Valentino wrote check No. 10008 in green ink payable to Walter M. Murphy Motors Co. for the sum of $200.00, drawn on his account at the Hollywood Branch of the Citizens Trust and Savings Bank, Los Angeles. It was signed “R. Valentino.” I have touched it only one time. It is extremely thin and the paper almost feels like fabric…so different from the stiff paper we see in our modern day checks. Perhaps time has taken its toll…100 years is such a long time ago, yet this check is part of my life now.

Interior of the Citizens Trust and Savings Bank, Hollywood Boulevard & North McCadden Place, Los Angeles, Ca, 1928

Source: University of Southern California, USC Libraries Special Collections,

“Dick” Whittington Photography Collection, 1924-1987

This bank branch was located on a side street a few blocks from both Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards and also what is now Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

The Los Angeles Times Sun., Sep 4, 1921 Pg. 69

The months before and after this check was written were pivotal in the life and career of Rudolph Valentino. Here’s a timeline of what happened:

  • Completes his work on The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, November 1920 (see this prior post for details).
  • Quickly begins work on Uncharted Seas, filming during December 1920 (see this prior post for details). Meets Natacha Rambova. First formal date Christmas week, 1920 at a costume ball, Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles.
  • Filming of Camille underway January-February 1921. First wife Jean Acker files for divorce, January 17, 1921. Valentino fully smitten with Rambova during this time and relationship develops. They soon begin to co-habit at Rambova’s Sunset Boulevard bungalow.
  • The Conquering Power begins production one week after filming of Camille is completed.
  • The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse premieres March 6, 1921.
  • Filming of The Conquering Power completed in a few weeks by the end of March 1921. After this film, Valentino will have no work until July 1921. Money is very tight during this time. (Valentino is in debt, paying off his New York tailors for all the suits he had made to use in The Four Horsemen. During especially lean times, he hunts and eats mussels found at the beach.)
  • Also in March, the American edition of The Sheik, by E.M. Hull, appears and becomes an immediate success.
  • Jesse Lasky of Famous Players-Lasky Corporation has been negotiating the rights for Hull’s The Sheik, finally purchasing the rights for $12,500.
  • Valentino leaves Metro Pictures after the completion of filming The Conquering Power, following friction during filming and money issues. Valentino offered the lead role in The Sheik. Signs a 2 picture deal with an option for an extension with Famous Players-Lasky Corporation. In a letter to Adolph Zukor dated July 2, 1921, Lasky writes that he is “fortunate in getting Valentino, the remarkable boy who played the lead in The Four Horsemen” and that casting the film has just finished.
  • July 5, 1921…The Sheik begins production and filming ends by late August.
  • The Conquering Power released July 8, 1921.
  • Camille released September 26, 1921.
  • The Sheik released October 30, 1921.

What would make Rudolph spend $200.00 (about $2960.00 in 2021) at Murphy Motors while not working, paying off debts and hunting for dinner during months without income? It seems to have been the NEED FOR SPEED.

As a youth in Taranto, Italy following his stint in agricultural school, cars were a way to pass the time. He was already attracted to speed. From Emily Leider’s Dark Lover, page 36:

In her book, Rudy: An Intimate Portrait of Rudolph Valentino By His Wife Natacha Rambova, Rambova spends quite a bit of time recounting Valentino’s preoccupation with cars, commenting how “Automobiles from the first were Rudy’s downfall.” He purchased a Mercer, which was considered to be the first sports car, on installment. The Mercer Series 5 was produced between 1919 and 1922 with prices over these years ranging from $3,675 – $5,650 making it on the high end of automobile prices. (Rounding off to $5,000, for example, a Mercer bought for that price in 1921 would cost $73,988 in 2021!) There were 6 body types including sedans, with the “sports car” version often called a “Speedster” in ads. It could reach speeds of 70-80 mph. (Rambova commented that “Rudy always had expensive tastes”….)

This ad for a 1920 Sport Model shows the appeal this car would have had for Valentino.

