Monday, June 29, 2020

The Kaplan Edizioni Volume

Some time after the Convegno Valentino, an international conference on Rudolph Valentino held in 2009 and hosted by the University of Turin, the university published this book of the speeches delivered including mine. I am honored to be included in this volume and am happy it is for sale online. It is all in Italian and a beautiful book. Find it here:

Sunday, June 28, 2020

A Couple of Myths Dispelled During my Visit to Frank E. Campbell's

In 2003, I traveled to New York City... with my specific destination being Frank E. Campbell's Funeral Home. I made my appointment and told the staff librarian I was writing a book on Rudolph Valentino  and wanted to see anything they had in their archive. He told me the only other Valentino biographer to ever visit the premises was Robert Oberfirst in the late 1950's. 

I wrote about this visit in my post on this blog titled, "Finding Valentino's Sarcophagus". I was not entirely prepared to take so many photos as I did and back in that day we did not have Iphones to take high quality images in an instant. But I made do.

I have shared many of those images over the years, in our books and online. But I am sharing a few more and posting the following to preserve them in yet another location. I feel they are important and deserve to be seen. I photographed the pages of an old ledger with the hand-written invoice for Valentino's funeral and a crumbling scrapbook of newspaper clippings. Campbell's would send me clearer scans of the invoice which I referenced in Affairs Valentino. 

I feel these images should be shared because they dispel a couple of prevalent defamatory lies which are still bandied about as truth today. 

The invoice stands as proof George Ullman paid for the funeral in two payments. He paid that bill in full as we see here:

I think you can sense the chaos in this invoice page. Someone was trying awfully hard to make sense of what was going and just what was to be charged. 

The first of several signatures of George Ullman, Address: Hotel Ambassador, N. Y. City

George Ullman pays Campbell's $10,000.00 with a balance which was paid within ten days. 

And from the scrapbook...

...surprising in this interview with Jean Acker (on the right) that she claims she was in the next room when Rudy died. According to the attending physician, Frank Mennillo and George Ullman she was not there but came to see him some time earlier. 

And a second myth dispelled...for those who claim Natacha Rambova made no contact with George Ullman and had no interest in Valentino's funeral, this article dispels that defamatory lie.

There were articles from newspapers around the world. 

It is a shame this scrapbook could not be rescued. I have no idea where it is now and imagine just as happened with the sarcophagus, the moment I announced its location...poof... it vanished. 

Friday, June 26, 2020

Cheers to you, Renato Floris!!

Oh, the memories of the days long before lock down and masks and social distancing...Renato celebrated his birthday with some fine wine and a dinner (two years ago). I am incredibly biased in his praise...but he has worked so very hard and silently to contribute to the Rudolph Valentino legacy. 

Renato learned to speak French in his elementary school days and learned English from a persistent auntie... and now those skills have resulted in some fine books translated for all of you to read. 

Renato Floris first stepped into the Valentino world when he worked on the RAI television documentary on Valentino in the 1990's. It was then he met Father Michael Morris and for this we would meet in 2009 in Turin and begin our journey of true love and collaboration. 

Cheers to you Renato! All love!

Rodolfo Valentino Bambino

Una bella storia raccontata da Aurelio Miccoli, la storia di Rodolfo Valentino bambino.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

I Cherish These Thoughts

 Below, a message I received on Instagram from a follower. I do not know their true identity but found their sentiment worth sharing and preserving here. If they are reading this, I thank them again. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

A Most Interesting Research Folder

Some time ago, in his continuing malevolence targeting us and anything we say or do...and on his eight year old deceitful Affairs Valentino Masses of Trivialities Anti-Satan Holy Warrior and very Ageist Critique blog, Tracy Ryan Terhune revels in smearing Renato's monumental translation effort by saying the Jeanne DeRecqueville book was of no significance and was not referenced in any previous book on Rudolph Valentino. Well he obviously posted before and not after spending one minute fact-checking his own statement because that is 100% false which we handily proved in a previous post. The book was in fact referenced in every single reputable book on Valentino since DeRecqueville published her work in 1978.

As I was going through Michael Morris' archive just now I came across his folder labeled, “Recqueville's Valentino (French)” (see photo below). I took some pictures of the contents of his folder to further prove just how much the esteemed Father Michael Morris respected DeRecqueville's work and as I mentioned previously he did cite it in his Madam Valentino bibliography.

