Moran of the Lady Letty: Part 3–Production Details Used for Publicity…And Just Who DID Rudolph Valentino Push Off the Ship’s Rigging?

Rudolph Valentino and Walter Long in the rigging...

Click for Part 1 and Part 2 of this series. (Video version of Part 1 on Youtube); (Video version of Part 2 on Youtube)

Link to the video version of this post on Youtube pending.

Adventure films were popular during the silent film era and seafaring yarns produced in the 1920’s were some of the more popular offerings to the the film-going public. If one looks at this list at Wikipedia, for example, you can see that for a couple of years seafaring stories seemed to have more production than usual. But, as noted in the entry, this list is not complete and probably never will be because so many films from the era have been lost.

Before we discuss the production of Moran of the Lady Letty, there are a few interesting side notes I’d like to point out. First, this was not the first sea tale for director George Melford–he had already directed The Sea Wolf in 1920. Second, two of Rudolph Valentino’s leading ladies either made it onto a ship before he did or were back on board after the release of Moran of the Lady Letty! And finally, the male leads in these films were actors who had been briefly considered to play the lead in The Sheik! (See Notes below for more details about these films.)

Starred Noah Beery, Sr. and Walter Long played a “mate.” Released 5/16/1920. LOST.
Starred Thomas Meighan and Agnes Ayres. Released August 21, 1921. FRAGMENT exists.
Starred Dorothy Dalton and Jack Holt. Released September 17, 1922. Status unknown, most likely LOST.

During the filming of Moran of the Lady Letty and then as the film was released, there were a number of short “reports” in the newspapers about how the film was made. As the distribution of the film rolled out nationwide, write-ups appeared in papers across the country, some as locally produced commentary which most likely included studio press information and others that were clearly directly picked up verbatim from studio publicity.

The Sheik premiered with a “pre-release” on October 30, 1921, and even before the “official” premiere a week later in New York City on November 6, 1921, publicity for Moran of the Lady Letty was being placed. For example, this little squib appeared on November 1:

Arkansas Democrat, Little Rock, Arkansas
Sunday, November 1, 1921, Page 6.

Although the above publicity drop reports that all sea scenes were made in San Francisco, apparently some scenes were filmed on a boat built to rock on the studio set along with sets for the cabin scenes. The studio boat seems to have been used during the coal fire sequence. Although hard to discern, from approximately minute 24:24 to minute 25:34 the film, one can see a piece of clothing hanging of a bunk to the left swaying slightly, followed by a scene where a white door is moving back and forth in the background. This door could have been moved by an off-screen stagehand, however. There is quite a bit of cutting between scenes filmed on what seems to be the studio boat to scenes filmed on the actual ships at sea. But, to offer a word of warning, as we will discover in Part 4 of this series, publicity material was not always accurately used by the outlets using it. See NOTES below for intriguing information about what techniques were used in the above mentioned Dalton film On the High Scenes which was in production in June 1922. In the six months since the filming of Moran of the Lady Letty, were the techniques that much improved? Or, were some already in use during the filming of Moran of the Lady Letty? At this point, I haven’t found any specific information on this possibility…but the possibility still might exist.

Another example of early publicity for Moran of the Lady Letty comes from Buffalo, New York. It appeared a week into the run of The Sheik in New York and even before the start of “Sheik Week” which began the week of November 27, 1921.

Buffalo Morning Express and Illustrated Buffalo Express, Buffalo, New York. Sunday, November 13, 1921, Section 7. Page 2.

“Rudolph Valentino will get a sample of his own medicine–doled out to Agnes Ayres in The Sheik–when he does his new picture.”

In early December 1921 seasickness during filming was already part of the publicity campaign:

Salt Lake Telegraph, Salt Lake City, Utah

Sunday, December 4, 1921. Page 22.

Dorothy Dalton–“I was so sick scores of times when we were out at sea that I didn’t care whether we ever finished the picture or not.”

The full campaign was in full swing by January 1922. This picture of Dorothy Dalton, George Melford and Rudolph Valentino appeared in Exhibitors Herald on page 88 of the January 28, 1922 edition.

Director George Melford was praised for his ability to save money during production. Money concerns for many studios at this juncture were top of mind and had played a role in Valentino winning the lead in The Sheik. Now, with Valentino’s next film, Melford was singled out for his “economy in the use of film.” He rehearsed scenes so that he would need very few retakes.

Wichita Beacon, Wichita, Kansas. Sunday, January 29, 1922. Page 19.

“Mindful of the necessity for economy in these times…

…In making ‘The Sheik’ he used up 28,000 feet of film, which was boiled down to 7,800 feet in the final picture.

He bettered this record in Moran of the Lady Letty, using only 22,000 feet of film which was boiled down to 6,800 feet finished.”

Once the film premiered on February 5, 1922 in New York City with the Los Angeles “world premiere” following on February 12, the nationwide distribution rolled out in full force. Here are a few examples of obvious studio publicity, pure studio hype at its best.

“Once again has George Melford produced for Paramount a picture with every claim to superiority….The situations are highly dramatic and appealing….

Dorothy Dalton, popular Paramount star, …Her portrayal in a revelation of art.

