Jean Acker with Valentino
At a Hollywood party in 1919 Rudolph Valentino met Jean Acker and after only courting 2 months, proposed marriage. On their wedding night she locked herself in their hotel room and would not let Valentino in. She had regret and Valentino did not realize Jean was a lesbian. She had been involved and in love with Grace Darmond and knew she had made a terrible mistake marrying Valentino. The marriage was never consummated and they were separated shortly thereafter and formally divorced in 1921. This would be one of Hollywood’s shortest lived marriages still to this day. Jean went on to act in small parts and later sued to keep the name Ms. Valentino. Even though they had their arguments, Jean and Valentino remained friends until his death. As time passed Valentino soon landed on the radar of writer/producer June Mathis. Mathis was the first female movie executive in Hollywood and had written and was set to produce what would become the 6th best selling silent film of all time; The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Mathis worked with Metro Studios and she recognized the erotic persona Rudolph possessed that other studio execs had missed, always passing on him for the popular white actors of the day. She offered him the lead role of Julio. This insightful cast would be a hit for Metro and the beginning of a steep climb to stardom for Valentino.
Rudolph Valentino dances the Tango with Alice Terry “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” (1921).
The timing of his entry to fame could not have been more precise. It was 1922 and halfway around the world in Egypt the treasures of King Tutankhamen’s tomb were discovered (undisturbed for 3ooo years) and the world became entranced with anything egyptian or even resembling such. Valentino and Mathis’ story of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were destined for fame. It was one of the first films to host a premier, and it was one of the first to bring in $1,000,000 at the box office.
Sid Grauman’s Egyptian Theater Worlds First Hollywood Premiere
But, Valentino was not a business man. Although he became very popular with Mathis’ film he was still only being paid $350 per week while other white actors of his level were earning over $1,000 per week. He was also still being cast into b-rated films. He needed a manager and a guide for his career. Along the way came an amazingly beautiful and talented Natacha Rambova.
Natacha worked as the set and costume designer for Camille, a movie that Valentino was co-starring in. He was smitten right away, but for her it was a slower process. Perhaps this intrigued Valentino. Ms. Rambova was born Winifred Kimball Shaughnessy in Salt Lake City, Utah. Her chosen name change came from her history. At age 17 Rambova fell for 32 year old Russian Ballet & Opera star Theodore Kosloff . While in England she posed as a governess to Kosloff’s wife and child. Rambova returned to America and began touring with the Kosloff company. In addition to dancing, she began costume designing as well. After the tour ended Kosloff had been hired by Cecil B. DeMille to perform as well as contribute designs. Rambova joined him and was dismayed to find herself as part of Kosloff’s “arty harem”. He would take her designs and set research and claim them as his own. She learned very quickly that trust is not always warranted. She became hardened but savvy with this experience and moved to Hollywood determined to make her own way. She was hired to design sets and costumes for many films and was very committed to her work. Meeting Valentino, she soon became very committed to shaping him into a superstar.