VALENTINE’S DAY is a celebration for lovers, the most romantic day of the year, but today fans will also gather in a Hollywood crypt to pay their respects to Rudolph Valentino, the Latin Lover of the silver screen. However, as visitors decorate his grave with red roses, few will have any idea this romantic icon might have died as the result of a curse.
Since his death almost 84 years ago, there have been numerous sightings of Valentino’s restless ghost. Some psychics claim he still enjoys exerting his sexual magnetism over women, others believe he is searching from beyond the grave for a cursed ring, hoping to finally destroy it. Valentino appeared in 14 major films in the seven years before his death at the age of 31. His smouldering sexuality and hypnotic presence left millions of women literally swooning. His stardom was sealed in the 1921 film The Sheik, after which he became known as the Great Lover.
Rudolph Valentino (1895-1926) was considered one of Hollywood’s greatest silent movie stars. Valentino died of a perforated ulcer at the age of only thirty-one. Some blame his early demise on a ring he purchased from a jeweler in 1920. The ring had a gem called the tiger’s eye embedded in it. The legend goes that Valentino showed the ring to a close friend immediately after he bought it and his friend said he saw a vision of a pale and deathly Valentino. Regardless of what his friend did or did not see, Valentino’s next few major pictures flopped at the box office and he died within six years. But Valentino wasn’t the ring’s only victim: his lover Pola Negri became gravely ill after wearing the ring, so much so that her career had to be put on the back burner for years and it never fully recovered; Russ Colombo, the actor hired to play Valentino in the biopic of his life wore the ring and was killed in a shooting accident some days later; and the gangster Joe Casino bought the ring and refused to wear it until the curse had faded. After several years he finally put the ring on—and was dead within a week due to a motoring accident.
Another legend grew up around the crypt of Valentino in the Hollywood cemetery. It seems that since the demise of the star in 1926, a “Lady in Black” has put in an appearance at his tomb and each week, leaves a fresh bouquet of flowers. There is no way to know if this might be the same woman after all of these years, but regardless, the flowers have never stopped coming. I visited Hollywood Memorial Park a few years ago and visited the crypt. Not surprisingly, fresh flowers were still appearing each week.
And this isn’t the only legend. Apparently, a few years back, stories began to circulate about a cursed ring that some believe may have led to Valentino’s early death. According to the story, he bought the ring in 1920 in a San Francisco jewelry store, even though the owner told him that it had brought bad luck to everyone who had owned it previously. Valentino shrugged off the tale and bought the ring anyway.
He wore the ring in his next film, “The Young Rajah”, which turned out to be the biggest flop of his career. Valentino was just getting started at that point and this film was so bad that it kept him off the screen for the next two years. Wondering if the story of bad luck might have been true, he put the ring away and did not wear it again until his trip to New York after making “Son of the Sheik”. While wearing the ring, he suffered an acute attack of appendicitis and within two weeks was dead.
A short time later, Pola Negri was asked to choose a memento from among Valentino’s things and not knowing the strange tales behind it, chose the silver ring. Almost immediately, her health failed and an unknown ailment almost ended her career.
A year later, while still recuperating from the odd sickness, she met a man named Russ Colombo, who was almost a “double” for Rudy Valentino. When Pola Negri was introduced to him, she was so struck by the resemblance between Colombo, a struggling singer, and the later actor, that she presented him with Valentino’s ring. “From one Valentino to another,” she said.
Within a few days of receiving the ring, Colombo was killed in a mysterious shooting accident.
His cousin then gave the ring to Russ’s best friend, Joe Casino, an entertainer. Taking no chances with the cursed ring, Casino placed it in a glass case and refused to remove it, even when a request came to donate it to a museum of Valentino relics. Eventually though, Casino began to disregard the stories behind the ring and he decided to wear it. A week later, still wearing the ring, he was run over by a truck and killed.
Joe’s brother, Del, then came into possession of the ring but he laughed at the idea of a curse and vowed that he would not be intimidated by “old wife’s tales”. For quite some time, he wore the ring and suffered no ill effects from it. He also loaned it to a Valentino collector, who also had no problems. Many speculated that the story of a “curse” may have been nothing more than a series of bad coincidences.
Then, one night, the home of Del Casino was robbed. The burglar, a man named James Willis, was seen by the police running from the scene. A policeman fired at him ( a warning shot, he later claimed) and Willis was killed. Among the stolen loot was the dreaded Valentino ring....
Around this same time, a producer named Edward Small decided to make a film about Valentino. Jack Dunn, a skater, was asked to film a test for the part and he dressed in one of Valentino’s old costumes for the part. He also wore the cursed ring! Although only 21 years old at the time of the screen test, Dunn died ten days later from a rare blood disease. The ring was then placed out of sight and never worn by anyone.