Rudolph Valentino…This is a role in which all the robust qualities possessed by Mr. Valentino are brought to the front in splendid effect.”

The Ogden Standard Examiner, Ogden, Utah.

Tuesday, February 14, 1922. Page 7.

One piece even provided theater management with suggestions if they desired to “exploit the big Paramount picture” by using any of the material provided “in any way you may deem wise.” The material provided an easy way to create a publicity blurb; apparently, the people running the Orpheus in Nova Scotia, Canada just added their theater’s name to what might have been something not meant for the public that was included in a press packet . The ad for the showtimes and this publicity information actually ran side by side in the local paper.

The Evening Standard, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

May 19, 1922. Page 16.

Around the same time, an ad for the film was accompanied on the same page by a list offered by theater management giving five reasons to see the film.

The (Morning) Leader,

Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.

Thursday, May 11, 1922. Page 11.

The idea that Moran of the Lady Letty was a “special or big production” was one that was repeated in other advertising as well. Below is one example:

Reading Times, Reading, Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, May 14, 1921. Page 7.

These publicity pieces pale, however, when compared to a spread that appeared in The Coffeyville Daily Journal, published in Coffeyville, Kansas, on April 7, 1922, Page 12. (See Notes below.)The “Brilliant Players in ‘Moran of the Lady Letty'” section was an expanded version of the “Queries and Replies” ad that appeared in May in Nova Scotia (pictured above) that added fuller details and two more players to the list of stars (Charles Brindley and Emil Jorgenson). Note, again, that the film was described as a “Big Paramount Super Play,” A Stupendous Production” and provided an unusually detailed synopsis of the story. However, the copywriter made an error when picking up the names of key cast members: in the column to the far left, the writer names “the popular Rodolf Valentino as the star of an unusual supporting cast including Dorothy Dalton, Walter Miller….” Of course, the correct name was Walter LONG! And, the writer seems to imply that everyone is in a “supporting cast” (?)…did the write mean to say an “ensemble” cast? Obviously, publicity material from the studio sometimes didn’t make it into a publication intact or accurately.

The Coffeyville Daily Journal, Coffeyville, Kansas. April 7, 1922. Page 12.

There were different approaches to what was emphasized in the publicity that was delivered to the public. I’ve organized some of the more frequently used publicity themes I’ve found to make it easier to get the gist of how interest was built for the film.

SHANGHAIED!

One of the publicity angles that was used frequently in local papers involved the shanghaiing of Valentino/Ramon Laredo at the start of the film.

The tea and ball scenes were often noted for their glamour and style. A couple of columns over from this piece, there was a squib which gave more details:

“Fifty of the prettiest girls in film circles and an equal number of the best looking men, appear in the grand ball scene….”

The Selma Times-Journal, Selma, Alabama. Sunday, April 9, 1922. Page 6.

Great pains were taken to “educate” the public about what it meant to be shanghaied since this event set the stage for the rest of the story. The “teasers” below are from March and April 1922.

Here’s the definition that was presented repeatedly and essentially verbatim in the newspapers: “Shanghaied” is the forcible abduction of an unaware citizen who wakens from a stupor to find himself on the high seas at the mercy of a brutal buck mate or master.” (Once in a while, an editor would tack on a small grammatical change such as “Shanghaied is a term that means the forcible abduction….”) And note the incorrect name of “Mark Melford” in the article on the left.

The Ottawa Citizen, Ottawa, Canada. Saturday, March 11, 1922. Page 20.

The Miami Herald, Miami, Florida. Sunday, March 19, 1922. Page 10.

Along with the concept of being shanghaied, the publicity revealed Valentino’s feelings about his part…and his career, in general, to this point. Although Valentino proclaimed that he “liked it” some writers “commented” that “Rudolph Gets His,” a reference to the rough handling of his leading lady in The Sheik which was still playing around the country.

“Such a trifle as being ‘shanghaied,'” observed Valentino during the screening of the picture, “means nothing in my life. I’ve been abused continually since I’ve been in pictures–shot and beaten up and generally mishandled. But I like it!”

The Evening News, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Thursday, April 27, 1922. Page 18.
The Bristol Herald Courier, Bristol, Tennessee. Sunday, April 23, 1922. Page 16.
The Salina Evening Journal, Salina, Kansas. Saturday, April 19, 1922. Page 12.

Dorothy Dalton received her fair share of attention, notably about her appearance and specifically about her hair. Her role as Moran was dubbed as one of “the most wholesome roles that she has ever played (Dayton Daily Ness, Dayton, Ohio, Thursday, March 2, 1922, Page 32) and focused on her particular issues with seasickness. The standard “report” about her hair stated that “Miss Dalton had to cut a couple of inches off her hair, which had already been bobbed to some extent, so that she could make up for the role–the mate on her father’s ship–in many scenes, and the role is a primitive one, full of rough and tumble fighting and thrills.”

The Caldwell Tribune, Caldwell, Idaho. Tuesday, April 18, 1922. Page 5.
The Ottawa Citizen, Ottawa, Canada. Saturday, March 1, 1922. Page 20.

