Rudolph Valentino Survives
by Eric Lipps
says: what if Rudolph Valentino had survived? muses Eric Lipps. Please
note that the opinions expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the
views of the author(s).
On August 23rd 1926,
famed silent-film actor Rudolph Valentino lapsed into a coma after
battling acute appendicitis, an attack of which had felled him on Aug. 15,
gastric ulcers and resulting peritonitis, which had required an immediate
operation. The actor's health had seesawed back and forth over the
following week, as doctors battled to suppress an inflammation in his left
lung brought on by his weakened condition.
Valentino's coma seemed to confirm the prognoses of the more pessimistic
of his physicians, who expected him to die. However, a week later, in the
early morning of August 31, he awoke.
A new story by Eric LippsValentino's
convalescence took months, and the damage done to his lung altered his
speech, giving it a rough, whispery, vaguely sinister tone. At first, that
did not matter - but in the late twenties, with the coming of the
"talkies," Valentino faced a crisis. His changed voice left him uncastable
in the ladies'-man roles which had been his bread and butter, and for a
while it seemed his career might be over.
His salvation came with the casting of the movie Frankenstein in
1931, in which he beat out the less-famous Lionel Atwood for the role of
Dr. Victor Frankenstein. His altered voice, combined with the gauntness
which he still retained from his near-fatal illness, made him a perfect
choice to play the mad doctor, and in subsequent years he would play
similar roles in many other films, as well as such minor characters as the
pickpocket in 1943's Casablanca who distracted his victims with
warnings of "vultures, vultures everywhere".
However, the former leading man grew increasingly unhappy with the roles
assigned to him. His position was only made worse by the rise of Joseph
McCarthy, for in the 1930s the star, like others in Hollywood during those
Depression years, had briefly flirted with Communism. The Wisconsin
senator called him to testify before Congress in March of 1953, and raked
him over in front of the TV cameras not only for his political
associations but also for several past sex scandals in which he had been
involved. In 1955, having been quietly told he had become unemployable in
Hollywood, he returned to his native Italy, where he died on March 8, 1962
at the age of 66.
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Eric Lipps, Guest Historian of
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