The last days of Rudolph Valentino…Part Five

RUDOLPH VALENTINO

The last days of Rudolph Valentino…Part Five

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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 18, 2014

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Wednesday, August 18, 1926

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Valentino once again had a reasonably comfortable night. Letters, flowers, and telegrams continued to flow into Polyclinic Hospital, and more operators were added to handle the influx of calls inquiring about Valentino’s status. Meeker’s report stated that the actor’s condition remained favorable. “Unless unforeseen conditions develop,” he said, “recovery is possible. Temperature 100.8. Pulse 85. Respiration 20.”

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That morning, Rudy, who was experiencing less pain, was given chicken broth and Vichy water, the first bit of nourishment since his operation. It appeared that he was feeling significantly better, but somewhat restless. “How much longer is this damn thing going to last?” he asked Ullman, who was the only person allowed to see him besides the hospital staff.

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Rudy tried to concentrate as some of the thousands of telegrams received were read to him. “That’s very nice,” was his response to Joseph Schenck’s message of sympathy. John Gilbert wrote, “Fight, Rudy, fight. Millions need you.” Other greetings arrived from John Barrymore, Bebe Daniels, Charles Chaplin and Mary Pickford. Letters and packages from unknown fans arrived daily, including more than a dozen Bibles and a copy of “Bedtime Stories for Grown-up Guys” from a young girl in Chicago.

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Natacha Rambova and her Aunt Teresa cabled their good wishes from Paris: “We pray for your recovery. Love.” That evening, Natacha arranged a séance with medium George Wehner, who claimed to have contacted Valentino’s spirit even though the actor was still very much alive. There appeared to be some confusion in the meta-physical world, since Rudy’s spirit believed that Natacha and company were in New York comforting him. Suddenly, Jenny, one of his spirit guides and the one he called for in the ambulance, took control, describing his illness and how his thoughts were directed to Natacha and his beloved Aunt Tessie.

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Pola Negri, Valentino’s self-proclaimed fiancée, called long-distance and spoke briefly to an operator. “This is Pola Negri. How is Mr. Valentino?” she asked. When assured that he was doing well, she thanked the operator and hung up. Though Pola proclaimed she would take an airplane in order to be at Rudy’s side, her employers, Famous Players-Lasky, vetoed that notion, not wanting to risk the safety of their star.

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Earlier that afternoon, reports again circulated that Valentino had died. The New York Evening Graphic issued an extra with two words in a large black headline—“Rudy Dead.” Below, in smaller and lighter type, the headline continued, “Cry Startles Film World as Sheik Rallies.” In its story, the Graphic recounted a rumor that Valentino had died, but gladly reported that it wasn’t true. The headline, however, had done its job. As one newspaper put it, “Theatrical stars, never out of bed before noon, rushed to the hospital, while others telephoned or sent messages.”

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Calls flooded the hospital switchboard at a rate of thirty-two per minute. Two additional operators were added, performing their duties “standing up.” When word reached the Astoria studios of Famous Players-Lasky, they closed for the remainder of the day before the truth was learned. The hospital staff did their best to deny the rumors and denounce its originators, but the damage had been done. In retaliation, Dr. A.A. Joller, superintendent of Polyclinic Hospital, had Jack Miley, the Graphic’s reporter and author of the piece, barred from the hospital’s press room. When ordered out, Miley said, “Who’s going to pay for this press room—Mr. Ullman, Mr. Valentino, or the United Artists?”

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Dr. Joller defended his actions and the hospital, saying “For an institution of the high character and standing that Polyclinic enjoys, to tolerate such a fake as charged by the New York Evening Graphic would be suicide and would not be permitted for one moment, actor or no actor.”

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At seven o’clock that evening the final bulletin of the day was issued. “Mr. Valentino’s condition remains favorable. Unless unforeseen complications develop, recovery is considered probable. His temperature is 100.8; respiration 20, and pulse 86.”

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For dinner, Rudy was given broth, French Vichy water, and peptonized milk. Just before midnight he was awakened by an attack of heartburn. “The doctor gave him some medicine and he went back to sleep again,” Ullman said. “The attack was not severe but it did interrupt the rest we hoped he would get.”

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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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