“MANY OBSTACLES” AT SEA…

The “mean ocean” which caused the constant seasickness endured by Dorothy Dalton was another recurring publicity story. The piece above describes how with the “continuous run of heavy ground swells, the consequent conduct of the boat was too severe a test for the stomach of a good sailor, the actress contended, and preparedness was her motto….” To that end, “Lemons, chewing gum and lemon drops, in large quantities, were on the shopping menu…when she was making preparations for days work on exterior scenes taken at sea on a sailing vessel near San Francisco.”

More details about the conditions encountered are presented in the two examples below…some of the copy is the same, but additional information included varied depending on who was putting together the publicity materials and some was also a revamping of some of the material found in the above “Mean Ocean” piece.

Los Angeles Evening Express, Los Angeles, California. Saturday, February 25, 1922. Page 22.
The Washington Herald, Washington, D.C.
Sunday, April 2, 1922. Page 18.

In one “Hollywood hometown” paper in Los Angeles (above), there was quite a bit of commiseration for the difficulties involved in the filming as it delivered the lament that “The motion picture art sometimes makes strenuous demands on its players and in ways not so that the public…would ever be aware of the difficulties surmounted” and went on to say that each actor “was called upon to reveal the utmost sang froid in the midst of a storm and a resolute and unembarrassed digestive apparatus no matter how high the billows swelled about their craft in midocean” (Los Angeles Evening Express, Los Angeles, California. Saturday, February 25, 1922. Page 22.).

A couple of months later, a paper in Washington, D.C. (above) detailed what was going on with the ships and how a shoot that was supposed to take three weeks in San Francisco filming exteriors wound up taking five weeks. Three- and four-masted ships had to be towed in and out of port every day, a process which took four to five hours a day.

"In the morning, when the vessel was being towed out, the tide was coming in and in the evening, when the company turned the nose of the ship homeward, the tide was ebbing out to sea.  Thus, it was necessary to 'buck' the tide both going and coming, which accounts for the time to and from the outer-sea location."
Then when the location was reached, if Dorothy Dalton or William Marshall, the cameraman weren't seasick, a few of the highly dramatic scenes of the picture were made." --The Washington Herald, Washington, D.C. Sunday, April 2, 1922. Page 18.

In the end, after the four to five hours of towing, only about four to five hours of actual shooting time was available every day!

The San Francisco shoot had more interesting details revealed through the press. For example, this small article described some of the extras who played crew members:

“…in two of the city’s largest hotel groups of bearded, rough-looking characters, … lounged the lobbies every morning and evening.”

Asbury Park Press, Asbury Park, New Jersey.

Tuesday, September 12, 1922. Page 5.

The Chinese extras also gained attention, but in a way that mirrored the racist attitudes of the times. References to “yellow men” would also appear in some of the bigger ads. (See my previous post which details the source novel’s overt racism.)

“The Orientals were employed as extras, forming the motley followers of Captain Kitchell, an Eurasian villain and captain of a smuggling ship…

…the Chinese types took part most realistically.

After the scenes were ‘shot,’ Miss Dalton was conducted through the mysterious and dark by-ways of the sleep city by one of the admiring yellow men who had played in the picture.”

The Ottawa Citizen, Ottawa, Canada.

Saturday, March 11, 1922. Page 20.

The shoot even impacted some of the local school children. I found a couple of reports in papers like The Caldwell Tribune in Caldwell, Idaho and in a paper in Oklahoma (below). When a few students saw the film company at the waterfront, the news spread and a few students were missing from school. The next day, about one hundred fifty children were waiting to see the crew. According to the story, “Hookey on a large scale was the order of the day. When the teachers learned the facts, they joined the pupils, called a holiday, and there was general rejoicing. A good time was had by all.”

The Tonkawa News, Tonkawa, Oklahoma.
Thursday, October 26, 1922. Page 3.

While there were difficulties filming the ship scenes, things didn’t always go smoothly on land, either. An entire Mexican village was built at Paradise Cove on the San Francisco shore for the scenes depicting the Magdalena Bay of the novel. Under the direction of Rudolph Blyek, technical director of George Melford Productions, twenty buildings with thatched roofs were constructed by thirty carpenters over the span of two weeks. But–a bit of sleuthing revealed that the expensive project was destroyed by hungry horses!

The Huntsville Times, Huntsville, Alabama.
Sunday, March 12, 1922. Page 11.
Los Angeles Evening Express, Los Angeles, California. Saturday, February 25, 1922. Page 22.

“In the future George Melford will permit no horses or mules in the vicinity of thatched roofs if he uses them in any of his productions….”

The Selma Times-Journal, Selma, Alabama. Sumday, April 9, 1922. Page 6.

THE FIGHT IN THE SHIP’S RIGGING–WHO FELL INTO THE SEA?

Of course, the climax of the film featured the fight in the rigging between Ramon Laredo and the villainous Captain Kitchell. In a build-up for an extended run in Washington, D.C., this sequence was described as being “one of the most gripping and powerful climaxes ever brought to the silver sheet” (Washington Herald, Washington, D.C. April 2, 1922 — full article found above in the section entitled “Many Obstacles” At Sea).