A year after Dunn’s death, a daring bank robbery took place at a Los Angeles bank and the thieves got away with more than $200,000 in cash. In the police ambush that followed, two of the gang were caught and three onlookers were injured. The leader of the bank robber’s, Alfred Hahn, was later convicted and sent to prison for life. At his trial, Hahn stated, “If I had known what was in that bank vault, apart from the money, I’d have picked myself another bank.” What Hahn hadn’t know was that in the safe deposit vault of the bank was the Valentino ring!
The executors of Del Casino, who took over ownership of the ring after his death, continued to store it under lock and key. For many years, it remained inside of the bank vault, where over a five year period a $50,000 bank robbery, a fire and a three-week cashier strike occurred.
Can an inanimate object exert such a malign influence those who come in contact with it? Those who fell under the curse of the Valentino ring certainly believed that it could!
And perhaps it still does.... the last report of the whereabouts of the ring come from the late 1960’s. Who knows where it might have been during the last 30 years or so.... and who knows what kind of havoc it may have wreaked??
In addition to strange tales of curses and a “Lady in Black”, Valentino may be one of the most traveled ghosts in Hollywood. There are a number of sites that his ghost reportedly frequents.
One such location is the house known as “Falcon’s Lair“, Valentino’s home in Beverly Hills for one year until his death in 1926. According to the stories, and to Natacha Rambova (who claimed to be in contact with the actor’s spirit for many years after he died), Valentino refused to accept the idea that he was dead. This is allegedly the reason why his ghost remains behind in the mansion.
Actor Harry Carey was one of the subsequent owners of the house who encountered Valentino’s ghost there, but he would not be the only one. In fact, Millicent Rogers spent only one night in the place before being “chased away” by Valentino.
His life-like apparition has appeared in dark corridors, in his former bedroom and in the old stables, where his beloved horse was kept. One stable worker reportedly walked out the front gate and never returned to the place after seeing the former master of the house petting one of the horses. Another account tells of a caretaker who ran screaming down the canyon in the middle of the night after meeting Valentino face-to-face. It has also been said that passersby have seen a shadowy figure looking out of a window on the second floor of the house. When they remark that the figure looked a lot like Valentino, they are shocked to learn that the mansion was his home!
Not long after Rudy’s death, a friend of the caretakers at Falcon’s Lair was staying in the house while visiting Los Angeles from Seattle. She stated that she was up late one night, writing letters, when she heard footsteps in the hallway and actually witnessed doors opening and closing under their own power. Her only companions in the house at the time were Rudy and Brownie, Valentino’s two favorite Great Dane watchdogs. The animals had been trained by Valentino to bark and snap at any intruder... except for Valentino himself. The witness remembered that the dogs were strangely quiet that night, as if in the presence of someone they cared for!
Valentino’s ghost continues to be sighted, not only at Falcon’s Lair (which is now a private residence) but in other locations as well. One such site is Valentino Place, an old apartment building that used to be an elegant speakeasy back during the days of Prohibition in the 1920’s. Legend has it that Valentino often used to frequent the place for parties and romantic interludes and that his ghost still makes an occasional appearance.
In fact, his ghostly appearances may just be romantic interludes, even today!
In April 1989, a young actress who was living in the Hollywood apartment building said that she encountered the rather amorous apparition of Valentino in her bed. According to her story, she was drifting off to sleep one night when she felt a heavy weight press down onto the side of the bed. It sagged as though someone were sitting on the edge of it while she lay there, too frightened to even move. The weight on the bed became the solid figure of a man and it shifted beside her, moving beneath the thin sheet. The form then slid closer to her, and pressed against her so that she could feel the bulge of the man’s...er, excitement. As heavy breathing washed over her, she finally dared to open her eyes.
She lifted the sheet and there she saw the face of Rudolph Valentino! She was so terrified that she fainted. When she awakened, the figure was gone, but the bed sheets and pillows were left in a complete disarray and strewn about the room.
Other sightings of Valentino’s ghost have reportedly occurred at his former beach house in Oxnard. The house is now a private residence but over the years, many witnesses have reported a dark figure who paces back and forth on the home’s veranda. Valentino stayed at the house while filming “The Sheik”, which was released in 1921. Many believe that he has left an indelible mark on the location.
Another Valentino haunting is said to occur at the Santa Maria Inn in Santa Maria, about 30 miles south of San Luis Obispo. It is said that Valentino returns to his former suite here and that guests who stay in Room 210 feel a heavy presence on the bed and hear eerie knocking sounds from inside the wall. The inn was a favorite getaway spot for the actor.
Perhaps he is still “getting away” on the other side?