Dark Lover provides a titillating glimpse into the decadent past of Hollywood with a gentle retelling of the brilliant yet tragic career of Rodolfo Pietro Filiberto Raffaele Guglielmi, or Rudolph Valentino, as the public knew him. With fascinating glimpses into his life, Leider paints a portrait of a man who, although uncommonly handsome, was also uncommonly sensitive about his masculinity.
From his early days as a taxi dancer (he accepted money to dance with women) to the end of his days in Hollywood, he was plagued with unfair rumors that he was just a pretty face. He spent much of his life trying to live down the way his looks affected his life and the life of those who saw him on screen. Condemned to play “the Sheik,” his artistic soul was never given free reign. Time caught up with him too soon and left us to wonder just how magical he could have been if he’d been allowed to leave the silken tent behind for good.
Along with the burden of being the original Latin lover, his life was further complicated by his conflicting desires to marry a fiery independent woman as opposed to the gentle traditional girl his upbringing made him want. He had two failed marriages, the most famous of which was to Natacha Rambova, a woman decidedly non-traditional who vehemently did not want children despite Rudy’s overwhelming desire for them. Natacha has long been held accountable for every bad decision Rudy made. The portrait that emerges in Dark Lover is one of a man who was charmingly immature and definitely volatile who wanted, perhaps even needed, a dominant force guiding his life.
Leider has created an imminently readable book that effortlessly combines the dispelling of long-held rumors with judicious use of celebrity (some legendary: Chaplin, Fairbanks, Pickford) tidbits to convey the glitz and glamour that was Rudy’s life. Anyone whose appetite is whetted by descriptions of Hollywood’s famous and infamous comings and goings will adore this book.
Kudos to Emily Leider for making the distant silent era reverberate with life and feeling. Dark Lover is almost impossible to put down until it is finished.