Many publicity pieces included a joint comment from Valentino and Walter Long and detailed how the rigging scenes were filmed:

"Fighting on the fore top of schooner with the vessel rolling and pitching and the mast swaying, is no pleasant job, according to Rudolph Valentino, playing the male lead role and Walter Long...
"The fight scenes were filmed aboard the ship in San Francisco Bay.  The two men were at least 60 feet above deck.  The fight started on deck and continued on up the rigging until they reached the fore top.  From there they fought on out to the end of a spar.  After a final struggle, the villain drops into the ocean. For this latter shot, a camera was lashed to another spar, and thus a close-up view of the knock-out punch and the fall obtained." -- "Adventure Story Draws to Columbia"-- The Victoria Daily Times, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Tuesday, June 6, 1922. Page 10.  

Doubles started the fight but the publicity revealed that Valentino and Long “wanted a real as well as a reel fight…”

“Doubles were produced and began the fight with Rudolph and Walter standing in the wings watching. The audience (consisting of the two men) nudged each other, smiled, then look disgusted, and after the fight between the doubles, advanced and asked permission to do it themselves…”

The Houston Post, Houston, Texas.

Sunday, February 12, 1922. Page 30.

So, was that actually Walter Long as the evil Kitchell losing the battle and finally dropping off the rigging into the sea and to his death? The answer is NO!

The double who fell into the sea was an athlete and actor named George O’Brien. According to The Los Angeles Times Hollywood Star Walk project, O’Brien was:

"Born in San Francisco, where his father was chief of police, O'Brien became the Navy's Pacific Fleet light-heavyweight boxing champion during World War I. After his discharge he was introduced to cowboy star Tom Mix who helped him find work as an assistant cameraman, extra and stuntman.

One of his early film tricks involved Rudolph Valentino knocking O'Brien from the rigging of a ship into the sea."
George O’Brien, 1899-1985
George O’Brien falls into the sea

O’Brien would go on to appear in one of the greatest of all silent films Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) with Janet Gaynor and appeared in approximately seventy-five films over the course of his long career. He was known as “The Torso” because of his physique and worked with top stars such as Mary Astor, Wallace Beery, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and William Powell and Myrna Loy. After the 1930’s he worked mostly in Westerns and had a long connection to director John Ford. O’Brien’s last film was in 1964, and after his retirement from the screen, he directed and produced stage plays in Europe and the United States and then became a script writer for TV and movies. For a wonderful piece about George O’Brien, visit Strictly Vintage Hollywood which includes a photo of George O’Brien and Dorothy Dalton chatting on set.

So, while George O’Brien settled into a career in rough and tumble pictures, Rudolph Valentino would struggle with his image. After his triumphant performance in The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse and his elegance in Camille, The Sheik finally triggered the full-scale swooning of female fans–but questions about his screen persona were starting as he had been teased in reviews for his “Theda Bara wide eyes” and over which turban was more attractive. (See previous post November 27, 1921: The Start of “Sheik Week” Follows The Precedent-Setting New York Premiere and Nationwide Release of “The Sheik”.) As Emily Leider wrote in her book Dark Lover:

"A theater manager in Alabama reported, 'The lady trade makes up for the men that stay at home.' The more girls and women lost their heads and hearts to Valentino, the more their dates, husbands, and fathers seethed with resentment at the hypnotic actor showing them up." -- Leider, Page 189. 

Aware of the problem, the studio cast Valentino in Moran of the Lady Letty to boost his appeal to the male audience by presenting him as an “action star” rather than simply a female heart throb. But, compared to the All-American Douglas Fairbanks, who had already delivered The Mark of Zorro in 1920, The Three Muskateers in 1921 and who was producing Robin Hood in 1922, Valentino’s efforts in Moran of the Lady Letty, such as throwing some punches and climbing around rigging, certainly didn’t turn him into a full-fledged action type. Reviews of the film, as you will see in the next post in these series will show, certainly didn’t herald Valentino as the next action hero.

Ironically, behind the scenes, while filming this role, Valentino was being photographed in his off time in poses that would further confuse his image–the “faun pictures” taken under the guidance of girlfriend Natacha Rambova, who turned up in San Francisco after she had gotten wind of his after-work escapades.

One of these pictures (not shown here), showed Valentino curled up at Rambova’s feet, and would be introduced during the Jean Acker-Valentino divorce proceedings in December 1921 which ultimately resulted in an interlocutory judgment entered in January 1922, just before the premiere of Moran of the Lady Letty.

The Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles, California. Thursday, December 1, 1921. Part II, Page 1.
The Los Angeles Evening Express, Los Angeles, California. Saturday, February 11, 1922. Page 11.

To add to the irony, a publicity spread in a Los Angeles paper presented a picture of Valentino next to one of Grace Darmond. Jean Acker, who had been involved in a tense love triangle with Darmond and Alla Nazimova, fled to Grace Darmond, her real love, after realizing she had made a mistake marrying Valentino in November 1919. Grace Darmond testified during the divorce proceedings about “the bathroom incident” during which Valentino reportedly hit his wife. Darmond and Acker would stay together until 1925. (Ankerich, Pages 89-91.)


