Mostly everyone knows or should know who Valentino was, and the reason they do is because of his tragic death. He was biggest silent film star of his day, struck down in the prime of his life. Valentino died at a New York City hospital after collapsing at the Hotel Ambassador. Despite surgery for appendicitis, he developed peritonitis and then pleurisy and died on August 23, 1926.
There was mass hysteria, women committing suicide, thousands coming to the funeral in New York City’s St. Malachy’s Roman Catholic Church. A funeral train from New York to California brought Valentino to another huge mourning at the Hollywood Cemetery (now known as Hollywood Forever Cemetery.)
I would like to present some interesting stories I have gathered on Valentino from a couple sources.
Rudolph Valentino’s brother, Alberto Guglielmi, (Valentino’s family name) recalls in Kevin Brownlow’s, “Hollywood The Pioneers,” how moved he was at the American peoples outpouring of grief when he accompanied Valentino’s body by train from New York to California. Of particular interest to me personally was a stop in of all places my hometown of Erie. “I was awakened just before dawn, he said, “when the train stopped, and I was informed that a group of people from Erie who had come with guitar, mandolin and the great majority were Italian. They asked permission to sing and play some Italian songs for the memory of Rudy. It was very touching.”
Even though the train did not stop through all the towns, many people were kneeling by the rails just to see the funeral procession.
**Robert Parrish recalls in his book, “Growing Up in Hollywood,” that his first brush with cult of Hollywood celebrity was with the funeral of Rudolph Valentino. He was in fifth grade at Santa Monica Boulevard School less than a mile from twenty-three film studios. That morning, which was September 7, 1926, his mother Reesie Parrish was reading the morning newspaper at the breakfast table. She read about Valentino’s fiancée, actress, Pola Negri. According the paper account, Negri had arranged the funeral train and accompanied Valentino. “My mother read aloud, “ ‘Rudy’s sweetheart brings body. In the solemnity of the death car, with the blush of the desert morning against the windows on which the shades were partly drawn, the emotional Polish actress was alone with her dead.’” Robert’s mother was visibly upset, but his father was unmoved and was waiting for his toast. She continued, “ ‘ It was, perhaps, the last time the lovers could be alone for days to come, for screenland begins its tribute this afternoon. Every great star and director will be at the ***Hollywood Cemetery to bid farewell to the star of stars.’ “Miss Negri, attired in a simple but striking black costume, was sobbing audibly. Although apparently on the verge of a nervous breakdown, she walked steadily forward to the car where the mortal remains of Valentino lay in the heavy silver-bronze casket.’ “ “ ‘ Ah, dear,” she sobbed, as tears coursed down her cheeks in pitiable grief, “we will soon be home; home, my dear, where you were so happy and life and love were so sweet.” ‘ “ ‘ As she arose and bowed her head over the bier, a delicate little flower dripped from her hand to the draped casket. ‘ “
Robert’s mother wiped away tears. His father was unimpressed. Robert left for school but found weeping women blocking Santa Monica Boulevard by the cemetery. At eleven in the morning the principal announced that school would be closing and that they should go right home. He watched as she and the other women teachers joined the other grievers. Instead of going home, Robert and a friend went to watch the dramatic proceedings. Ladies were trampling other graves just to get to the crypt, flowers and wreaths were everywhere, even a wreath from Mussolini. Even a plane had dropped flowers from the sky.
I found it interesting to find an account by someone who was there, but Robert Parrish’s recollections are told rather sarcastically, and that I did not appreciate.
**On a side note, the only reason I have this book is because Robert Parrish (who later became an award winning film editor and director,) youngest sister was actress Helen Parrish, who I have devoted a website to and am continuing my research on.**
**The cemetery was originally called "Hollywood Memorial Park" until 1998 when it was changed to Hollywood Forever.
Sources cited: Hollywood The Pioneers, Kevin Brownlow, Pictures: John Kobal. COLLINS St. James’s Place, London 1979
Growing Up in Hollywood, Robert Parrish, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York and London 1976