Here follows:

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Myths Dispelled in Affairs Valentino

The following is an excerpt from a piece I wrote in 2006 explaining aspects of Affairs Valentino. I could now expand on this obviously, but for the record I share this partial listing from many years ago. 

"Most Valentino biographers previous to Affairs Valentino have relied primarily upon studio-generated, highly-fictionalized articles published in fan magazines of the day. Affairs Valentino differs from other Valentino biographies in that its primary source materials are first hand accounts by participants of the events and court documentation. Affairs Valentino also differs as it presents the first accounts of George Ullman and Frank Mennillo’s influential roles in Valentino’s life and career. In light of the newly-discovered source material referenced in Affairs Valentino, many of the events in Valentino’s life as reported in previous biographies receive a different interpretation. The following is a partial listing of the new and exclusive Affairs Valentino sources:

Extracts and schedules from the court-ordered Baskerville Audit reviewing Ullman’s estate ledgers and the business accounts of the Rudolph Valentino Production Company.

The second page of Valentino’s Last Will and Testament designated as “Paragraph Fourth”.

Valentino’s household ledgers dating from January 1926- August 1926.

Rudolph Valentino Production Company records.

Valentino’s contract with United Artists signed on March 20, 1925.

Business records of Valentino’s corporate alter ego, Cosmic Arts, Inc., including the contract transferring ownership of Valentino’s United Artists’ contract to Cosmic Arts, Inc.

Copy of Valentino’s distribution contract with United Artists.

Records of royalties earned from Valentino’s last two films as well as income collected from rental properties and other real estate.

Valentino’s personal banking and club membership information.

Itemization of assets and debts at the time of Valentino’s death as well as accounts paid by his estate after his death.

Valentino’s Probate Court documents and Ullman's Appellate Court case file.

Listings of all disbursements made by the estate.

Itemization of Valentino estate worth as submitted to the court by appraisers.

Listings of his real estate and business holdings.

Documents revealing Natacha Rambova’s ownership of Valentino’s contracts as majority stockholder of Cosmic Arts, Inc.

Income reports on earnings from Valentino’s last two films.

Court testimony regarding two life insurance policies held on Valentino by Joe Schenck and the Cinema Finance Corporation.

Court transcripts from the settlement of his estate including testimony by the principle participants, i.e. Valentino’s brother, his attorney, his sister and others.

Documents submitted to the court as exhibits.

• Exclusive access and licensing to George Ullman’s 1975 personal memoir.

Personal letter sent to George Ullman from Valentino’s attending physician at the time of his death, Dr. Howard Meeker explaining the medical details of Valentino’s final days.

The original managerial contract Ullman signed with Valentino.

Ullman’s personal correspondence and archive of articles and photographs.

Frank Mennillo’s personal photographs and archive.

Campbell’s Funeral Home invoice and records relating to Valentino’s funeral.

The private collection of and interviews with collector William Self.

The archives and photograph collection of Natacha Rambova’s sole biographer, Michael Morris.

The archives of Valentino biographer, Irving Schulman housed at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. According to university archivist Claude Zachery, the Schulman archive had never been accessed for research purposes.

Partial Listing of Valentino Myths Dispelled in Affairs Valentino

Differentiating specific new aspects of Valentino’s life as contained within Affairs Valentino from those commonly-held to be the truth today.

1) It is asserted Rudolph Valentino came to the U.S. as a poor Italian immigrant. This was originally purported in his ghost-written, rags to riches autobiography first published in Photoplay’s January/February 1923 issue.

-According to Affairs Valentino this is not true.

*Valentino had a wealthy benefactor from the moment he arrived in New York City to his dying breath. This Italian importer, Frank Mennillo, sponsored his arrival in New York and supported him throughout his life. (He was also a guest of Ernesto Filomarino, his sister-in-law's uncle.)

2) It has been asserted that although both Frank Mennillo and George Ullman were characters in Valentino’s life, neither of them wielded a tremendous influence over him or played a noteworthy role in his life.

-According to Affairs Valentino this is not true.

* Both men played significant roles in Valentino’s professional and personal life and this has never been addressed in any book or article about Valentino to date.

3) It has been asserted Rudolph Valentino and his brother Alberto were very close and that during Valentino’s final months of life he brought his brother to Los Angeles as solace after his divorce from Natacha Rambova.

-According to Affairs Valentino this is not true.