As Moran of the Lady Letty opened around the country, publicity started to surface about Valentino’s next film. On the same day Moran of the Lady Letty premiered in Los Angeles on February 12, 1922 an example of the early publicity for Beyond the Rocks, which started production in late 1921 and continued during January 1922, appeared in a Houston paper as the publicity cycle revved up toward its May 7 release date.

“The period of Louis XV and the Garden of Versailles as a background form a combination for one of the special scenes in “Beyond the Rocks”…This scene was made on the newly covered big stage at Lasky studio…”

The Houston Post, Houston, Texas. Sunday, February 12, 1922. Page 35.

In the same column Valentino’s next film, Blood and Sand, which was already in production in February 1922, was announced. Note the incorrect name of the leading lady…May McAvoy.

The Houston Post, Houston, Texas. Sunday, February 12, 1922. Page 35.

After all the publicity hype and film’s release, the reviews came in. In the next post of this series (Part 4), we’ll explore what the critics, theaters managers and Valentino himself thought of Moran of the Lady Letty….

NOTES

1. The Sea Wolf. Considered lost. Artcraft Pictures Corporation was created in 1916 to distribute Mary Pickford Film Corporation productions. It was purchased in 1917 by Famous Players-Lasky Productions and by January 1918 was designated as a distribution brand name for Paramount Pictures Corporation. Source: Silent Era, Progressive Silent Film List. Jack London’s 1904 novel story had already been filmed as a short in 1913, again in 1926 (also lost) and many times after the 1920’s. Aside from the director George Melford, another “carry over” from this film to Moran of the Lady Letty was Walter Long, who played “Black” Harris, a Mate. Sources: Wikipedia, The Sea-Wolf (novel) entry and Wikipedia, The Sea Wolf (1920 film) entry.

2. Cappy Ricks. An 18-minute fragment of this film is held in the UCLA Library Film and Television Archive/Silent Fragments. Author Peter B. Kyne wrote four novels featuring the title character Cappy Ricks and would adapt three to the screen. The first in the series, Cappy Ricks: The Subjugation of Matt Peasley was produced first as a Broadway play in 1919. Kyne then adapted the novel into the 1921 film Cappy Ricks. The star, Thomas Meighan, was at one point considered for the lead in The Sheik. In addition to Agnes Ayres, who played the leading lady in The Sheik, another actor with a connection to Rudolph Valentino appeared in the film–John St. Polis, who played the blinded Etienne Laurier, husband of Marguerite Laurier, in The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse (released in 1921). Lois Wilson, who played Queen Marie of France in Valentino’s Monsieur Beaucaire, appeared in the 1935 Cappy Ricks Returns. In 1937 the series entry entitled The Affairs of Cappy Ricks starred Walter Brennan. (Sources: Silent Era, Progressive Silent Film List, IMDb and Wikipedia, Cappy Ricks entry.

3. On the High Seas. Survival status unknown, probably lost. Dorothy Dalton starred with Jack Holt, another actor who had been considered to play the lead in The Sheik. William Boyd, who became famous later in life as Hopalong Cassidy, also played in the film. Shorts made in 1914 and 1915 with same title, each had different plot lines from each other and the 1922 film. (Sources: Silent Era, Progressive Silent Film List, IMDb and Wikipedia, On the High Seas entry.

On the High Seas with Dorothy Dalton and Jack Holt

4. In what was labeled an “-Avd.” (Advertisement), a theater showing On the High Seas offered a detailed description of how the stormy sea scenes in the film were created. From The Meriden Morning Record (Meriden, Connecticut), Wednesday, November 8, 1922:

The Meriden Morning Record, Meriden, Connecticut.
Wednesday, November 8, 1922. Page 5.

5. The big spread in the Coffeyville Daily shown above was not unique to the films of Rudolph Valentino. During the same period, similar items appeared for top actors such as Wallace Reid.

SOURCES

Ankerich, Michael G. Dangerous Curves Atop Hollywood Heels: The Lives, Careers, and Misfortunes of 14 Hard-Luck Girls of the Silent Screen. Albany, Georgia: BearManor Media, 2015.

IMDb, Internet Movie Database.

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

Newspapers and other sources as cited in the text.

October 30, 1921: Rudolph Valentino’s Two Los Angeles Premieres: “The Sheik” is Pre-Released; “Camille” Makes Its First “Western Showing”… 100 Years Later: Paramount Celebrates “The Sheik” With A New Restored Version

SCROLL DOWN TO FIND INFORMATION ABOUT THE NEW BLU-RAY ANNIVERSARY RELEASE OF “THE SHEIK” COMING ON NOVEMBER 2, 2021!

The Wednesday, October 26, 1921 edition of the Los Angeles Evening Express inadvertently presented a snapshot of the “before” of Rudolph Valentino’s career as the motion picture world awaited the premiere of the film version of Edith M. Hull’s wildly popular novel The Sheik. Page 29 had three items–2 short announcements and one advertisement–that summed up the state of Valentino’s status up until the film was shown. The announcement of the arrival of Nazimova’s Camille focused on how Nazimova was adding her modern interpretation of the play to the long history the history other actresses in the role. Another ad for The Affairs of Anatol included a notice that the next coming attraction at the Rialto would be The Sheik. The third item was the full announcement about how a special arrangement was made to present The Sheik a month ahead of general release as producers were anxious to have the reaction in Los Angeles, the film industry company town.