Chicago Tribune, Sun., September 4, 1921, Pg. 82.

When his acting jobs stopped at the end of March 1921, Valentino eventually lost the car and about half of what he had put into it. So, without a car of his own, he borrowed Rambova’s Buick “runabout” which she acquired when she started working at Metro Studios sometime in 1919. The term “runabout” was going out of use by 1915 when it was replaced by the term “roadster”. The original runabouts were very light cars usually without doors, windows or roofs usually seating 2 passengers and they eventually became virtually indistinguishable from roadsters. Roadsters were more refined with concave “hoods” over the dashboard which would deflect moving air away from the front passengers. (Hooded dashboards were also found on speed cars.) We don’t know if she bought a used “runabout” or newer model “roadster” but they were quite similar in appearance although seats in the runabout were further to the rear of the vehicle than they were in the roadster. Rambova fitted her car out with extras–“mirrors, spotlights, canteens, etc.”

Source: Clough, Albert L. A Dictionary of Automobile Terms. The Horseless Age Company. New York, 1913.

Whichever car Rambova owned, it lacked enough “pick-up” to suit Valentino. He scoured ads and had his connections at the studio on the lookout for a second-hand car that would meet his standards. He finally found a 1914 Cadillac, according to Rambova, which still had remnants of blue paint on the body and then campaigned to convince Rambova to allow him to trade in her runabout for the Cadillac. He even pocketed $400 on the trade. For Valentino, it was all about the motor; it had good speed even though it was not a racer–it could hit 70 mph–and it had “marvelous pick-up.” As for the body…no problem, it could be brought up to like new condition “in a week.”

And so the deal was done!

Valentino already had some experience with Cadillacs because while filming The Four Horsemen, he was ferried to the set in a Cadillac studio limousine.

The model year of the Cadillac he bought varies, with most sources, including Leider, saying the car was a 1914 model, while Donna Hill in Rudolph Valentino-The Silent Idol says it was the 1915 version. While Cadillac made models that looked very similar from year to year, there is one critical difference between these two production years. Part of the discrepancy may be due to the fact that Cadillac introduced a new engine in late 1914 for the 1915 production year.

Introduced in 1914 as the standard engine for all 1915 models, Cadillac’s first V8, the Type 51, used a 90-degree layout with three main bearings, L-head combustion chambers and water cooling...Cadillac’s initial design was a true high speed engine...the first use of a thermostatically controlled cooling system that was eventually adopted by all car manufacturers...soon earned world-wide praise for unprecedented smoothness and performance. The L-Head was on the Ward’s 10 Best Engines of the 20th century list.

Source: CaddyInfo – Cadillac Conversations Blog

More details from The (New) Cadillac Database:

1914: The last of the 4-cylinder Cadillac models. The motor was rated 40HP.

1915: New Cadillac V8 model dubbed "The sweetest running car in the world". "The ultimate in motor car engines" was the verdict of the industry's representative engineers. ...Top speed was a conservative 55-65 mph...
Trivia: On August 29, 1915, a stock Cadillac V8 drove a distance of 72 miles in 77 minutes and beat by 12 minutes the express Vandalia passenger train between Indianapolis and Terre-Haute, Indiana. On some stretches the car reached a speed of 75 mph.  Remember this is 1915 and the car is a stock Cadillac!

Dropping down a body during the assembly of a 1914 Cadillac touring model which was nearly identical to the 1915 version.

A restored 1914 Cadillac…looking very similar to Valentino’s car.

But, note some of the differences in the photo below which are found on Valentino’s car: the custom trim, the glass windscreen in front of the passengers, and the location of the small “spots” located over the front fenders.

