Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Bullying - 1920's Style

Over the past year or so bullying has been a hot headline.  It seems like opponents to social issues lately always talk about how they didn't have these "problems" in "their day", or use that thought as their reasoning behind their belief that sexual preference is a choice.  When I get into conversations (which usually end up in arguments) with folks once they say they would never support someone taking part in an alternative lifestyle, i have to ask them, "So you don't watch Montgomery Clift?  Or Stanwyck?  Dietrich? Hudson?"

One thing most of us can agree on - Valentino was a beautiful man. at the height of his success in the late 1920's, women swooned, men were jealous, and, much like today, journalists would find any reason to put his name in an article to drum up publicity and make a quick buck.  Often Valentino's masculinity was questioned in print. As one of the first mega stars, he was very concerned with his public image and was upset by the stories questioning his sexuality. Fairbanks was a "man's man", Valentino, while lusted after and adored by women, was seen as a threat to the "American male" with his feminine clothing, product in his hair, and soft mannerisms.  The rumors got so wild in a Chicago Tribune article, blaming Valentino for the weakening of men nation wide, that in July of 1926 Valentino challenged the newspaper writer to a boxing match to prove he wasn't a "pink powder puff".  Although the writer of that article didn't rise to the challenge Frank O'Neill of the New York Post did - and Valentino won the fight that took place on the roof of  New York's Ambassador Hotel.

About a month later, Valentino fell gravely ill. While the rumors continued to fly (He was poisoned by a jilted lover! stabbed by a jealous husband!) In reality Valentino had severe ulcers exacerbated by internal injuries from the fight, resulting in an abdominal tear.  He had put off seeing a doctor for a few weeks between promoting his film and dealing with his recent divorce, and didn't seek help until he was found coughing up blood and doubled over in pain. After surgery and days of suffering, pleurisy set in and there was no longer hope of saving him.
Without the fight to prove he was tough, his condition probably wouldn't have worsened as quickly and he might've lived.  It's sad that what other people think holds so much weight over all of us, that people's opinions, no matter how closed minded, lead us to feel sometimes there's no other way to make the criticism and ridicule stop other than to do something drastic.  Here we are, 100 years later, still dealing with these issues and it just makes me wonder, will we ever reach a point where we can just let each other be happy?


  1. Wow, I had no idea about this publicity fight and how it contributed to Valentino's untimely death! Thank you so much for sharing this and for relating it back to the problems queer people still face today. Poor Rudy.

  2. I didn't know about this absurd fight either. Jeez. What a terrible thing. As if fighting proves anything one way or another. What a waste.

    Thanks for this interesting bit of information.

  3. I've read conflicting information about Rudy's ulcers and the "pink powder puff" comment, but I wholeheartedly agree with your message here. Even if Rudy had emerged from the boxing match unscathed, it should have never happened because bullying led to it, and no one deserves to be bullied. Truly, you've brought much-needed attention to a dire issue rarely (if ever) discussed on classic movie blogs--the harassment that people face because of who they are or whom they're perceived to be.

  4. Wow! I knew abour the ulcers, but had never heard about the publicity and the fight! They had a way to put Valentino down, and, if the suposition is true, the rumor really made him suffer until death. Valentino's story just got sadder.

  5. Great info in this post - lots that I didn't know. Thanks!