First “Western” Showing October 30, 2021. No mention of Rudolph Valentino in the role of Camille’s lover Armand Duval…it was all about Nazimova.

The film was a “cleaned up” society sex comedy-drama based on a play by Arthur Schnitzler which starred Wallace Reid in the title role.
Agnes Ayres and Wallace Reid

Agnes Ayres played Annie Elliot, a thieving farmer’s wife who becomes one of Anatol’s “affairs”.

“The Sheik” was the next coming attraction in the ad…

Producers wanted favorable “expert” opinion of the LA public to bolster the later nationwide release. The film premiered on November 6 in New York and released nationwide on November 20, 1921 (not the 25th as initially reported in this article).

Nazimova’s production of Camille had been introduced at a reception and special preview showing at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in New York City on Wednesday, September 7. She traveled to New York to attend the event, along with her set/costume designer Natacha Rambova and her leading man Valentino, who were now a couple. After spending some more time in New York (Nazimova attended nearly every play on the boards at the time), the party left New York on September 18 to return to Los Angeles. Distribution of the film began on September 26, 1921, with a “Western” premiere planned in Los Angeles for Sunday, October 30, 2021.

Meanwhile, The Affairs of Anatol was ending its run at Grauman’s Rialto and a notice for the coming attraction of The Sheik was included in the final ads of the run. Agnes Ayres, who played Annie Elliot in The Affairs of Anatol and a fellow cast mate, Ruth Miller, who had played an uncredited role as a maid named name Marie, would both appear in The Sheik–Ayres in the lead role of Lady Diana Mayo and Miller as Zilah, the serving girl attending Lady Diana in the film. And, although Valentino’s paramour Rambova thought Hull’s novel was trash, she would appear in an uncredited role as an “Arabian Dancer.”

On Sunday, October 30, 1921, both Camille and The Sheik premiered in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Times, Sunday, October 30, 1921, Page 61.

Camille opens at the California Theatre

A large, approx. quarter-page ad for the film (much reduced in size!) Note the small credit given to Valentino at the bottom of the ad.

Ad in the Los Angeles Evening Express, Monday, October 31, 1921, Page 25 after The Sheik premiere on Sunday, October 30, 1921.

The top billing for Ayres in The Sheik may also have been helped along by the fact that she was involved in a long-term affair with her married boss, Jesse Lasky, head of Paramount. She had started at Vitagraph in New York, but had been brought to Hollywood by Jesse Lasky sometime in 1920 to film a Civil War story entitled Held by the Enemy. After receiving glowing reviews, she was placed under contract at Paramount and her long-term relationship with Lasky began. (It would end in late 1923 when she met and married Manuel Reachi.)

Some announcements from venues where Camille had already been shown did give passing attention to Valentino. But, it was Nazimova’s film and the character he played was subordinate to her Camille. In the words of film critic Alexander Walker, Valentino was “a pliant supplicant, not a seducer, forever dropping on to one knee to signify his fidelity.” (Page 37, Rudolph Valentino).

After Camille opened in Los Angeles, a smaller ad for the film appeared in the Los Angeles Express on Tuesday, November 1, this time with no mention of Valentino at all…but the day after the premiere (Monday, October 31) on Page 24, a reviewer named Milton Lathrop did notice Valentino…and in glowing terms.

No Room for Valentino’s Credit in the Smaller Ad Apparently… Los Angeles Evening Express, Tuesday, November 1, 1921.

This Reviewer Saw a Hint of Star Power….Los Angeles Evening Express, Monday, October 31, 1921. Page 24.

Milton Lathrop did not mention any specific scenes from the film but Alexander Walker would later note that “the earliest hint of what was to become one of his most seductive features occurs in this film. It is when he breaks the bank in a gambling casino–he’s been playing to kill the pain of losing Camille–and with a sudden, unanticipated flash of cruelty he seizes her arms, forces them behind her and pinions them there while he plants a kiss on her lips. This was the ‘cruel’ Valentino. This was the so called ‘sex menace’. This was the element of ‘threat’ in him that worked its way up the scale of romantic emotions he stirred up in the hearts of women.” (Page 37, Rudolph Valentino.) Of course, this energy is in dramatic contrast to the “dignified portrayal of the naive lover” that Lathrop had mentioned in his review decades earlier.

In the same edition, on the very next page (Page 25) of the Los Angeles Evening Express, a review of The Sheik by a different critic named Charles A. Goss appeared under the title “‘The Sheik’ A Beauty, But Oh, The Story!” He wrote:

To enjoy the production it becomes necessary to ignore the story entirely and to focus the interest upon the beauty of the settings. Vast stretches of sand waste and shifting dunes are relieved only by the cluster of palm trees that form an oasis here and there and by the picturesque caravans of the Arabian dignitaries.  Those of the interior are not without charm also, for they exhibit a prodigality of luxury that recalls the tales of the "Arabian Nights."...The story however, might be the dream of a sweet young thing who had eaten too many caramels and chocolate sundaes. The subtitles, probably from Miss Hull's book, are pretty trite.