Rudolph Valentino in his restored Cadillac (private collection)
as noted in Donna Hill’s book
Rudolph Valentino–The Silent Idol, pg.196

According to Evelyn Zamaya in her book Affairs Valentino (page 78), Valentino would work on the car during lunch hours during the final days of filming The Sheik. Rambova relates in her memoir that “he worked untiringly on the transformation of this ugly duckling, fitting it out with two strong “spots” on either side of the windshields, a cigarette lighter on the driving board, and many other improvements all installed by himself.” These other improvements included mirrors, a custom trim and, as Rambova comments, “After a good coat of black paint–egg-shell finish–and much polishing of the nickel trimmings, it really didn’t look so bad.” However, she reported that the car would break down at “the most inopportune moments,” which Valentino brushed off as being something that happened with powerful motors. And and it also guzzled oil and gas. But…for Valentino, it was a REAL car…

And here is something truly amazing: We can actually hear what Valentino heard when he started the engine! Watch these videos on Youtube:

Rebuilt 1914 Cadillac Engine – First Start in 65 Years! (Posted Feb 11, 2020)

1915 Cadillac Starting. (Posted May 21, 2009)

It’s quite something to hear this engine running and imagining Valentino working on it, 100 years ago.

This brings us back to the check written to Walter M. Murphy Motors. Murphy Motors was founded in 1920 in Pasadena, California as a dealer for Simplex automobiles. It added Leland Lincolns to its roster and then Duesenbergs. The “coach building” aspect of Murphy’s Motors began as an unplanned aside. Basically, the company started to change the top and paint on the Leland Lincolns because Murphy’s clientele thought the original designs were not modern or flashy enough and because he thought the engineering of the Lincolns was poor. Murphy bought equipment and brought in staff from the New Jersey-based Healey and Company and by 1922 began making a name among wealthy clients, which included industrialists, movie stars and car aficionados, by building custom bodies on top of the basic chassis of many brands.

Murphy is known to have built on Bentley, Bugatti, Buick, Cadillac, Cord, Crane-Simplex, Doble, Dorris, Essex, Ford, Hispano-Suiza, Hudson, Isotta- Fraschini, Lincoln, Locomobile, Marmon, Mercedes-Benz, Mercer, Minerva, Packard, Peerless, Pierce-Arrow, Rolls-Royce and Simplex chassis, but they are most famous for their work on the Duesenberg Model J.  

Source:, The Coachbuilders Encyclopedia

It seems logical to assume that Valentino wrote this check on May 11, 1921 for $200.00 to buy parts from the Walter M. Murphy Motors Company that he needed for his restoration work. It is quite likely that he would have asked for advice and perhaps would have some work like the new paint job and custom trim done by the company itself.

So, today marks the 100 year anniversary of the day Rudolph Valentino went over to Pasadena to an auto business, bought parts, chatted about his treasured second-hand Cadillac, and then went home to work on it…

And the proof of how he spent that day is in the check…


NOTE: An image of the check is now posted in the My Memorablilia/Book Collection section of this blog.

1. Valentino’s used Cadillac was apparently gone by the time of his death in August 1926. In the list of estate items in auctioned off only the following vehicles are listed: the 1925 Isotta Fraschini; the 1925 Avion Voisin; a 1926 Franklin Coupe; a 1925 Chevrolet Roadster, and a 1922 Ford Truck. Source: Allan R. Ellenberg, The Valentino Mystique. page 182.

2. A photo of the showroom of Walter M. Murphy Motors which was relocated in to West Colorado Avenue, Pasadena in 1920. Photo ca. 1927.

Walter M. Murphy Motors, 285 West Colorado, Pasadena, ca. 1927.

