Rudolph Valentino, byname of Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d’Antonguolla, Alfonso also spelled Alfonzo, Raffaello also spelled Raffaelo, Pierre also spelled Pietro, and Filibert also spelled Filiberto (1895 – 1926), Italian-born American actor who was idolized as the “Great Lover” of the 1920s.
When Guglielmi was 11, his father, a veterinarian, died from malaria. After being rejected for military service, reportedly because he was too frail, he studied agricultural science. In 1913 Rudolph immigrated to the United States and settled in New York City, where he worked as a gardener and as a dishwasher. The following year he made his first films, appearing in uncredited roles. About this time he was hired by the nightclub Maxim’s to serve as a dance partner for female patrons, and the work exposed him to high society. He reportedly was hired by Blanca de Saulles, a Chilean heiress, to work as a gardener, and he testified at her divorce hearing, claiming that her husband, John de Saulles, had committed adultery. John later had Guglielmi arrested on dubious “vice” charges, and in 1917 Blanca killed her husband. Worried that he would be caught in the ensuing scandal, Guglielmi left New York City with a musical troupe.
In 1918 Guglielmi settled in Los Angeles, where he focused on acting and eventually chose the stage name Rudolph Valentino. The following year he married actress Jean Acker, who was reportedly gay, and the unhappy couple divorced in 1922. His professional life, however, proved more successful. After playing various small parts, he was cast as Julio in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921). The war drama became known for a tango scene featuring Valentino and Beatrice Dominguez, and it made him a star, with his popularity being managed by skillful Hollywood press agents. Valentino then appeared in a series of romantic dramas, notably The Sheik (1921), Blood and Sand (1922), and The Eagle (1925).