Rudolph Valentino: an alternate ending
What if Natacha Rambova had still been married to Valentino at the time of his death? Where might his body be lying today?
By Allan R. Ellenberger
When silent film star, Rudolph Valentino died prematurely at the age of 31 in 1926, chaos ensued. From the time his death was announced at Polyclinic Hospital in New York until his body was finally laid to rest in Hollywood, riots, rumors and unrest followed the actors body.
And not unlike the recent circumstances regarding the death and as-of-yet burial of pop super-star, Michael Jackson, there were questions and disagreements over where the body of Rudolph Valentino would rest.
As Valentino lay dying in a New York hospital, his brother Alberto was anxiously making his way to Paris and only found out about his Rudy’s death when he arrived at the train station. Later that day Alberto released a statement affirming that Valentino would be buried in America.
“This is what he would have desired,” Alberto said. “He so loved America that I am sure he wanted to be buried there – rather, even, than beside our father and mother in Italy. He loved Italy, but he loved the country of his adoption and his success more.”
However, two day later, Alberto slightly altered that decision stating he needed to discuss the matter with his sister Maria and Rudy’s American friends. Until then no decision would be made.
Surprised by this turn of events, many wondered where Valentino would be interred. Rudy’s sister, Maria, told reporters by telephone from her home in Turin that she wished for her brother to be buried in Castellaneta (Valentino’s birthplace). “It is my desire that Rudolph be buried in Italy,” she said, “and I hope that my brother Alberto, now en route to New York, will agree to this.” Citizens of Valentino’s home town were in agreement and already making plans to welcome the body of the fellow townsman. A committee was organized to collect funds to erect a stately tomb in the town’s cemetery.
Valentino’s manager, George Ullman, still had hopes of taking his friend’s body back to Hollywood. “I think he belongs there and hope to so persuade his brother,” he said. Pola Negri (Valentino’s alleged fiancé) agreed, telling reporters that she too hoped Alberto would bring Rudy’s body back to the city where the actor had his greatest success. “Because he spent so many happy hours – his happiest hours – here, and because I am here,” she said. “I want him buried in Hollywood. But if his brother should wish him buried in Italy, to lie beside his father and mother – that is different. I can understand that.”
Valentino’s first wife, Jean Acker, sided with the Italian delegation. “I think he would prefer to lie by the side of his mother and father in Italy,” she said. “But I have no say in it. Who am I to say anything?”
Meanwhile, a contingent of Hollywood producers, directors, and actors cabled Alberto, urging that Valentino be buried in Los Angeles. “We, of the Hollywood motion picture colony, who knew, worked with and loved Rudolph Valentino, urge you to order that his mortal remains be allowed to rest forever here, where his friendships were formed and where he made his home,” they wrote. It was signed by thirty-eight Hollywood personalities, including Charlie Chaplin, Marion Davies, Antonio Moreno, Ramon Novarro, Norman Kerry and Louis B. Mayer.
Alberto was very appreciative of the honor and interest that Rudy’s friends bestowed upon his brother, but hoped they would not insist on an immediate decision. “I have communicated with my sister in Turin,” he responded by cable. “There are many factors that must be taken into consideration. I cannot reach a decision until I reach New York.”
Rudolph Valentino, Winifred Hudnut, Natacha Rambova and Richard Hudnut
Being Valentino’s next of kin, the decision of where he was buried was left to Alberto and as everyone knows, that decision was for Hollywood Cemetery where Valentino still rests. However, what if Valentino had still been married to Natacha Rambova at the time of his death? The decision would probably have been hers. If so, where would his remains be now?
At the time of his death, Natacha was in France with her family. The only hint of what her plans would have been if history had been different was a brief cable she sent to Ullman in the midst of the fight over where Rudy’s body would lie.
“Unless otherwise directed by Rudolph, we prefer cremation; ashes to be placed in temporary security,” she wrote. “Later could go to my plot in Woodlawn.”
The huge family plot of Richard Hudnut at Woodlawn Cemetery where only he and his two wives are intered.
Who else could he have been expecting? Natacha had her ashes scattered.
Woodlawn Cemetery is located in the Bronx section of New York where many of the city’s historical figures are buried. Silent film actress Olive Thomas was interred there by her husband Jack Pickford just six years earlier.
Richard Alexander Hudnut, perfume magnate
Winifred Kimball Hudnut, Natacha Rambova’s mother
Natacha’s step-father, Richard Hudnut, the famed perfume manufacturer, had a huge family plot at Woodlawn, where his first wife Evelyn was buried in 1919 and where he and his second wife Winifred (Natacha’s mother) were later buried.
Ullman, of course, did not take Natacha’s offer seriously. First, he insisted that cremation was impossible since the Catholic Church did not allow it, and Rudy, who had drifted away from his childhood faith, had returned to it on his deathbed. Ullman recalled that several years earlier they had discussed cremation, and Rudy had said, “Well, when I die I’d like to be cremated and have my ashes scattered to the winds.” Ullman insisted that Rudy was joking.
The Hudnut family memorial at Woodlawn. Could the Valentino memorial services have been held here?
However, to continue with our speculation, had the two still been married, the chances are that Valentino would have been buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Hudnut family plot. Now the only other question would be if the yearly memorial services that have taken place since the actor’s death would still be a ritual at Woodlawn, or would his memory have faded as so many silent film stars of the day have?
In any event, the Rudolph Valentino Memorial Service will be held on Sunday, August 23, 2009 at 12:10 pm, the 83rd anniversary of his death, in the Cathedral Mausoleum at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where the actors body still resides. The public is welcome.