View of the new display room

Parker, Harold A., 1878-1930, photographer

The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Garden

3. National Register of Historic Places Multiple Property Documentation Form Submitted January 2, 1996

Listing for Early Auto-Related Properties in Pasadena, California

American companies (which came to be concentrated in southern Michigan) along with their European counterparts would often ship their high performance chassis to New York and Los Angeles were there was a strong market for luxury cars.6 Local custom coach builders would then complete the automobile according to the individual taste of the patron. One such company was the Walter M. Murphy Motor Company of Pasadena.Walter M. Murphy came from a Detroit family that had made its fortune in lumbering. An uncle, William H. Murphy was a stockholder in Henry M. Leland’s Cadillac as well as a backer of Henry Ford’s early automotive ventures. Before entering the custom body5 Peter Ling, America and the Automobile: Technology. Reform and Social Change. p. 127.6 Duesenberg, Lincoln, and Cadillac were the first American made luxury cars able to compete with the European imports such as Mercedes and Rolls Royce. business, Murphy sold Simplex and Locomobile cars. In 1920, he moved into new facilities at 275-85 West Colorado Boulevard and became the California distributor for the new Lincoln luxury car. He expanded into the body business as a result of the Lincoln’s poor engineering and conservative styling. After Lincoln was acquired by Ford in 1922, Murphy turned to building custom bodies for a variety of luxury car chassis at his Pasadena plant at 37-55 North Vernon Avenue (now St. John Street); however, Murphy built more bodies on Duesenberg chassis than any other coach builder in the United States. Murphy’s forte was in designing convertibles and roadsters.

Section F: Associated Property Types Page 18-19 Automobile showrooms are significant under criterion B if they are associated with individuals who pioneered and/or innovated the automobile sales business in Pasadena. Walter Murphy, for example, was one of the most significant figures in the history of automobiles in the United States. He was a nationally recognized leader in the sale and manufacturing of luxury automobiles, including Lincolns and Duesenbergs.


AFI Catalogue

Rambova, Natacha. “Rudy: An Intimate Portrait of Rudolph Valentino by His Wife Natacha Rambova.” News Clippings of the Life of Natacha Rambova & Rudy Valentino with Complete Transcript of her Book. Middletown, Delaware: Self-published, 2021. (book available at Ebay, ISBN 9798565516371)

U.S. Inflation Calculator, 1913-Present (Learn how this calculator works. The US Inflation Calculator uses the latest US government CPI data…to adjust for inflation and calculate the cumulative inflation rate through the prior month. Example: The U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics will release the Consumer Price Index (CPI) with inflation data for April on May 12, 2021. (See a chart of recent inflation rates.)

Clough, Albert L. A Dictionary of Automobile Terms. New York: The Horseless Age Company, 1913. The Coachbuilders Encyclopedia.

CaddyInfo–The Cadillac Conversations Blog

The (New) Cadillac Database The (New) Cadillac Database© was originally compiled by Yann Saunders, a member of the Cadillac & La Salle Club, Inc., the Society of Automotive Historians and the Classic Car Club of America. It is now being updated and maintained by DLM Group, Inc.

Ellenberger, Allan R. The Valentino Mystique, the Death and Life of the Silent Film Idol. Jefferson, North Carolina and London: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2005.

Hill, Donna L. Rudolph Valentino, The Silent Idol–His Life in Photographs. RVG, 2019. (self-published)

Leider, Emily W. Dark Lover, The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino. New York: Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2003.

Mackenzie, Norman A. The Magic of Rudolph Valentino. London: The Research Publishing Company, 1974.

Scagnetti, Jack. The Intimate Life of Rudolph Valentino. Middle Village, New York: Jonathan David Publishers, Inc., 1975.

Shulman, Irving. Valentino. New York: Trident Press, 1967.

Walker, Alexander. Rudolph Valentino. New York: Stein and Day, 1975.

Zumaya, Evelyn. Affairs Valentino, A Special Edition. Torino, Italy: Viale Industria Pubblicazionni, 2015.

May 6, 1895: Rudolph Valentino’s Birthday…Remembered in Pictures, Poetry & Prose

And stepping westward seemed to be

A kind of heavenly destiny.

—Wordsworth, Stepping Westward (1803), st. 2

He capers, he dances, he has eyes of youth, he writes verses, he speaks holiday, he smells April and May.

Shakespeare, The Merry Wives of Windsor

–III, ii, 71.

On with the dance! let joy be unconfined;

No sleep til morn, when Youth and Pleasure meet

To chase the glowing hours with flying feet.

Byron, Child Harold’s Pilgrimage,

–canto III, st. 22

Fame is the thirst of youth.

Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage,

–canto III, st. 45.

