Tag Archives: rudolph valentino

Fit for a Pharaoh

Hollywood Forever Cemetery is sprinkled liberally with the graves of some of the most famous entertainers in history, like Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks, and Cecil B. DeMille.

But by far, the cemetery’s most imposing gravesite doesn’t belong to someone whose name you would recognize. This massive afterlife estate, which graces the center of a man-made lake, is a classical limestone-columned structure large enough to make one of ancient Egypt’s god-kings drool.

The mausoleum houses the remains of William Andrews Clark, Jr.


W.A. Clark’s father – W.A. Clark, Sr. – made a fortune to rival the Rockefeller’s from mining copper in the 1800s, which he used to purchase respectability by becoming a U.S. Senator.

I had heard that he left it all to Junior, who went through it donating lavishly to several charities and building a mausoleum fit for a pharaoh. His first wife died giving birth to his only son, who died in a plane crash in 1932. He married again, but his second wife died young as well. End of the family story, right?

Not even close.

Had I not been a frequent visitor to Hollywood Forever over the years, I would have never heard of the Clark family, or of its progenitor. So imagine my surprise when I saw William A. Clark, Sr.’s name in the paper yesterday.

It turns out that the Clark fortune wasn’t eaten up by inheritance taxes or completely done in by mausoleum construction costs after all.

As I learned yesterday, Clark Sr. had a daughter by his second wife named Huguette, who died earlier this week at the age of 104!

Huguette also got half-a-billion of the old man’s money. Not only was she one of the richest women in the country, but also one of the most reclusive. After collecting a string of mansions on both coasts, she left most of them vacant, hiding away from the world for the past half-century in a 42-room apartment on 5th Avenue.

Which goes to show you …  in America, old people still die, but old fortunes are eternal.

I haven’t heard where Huguette will be buried, but there’s certainly plenty of room in her half-brother’s spread in Hollywood Forever.

(BTW, if anyone would like a tour of Hollywood Forever, I’ll be there tomorrow at 2 pm with my film class. Post me a comment if you’d like to tag along.)

Death By Sound: The Tragic Tale of Karl Dane

Hollywood, like crocodiles, sometimes eats its own. Take, for example, the tragic story of actor and comic Karl Dane.

Dane, who was born Rasmus Karl Therkelsen Gottlieb in Copenhagen in 1886, boarded a steamer headed for Ellis Island 30 years later with $25 in his pocket.

Despite limited English, Dane soon landed a part playing a German chancellor in a film made in New York called My Four Years in Germany. The anti-German propaganda film was the first major hit for fledgling producers Warner Bros. and led to more parts for Dane on the East Coast.

He later moved west, settling in Van Nuys in 1921, where he married and started a new career as a farmer. Two years later his wife and newborn baby daughter died in childbirth, and Dane returned to films.

In 1924, Dane appeared in the silent blockbuster The Big Parade, which starred John Gilbert and Renee Adoree. The success of the film led to more work for the Danish immigrant alongside Rudolph Valentino in Son of the Sheik.

While most of his previous silent film roles were as “heavies,” Dane was teamed up with Scotsman George K. Arthur in 1927 as part of the comic duo Dane & Arthur. The series of comedy shorts they created proved popular, and MGM rewarded Dane with a long-term contract.

And then came sound.

With the arrival of “talkies,” Dane’s heavily-accented voice didn’t translate well to audiences, and he was soon cut by MGM.

The Dane & Arthur team disbanded after a lengthy vaudeville tour, with Dane later trying his hand at a variety of jobs before returning to the stage in an unsuccessful bid to make it as a solo performer.

By the end of 1933, Dane found himself in the humiliating position of running a hot dog stand outside of the MGM gates; the studio where he had been a star a short time earlier. Former friends at the studio, perhaps to save him embarrassment, avoided his establishment, which failed a short time later.

During this week in April 1934, Dane was robbed of his last $18. Afterwards, he went back to his Hollywood apartment and killed himself with a revolver where he was later found by a friend.

For a time his body lay unclaimed until Danish actor Jean Hersholt convinced MGM to pay for Dane’s burial at what is today Hollywood Forever Cemetery, the same burial ground where his old co-star Rudolph Valentino was interred a few years earlier.

Dying Young: The Smartest Hollywood Career Move?

No one should ever have to die young, but Death is an impartial reaper, culling from all ranks of the human herd, including the rich, famous, and talented.

The premature passings of cinematic icons Rudolph Valentino, James Dean, and Marilyn Monroe were certainly great tragedies for the individuals and their fans, but it’s interesting to speculate whether these three would have remained “legends” had they received their entire allotted “threescore and ten” on this earth.

Take, for example, the case of Rudolph Valentino, who died of peritonitis at the age of 31 in 1926. If Valentino was meant to die young, the Fates scheduled the perfect time for it to happen. The Italian-born Valentino had a pronounced accent that would have undoubtedly halted his career within the next several months when “talkies” hit the scene.

