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.

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.

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, with Walter Long playing a “mate.” 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 (Youtube version here), one can see lighting fixtures, a piece of clothing hanging of a bunk to the left swaying slightly, and a following 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. (The inter-cut scenes showing the crew scrambling to get off the ship don’t seem to show any wave action at all–perhaps a calm interlude on the rough seas described in press stories which appeared during filming.)

See the 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 might still 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.

As we will discover in Part 4 of this series, publicity material was not always accurately used by the outlets who chose to use it. For example, One piece 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 was included in a press packet…instructions not meant for public view. 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 picked up by theater management which gave 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.


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.

Bobbed Hair…

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.” (Part 4 reveals the brutal references to Dalton’s hair in the reviews after the film’s release.)

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


The “mean ocean” which caused the constant seasickness endured by Dorothy Dalton was a 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!

Hungry Horses…

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 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.

A School Holiday…

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.


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 Hollywood Star Walk project provided by The Los Angeles Times, 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.

The Image Issue…

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….


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.


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.