To me it seems that youth is like spring, an over-praised season–delightful if it happen to be a favored one, but in practice very rarely favored and more remarkable, as a general rule, for biting east winds than genial breezes.

–Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh, (1903), ch.5

Source of Quotations:

Bartlett, John. Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. 14th ed. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1968.

4. Part 2: Rudolph Valentino’s Family and Mine: Siblings…and the Sadness of Infant Deaths

In my previous post [see 3. Part 1: Rudolph Valentino’s Family–His Parents …(and My Great-Grandparents and Grandparents…)] I introduced the grandparents who were part of Rudolph Valentino’s generation. Valentino was born in 1895. My grandparents on my mother’s side, Ernesto Donato Socci and Rose Bosco Socci were born in 1884 and 1894, respectively.

The Guglielmi, Socci and Bosco families all had something in common–the sad death of siblings. In the case of my family there was also the loss of mothers. Valentino had three siblings: older sister, Bice, older brother Alberto, and his younger sister Maria. My grandmother’s family included five surviving siblings (3 others died), while my grandfather’s family was much larger…a total of twelve children, with only 7 surviving.

“The infant mortality rate in Italy, for children under the age of one year old, was 231 deaths per thousand births in 1865. This means that for all babies born in 1865, over 23 percent did not survive past their first birthday.” ( “In 1871 there were 26.8 million Italians. Both birth and death rates were high, and almost half the children born alive died before age five.” Conditions would improve with more public health measures notably malaria, the disease that plagued Valentino’s father. “Malaria, a major scourge of the rural south, declined sharply as quinine became widely available after 1900.” (Brittanica). But even as recently as 2005-2015, in the area where Valentino’s and my families come from “Inequalities are reported even among Italian regions: in Southern Italy, infant mortality is 1.4 fold higher than in Northern Italy.” (Italian Journal of Pediatrics)

In New York City in the late 19th and early 20th century, where my grandmother and all her siblings were born, the situation was also distressing, as described in this paper from The American Journal of Public Health:

“Children were especially vulnerable to the health problems associated with poor and dangerous housing conditions. Inadequately protected against the harsh cold of winter and the stifling heat of summer, children in these urban ghettos often ate poorly, washed sporadically, dodged falling plaster and other environmental hazards, and were exposed to many deadly contagious diseases. Epidemics of diphtheria, smallpox, and whooping cough, to name but a few, were almost annual events during this period. Death was a common visitor, with a frequency and relentlessness that is difficult for most Americans of just a century later to fully comprehend.”

The Valentino Siblings

Grazia Bice Maria Ceresa Amalia Guglielmi was born June 1, 1890 in Castellaneta, Italy. She passed away on August 14, 1891 from diphtheria, a highly contagious bacterial infection which creates toxins in the body. Today, antitoxins and antibiotics are used to treat the disease, but there was no treatment in 1890 and no vaccine.

The remaining children born into the Guglielmi family did survive.

The purported picture of Rudolph Valentino as an Infant

Alberto Pasquale Guglielmi (left) was born on April 5, 1892 in Castellaneta and passed away on June 4, 1981 in Los Angeles, California, age 89. Brother Rodolfo Pietro Filberto Raffaello Guglielmi (right) was born on May 6, 1895 and died August 23, 1926 at age 31. Picture ca. 1897.

Valentino’s younger sister Maria Grazia Martina Anna Guglielmi (Strada after marriage) was born September 1, 1897 in Castellaneta. Her date of passing is unknown.

There are no baby pictures of Maria available but this a picture of her in her younger days.

The Socci Siblings

The picture of the young Maria Guglielmi reminds me of the picture of my grandfather’s sister, Rosina. Little Rosina was the only girl among 12 children; 4 of the boys died and Rosina would also die too young. My mother wrote in her life story:

Only 7 sons survived. My Dad’s sister, Rosina, died when she was sixteen years old. I know this because my father spoke of her often. He must have loved her very dearly.