Nearly thirty years later, James Dean was killed in a car crash shortly after having completed his third and final film, Giant.

I remember reading a quote describing the legacies of James Dean and Marlon Brando shortly after Brando’s death in 2004. The commenter compared the two Young Turks who rose to fame in the 1950s by saying, “The best thing that ever happened to James Dean’s career was that he died young, and the worst thing for Marlon Brando’s was that he didn’t.”

This may be unduly harsh on Brando’s account, but is it true when speculating about Dean? One thing that Dean had going for him (moreso than either Valentino or Monroe) was talent. Martin Sheen, who I respect deeply as both a man and an actor, is a huge fan of his work. That’s quite an endorsement. But Dean was reportedly not the easiest guy to work with, and had talked about quitting acting shortly before his death to move to the director’s chair. It’s interesting to wonder if his career would have modeled Brando’s or have been more akin to another 1950s contemporary, Paul Newman. Whereas, Brando shot out of the gate, just like Dean, many of his later roles lacked consistency, and he was left with an obituary that made more mention of his obesity and family problems than his body of work. Newman on the other hand had a solid career from start to finish.

I may make some enemies here, but I personally believe that history would have been much less kind to Marilyn Monroe’s legacy had she lived a full lifetime. Marilyn was always more of a movie star than actress, and by the time of her death in 1962, she had worn out her welcome in Hollywood with her diva antics (think Lindsay Lohan). As I wrote yesterday, her personal problems plagued The Misfits in 1961, her last film to be released, and her final film, Something’s Got To Give, was never completed because she was banished from the set halfway through the production. Marilyn was a pretty face, but lots of former screen hotties from that era have been erased out of the public’s memory. (Who out there remembers Diana Dors? Anyone?)

A career label of “has been” is not as sustainable as “what might have been.” While it would definitely suck to have your career in Hollywood snuffed out by an early death, it might just be what the doctor ordered for your legacy.

When Death Delights: Dia De Los Muertos, Part 2

For a graveyard, Hollywood Forever Cemetery certainly is a lively place.

The cemetery, which shares a block of real estate in Hollywood with Paramount Pictures, is a place of pilgrimage for Hollywood historians and fans. But it has also become a popular “event” site for people who previously may have never wished to enter a cemetery except in the back of a hearse. Today, the grounds not only host funerals, but also films, bands, and celebrations, like this past weekend’s fantastic Dia de los Muertos festival.

This wasn’t always the case. Not long ago, Hollywood Forever (then known as Hollywood Memorial) had been left for dead. The mausoleum was padlocked with standing water on the floor, headstones were lost in jungles of uncut weeds, and Douglas Fairbanks’ tomb was submerged in stagnant water.

The credit for the revitalization goes to Tyler Cassity, the hip young owner of the cemetery, who was the subject of an award-winning documentary in 2000 called The Young and the Dead. When Cassity took over ownership of the cemetery several years ago, it was on the verge of condemnation. He was able to bring it back to “life” by capitalizing on its history and by transforming it into a park for the living as well as the dead.

Dee Dee Ramone's grave got dolled-up for "Dia De Los Muertos."

The cemetery is one of the most historic spots in Los Angeles. It is the eternal home of dozens of Hollywood’s fallen, like Rudolph Valentino, Cecil B. DeMille, Peter Lorre, Nelson Eddy, Fay Wray, Tyrone Power, Marion Davies, Mel Blanc, and the aforementioned Douglas Fairbanks. Recent arrivals include Johnny and Dee Dee Ramone, Don Adams, Maila Nurmi (known to the world as “Vampira”), and Darrin McGavin.

On Saturday, I saw hundreds of people filing into the once-dejected mausoleum, many in Day of the Dead attire, to hear a band and to examine colorful artwork that lined the walls. Valentino, who occupies a crypt in southeast corner of the building, once again drew crowds, as he did in life. Most were young people who had probably never heard of the silent screen idol until coming face-to-face with his crypt.

As did Johnny Ramone's.

As a taphophile, I have spent many rewarding hours searching for the final resting places of the world’s famous and infamous and I find cemeteries to be a great place for quiet contemplation. But I can say without reservation that Hollywood Forever is the only cemetery I have ever visited that I am able to describe as fun.

We can thank Tyler Cassidy and his staff for that.

Which goes to show that even a graveyard can be brought back to life if you’re willing to think “outside the coffin.”

Stars & Spectres: The Santa Maria Inn

The Santa Maria Inn, where lots of famous guests have stayed ... and some have never left.

Back in the 1920s, when El Camino Real was the main thoroughfare between Hollywood and William Randolph Hearst’s castle, the Santa Maria Inn was a popular stopping-off spot for Hollywood’s glitterati making the trek.

The Inn, in the city of Santa Maria, was originally constructed as a 24-room English-style hotel in 1917. Later additions brought it to its current total of 166 rooms.

