The last days of Rudolph Valentino…Part Ten

RUDOLPH VALENTINO

The last days of Rudolph Valentino…Part Ten

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 valentino-dead

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We are turning back the clocks 88 years to 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 23, 2014

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Monday, August 23, 1926

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George Ullman, Joseph Schenck, and Frank Menillo, along with the doctors, kept a watch at Rudy’s bedside all that night. Shortly after midnight an x-ray revealed that the peritonitis was spreading quickly through Rudy’s system. By early morning, he was struggling to breathe against the fluid that was seeping into his lungs, causing him agonizing pain. That, and the difficulty in breathing, was the only things he complained about.

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Around three-thirty, Rudy awoke from a restless sleep. Meeker was standing at his bedside as Rudy weakly raised his hand for the physician to draw nearer. “Doctor, do you know what I want to do?” Rudy whispered. “I want to go on that fishing trip we were talking about.”

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Meeker patted his arm and replied, “You certainly will, old man.” Rudy closed his eyes momentarily and then opened them again, frowning. “Look, doctor,” Rudy said. “I’ve left all my rods out in California. Can’t get them here in time. Can I borrow some of yours—have you got enough?”

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“Plenty, old man; plenty,” Meeker replied. Rudy closed his eyes again and tried to sleep. A half-hour later he awakened and gazed up at Meeker, who was seated next to his bed. “Doctor, I am afraid we won’t go fishing,” Rudy admitted. “Who knows? We may meet again.” Then, after a brief silence, he murmured, “Pola—if she does not come in time, tell her I think of her.” Meeker nodded and gave him an injection to induce sleep.

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During the next few hours, Rudy tossed and turned, murmuring incoherently in Italian, unable to get a fitful sleep. Around six o’clock, Rudy awoke and found Schenck and Ullman sitting at his bedside. Seeing the troubled look on Schenck’s face, Rudy said, “Don’t worry Chief. I will be all right.”

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Rudy then turned his gaze to Ullman. “Wasn’t it an awful thing that we were lost in the woods last night?” Rudy asked. Ullman, taken aback by his obvious delirium, remained silent and gently stroked his hair.

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“On the one hand you don’t appreciate the humor of that. Do you?” Valentino asked.

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Ullman smiled. “Sure I do, Rudy. Sure I do,” he said.

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Valentino regarded him quizzically. “On the other hand, you don’t seem to appreciate the seriousness of it either.”

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The sun was slowly rising over the New York skyline and filling the room with light. Ullman was about to pull down the blinds when Rudy waived his hand and smiled slightly. “Don’t pull the blinds!” he said. “I feel fine. I want the sunlight to greet me.” With those words, Rudy again fell asleep. Doctors considered a blood transfusion but decided that his heart would not be able to stand it. Only a miracle could save him now.

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Around eight o’clock, Rudy lapsed into a coma. Ullman regrettably sent word to Rudy’s friends that it was now only a matter of time. Within the hour, Ullman’s wife Beatrice, James Quirk, and Father Leonard joined Schenck and Ullman. At nine o’clock, a troubled Ullman met with reporters. “Rudy’s temperature has gone up half a point,” he told them. “It is now 104 ½. His pulse is 135. We are hoping for the best.”

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In California, columnist Louella Parsons was celebrating her daughter Harriet’s birthday at the Virginia Hotel in Long Beach. Earlier that morning she received a call from her editor requesting that she write Valentino’s obituary. “But Rudy isn’t dead,” she protested.

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“No,” the editor replied, “but he is dying, and New York wants the story in the office to send out as soon as the end comes—which the doctor says will be in a few hours.”

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Reluctantly, Louella sat at her portable typewriter, with tears streaming down her face, and began writing. “This is all very silly,” she kept repeating to herself. “Rudy will live and we will laugh over his untimely death tribute.”

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Over the next few hours, Schenck and Ullman would quietly enter his room for a few moments and then quietly leave. The only sounds that emanated from the actor’s lips were incomprehensible words in Italian. Around ten o’clock, Father Leonard summoned Father Joseph Congedo of the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary. Congedo originally hailed from Valentino’s home town, but had never met the actor.

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“I was interested more in Valentino’s soul than in his public career,” Father Congedo said. “When I heard that he was facing death without the consolation of his kith or kin, I volunteered to stand at his bedside, not only as a fellow townsman, but as a spiritual counselor.”

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A container of holy oil, a crucifix, and candles were neatly arranged on a small altar in the actor’s room as Father Congedo administered Extrema Unction, the last rites of the church. Schenck told reporters that it was no longer a question of medical science or the doctors. “That is all past,” he said. “Medical science has done its all. It’s simply a question now of Rudy’s resistance. It’s his own fight.”

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Shortly before noon, Jean Acker arrived at Polyclinic by taxi and worked her way unrecognized through the crowds that blocked the Fiftieth Street entrance. Until that day she had not been allowed to visit with her ex-husband. “Every day I called the hospital,” Acker said. “But every day it was the same story. They did not need me, they said. I could do no good there.” But today was different.

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When she was ushered into his room, she noticed that everything—flowers and all unnecessary furniture—had been removed, with the exception of the small altar and the bed that he lay upon. Jean knelt at his bedside and called his name, but he didn’t answer. “I bent over and kissed his forehead,” she said. “But he did not know I was there. I called him again and again but he made no sign.” After several minutes, she was led from the room.

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“The last thing I remember was his breathing,” she said. “It seemed such a hard thing for him to do. And he looked so, so alone.”

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A few minutes past noon, Father Leonard once again blessed Rudy, holding to his lips a crucifix that reportedly contained a piece of the true cross; he then stepped back. Meeker, who could no longer do anything physically for his patient, gazed down at Rudy and checked his pulse. “It’s only a matter of minutes,” he whispered.

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Ullman, who had very little sleep during the past few days, was at the point of exhaustion. Stepping into the hallway, he cried, “I can’t stand it any longer. I can’t.” At ten minutes past twelve o’clock, a slight shudder arose from Valentino’s body as he drew one last breath; a priest, his physicians and nurses were the only ones at his side. Meeker opened the door and sadly nodded to Ullman. Rudolph Valentino, the great lover and idol to millions, was dead.

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TODAY, Saturday, August 23, 2014 at 12:10 p.m., be sure to attend the 87th Annual Rudolph Valentino Memorial at the Cathedral Mausoleum of Hollywood Forever Cemetery.  See you there…

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valentinomystique

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To read more about Rudolph Valentino’s last days, his funerals in New York and Beverly Hills and his burial at Hollywood Cemetery, read The Valentino Mystique: The Death and Afterlife of the Silent Film Idol.

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