“the Overloved One”


On August 29, against this background of international wailing, Pola Negri, the tempestuous Polish actress, arrived in New York from Hollywood. She summoned newsmen to lier suite in the Ambassador Hotel and, with sobs and sighs, told how heartbroken she was over the death of her beloved “fiance.” The news of this engagement came as a surprise to many of Valentino’s friends, although the actor had spent much time in Miss Ncgri’s company since his second wife had divorced him in i()%5. Photographers were invited into the suite, and after the actress had wept, her bosom heaving in anguish, she remembered her duties as hostess and broke open a case of whiskey.

Miss Negri then left to pay her respects at Valentino’s bier. She arrived in the Gold Room heavily swathed in black, although her veil was just Rimy enough to permit cameras to capture the inconsolable grief limned on her face. To the delight of the photographers, when she caught sight of the corpse she swooned dead away. After considerable difficulty she was brought around and, supported by lriends, she tottered out into the street. There her swelling sobs were drowned in the sea of sorrowing cries sent up by the multitude.

On August 30 Valentino’s body, now in an elaborate casket, was placed in a hearse. A twelve-car cortege, preceded by a motorcycle escort, travelled down Kroadway to St. Malachy’s, the actors’ church on West Kortyninth Street, where a solemn high Requiem Mass was to be celebrated. The crowds were thick and the rooftops were filled with watchers, Cries of “Good-by, Rudy!” rose on every side.

The public was not admitted to the services, for fear riots would break out again and the body would be desecrated. Five hundred persons were invited to attend; they included celebrities, journalists, and photographers. A tremendous throng, filling all Hroadway from Forty-seventh to Sixty-ninth streets, was held in (heck by battalions of patrolmen and mounted’ police, while riot squads were kept on alert.

When the hearse arrived, and the cofRn—blanketed with pink roses—was carried inside, the quiet sniffling of the crowd turned into low moans. The honorary pallbearers were Douglas Fairbanks, Marcus Locw, Nicholas and Joseph Schenck, Sydney Kent, and Adolph Zukor. They were followed into the church by Mary Pickford, Madge Hcllamy, Richard Dix, and many other stars of the screen—and the low wailing began to mount to a crescendo. Jean Acker, Valentino’s first wife, wearing no veil and bearing herself with dignity, walked into the church all but unnoticed. Hut when Miss Negri appeared again, shrouded in black, a new chorus of sobs and lamentations erupted from the throng. The bereaved actress had to be helped up the church steps.

Father Edward F. Leonard, pastor of St. Malachy’s, officiated, and several priests from other parishes were in the sanctuary. The organ played Spaeth’s “Miserere” as the processional hymn, and right away it became apparent that Miss Negri would not be able to control her grief. Gounod’s “Ave Maria” was played at the offertory of the mass, and this seemed to intensify her deep sorrow. According to the recent recollections of an old newspaperman, when Massenet’s “Elegy” was sung, the keening of the actress could be heard rising far above the notes of the booming pipe organ. Soon, however, the roving photographers who had been taking pictures of her were ejected for disrupting the service, and their removal seemed to have a calming effect on the actress. She was in complete control of herself as the casket was sprinkled with holy water, accompanied by the chant: “Oh, God, to whom it belongeth always to show mercy—we humbly beseech Thee for the soul of Thy servant, Rudy.”

Chopin’s “Funeral March” was played as the coffin was carried outside—on its way, it turned out, not to a cemetery, but back to the Campbell funeral parlors for further exhibition. When the doors opened, the vast crowd surged forward in an effort to touch the coffin and to inspect the celebrities at closer range, and police unlimbered their clubs as they cleared the way. Miss Negri slowly rose from her pew and paused in the vestibule while snapshots were taken; when she emerged into the sunlight, her grief overcame her again. She was led down the church steps amid the piteous sobs of the crowd and the whirring sound of newsreel cameras.

The sorrow of Valentine’s fans was no doubt as genuine as such sorrow can be. But it did not lack artificial stimulation. In the decades since 1926, the story of the forces operating behind the scenes has gradually become known. It is now clear that at least five publicity-seeking groups or individuals were at work, each hoping to profit from the occasion. Each had a stake in intensifying and prolonging the mourning period—and the publicity men acted with wellorganized speed.