The last days of Rudolph Valentino…Part Two

RUDOLPH VALENTINO

The last days of Rudolph Valentino…Part Two

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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 15, 2014

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Sunday, August 15, 1926

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The first reports from that morning claimed Rudy arose from bed about eleven-thirty. Still feeling poorly, he refused breakfast, and instead read the Sunday papers. Suddenly, he turned pale, clutched his abdomen and collapsed on the floor. Frank Chaplin, Rudy’s valet, called for assistance and notified Barclay Warburton. Ullman and his wife Beatrice, who were in adjoining suites, were with Valentino by the time Warburton arrived. Later in the day, Ullman gave a slightly different version of what happened:

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Mr. Valentino had gotten out of bed, but had not ordered his breakfast. This fact, it may turn out, may save his life. We were sitting around reading the Sunday papers when suddenly he groaned and pressed his hand to his side, complaining of a severe pain in the region of his abdomen. The pain passed off, but a little later he turned pale again and another pain seized him. Then I called a doctor whom I know personally. He came into the hotel and as Mr. Valentino continued to get worse we had him removed to the hospital.

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Dr. Paul Durham of the Polyclinic Hospital was a friend of both Ullman and Warburton. Within minutes of his arrival, Durham examined Rudy but waited four hours before calling an ambulance, even though his symptoms appeared to be serious. Several reasons have been given for this delay, one being that it was a hot Sunday afternoon and many physicians were out of town. Valentino’s brother, Alberto, believed that no one wanted to take responsibility for operating on Rudolph Valentino, so they waited for a “well-known surgeon, [an] experienced surgeon, to come along.”

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Still others claim that Valentino had a fear of hospitals. Dr. Arthur Bogart, who worked at Polyclinic Hospital in the late 1940s, was well acquainted with one of Valentino’s former physicians (who was still on staff at the hospital). “The doctor told me,” Bogart said, “his patient refused surgical intervention which might have saved his life, because he was terrified of surgery.”

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Whatever the reason, sometime around four-thirty, Rudy was taken by ambulance to the Polyclinic Hospital on West 50th Street. According to Ullman, in his time of need, Rudy sought assistance from his spirit guides. “I remember, too,” Ullman recalled, “as he lay in that ambulance, doubled up with pain, unconscious and en route to the hospital where he was to die, he kept repeating the word, ‘Jenny, Jenny, Jenny.’”

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Shortly after five o’clock that afternoon, Dr. Harold D. Meeker, a consulting surgeon at Polyclinic, examined Valentino. The fifty-year-old Meeker, a graduate of Columbia University, was also professor of Surgery at Polyclinic’s Medical School. When Meeker first examined Valentino, the actor was in great pain with a moderate fever, a rapid pulse and a board-like rigidity of the abdomen. Meeker’s first diagnosis was a perforated gastric ulcer, but he couldn’t rule out other possibilities at that advance stage of the illness. In his expert opinion, the only way to save Valentino’s life was to operate.

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At six-thirty the patient was rolled into the operating room. Meeker was assisted by Durham; Dr. Golden R. Battey, senior house physician of Polyclinic; and Dr. G. Randolph Manning, a specialist in diseases of the stomach. During surgery, fluid was found leaking through a round hole one centimeter in diameter in the anterior wall of Valentino’s stomach. Meeker’s report stated that the “tissue of the stomach for one and one-half centimeters immediately surrounding the perforation was necrotic. The appendix was acutely inflamed from a secondary infection…” Meeker repaired the opening in Valentino’s stomach and removed his appendix.

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Valentino was taken from the operating room at nine-thirty and transferred to a suite on the eighth floor. Suite Q, the most expensive suite in the hospital, had two luxurious rooms and a bath, a large mahogany bed and dresser, two large easy chairs, handsome rugs and several smaller chairs. It was aptly dubbed the “lucky suite” when Mary Pickford successfully convalesced there in 1912. When Rudy came out of the anesthetic at about ten o’clock, he asked, “Doctor, am I a pink puff?”

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“No indeed,” Durham replied. “You have been very brave.”

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Later, when Ullman arrived, Rudy smiled and asked, “How did I take it?”

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“You took it fine,” he replied.

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“Oh well,” Rudy whispered. “Once a sheik, always a sheik.” He then fell asleep.

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Shortly after midnight, Ullman announced that Valentino reacted very well from the operation, but warned that his condition was critical. “Indeed, we fear that it is doubtful if he can survive because the disease had progressed so far without him knowing or suspecting it,” Ullman said. “It will be several days at the very least before we can know the outcome.”

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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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2 Responses to “The last days of Rudolph Valentino…Part Two”

  1. Anne says:

    A most interesting account of R.D.’S final days. He was truly admired and loved by so many, it is unfortunate that amidst all this admiration his life could not be saved. RIP.

  2. Steve Siporin says:

    In 1953 I was in the U. of Michigan production of IN THE SUMMER HOUSE with Miriam Hopkins. Please phone me for some Miriam stories. Phone any morning.

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