But, when Goss observed the players, his tone changed. He noted the how Valentino was without peer in the way he displayed the “shifting emotions of this young barbarian the product of the desert and of Paris schooling.” It seems Goss saw the contrast of the “barbarian” versus the “handsome” actor and the character’s underlying “Paris schooling”; without using the term “sex menace,” he sensed the “threat” versus “the allure” that attracted a female audience. He didn’t mention “popping eyes” or any other distractions that later reviews would see…he noticed the force of Valentino’s charisma.

“Valentino’s the whole show…”

…quoting a “young lady who sat nearby”

…Reviewer Charles A. Goss

Los Angeles Evening Express, Monday,

October 31, 1921, Page 25.

Until this point Valentino had made steady progress in his career. On October 30, 1921 the megastar phase of his career would begin…


The 100th Year Anniversary Blu-Ray Restoration of “The Sheik”

After some delay, the 100th Year Anniversary Blu-Ray Release of “The Sheik” will be released and available on Amazon on November 2, 2021. Pre-ordering is available. Each link below offers slightly different information about how the new release was restored and the film. .

https://www.blu-ray.com/news/?id=29023

Restored ‘The Sheik’ Joining ‘Paramount Presents’ Blu-ray Line Nov. 2 for Its 100th Anniversary – Media Play News

https://screen-connections.com/ (SEARCH “The Sheik” at the site) This site has a full description of the package)


NOTES:

1. Nazimova’s contract with Metro would come to an end in mid-1922. Waning popularity and differences about the types of films she would work on led to the split. She had already begun planning her production company while she was in New York at the preview of Camille. According to an essay at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival website, once Nazimova left Metro, “… the studio changed the film’s publicity campaign and gave top billing to Valentino.”

2. Gloria Swanson, Bebe Daniels, and Wanda Hawley all future co-stars with Valentino also appeared in The Affairs of Anatol. And, the role of Mr. Nazzer Singh, a Hindu hypnotist who hypnotized Gloria Swanson’s character Vivian in the film was none other than Theodore Kosloff…yes, the onetime lover of Natacha Rambova.

3. To view a large number of lobby cards created for “The Sheik” visit https://galeriadecarteles.blogspot.com/2019/09/el-caid-sheik-1921-9-carteles-estados_21.html

4. For a humorous take on “The Sheik” lobby cards, visit https://moviessilently.com/2016/11/25/lobby-card-dissection-the-sheik-or-rudolph-valentino-whod-pay-to-see-him/

5. All the films discussed here are available on Youtube.

SOURCES:

Alla Nazimova Society–Preserving and Promoting the Memory of Mme. Nazimova: Actor, Writer, Producer, Artist and Star. Alla Nazimova Timeline.

Ankerich, Michael G. Dangerous Curves Atop Hollywood Heel: The Lives, Careers, and Misfortunes of 14 Hard-Luck Girls of the Silent Screen. Albany, Georgia: BearManor Media, 2015.

Century Film Project. Review of The Affairs of Anatol (1921) from https://centuryfilmproject.org/2021/06/21/the-affairs-of-anatol-1921/

IMDb, Internet Movie Database.

Vintage Reviews. Review of Camille from Motion Picture Classic, December 21, 1921 at http://www.silentsaregolden.com/reviewsfolder/camillereview.html

Turner Classic Movies (TCM). The Sheik at https://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/500793/the-sheik#overview

Walker, Alexander. Rudolph Valentino. Briarcliff Manor, New York: Stein and Day, 1976.

July 8, 1921–“The Conquering Power” Released 100 Years Ago Today (Rudolph Valentino and Rex Ingram Clash)

In my previous post (May 11, 1921 — Valentino Writes a Check: Reconstructing The Fascinating Backstory About This Very Special Collectible…) I included a time line of the events in 1921, a pivotal year in the career of Rudolph Valentino.

The filming of Camille had been completed in February 1921 and Rudolph Valentino’s next film, The Conquering Power began production one week later, with filming completed a few weeks later by the end of March 1921, with some work in April for retakes. In the meantime, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse premiered on March 6, 1921.

The Conquering Power was released a few days after Valentino began work on The Sheik on July 5, 1921. Valentino hadn’t worked from the end of March after filming The Conquering Power ended until the start of production on the film that would make his career explode later that year.

Tumult surrounded the production of “The Conquering Power.” The team that had produced The Four Horsemen included June Mathis, who wrote the script, and Rex Ingram, who would direct. Tensions with Metro arose over money almost immediately and conflict between Valentino and Ingram hung over the production.

