In 1917 Rudolph Valentino, a 22-year-old Italian, arrived in Hollywood with an enticingly shady reputation as a gigolo and nightclub dancer. In 1920 "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" and "The Sheik" established him as the silent era's greatest Latin lover, and a screen icon. In 1926 he died at 31 of a perforated ulcer.
This much almost everyone knows about Valentino: He died at a tragically early age, and his sudden, shocking passing set off the first (and still perhaps the most lunatic) orgy of mass mourning in the history of premature celebrity deaths.
Some 30,000 near-riotous citizens turned up outside the funeral home when his body was placed on view. There were suicides, conspiracy theories, grieving collapses (notably by Pola Negri, who insisted that she was the last and truest of his loves).
Though "Horsemen" and "The Sheik" both made female hearts flutter, male moviegoers thought Valentino's image was effete. So Valentino followed up "The Sheik" with 1922's seafaring adventure "Moran of the Lady Letty."
And though it wasn't as fun as "The Sheik," Valentino did cut a virile swath as Ramon Laredo, a self-centered San Francisco aristocrat who was abducted at the docks and forced to work as a sailor. Valentino also starred in "The Young Rajah" and, among others, "A Sainted Devil."
Valentino's sudden death allegedly caused women to commit suicide in grief. Hit songs were written about his demise. Thousands of fans lined streets in Beverly Hills and Hollywood to watch the funeral procession. And every year, on Aug. 23 at 12:10 p.m. — the time of his death — there is a memorial service at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where he is interred.