Posts Tagged ‘Barbara La Marr’

Valentino’s Forgotten Admirer

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009


Valentino’s forgotten admirer




By Allan R. Ellenberger


With news of the impending burial of singer Michael Jackson (September 3) in the Great Mausoleum at Forest Lawn-Glendale, fans will be deprived of making the pilgrimage to his grave – if this is indeed his final resting place. Forest Lawn is infamous for their so-called privacy issues, and with the burial of the King of Pop within their granite walls, security will be tightened. Sadly though, security is sometimes taken to extremes. At times, overzealous cemetery personnel often harass people who have every right to be there.  


How differently the entombment of silent film star, Rudolph Valentino was handled at Hollywood Cemetery almost 83 years ago. Valentino, whose death and burial was as controversial in 1926 as Jackson’s is today, was interred in the Cathedral Mausoleum – not as imposing or opulent as the gothic Great Mausoleum, but just as stately and on a smaller scale.


For two years after Valentino’s death, it’s estimated that more than 100,000 people from around the world visited his borrowed crypt. This early pilgrimage by fans was documented in the 1938 book, Valentino the Unforgotten by Roger C. Peterson. In it, Peterson, who was custodian of the Cathedral Mausoleum, documents the almost daily invasion of visitors to the actors’ tomb.


Roger C. Peterson

 Roger C. Peterson, right, and an unidentified assistant place a floral tribute at Rudolph Valentino’s crypt, circa 1938 (photo courtesy of Tracy Ryan Terhune)


Peterson began working at the mausoleum the year following Valentino’s death. At that time, the only celebrities interred in the vast granite edifice besides Valentino were director and still-unsolved murder victim, William Desmond Taylor and the “Too Beautiful” actress, Barbara La Marr.


Over the eleven years that Peterson worked at the mausoleum, he met and talked to literally hundreds of Valentino admirers. In the book Peterson shares some of those stories — some peculiar and others very poignant. One story in particular was about a simple middle-aged woman, a devoted fan, but whose purpose at the mausoleum was more than just about Valentino. In a few paragraphs, Peterson describes his experience with this woman:


“Of all the people who are loyal to Valentino’s memory, there is one who stands out. She is an Italian woman and comes to the mausoleum three or four times a week. Although she had never seen Valentino in real life she had formed such an attachment for him in pictures, that when he died, she and her husband sold their home in San Diego and moved to Los Angeles. They now have a home within walking distance of the cemetery.


“A few years after they came here she had a baby which died at birth. She named it after Valentino. The baby’s crypt is near that of Valentino, and many people mistake it for his. She brings fresh flowers from her garden. These she divides equally between her baby and Rudy. She also takes care of the flowers brought in by other visitors and fixes these with loving care. Then, with her Bible in hand, she sits for hours reading and saying her prayers. Often I have heard her crying, and it is quite pitiful to hear her weep for her loved ones. Many times after I have closed the mausoleum, she will walk by the windows nearest her crypts and continue to say her prayers.


“She claims Valentino has come to her at night and talked with her. In her broken English she says, ‘Mr. Pete, the spirit of Rudy come to my house. He knocks on walls, sometime on door. I feel him close to me. He say he help me to be happy and he is glad I come to bring flowers to him.’


“She has met Valentino’s brother and sister. On Rudy’s birthday and anniversary of his death, she always arranges the flowers so that it is very pretty when they arrive. They have become good friends and she tells me that Alberto has been to her home for a visit.”



The corridor where the crypt of Rudolph Valentino is located (see arrow) and the crypt of Angelina Coppola and her son Rodolfo Valentino, top row left. Angelina would sit here and pray and read her Bible. (photo by Alan Light)


When I first read this account many years ago, I searched the walls around Valentino’s crypt looking for the remains of this child, but to no avail. I wondered if perhaps Peterson’s imagination had at some point taken over his storytelling, but decided to do more digging.


Based on Peterson’s story, the infant Rudolph was located near Valentino’s crypt and was sometimes confused for his. So I narrowed my search to the same wall where Valentino rests looking for an Italian surname. On the very top row and a few columns to the left of Valentino are the crypts of a couple named CoppolaMatthew and Angelina.


The Coppola’s story is typical of many immigrants who came to this country at the turn of the last century. Both Matthew and Angelina were born in Italy – Matthew’s family arriving here in 1894 when he was 13 years old. They settled in Paterson, New Jersey where Matthew met fellow immigrant, Angelina Rosa Federico. The two were married and started a family – Thomas, Lewis, Dante and Virgilio – all sons. Matthew was a carpenter by trade and in 1919 he moved his family to California to find work – first in San Jose and soon after moving to 2371 Brant Street in San Diego.


