Gilbert Roland on Valentino


“Valentino Smiled, Shook My Hand, and I trembled”


Rudolph Valentino - Blood and Sand


NOTE: The following article by actor Gilbert Roland is reprinted from the November 22, 1975 issue of TV Guide


A famed actor recalls the ‘magnetismo’ of the legendary Latin lover


By Gilbert Roland
TV Guide
November 22, 1975


We cannot turn back to so little as yesterday. But remembering Valentino, I return to the days when I was a Hollywood movie extra at $3 a day and box lunch, and lived in a small room on Temple and Olive Street next to a synagogue. I covered the somber walls with photos of movie stars, and by a crucifix over the bed, my boyhood idol – Rudolph Valentino.


We cannot shun our destiny. What God has written will come to be. And it was to that one day I would meet Valentino. His real name was Rodolpho Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi de Valentina D’Antonguolla. He selected Rodolpho Valentino for the screen. Friends called him Rudy. We, the young bohemian movie extras, penniless, undefeated romanticists, called him – Valentino.


He arrived in Hollywood, broke. Emmett Flynn gave him his first job as an extra at five dollars a day. Rex Ingram, a great director, selected him for Julio in “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” and Valentino was a star. After the success of The Sheik, he became the great Latin Lover – Valentino was humble in success, yet a man misunderstood. An editorial writer for a Chicago paper called him “a pink powder puff.” Valentino went to Chicago and angrily challenged the writer openly to a duel or fist fight. The challenge was not accepted.


Valentino had dignity, wore elegant English clothes, made bow ties popular, drove fast cards, was a hard-riding horseman, and loved women. We imitated his graceful walk; grew sideburns, pomaded our hair a la Valentino. He grew a beard and it became fashionable. Barbers were alarmed, protested and begged him to shave it off. He introduced the platinum slave bracelet. We wore cheap imitations. He made the tango popular. We danced with beautiful girls who called us – Latin lovers – a sobriquet we did not contradict.


He was a man of charm, magnetismo, the power to attract, captivate. He brought romance to the screen, and to millions of women. Valentino filled an emptiness. The Heartthrob. Women fainted. I saw him at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood. Women screamed hysterically to touch him. The stormed the theater with a vengeance, like the Bastille. It was like a page out of the French Revolution.


Central Casting called for Spanish and Mexican extras to report at Paramount Studio, $3 a day and box lunch. Over a thousand of us were hauled into trucks and driven through the narrow dusty Cahuenga Pass to Lasky ranch. The picture – Blood and Sand. The star playing the matador – Rudolph Valentino. My father had been a famous matador from Spain. It is an art to be properly dressed for the arena. Often in Mexico I had helped my father. A Spaniard, Jarita, the technical adviser, demanded Valentino to be perfectly dressed as a matador, and knew my background.


Gilbert Roland


He took me to Valentino’s dressing room on the lot. “This boy will help you dress,” Jarita said politely. Valentino smiled, shook my hand, and I trembled. He stood naked, a towel around his trim bronzed body, the slant eyes, a scar on his cheek like a saber cut. I helped him into the taleguilla, the pink stockings, red sash, zapatillas, chaquetilla… All through the ritual he sat motionless, silent, his eyes far away. A tear rolled down his cheek. He brushed it off, lit a cigarette, and walked away.


During lunch a violent fight erupted between the extras. Someone stuck me with a banderilla, and there was blood. Valentino sat under a shady tree with his lady love, exotic Natacha Rambova, as I went by. He saw the blood, cleaned the wound, wrapped his monogrammed handkerchief around my hand and gave me a glass of wine. The lovely lady smiled… the courtesy, gallantry, chivalry of the great; all these things not here any more. I treasured Valentino’s handkerchief a long time. Then a lovely blonde girl came along and went off with it.


The last time I saw Valentino he was driving the Isotta-Fraschini fast along Sunset Boulevard. I raced my old second-hand Moon roadster to catch him. I wanted to wave to him. I kept going faster, the car rattling, then a motorcycle cop gave me a ticket for speeding. I appeared in court before Judge Chambers, expecting to pay a fine, but the judge sentenced me to five days in jail. And I never saw Valentino again. Destiny.