* Valentino fought with his brother and evicted him from his home, Falcon Lair. At the time his brother Alberto left New York to return to Italy, Valentino told George Ullman that he “hoped he would never see the bastard (Alberto) again.”

4) It has been asserted Valentino left his estate divided equally between his two siblings and his ex-wife’s aunt.

-According to Affairs Valentino this is not true.

* According to the second page of his will, which has never been made public, he left his estate to his sole heir, his “nephew” Jean.

5) It has been asserted Valentino was an overly-groomed, bookish intellectual.

-According to Affairs Valentino this is not true.

* Whenever Valentino was at home he was most often in his garage working on his cars or caring for his horses and dogs. According to George Ullman, he seldom read and Valentino's brother Alberto told Valentino memorabilia collector William Self the only book Rudolph ever read cover to cover was E. M. Hull's The Sheik.

6) It has been asserted Valentino was a weak-willed lounge lizard who was subjected to the whims of his controlling wife.

-According to Affairs Valentino this is not true.

* Valentino was an aggressive and involved businessman who ran his own production company and owned and operated several businesses. He was not submissive with his women especially with his wife Natacha. He hired detectives to pursue her and eliminated her from his business the day they separated.

7) It has been asserted Valentino was a cheerful, happy person with a carefree attitude about life.

-According to Affairs Valentino this is not true.

* Valentino was prone to prolonged bouts of melancholy and on one occasion he attempted suicide.

8) It has been asserted Rudolph Valentino only drank wine with meals and never consumed hard liquor.

-According to Affairs Valentino this is not true.

* At the end of his life he spent thousands of dollars a month on bootleg whiskey. His drinking not only contributed to his early death, but may in fact have caused it.

9) It has been asserted Valentino was outgoing and trusting to a fault.

- According to Affairs Valentino this is not true.

* Valentino was paranoid, insisted his personal correspondence be encrypted in ever-changing codes and both he and George Ulllman carried loaded revolvers for their personal protection.

10) It is asserted Valentino lived his life as that of a closeted homosexual and never slept with his wife Natacha.

-According to Affairs Valentino this is not true.

*There is no basis in fact, and no source exists regarding this assertion and first-hand accounts of his daily life reveal the contrary was true. Valentino did sleep with his wife Natacha as was witnessed by George Ullman and his many affairs with women were also witnessed and are well-documented.

11) It has been asserted Valentino left his homeland of Italy because he wished to begin a new life in America.

-According to Affairs Valentino this is not true.

* He left Italy in disgrace and was exiled by angry relatives in the dead of winter.

12) It has been asserted Valentino and his co-star Mae Murray were just friends.

-According to Affairs Valentino this is not true.

*They were lovers.

12) It has been asserted Valentino only took up the sport of boxing during his final weeks of life in order to prove his manliness.

-According to Affairs Valentino this is not true.

* Both he and George Ullman were avid fans of the sport as well as active participants. He owned a box of eight seats at the American Legion Arena in Los Angeles and attended the boxing matches every Friday night.

13) It has been asserted Valentino was devoted to his career as an actor at the time of his death.

-According to Affairs Valentino this was not completely true.

* While Valentino was filming his last movie, Son of the Sheik, he confided in George Ullman saying he was tired of acting and playing the Sheik and Great Lover roles. He said he planned to quit acting altogether, try his hand at working behind the camera as a director and move to Spain to study the art of bull-fighting.

Some of the George Ullman Myths Dispelled in Affairs Valentino

Differentiating specific new aspects of George Ullman’s life as contained within Affairs Valentino from those commonly-held to be the truth today.

1) It has been asserted as executor of Valentino’s estate George Ullman embezzled money and mismanaged funds. This falsehood originated in 1930 in the wake of a lawsuit filed against Ullman by Valentino’s brother charging him with fraud and mismanagement of the estate.

-According to Affairs Valentino this is not true.

*It has never been reported that a court-ordered audit found Ullman’s executor’s accounts to be in perfect order nor that he was completely exonerated on all these charges by the California Court of Appeals.

2) It has been asserted George Ullman negotiated a contract for Valentino with United Artists which specifically banned Valentino’s wife Natacha from any role in his future films.

-According to Affairs Valentino this is not true.

*A copy of this contract reveals Natacha Rambova’s name is not mentioned. She was barred specifically from any executive role in Valentino’s films by United Artists’ President Joe Schenck in a memo which he wrote to George.

