Eighty-eight years ago, on August 23, one of the world’s very first sex icons died. Rudolph Valentino….the dark lover….left our world. There was frenzy among his fanatical female fans; it was the virginal experience for a young female audience to lose their heartthrob. Some attempted suicide…some succeeded at it and some just sobbed until the end of time. But….there was somebody who took it more personally than others….
Pola Negri had been reported to be Valentino’s last relationship. After they met at Marion Davies’ costume party in 1925, they were one of those inseparable, tender couples who were always flocked to each other.
Their romance was overly publicized in the summer of 1926…and I hope Pola cherished those very last few months she had with him. His touch…or his voice….He died shortly after that romantic summer. It affected her terribly….It contributed to taking toll of her career.
Valentino collapsed suddenly and was later hospitalized with a need for an emergency operation. The operation went well, with a 50/50 percent chance of survival. Then he got peritonitis (this is really tragic because I almost died from this when I was younger) and the goddamn doctors lifted the spirits of the public by saying he was in a sound condition. Then Valentino suffered complications from pleuritis. The doctors still didn’t say anything. Valentino died a few hours later. He was 31.
Pola Negri was at one of the loneliest moments of her life when this occurred. She was more than bereaved….she had lost something that had been a rich instant treasure of happiness….so quickly!
From her memoirs:
Faces kept slipping in and out of the darkness. I had a vague recollection of the doctor and nurse gazing down at me pityingly, of Marion Davies tearfully embracing me.
“It isn’t true, it can’t be,” I kept repeating until I fell into a deep drugged sleep.
The barbiturates wore off by late afternoon, and the full impact of what had happened hit me anew. There was only one thing of which I was certain; no matter what the cost to the studio, I had to go to him.
The next morning, accompanied by a trained nurse upon the insistence of my doctor, and Florence Hein, I boarded the train for New York.
The interminable three days to New York were spent confined to bed and under sedation. The railroad thoughtfully arranged to have our car switched directly to the New York Central line, thus enabling us to avoid the ordeal of changing trains in Chicago.
The nightmare in which I was to live for the next few months was just beginning. George Ullman and his wife were waiting for me at the station. As I walked trembling onto the platform packed solid with a mass of reporters all shouting questions and requests simultaneously, I implored them to let me be alone.
Ullman pleaded, “Let us through, boys. There’ll be plenty of time for interviews later.”
I could feel the ground beginning to give way beneath me and clung fiercely to Ullman for support, moaning, “Please–take me to Rudy. That’s all I want. Take me to him.”
They escorted me into the little chapel at Campbell’s Funeral Home. Massive candles were burning at his head and feet and, in the soft light, death seemed to have conferred a serenity on his features. He appeared at last to have found the tranquility that had eluded him for most of his life and, from the empty depths of my own sorrow, I could almost be happy for him. I knelt beside the coffin and prayed that his soul might find eternal peace.
I rose and whispered my last farewell. “Your love and friendship have been the most beautiful things in my life. I’ll never forget. Adieu, Rudy, mon bien aimée.”
She didn’t talk much of her despair and desperate wailing in his funeral….This part was rather short. I guess she didn’t want to speak of the most tragic event of her life. By the afternoon of that day where she bid him farewell, Mary Pickford gave Pola a letter written by Dr. Meeker, the man who had done Valentino’s operation and who knelt beside him at his deathbed.
Dear Miss Negri:
I am asking Miss Pickford, who is one of my patients, to give you this message, since I cannot give it to you in person. I am going to my place in the country to rest, after the awful tragedy and strain of the last week.
I was with Rudy to the very end. He was conscious to the last half-hour. He and I were planning a fishing trip together when he recovered, and as I sat by his bed, he said suddenly, “Doctor, I am afraid we won’t be able to go fishing after all. But we may meet in the next world. Who knows?”
A few minutes later, just before he lapsed into unconsciousness, he spoke again, “Pola–if she does not come in time, tell her I think of her…”
He was unable to finish the sentence, for at that moment, he fell into his eternal sleep.
I notice the adorable dramatic touch that Pola adds to her remembrance of this event. She can add as much as she can because this affected her greatly! She never quite got over his death, as she said later in her life. “He was the only man I ever laaawved.” she would say in her thick accent. Yes, he was the love of her life…she had some flings after that….even another marriage….but Valentino was the love of her life. From the age of twenty-nine until she died at 90. I read somewhere that a gypsy had predicted much sorrow and loss from her palm when Pola was younger. Even Pola had some sense of superstition when it came to meeting Valentino for the first time.
Call it fatalism, but from our very first meeting I knew that somehow this man had the power either to destroy my life or so irrevocably alter its course that it would never again be the same. I knew it and waved it away. I had met a man acknowledged to be the world’s most desirable and I had desired him. That was all.
After the funeral, her films started sinking in the box office and the majority of those films released some years after that time period are now lost. Well, Pola was fainting every now and then at the funeral. She sobbed: this was how she expressed herself. Everybody just thought she was putting the best performance of her life. Goddamn, people back then were so harsh and still are; it hit her bad! By Christ, she threw herself at his coffin! If you judgmental humans knew how someone emotionally expressive like Pola could love a man, then you might be in luck for a free show. This was the inundation of all her emotions coinciding at once.
This was possibly the most lachrymose Pola ever was….and she was unfairly demeaned for it.
After the funeral, she went to Falcon Lair, his home, and wandered around like a phantasmal icon with no destination, only stopping to weep every now and then. She saw his dog, who was looking for his loving owner, and comforted him. The dog later went outside and never returned. Some said he died from the depression of never finding his owner.
Ah, well. I hope Pola and Rudy have reunited. That is if Valentino isn’t still besotted with Natacha. Some people just express emotions differently. Some stay in denial for weeks….others just sob until the end of time. Don’t be too hard on Pola, she just really loved the man. He could’ve have been her second and final husband….but fate meant for it to end like this.