The script was based on Honore’ de Balzac’s novel “Eugenie Grandet” which was part of Balzac’s series of novels about post-Revolutionary France under the title “The Human Comedy” (La Comedie Humaine) published between 1829-1950. It was written in 1833. The story opens in 1819 after the country has settled down after the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815. While Balzac was writing the story he developed his idea for “The Human Comedy” and quickly released a second edition, “revising the names of some of the characters so that Eugénie Grandet then fitted into the section: Scenes from provincial life (Scènes de la vie de province) in the Comédie.” (Wikiwand.com)

Honore de Balzac (1799-1850)

The novel was drastically truncated and story elements altered. The opening scene of Charles Grandet’s wild birthday party does not exist in the novel, for example. June Mathis’ script tried to shift the focus to Valentino and elevate the character of Charles into a romantic hero (Leider, page 144). And while he goes Martinique secretly engaged to Eugenie and returns years later and reunites with her in the film, the book is dramatically different. He does go to the West Indies among other places while making a fortune as a slave trader, which is not mentioned in the film; he asks Eugenie for his freedom to marry a woman from a noble family to enhance his status when he is back in Paris (saying he does not love her); and after Eugenie releases him she marries an old family friend without love, with the understanding that the marriage will never be consummated. After her husband dies, Eugenie lives frugally as she always has and gives her wealth to charity. The romantic reunion with Charles in the film after years apart never happens in the novel.

Against the advice of June Mathis, during the announcement of the film to the press, Valentino approached Ingram to ask him to talk to Metro’s Maxwell Karger about an increase in salary over the $350 a week that he was making. Ingram refused and Natacha Rambova thought Valentino should talk to Karger directly, which he did. Karger at that point was unwilling to raise his salary which didn’t satisfy Valentino.

Meanwhile, Natacha coached Valentino on how to enhance his importance for his future in pictures. She emphasized the importance of the people who lit the set, called juicers, and what he should tell the makeup people. He picked over the width of the lapels on coats. Valentino also groused about his lack of camera time but the reality was that his character was absent from long stretches of the book. When he displayed his new attitude on the set, the real friction between himself and Ingram began even as Ingram was already wary as Valentino’s performance in The Four Horsemen had gained so much attention at the expense of Ingram’s masterful direction.

Gag shot which belies the stress on the set….

Publicity portrait of, from left, director Rex Ingram, Rudolph Valentino, and Alice Terry from THE CONQUERING POWER, 1921. 7×9 b&w photographic print.

Source: Publicity portrait from the Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Ingram focused on the visual effects of the film. He would film his fiancee Alice Terry, who played Eugenie, with gauze in front of the camera to emphasize her fragility and ethereal nature (Shulman, page 153). Valentino became increasingly temperamental to the point where Ingram one day left the set to go to Karger to demand a replacement and start the picture all over again with a young actor named Ramon Samaniegas, the future Ramon Navarro. Valentino, knowing that the studio considered Ingram to be the more important asset at this point, went to Karger and tried to explain that he simply wanted to do his best and hoped for a better situation with Ingram…Karger said the studio had decided to give him a $50 a week raise for the last few weeks of filming which didn’t make Valentino completely happy (Shulman, page 152). June Mathis would act as a buffer between him and the director, assuring him that Ingram would not deliberately sabotage Valentino with poor lighting or shooting angles and the film was finally completed. Although the situation had been patched up, when asked if he would make another picture with Alice Terry and Valentino, Ingram replied with a firm “No.” And he would not deny that he had wanted to scrap the picture and start over again with another actor.

By the time the picture opened on July 8, 1921, Valentino had left Metro to sign a contract with Jesse Lasky at Famous Players-Lasky. Ingram was praised for his direction and photographic effects and innovative lighting (Leider, page 144), while Valentino was praised in The New York Times for “his finished performance as Charles Grandet. He is a pantomimist of marked ability.” (The New York Times, July 10, 1921). However, the film didn’t achieve the box office success that had greeted The Four Horsemen. Some critics did not like the shift to modern dress from what would have been worn in the early 1800’s. But polling had been done which showed that at the time, the public wasn’t interested in costume drama and June Mathis in the opening title acknowledges that “commercialism tells us that you, Great Public, do not like the costume play.”

But tastes would shift, at least among the women in the audience. The Sheik opened in two theaters in New York, the Rialto on October 30, 1921, then moving to the Rivoli the next week, smashing attendance records. According to Emily Leider, after Valentino became identified as the Sheik, when his pre-Sheik films were circulated, including The Conquering Power, “female patrons left the theater disappointed if the revived picture scanted” on love scenes.

 A theater manager in Wisconsin complained that after seeing The Conquering Power his lady patrons gave him "a terrible razz...as they expected to see Valentino float through five or six reels of lovemaking."

…Valentino’s career would never be the same…

***

NOTES:

–Both the original novel Eugenie Grandet and the film The Conquering Power are available for free download at the Internet Archive

— See reviews from Photoplay (September 1921) and The New York Times (July 10, 1921) at Silents Are Golden

–Another beautiful video from mysilentboyfriend on Youtube …a present day “reel of lovemaking”!

SOURCES:

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

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

Haydn, Hiram & Edmund Fuller. Thesaurus of Book Digests. New York: Bonanza Books, 13th Printing, 1965 (Entry: Human Comedy, The )

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: Coachbuild.com, 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…


ADDENDA

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.


Sources:

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.

Coachbuild.com. 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.