Saturday, March 28, 2020

Recovering the 1975, S. George Ullman Memoir

In 2003, I located the two surviving children of Rudolph Valentino's close friend and trusted business manager, S. George Ullman. They were both in their late 70's and both eager to meet with me. Bunny and Bob Ullman wanted not only to have their father's story told but to know their father's story. He told his family next to nothing about his travails as Valentino's executor and the prolonged legal issues with Valentino's brother Alberto.

Over a period of a couple of years I worked with Bob and Bunny and visited them periodically while writing Affairs Valentino. Bob was gravely ill at the time and I knew time was of the essence. He was determined I find the court records of Valentino's estate to know the truth about what happened to his father. I did find those records... enough of them for him to know his father was exonerated, praised by the court and also persecuted by a cruel and woefully unjust collection process waged against him for 30 years by Alberto Valentino.

In my first visit with Bunny she told me her father was writing a book when he died in 1975. But the only copy they had she loaned to a gentleman in southern California, a local historian, paranormal investigator and ghost hunter who conducts tours and can be booked to give lectures on a variety of local historical subjects.

I do not recall exactly how he came to have their only copy of the memoir but I believe Bunny told me she spoke about her father and shared the memoir with a book club she belonged to and this was how she came to loan her only copy of the memoir. That was some two years prior and she had yet to convince the gentleman to return the manuscript. 

At the time I lived in San Francisco and I knew my ex-husband had a business trip planned in Los Angeles and asked Bunny if she could write a letter granting him authority to retrieve her father's memoir. She did just that. 

When my ex-husband presented Bunny's letter, the gentleman handed over an open, worn US Priority mail envelope containing about an inch of loose papers.

My ex-husband then delivered this precious parcel to Bunny. About a week later I visited her and it was then she gave me the memoir. The memoir consisted of faded photocopies, was not bound but she made an attempt to organize it for me.

Now at the time I was also interviewing collector Bill Self and as I was then ridiculously unaware and naive...I told him, excitedly... about my find. He turned to me and said he had read George's memoir because George “loaned” it to him and he then asked me, “How many pages do you have?” I did not actually know but I answered, “All of them??” That was the end of that discussion. I am sure at that point Self quickly distracted me with another Rudy relic to change the topic.

Bob and Bunny Ullman were not surprised to hear Bill Self read the memoir. Neither of them held much respect for Self and both felt he took advantage of their father and they both felt he masterminded the theft of their father's Valentino archive he kept in those wicker baskets in his garage. (More about that in Affairs Valentino) For Bunny... Self never rose past an exchange with him which took place in 1979 at her brother Dan's funeral. She told me Self made a joke to her that day at the funeral which she found inappropriate. She did not laugh and he said, “What's the matter, Bunny? Don't you have a sense of humor?” She told him it was her brother's funeral.

For Bob it was about those court records. He was dying and he knew it and wanted to know. And as I began to vet George's memoir, I began to piece the story together. But it would not be until 2008, that I would realize Self made a copy of George's manuscript. He most probably told George he would help find him a publisher or some such thing and gave him back that stack of copies. Why else would the family have a copy? Where was the original. Knowing what I do now about Self and collectors... I am sure he held on to George's original.

I learned about this when the L.A. Times was conducting interviews for an article on Valentino in 2008-2009. I add this article was inspired by Micheal Morris as he knew the reporter. The reporter called me at my work place one day to tell me he just met with Valentino family spokeswoman, Jeanine Villalobos and she told him the family had a copy of the 1975 memoir. I knew immediately how that came about... Bill Self.

Bob and Bunny were upset obviously and Bob never really believed they had a copy. Bunny was more worried they had created some false document and it was on her suggestion I made my statement on her behalf before my speech in Turin in 2009.

After my speech, Jeanine Villalobos rose from the audience during a question and answer session to imply George Ullman was “shopping” the manuscript. I have always regretted I did not ask her why the family, who admitted to having access to a copy never mentioned its existence nor shared all of those great anecdotes publicly.

Bob and Bunny granted me non-transferrable, exclusive rights to the memoir and authorized not only Affairs Valentino but the publication of the memoir with a biography of their father.

The last they heard from Bill Self was when their mother asked him to intervene on her behalf when she applied for residency in a retirement home in Beverly Hills. According to Bunny, Self refused and her mother came to live the remainder of her life with her. There was no love between the Ullmans and Self.

In all the interviews I had with Self during 2003, he knew I was also interviewing Bob and Bunny and never once asked for me to give them his best regards, a tiny hello, and he never asked where they were or how they were. There was no attempt to contact them at all.

I made my copy of the memoir and returned the stack of faded pages to Bunny and have told the story. And today again I call out those who knew about this remarkable document and said nothing all those years. How many more historically important documents are they hiding, selling off into oblivion, tossing into the wind for some to cash? How far they have gone to control their false narrative.