True to Peterson’s account, the Coppola’s moved again sometime in late 1926 to Los Angeles – specifically to 1316 Tamarind Avenue (demolished) in Hollywood – only two and a half blocks from Hollywood Cemetery. (The Coppola’s next door neighbor was future singer/actor and Valentino look-a-like, Russ Columbo)


Early in 1928, at the age of 45, Angelina found that she was pregnant, but sadly the baby boy died at birth on September 28. The state records list the child only as Baby Coppola but Angelina named him Rodolfo Valentino Coppola in honor of the actor.


Roger Peterson first met the Coppola’s when their child was interred in the top row crypt on October 15, 1928. Peterson, whom Angelina called ‘Mr. Pete,’ became friends with the Coppola’s during her frequent visits to the mausoleum. In his diary, dated November 24, 1928, Peterson wrote of Angelina’s personal encounter with Valentino:


“Mrs. Coppola was happier today than I have ever seen her. I asked her why and she told me a strange story of Valentino coming to her last night and talking to her. She said his spirit came to her house and knocked on the door. When she let him in, he told her that her baby was happy and not to grieve so much.”


However, it was difficult for the Coppola’s to entirely release their grief for they felt their child’s death was due to the doctor’s negligence. In 1930 they sued Dr. Rodolfo E. Monaco for $75,000 for asserted malpractice. During the trial, Angelina was on the stand being questioned about a statement she made to the effect that “she had been warned by a voice.”


At this point in her testimony, a woman jumped from her seat in the gallery and rushed to the front of the courtroom. Later identified as Shelly Roane Vier, a Long Beach psychic, she claimed she was sent to protect Angelina Coppola. She told the court that the spirit of Rudolph Valentino had directed her to Hollywood Cemetery the previous Christmas, where she met Angelina, and that his spirit had sent her to the courtroom that day. She was in a trance, she said, and for the moment, the spirit of a departed Indian chief, Gray Eagle, possessed her as she spoke in a strange tongue.


It was several minutes before order was restored and Vier was led from the courtroom by a companion. When court reconvened, the judge granted a motion of the plaintiff’s counsel declaring a mistrial. A second trial held two years later was suddenly ended by the judge who held that there was no evidence to show negligence on the part of Monaco.



 The crypt of Angelina Coppola and most likely her son, Rodolfo Valentino Coppola (d. 1928)


We assume that Angelina continued her frequent visits to the mausoleum for many years afterward, but who can say for sure. Baby Rodolfo’s grave is no longer marked with his name, but it’s likely that he was interred with his mother in the same crypt (1172) when she died on March 23, 1956 at age 72. Perhaps his marker, the one that confused so many fans, was also placed inside.


Peterson remained the custodian of the Cathedral Mausoleum until 1940 when he left to become a home contractor. The cemetery did not replace Peterson and there would never be another custodian to walk the corridors of the mausoleum, directing visitors to Valentino’s crypt.


Roger Peterson grave marker

 The grave of Roger C. Peteron, one-time custodian of the Cathedral Mausoleum at Hollywood Cemetery (photo courtesy of Tracy Ryan Terhune)


Roger Peterson died on July 31, 1972 and was laid to rest at Grandview Cemetery in Glendale. One wonders why he wasn’t interred at Hollywood Cemetery where he had worked for so many years.


Valentino the Unforgotten, the book that Roger C. Peterson wrote based on his diaries of the never-ending procession of visitors to Valentino’s crypt, was published in 1938. However, after only one shipment was sent to stores, a fire destroyed the warehouse where the remaining copies were held. The book was never republished so copies of the original are rare. In 2007, Tracy Ryan Terhune brought the book back into print, adding new information on Peterson. The book can be purchased on Amazon.


If you attend the 82nd Annual Rudolph Valentino Memorial on Sunday, August 23, 2009, before visiting the crypt of Valentino, pause for a moment below the resting place of Angelina and Matthew Coppola and their son Rodolfo, and remember a mother’s devotion and love for her child. 


Thank you to Tracy Terhune for the use of his photos and permission to quote from Valentino the Unforgotten.



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Barbara LaMarr’s Birthday…

Monday, July 28th, 2008

“The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful”

Barbara LaMarr





Today would be the 112th birthday of the silent screen beauty, Barbara LaMarr. To celebrate, I am reprinting a portion of a tribute to the actress written by Jimmy Bangley, who was a huge LaMarr fan and admirer.


Celebrated around the world as “The Girl Who Is Too Beautiful,” this goddess of film was much more than a mere screen beauty. Possessing a razor sharp intelligence, a keen sense of humor, and a wise understanding of human nature, Miss LaMarr was also a successful scenarist of the silent screen. Beauty was just one weapon in her arsenal of talents.