Rosina Socci
Rosina, date unknown

The surviving boys were:

Leonardo–1877-1947 He never came to the United States

Alessandro (Alexander)–(dates unknown) Came to the United States but returned to Italy.

Lived in the United States after emigrating

Michele (Michael) A.–1880-1968

Ernesto (Ernest) Donato–1884-1973

Giacomo (James/Jake) Mario–1890-1959

Matteo (Matthew) Anthony–1892-1966

Francesco (Frank) William–1895-1988

Unfortunately, I have not discovered any pictures of these siblings as infants.

Although the boys did spend time in Manhattan and Brooklyn, New York at different points in their lives, Michele and Ernesto would live for quite awhile in Waterbury, Connecticut, one of Connecticut’s manufacturing hubs at the time. Michele would open up his barber shop there and it was a base for the other brothers to either work or visit. Eventually, Rutherford, New Jersey would become the “rural” home outside of New York City where my mother and her siblings would be raised, with her uncles spending a great deal of time living and visiting the house on Feronia Way.

The Bosco Siblings

All of the Bosco family children were born in New York City. Five children would survive. My research reveals that there was a baby boy named Ernesto, who was born in Manhattan, only to die at the age of 2 months in November 1892. Tragedy struck again when twins, probably girls, were born in late 1902. It is likely that they were named Domenica and Pasqualina; Grazia, their mother, died in childbirth. As my mother writes in her life story, when her mother was 8 years old “her mother and the twins she had given birth to died.” As mentioned in my previous post, the children were placed in an orphanage. Their father Antonio was quickly remarried in 1903– Rosaria was an older woman who came over from Italy, and she would raise the children after they were taken back home from an orphanage where they had been placed after the death of their mother.

The surviving children were:

Rosina (Rose)–1894-1952 (my grandmother)

Em(m)anuella (Millie)–1896-1980

John –1898-1953

Charles (Carmine) Bosco–1898- not yet determined

Andrew –1901-1941

The Lalumia Siblings

All the Lalumia children were born in New York, except Anthony (my father) and the youngest, Matthew. They were born in New Jersey. The family had settled in the town of Lodi. Many Italian families went to Lodi which was near the mills and factories which provided employment. Oldest sibling Lucia was actually a half sister to the rest of the children, as she was born to Guiseppe Lalumia’s first wife. I have no records as to when this first wife died or under what conditions, but he then married his second wife, Rosina (Rosa), and the family grew with the addition of three boys and one girl.

The Lalumia children were:

Lucia (Lucy)–1898-1977

Calogero (Ciro) (Carl Joseph) 1903-1982

Providenza (Florence) 1907-1990

Antoni (Anthony Joseph) 1909-1991

Matthew Joseph 1914-1985

In future posts I’ll be touching base with various members of as I write about various aspects of Rudolph Valentino’s life. Even though their lives weren’t as public as the life that Rudolph Valentino lead, many of my relatives had lives full of variety and accomplishment.


Simeoni, Silvia, Luisa Frova and Mario De Curtis. “Inequalities in infant mortality in Italy.” Italian Journal of Pediatrics 45, (2109) Article number: 11

Markel, Howard. “For the Welfare of Children: The Origins of the Relationship between US Public Health Workers and Pediatricians.” American Journal of Public Health 90, No. 6 (2000): 893-899.

Rudolph Valentino’s Favorite Poet Has His Day…Dante Day, March 25, 2021…and a New Connection Is Revealed

In the April 15, 1922 issue of Pantomime Magazine, Rudolph Valentino was asked a series of questions aimed at revealing his “psychological profile.” Entitled Read ‘Em and Know ‘Em–A ‘Mental’ Photograph of Rodolfo Valentino, Valentino answered questions ranging from his favorite virtue (honor and modesty) to his ideas of happiness (a loving wife and children), unhappiness (loneliness), and many other questions…including “Who is your favorite poet?” Valentino responded “Dante Alighieri”.

Dante Alighieri (born c. May 21–June 20, 1265, Florence [Italy]—died September 13/14, 1321, Ravenna) is today being celebrated in Italy to mark the start of events to honor the 700th year of his death.

