Posts Tagged ‘Marion Benda’

Valentino’s Lady in Black legend grows

Thursday, August 16th, 2018



One of the legends that developed after the death of silent screen idol Rudolph Valentino, was about the mysterious Lady in Black. Many have claimed to be her and others have donned the black veil and dress in their memory over the past ninety-one years. Just a few that have laid claim or have been credited to the legend are Pola Negri, Marion Benda, Jean Acker, Estrellita del Regil and her mother Anna, and the one who is most accepted to be the original Lady in Black, Ditra Flame.

Another woman who has a claim on the legend is one that most Valentino fans probably have never heard of. Her name is Florence Harrison. Florence’s story is as mysterious as the woman she was alleged to be.

(click on image to enlarge)

Harrison’s claim to the title was not known until several years after her death and was made by her son. This is what is known. Several years ago, a copy of the book, Valentino As I Knew Him, written by the actor’s friend and manager, S. George Ullman, surfaced with the following inscription:

“In loving memory of Rodolpho Valentino and my beautiful mother, Florence Marie Rittenhouse (Marie Valentino) who died in Los Angeles of cancer on March 7, 1947. May my beautiful mother and the beautiful memory of her that I will cherish to my grave and Valentino, may they both rest in peace in each other’s arms! My mother was the original ‘Woman in Black’ and quit when others tried to copy her and make a cheap publicity stunt out of it. T. G. (Tony Guglielmi).”

Florence Marie Rittenhouse was born in Pennsylvania in 1900 to Charles and Lillian (Shuman) Rittenhouse. A professional pianist, Florence married Samuel Harrison and moved to Washington D.C. There the Harrison’s had three children: Warren, Thelma and David. One day in 1934, according to family lore, Florence and her eleven year-old son David, left Washington and moved to California, never seeing her family again. Nothing more is known about Florence until her death from breast cancer on March 7, 1947 at the County General Hospital in Los Angeles. Florence’s remains were returned to Washington D.C. for burial at Cedar Hill Cemetery.

Florence Harrison’s death certificate (click on image to enlarge)

As for David, he enlisted in the Army in 1942. The family claims that he had mental health problems and apparently was not able to live on his own. Were his problems a result of his stint in the Army, since they would never have inducted him if those problems were present.


The Tony Guglielmi (Guglielmi was Valentino’s birth name) that signed the book was most likely Florence’s son, David Harrison, but why would he sign it that way? By calling her “Marie Valentino,” was he implying that his mother was married to the actor? Did David, who was born in 1923, believe that he was Valentino’s son? Was Florence one of the many anonymous Lady’s in Black that appeared at Valentino’s memorial over the years? Or were these the wild delusions of a mentally disturbed young man? All we have is a brief inscription on the title page of a Rudolph Valentino biography, so unfortunately we may never know. Florence Harrison is one more name added to the already crowded legend.

The 91st Annual Rudolph Valentino Memorial is coming up on Thursday, August 23, 2018 at 12:10 p.m. in the Cathedral Mausoleum at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Be there. To learn more about the history of the Valentino Memorial, read the book, Valentino Forever: The History of the Valentino Memorial Service by Tracy Ryan Terhune.

The last days of Rudolph Valentino…Part One

Thursday, August 14th, 2014


The last days of Rudolph Valentino… Part one




For the next several days, we turn back the clocks 88 years and detail the last days of the silent film idol, Rudolph Valentino, on the corresponding day today…


By Allan R. Ellenberger

August 14, 2014


New York City, Saturday, August 14, 1926


The facts about Rudolph Valentino’s last night on the town vary, depending on who is telling the story and when they are telling it. In George Ullman’s book, he mentions that Rudy’s coloring was bad and urged him to return to his hotel room for a rest.”Why, I feel wonderful!” Rudy replied. “I don’t need rest.”


Rudy spent the majority of the day at the apartment of Barclay Warburton., Jr., or “Buzzy” as his friends called him. Warburton, the grandson of department store founder John Wannamaker, was a scion of Philadelphia high society. Young, blonde, and handsome, Warburton, who was recently divorced from his first wife, occupied a bachelor apartment full of “soft lights, low couches and luxury.”


That evening Rudy was feeling ill but insisted on going to his favorite restaurant, the Colony, for dinner with Warburton and Ullman. Adela Rogers St. Johns was visiting New York and also had rooms at the Ambassador. Rudy stopped on his way to suggest that Adela, James Quirk, and Quirk’s fiancée, actress May Allison, join their party. “But we had theater tickets and it wasn’t until the next day that we knew the serious results of that gay evening,” St. Johns later wrote.


Dagmar Godowsky, Rudy’s old friend and former costar, was also having dinner at the Colony the evening. I saw him the night before he was taken to the hospital,” Godowsky later said, “we were at the Colony restaurant. He wasn’t a happy man.”


After dinner, Rudy complained of indigestion, admitting to Warburton that he had been troubled with it for some time. Regardless of his discomfort, the trio attended the George White’s Scandals at the Apollo Theatre on 42nd Street. This was the eighth performance of the hit revue that Rudy had attended in the last two weeks. After the show, they met backstage with Scandals stars Frances White and Harry Richman. At some point, the group was invited to a party at the apartment of actress Lenore Ulric, but Rudy declined, saying he was not feeling well. Instead they went to Warburton’s apartment, where, later reports said, between fourteen to sixteen people gathered including Marion Benda, who was just getting out of a performance of the Ziegfeld revue “No Foolin.’”


According to Harry Richman, there were “some drinks, music and dancing,” but Valentino declined any refreshments” because he had indigestion. Guests slowly began leaving as the night progressed until only a small group remained. “Suddenly he collapsed.” Richman said that Valentino became violently ill around one-thirty in the morning and was rushed back to the Ambassador.




Be sure to attend the 87th Annual Rudolph Valentino Memorial held each year at the Cathedral Mausoleum of Hollywood Forever Cemetery on Saturday, August 23, 2014 at 12:10 pm. See you there…