Child actress at the tender age of seven years, little Reatha Dale Watson (as Barbara was then called) had a tremendous impact on her turn-of-the-century theater audiences as she played in stock companies up and down the West Coast for over six years.


Her loving rapport with the audience never faded. She experienced the same jubilation again with an adoring audience as she seductively danced to filled nightclubs, theaters, and vaudeville houses in her next incarnation as a hoofer on the road. Her natural grace would be exploited to its fullest as a screen actress, but as a young dancer of 14 years LaMarr made a truly stunning impression.






 LaMarr’s Whitley Heights house interior (photo 2)  




Exterior and rear of house (photot 3)


(click on images to enlarge)


Walking hand in hand with Barbara’s successful career as child actress and dancer was Barbara the writer, beginning with her short stories in newspapers (her foster father, William Watson, was himself a noted newspaper writer and editor). LaMarr branched out as film and theater critic, magazine contributor, and lastly film scenarist. She “doctored” numerous screenplays and wrote (and co-wrote) at least eight movies that we know about today.


In 1913 and 1914 LaMarr filmed some quickie westerns in Arizona. She is also said to have filmed dancing shorts in New York City, Chicago, and in Los Angeles, with such diverse partners as Rudolph Valentino and Clifton Webb. None of this film footage can be found today, at least not yet. What we do know is that by 1920 Louis B. Mayer and Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. with wife Mary Pickford “discovered” Barbara LaMarr and set her delicate little feet on the path to screen stardom.


With her gorgeous, exotic looks, her bright personality, her native intelligence, and her inborn grace of form and movement, Barbara was propelled to stardom. She became filmdom’s most beautiful and celebrated vamp. This icon of the art deco era also became a much appreciated and critically acclaimed actress. She received rave reviews in such box office hits as The Three Musketeers (1921), The Prisoner of Zenda (1922), The Eternal City (1923), Strangers of the Night (1923), Thy Name Is Woman, The Shooting of Dan McGrew, both released in 1924, and pleased international audiences with her beauty and charisma in such fluff as The White Moth, Sandra, and The White Monkey (which, by the way, flopped in the United States).



Barbara La Marr’s home at 6672 Whitley Terrace, as it looked a few years ago. Jimmy Bangley, doing his LaMarr impersonation, is standing at photo number 3 in the 1920s version above.  


Barbara once made this telling statement about her film work, “Each characterization I create chips a little piece from my very soul.” She did, indeed, work very hard. She also played very hard. She lived on her emotions and on the very edge of her nerves.


She was generous to a fault and was known in the industry as a “soft touch.” LaMarr could always be counted on to help a friend when he or she was down and out, both emotionally and financially. Friends, relations, directors, producers, and fellow actors realized Barbara had trouble saying no. Many in her circle took advantage of her. She seemed to understand, and placidly accept this facet of her personality.


– Gratefully, Jimmy Bangley

February 1999


NOTE: Barbara LaMarr’s four bedroom, 2 bath home at 6672 Whitley Terrace was recently sold in February 2008 for $1,250,000.




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Jimmy Bangley Memorial

Monday, March 31st, 2008

A Tribute to Jimmy Bangley



 Jimmy Bangley (1956-2004) 


On December 8, 2004, our friend Jimmy Bangley sadly passed away from our lives. He was returned to his family in Suffolk, Virginia to be interred next to his beloved grandmother. The memorial service the following January was a standing-room-only event. Since then, his friends have made donations to purchase a cenotaph niche at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. A place where we can visit and remember. Yesterday, that dream came true when more than 30 friends gathered at the cemetery’s Cathedral Mausoleum to unveil the decorated niche to his memory.


For those who did not know him, Jimmy Bangley was an accomplished actor, writer and film historian. He appeared in numerous plays both here in Los Angeles and his hometown in Virginia. His film credits included roles in the films Rollercoaster (1977), Lost in the Pershing Point Hotel (2000) and the Faye Dunaway short film, The Yellow Bird (2001).  He also appeared in more than 200 television programs representing Hollywood memorabilia and film costumes since the early 1990s. Although his first love was acting, he was also a successful writer. He wrote numerous articles for Collecting magazine, Classic Images and Films of the Golden Age.


Over the years Jimmy waited tables, performed stand-up comedy and sold celebrity memorabilia. For a while he worked at the Writers Guild and spoke at the yearly Rudolph Valentino Memorial at Hollywood Forever. He was also working on a biography of the “Too beautiful” silent screen siren, Barbara La Marr, with his close friend Margaret Burk. Jimmy was multi-faceted and had his hands in many pies during his brief life.


For more about Jimmy, please click on CONTINUE READING…



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