March 25 was picked last year to celebrate the man known to Italians as the “supreme poet” because most scholars believe his fictional journey through hell, purgatory and heaven — as told in the “Divine Comedy” — starts on this day.

According to Italian President Sergio Mattarella, Dante is still relevant in the modern world because of the “universality” of that masterpiece.

Source: Agence France Presse, Italy Celebrates Its ‘Supreme Poet’ With Dante Day, by By Gaël BRANCHEREAU
March 25, 2021 via Barron’s

I studied the Divine Comedy in college and, apparently, so did my parents. I pulled off my bookshelf a copy of the “first annotated edition of the Italian text” which was published in 1909, with subsequent printings in 1911 and 1913. This edition, edited and annotated by C.H. Grandgent, Professor of Romance Languages, Harvard University includes fascinating diagrams to help the reader on the journey. I wish I had this edition in hand when I studied this work!

In another coincidence that occurred just a few days ago, I reconnected with a well-known plein air artist, Frank LaLumia, whose family shares the same hometown in Sicily (Campofelice di fitalia) and the same name as my family with a slight variation of the spelling (although on his website the name appears at times as one word, just like my name because of site formatting.) I’ve know that some of the families coming to America went, not only to New York, but also to New Orleans among other destinations. In fact, when I was a child during the mid-1950’s visitors from New Orleans came to visit family in Lodi, New Jersey, bringing their own Coca Cola because they claimed the “recipe” was different than what was sold in the North! (I don’t know if that was really true or not!)

However, some of the New Orleans branch moved up to Chicago…and my new contact was born there. Years later, he resided in Santa Fe, New Mexico and then moved to Trinidad, Colorado, just over the border. As a long time resident of New Mexico, we’re about a long day’s drive away.

I’ve know about the work of Frank LaLumia for years, so it was a thrill to connect with him. Frank has authored a book entitled PLEIN  AIR  PAINTING  IN WATERCOLOR  AND  OIL,  North Light Publications and has also been a Contributing  Artist  for the P.B.S. Series PLEIN AIR: PAINTING THE AMERICAN LANDSCAPE. On his website, Frank Lalumia Fine Art, you can enjoy his beautiful art, which also includes work in watercolor and oil and new contemporary pieces.

So, what does all this have to do with Dante Day?

In his Artist Statement (2017), Frank discusses his Contemporary Watercolors this way (excerpt):

My series of Contemporary Watercolors was born in Hell, and has been rising ever since. In the 1980’s, it was sparked by a profound inspiration with the work of Dante Alighieri. The DIVINE COMEDY, (and particularly the INFERNO), was perfect for this concept. The subject matter in my series is evocative rather than descriptive or literal, lending itself perfectly to the idea of ‘found’ or discovered’ painting. And what better place to exploit the expressive potential of the medium itself?


So, on Dante Day, I am celebrating all the “found” connections between the mind of Rudolph Valentino, the art of Frank LaLumia, and a new branch of the family.

Dante Alighieri–Death Mask

1. Rudolph Valentino, My Family and Me

From the ABOUT description….

In July 2020 I was once again digging through bins of photos and personal items related to my family. Suddenly, I had an overwhelming urge to delve into the life of Rudolph Valentino…On my other blog named Open Range Ramblings I have recounted how I came to be inspired by the legendary racehorse, Secretariat. The connection came out of the blue late one night …and the same thing happened that July 2020 evening. Suddenly, it was as if Rudolph Valentino had become part of my life.

A series of rapidly unfolding coincidences, synchronicities, and “signs” cemented my feeling that a connection was there….

Just to begin…
Rudy Valentino Loved His Pasta…And So Do I!

Big spaghettiPublicity photo

…and he made great spaghetti sauce…or, as we call it…gravy.

I hope you will enjoy the posts that follow…The Table of Contents tab shows the posts/links in order of when published.

NOTE: Posts which pertain to Valentino and specifically to my family members are numbered, starting with “1.” (this post).