The last days of Rudolph Valentino…Part Eight

RUDOLPH VALENTINO

The last days of Rudolph Valentino…Part Eight

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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…

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By Allan R. Ellenberger

August 21, 2014

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Saturday, August 21, 1926

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Ullman arrived at Polyclinic Hospital around five o’clock that morning. Rudy was sleeping as Ullman read his chart, which noted that his pulse and respiration had increased. Concerned, he called Meeker, who arrived shortly with his associates.

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When he awoke, Rudy acknowledged that he felt better. “The pain is all gone and I can feel the place where they made the incision,” he told Ullman. After reviewing his symptoms, Meeker explained that Rudy’s lack of pain was not a good sign. That afternoon, however, Valentino began experiencing some major distress. At 1:15 p.m., after another consultation, Meeker released the following bulletin: “There is a slight spread of the infection in the abdominal wall causing considerable discomfort. There is nothing about the condition to cause undue anxiety at the present time. His temperature is 101, pulse 90, respiration 22 [signed] Harold D. Meeker, Paul E. Durham.”

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Unofficially it was thought that the pain may have been caused by a muscular reaction after the withdrawal of postmortem drains from the wound, and might not mean a dangerous relapse. However, the doctors soon discovered that pleurisy had developed in Rudy’s chest. As a precaution, the hospital staff took blood specimens from Rudy and Ullman in the event a transfusion became necessary. A list of local blood donors was also made available by the hospital.

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Nurse Frank told reporters that the actor was making a desperate fight for his life. “He is in great pain and is frequently given opiates,” she reported. Shortly before four o’clock, Rudy’s condition grew worse, and the chief resident, Dr. William Bryant Rawles, was called in consultation. Even though no one would comment on his status, it was evident by their facial expressions that Valentino’s relapse was more serious than previously thought.

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At seven o’clock the last bulletin of the day was issued: “Mr. Valentino has developed pleurisy in the left chest; has had a very restless day. Temperature, 103.2; pulse, 120; respiration 36.” The bulletin was signed by Dr. Paul E. Durham, Dr. Harold D. Meeker and Dr. G. Randolph Manning.

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An employee of Jean Acker’s dropped off a package at the Polyclinic’s front desk late that evening. Inside was a white bedspread with lace ruffles and the word “Rudy” embroidered in the four corners. A matching pillow cover over a silk, scented cushion was included in the ensemble. It was hoped that the screen star would live to enjoy it.

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Despite Rudy being near death, a report came out of Hollywood that Pola was not as grief-stricken as her press agents led everyone to believe. After Rudy’s relapse was reported, a visitor to the set of Hotel Imperial purportedly found the actress in “fine fettle, entertaining a roomful of friends with all the spirit of an enthusiastic raconteur.”

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Pola Negri has received much criticism for what many called a “performance” during her relationship with Valentino and after his death—particularly at the funerals. Pola later claimed that she was deceived and never knew how serious Valentino’s illness was. “Oh if I had only known what was being done to me!” she said. “They called it common sense when it was really lying, in the name of business. I was deliberately deluded. Weeks later, I discovered the whole cruel deception.”

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According to Pola, the studio craftily arranged for false reports to be given to her during Valentino’s illness, knowing that she would stop all work on Hotel Imperial and rush to New York the instant she learned the truth. Newsboys with extras were kept away from the studio; on her way from her house to the studio, and back again, she was under what she called an “invisible guard of detectives,” who watched to see that nothing disturbing should reach her ears. “My servants were instructed to keep all the newspapers from me,” she said, “to see that no reporters got to me, and to allow no one to speak to me on the telephone.”

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Negri went so far as to accuse George Ullman of “staying the machinery of deception” from the New York end. Pola claimed that Ullman arranged for someone to be at the hospital, night and day, to intercept telephone messages and supply her with favorable bulletins instead of the truth. She did concede, however, that no doubt Ullman thought Rudy was going to recover.

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“But under all the pretense, it was ‘business first,’ love and death were secondary,” she said. “Such is the heartless law of picture-making.”

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TO BE CONTINUED TOMORROW…

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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…

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