But we had a few things in common. We were both Latin’s, proud of our heritage. We had worked as extras, bus boys, been hungry, loved classical music, believed in God. He had slept on a park bench in New York, I on a church bench in Los Angeles. We loved America, became citizens. We were athletic, healthy. We did not believe in drugs or medicine. We drank good wine, and loved women. On the screen we played the same romantic role of Armand Duval in Dumas’s – Camille. He with Alla Nazimova. I with Norma Talmadge.


One day he died. He was 31. His death plunged America into a nation of mourners. Women wept with unashamed tears. Two killed themselves that day; a day of vertigo, delirium. A dolorous whisper stunned the land. “Valentino is dead.” The whisper made the heart ache.


After his death I was lauded as one of his successors. A Hollywood weekly heralded: “Gilbert Roland Looms As Valentino’s Successor!” It was absurd. An infamy. No one could replace Valentino. He was not cast of an ordinary mold. This was sacrilege. I resented it. It gave me the coraje, that rage I’ve had all my life about injustice. For this was in injustice. There could never be another Valentino.



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5 Responses to “Gilbert Roland on Valentino”

  1. Stacey says:

    That was really great to read, I love to read positive things about Valentino, Makes me like him all the more!

  2. thom gunn says:

    I loved this guy Gilbert Roland since seeing him as a sponge diver with the bends, when I was a boy. Now I can read his thoughts and see he was a real and good man all the way through. I toast this Latin!

  3. Gilbert Roland, (real name) Luis Antonio Damaso Alonso, although he claimed that he was the son of a famous Matador in Spain is doubtful. We the Alonsos, believe that he father Luis, is the brother of my grandfather D. Vicente Martinez Alonso. Gilbert (Luis) left Spain and headed for Mexico, and my grandfather headed for the Philippines. Their mother was D. Adela M.Penalver de Alonso, sister of D. Maria Concepcion M. Penalver de White who was a countess, married to Ricardo White (an Irishman)

    Their father and mother (my great, great grandmother died when the brothers were very young. D. Maria Concepcion Penalver de White (sister of Adela) adopted them. They were raised by the Countess (being wealthy) but the brothers when they reached ‘mayor de edad’ left Spain (Valencia) to seek their fortune in the colonies. Gilbert is eight years younger than my father D. Antonio F. Alonso. There is still a first cousin age 93 who lives presently in Barcelona, unmarried, Maria Luisa Penalver Serrano who until recently resided in the ff address. No. 5, Calle Gilberto Roland in Madrid way back at the turn of the century, whose mother was a sister of Vicente and Luis. Upon leaving the parents who adopted them (Penalver) they reclaimed last the name of their father, Alonso. My father’s name is Antonio Alonso— are these just coincidences? I have photos of the Alonso men that have striking resemblance to Luis (Gilbert) that makes it impossible to negate Gilbert’s father was the brother of my grandfather Vicente.

    I have searched for the allege famous Matador whom Gilbert claimed to be his father and came up with nothing.

    The parents of my grandfather died at a very young age. Although my father Antonio Alonso, born in 1898 stands at 6’2″ his father was only 5′ 5″– he sickly and also died young when my father was 16 years of age. (Philippines)

    Names on birth certificate, back in 1927 when Gilbert migrated to Texas USA, thereafter became a US citizen, — could have easily been changed. Who knows? It was more romantic for him to claim that his father father was a MATADOR,” IMO. It was more colorful, had he claimed his father Luis was a poor immigrant from Valencia, Spain.

  4. Laurie Heltsley says:

    I always enjoy reading about Rudy, wonderful memories.

  5. Aurora Torres says:

    What a lovely story. These are the anecdotes I like to read. Gilbert Roland had a beautiful memory of Rudy and he shared it with the world. That was noble of him. It makes us see Rudy in so much more of a positive light. He was a very sentimental and caring individual. He was very special and Gilbert was correct when he said that ” There could never be another Valentino.”

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