The hotel proudly publishes an impressive list of past guests which contains over 100 names, including President Herbert Hoover, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Carole Lombard, Bette Davis, Jimmy Stewart, and Shirley Temple. Cecil B. DeMille stayed here while filming his epic silent film The Ten Commandments nearby in 1923.

But the one famous guest who is said to have liked the accommodations so much that he never bothered checking out, is Rudolph Valentino.

Room 221, with former (and current?) guest Rudolph Valentino's star on the door.

Valentino, who died suddenly in August 1926 from a ruptured appendix, once stayed in Room 221, and if the reports made by several guests since that time are to be believed – he never left. He is said to enjoy reclining on the bed and knocking on the walls.

If true, it makes Valentino a very well-traveled spectre, since he has regularly been spotted making personal appearances at former homes in Benedict Canyon and Oxnard, and occasionally at Stage 5 and the Costume Department of Paramount Studios.

Room 221 seems to be a gathering place for otherworldly presences. A former sea captain and his mistress have supposedly taken up residence there as well. The woman, who was reported to be  murdered, has been seen floating at the foot of the bed. Once, a housekeeper who was making the bed in the room got so frightened by an icy touch to her shoulder that she fled the premises never to return.

Guests in other rooms have also encountered “bumps in the night.” One man missed being struck by a light bulb that flew out of a socket. Another woke to discover a ghostly party of guests in 1800’s clothing gathered at the foot of her bed.

The staff at the Inn tell tales of clocks wildly spinning, furniture mysteriously stacked up in closed rooms, doors on ovens spontaneously slamming, and a piano (not a player piano) that comes to life behind locked doors when no one is around. One housekeeper was seen being followed by a mysterious balloon all around the second floor.

I’m not sure if the Santa Maria Inn is truly haunted, or if ghosts even exist. In matters of the afterlife, my mind is reinforced by a strong sense of skepticism.

But that doesn’t stop me from being curious. Who knows? Maybe on my next trip up the coast I’ll get the nerve to spend the night in Room 221.  I’ve always wanted to meet Valentino.

A Requiem for Rudolph

Current "Lady In Black" Karie Bible at the crypt of Rudolph Valentino.

I attended a memorial service yesterday for a man I never knew who died over 35 years before I was born. And although I have seen his face many times, I have never once heard his voice.

Silent film lover Rudolph Valentino died in Manhattan on August 23, 1926, and yesterday at exactly ten minutes past noon – the time of his death – his annual memorial service began in the same Hollywood mausoleum where he has been interred for the past 84 years.

Valentino's sudden death in 1926 shocked the world.

Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Piero Filiberto Guglielmi Di Valentina D’Antonguolla was born in Italy in 1895 and caught a boat to America when he was only 18. He quickly found work in New York as a dance instructor, and first gained fame in his new land as part of a tawdry love triangle in which his lover, a Chilean heiress, shot and killed her husband. Young Rudy quickly got out of town by joining an acting troupe heading for the West Coast.

He supported himself in Los Angeles by acting in small roles and by teaching the Tango to doting older women. He played a bit part as a heavy in a film called The Eyes of Youth, which caught the attention of screenwriter June Mathis. She felt that Valentino would be perfect for the starring role in The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, a novel she was adapting for the screen. Coincidentally, Valentino tried out for the lead and met Ms. Mathis, who had been trying to track down the unknown Italian for months.

Four Horsemen was released in 1921 and made Valentino an international star. He quickly followed this hit with two others: The Sheik and Blood and Sand. Over the next five years he had more hits, but was usually on the verge of bankruptcy due to his lavish lifestyle and expensive divorces.

He died suddenly at the age of 31 from a ruptured appendix. It was only days after the premiere of The Son of the Sheik, which many critics believe to be his finest film. June Mathis offered to house his body temporarily in a family crypt while a permanent resting place was chosen for him. Sadly, Ms. Mathis died from a heart attack shortly after Valentino’s passing. Her husband felt it only appropriate that Valentino’s body be left in the crypt permanently and for his wife to be interred alongside her former best friend.

Valentino and his best friend June Mathis are together for eternity at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

By the first anniversary of Valentino’s death, his friend Ditra Flamė began appearing at his gravesite in mourning clothes clutching a single red rose, beginning the tradition of the “Lady in Black.” There have been several “Ladies” during the past eight decades and the current titleholder, Karie A. Bible (no lie), spoke to yesterday’s packed memorial.

Ironically, if Valentino hadn’t died in 1926, it may have been his career that would soon have perished. The Silent Era ended the following year and Valentino, like most heavily-accented foreigners, would have probably lost his studio contract and slipped away from the world’s collective memory.

His premature passing was a tragic ending to his life, but came at the perfect time to create a Hollywood legend – a legacy that is still honored every August 23 at 12:10 P.M.