Rudolph Valentino, smoldering sex god of the silent screen and early talkies, created the image of the virile “sheik” who carried swooning women off to his desert tent. A personal appearance in Chicago in 1926, however, prompted a scathing editorial in the Chicago Tribune laying the blame for the effeminization of a generation of young men on Valentino's pomaded hair, masculine cosmetics and slave bracelets. The writer alluded to Chicago's “powder puffs.” Kenneth Anger in Hollywood Babylon reports that “Rudy hardly thought it sporting he should be blamed for the mannerisms of a bunch of young Clark Street faggots, and furiously challenged the Tribune hatchet man to a duel.”
Valentino also had the dubious distinction of being married to two lesbians at once ( the divorce from the first was not finalized before he married the second ) . His marriages to both Jean Acker and Natacha Rambova were said to have been stage-managed by legendary actress-writer-director Alla Nazimova, whose all-gay adaptation of Salomé seems to have been forgotten.
A further Chicago connection: Valentino gave actor Ramon Novarro ( star of the silent version of Ben-Hur ) an art-deco lead phallus, said to be a model of Rudy's own. Some have claimed that when Novarro was murdered in Hollywood in 1968 by two hustler brothers from Chicago, Paul and Tom Ferguson, that dildo was jammed down his throat.
Copyright 2008 by Marie J. Kuda
From Out and Proud in Chicago: An Overview of the City's Gay Community, edited by Tracy Baim, Surrey Books, 2008.