Valentino: A Dream of Desire
by David Bret
Carroll & Graf. 224 pages, $25.95
This new book on Rudolph Valentino has the appeal of a silent film,
with all the histrionics, scenery changes, and implausible plotlines that this implies. Here's a gay, lesbian, and bisexual Hollywood of the early 1920's as we have never seen it before. Not since Vito Russo's The Celluloid Closet has there been such an inviting
glimpse of closeted Hollywood in its early days. Here also are New York's shadowy turn-of-the-century dance halls crowded with thugs and hustlers, places where tango dances with wealthy matrons led to hurried tips and late-night rendezvous. And here is Valentino,
who, through a succession of male lovers and female "beards," slept his way from New York to Hollywood. Bret coos and gushes over his subject, reminding us often of Valentino's aristocratic looks and famous endowment. We learn of his first marriage to the
lesbian actress Jean Acker. We're treated to a smorgasbord of his male conquests, including a steady series of fuck-buddies such as Paul Ivano, Andre Draven, Robert Florey, and Frank Menillo. We relive his second, tempestuous marriage to Winifred Shaughnessy--a.k.a.
Natacha Rambova--the stepdaughter of a Salt Lake City cosmetics tycoon, Richard Hudnut. While Bret provides plenty of salacious gossip, he sometimes withholds his sources. We're left at times with what might be called star fatigue--a sense of being served
up an old rehash of celebrity magazines filled with tales of sexual prowess, wild marriages, and reckless deaths (Valentino died at 31). But if you can keep your motoring cap on and your goggles tight, this is a wild ride with plenty of kiss-and-tell. Where
else can you run into Gary Cooper with his boyfriend and spend an evening at the Torch Club in the infamous Room 23, where a two-way mirror over the bed afforded a hot ticket to the nightly bacchanal?