Every 23 August, I spend time remembering Rudolph Valentino – watching a film or two, reading about his work, and reflecting on the impact he had on the filmgoers of the 1920s. Watching his films on television courtesy of Channel Four Silents (when I was a lot younger) awakened my lasting passion for silent film, so I feel I should honour his memory.
I may have my private “Rudolph Valentino Memorial Day”, but back in the day, the Shepherds Bush Pavilion in London held a “Rudolph Valentino Memorial Week”, with revivals of Monseiur Beaucaire, The Eagle, Blood and Sand and Beyond the Rocks. Mr Forsyth, the General Manager of the Pavilion, seems to have taken care over the event, hiring an Italian singer to perform a special “In Memorium” prologue, publishing one of Valentino’s own poems, and giving a detailed synopsis of what he considered the main draw, Monsieur Beaucaire.
Today, Monsieur Beaucaire is one of the lesser-known Rudolph Valentino films. I have seen it just once on the big screen – about eighteen years ago – and I loved it. The costumes are beautiful, Valentino is witty, and the swashbuckling is excellent. It also seems to have been enjoyed by a mysterious Valentino fan who put together a beautiful Rudolph Valentino album between 1924 and 1926 to express some of their feelings about what they were seeing at the cinema.
The mysterious album maker was definitely dedicated to creating something lovely. The album is beautifully made. Some pages are covered in black paper, the better to create a dramatic effect. Black and white pictures, cut from magazines, have been painstakingly coloured with inks. Blue skies have been cut out and pasted behind a picture of a captured Valentino in The Son of the Sheik. Poetry and prose is carefully written in stylised lettering, some in gold paint.Tiny flourishes are used to highlight the text.
The maker selected poetry with which to honour Valentino. I identified three poems as being by Rupert Brooke: Not With Vain Tears, When We’re Beyond the Sun; The Great Lover; and Beauty and Beauty.
Another poem – When Thou Art Dead – had me at a loss. The words were used by Erich Korngold as the basis for his song Tomorrow in The Constant Nymph but this was not written until 1943, far too late for a 1920s album. Eventually, I tracked down a song with the same lyrics that had been popular during the First World War by Sir Eugene Aynsley Goossens.
A further poem appeared to have been copied from Valentino’s own book Daydreams. But when I checked the album version against the original words, I realised that the maker had adapted the words. Valentino’s “You are the History of Love and its Justification / The Symbol of Devotion / The Blessedness of Womanhood” seemed to have become slightly darker.
Sadly the album was never finished. The last dated entry is from October 1926. There are then a few pictures cut with great care from magazines, ready to be pasted on to blank pages. An unfinished page, with illustrations drawn in ink and a poem traced out in pencil, shows how carefully the maker prepared their pages. The pencil marks are faded and just the ghost of a poem remains. I suspect it was written by the maker, who had graduated from copying out poetry, to adapting it, to writing their own.
Perhaps the maker lost interest in the album or found a new object of desire. Maybe the lack of new films and fewer and fewer opportunities to see Rudolph Valentino on the screen made the album feel less important. However, the album wasn’t thrown away. It was kept, and kept in very good condition. We can’t tell who made it, we don’t know what they did after 1926, where they lived, or how old they were.
I hope very much that the maker wouldn’t have minded their album being shared. It is such a beautiful object that it seems a shame to keep it sitting on my shelf to be taken out once a year on 23 August. We know very little about silent film audiences, but this album tells us that at least one cinemagoer in the 1920s found the inspiration to create something beautiful from what they saw at the picturehouse.