3) It has been asserted George Ullman was ordered to repay the Valentino estate some $20,000.00 after his tenure as executor.

-According to Affairs Valentino this is not true.

*It has previously not been reported he was ordered to repay the estate over $100,000.00 plus interest nor reported most of these funds were advances he made in good faith to Valentino’s brother and sister believing they held a future share in Valentino’s estate. When it was discovered they did not hold a legal share, Ullman was ordered to repay this crippling amount of money to the very same people who had already spent the money years before.

4) It has been asserted George Ullman was a wealthy man who chose not to repay the Valentino estate.

-According to Affairs Valentino this is not true.

*He struggled financially his entire life and declared personal bankruptcy.

5) It has been asserted Ullman retained possession of valuable items which he removed from Valentino’s home after his death which he later sold for a profit.

-According to Affairs Valentino this is not true.

*Ullman retained some items in his possession which at the time of Valentino’s death held little to no financial value. He kept most of these items for thirty years before giving them as annual birthday gifts to a prominent Valentino collector. At the time he declared personal bankruptcy, an extensive accounting of his personal belongings did not mention these items as having worth. Also most all of his personal archive of documents accumulated during his tenure as Valentino's manager were stolen from his garage.

6) It has been asserted George Ullman controlled Valentino and exercised his will over him.

-According to Affairs Valentino this is not true.

*Valentino trusted George Ullman implicitly and deferred to him on almost every decision he made. When George first became Valentino’s business manager, he negotiated a profitable contract and sweeping victory for Valentino over Famous-Player’s Paramount, brought order to Valentino’s dire financial situation and launched his return to the movies after a lengthy strike/absence. In this effort Ullman made a fortune for Valentino. Although many people resented his power over Valentino, this was nothing Valentino ever resented.

7) It has been asserted George Ullman took advantage of Valentino’s devotion to him and became a wealthy man in the process.

-According to Affairs Valentino this is not true.

*Court documents reveal George Ullman received a regular weekly paycheck of $400.00 and after Valentino’s death he received this same amount as compensation for his work as executor.

8) It has been asserted George Ullman caused the Valentino estate’s lengthy legal battle.

-According to Affairs Valentino this is not true.

*George was financially ruined by the contentious settlement of Valentino’s estate and the lawsuit brought against him by Valentino’s brother. He petitioned the court on some forty occasions requesting that his executor’s records be accepted by the court in order to settle the estate.

9) It has been asserted George Ullman was the cause of Rudolph Valentino’s divorce from Natacha Rambova.

-According to Affairs Valentino this is not true.

*Valentino divorced his wife after his detectives discovered her having an affair with a cameraman. On many critical occasions during the final days of the Valentino marriage, Ullman acted as peace broker in the Valentino household.

10) It has been asserted George Ullman and Natacha Rambova hated each other.

-According to Affairs Valentino this is not true.

*They collaborated as art director and producer on several of Valentino’s films and after Valentino’s death they wrote kindly of each other in their respective books."

Sunday, June 21, 2020

A Father's Day Wish

Even though people might disagree with what I write, disagree about such things as my belief Valentino's nephew was his love child, they deserve to be able to read what I present and judge for themselves. I think the level of opposition to my even presenting that theory speaks volumes. If it were some crackpot idea they would have laughed it off. They did not and instead they organized to stop Affairs Valentino at all costs.

I was a hard person to convince about the love child. But I remember well when I began to believe it was true. This was when we discovered the address of Via Nizza 9; baby Jean's actual birthplace in Turin. It all seemed to fall into place in a tragic saga that greatly affected Valentino's brief life.

I did not present this story to demean, to injure nor to gain publicity. I had to present it because it became too compelling to not mention. So very much was explained by this simple concept.

But the unending campaign to impugn me, Renato and all of our books stands as testament to the theory's veracity I think. Any book, or theory, that commands eleven solid years of such barbaric opposition from a band of haters has power and legitimacy. I take heart in that. 

So I say, Happy Father's Day to Rudolph Valentino.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Little Did We Know

In organizing my twenty years of files and research materials, I came across this piece which was written by my literary agent at the time. He wrote it sometime about 2005. When he wrote, "...the ongoing struggle will be heightened considerably..." oh, little did we know then how true that would be.  


"Thought", by Nicolas Roerich
Probably painted in the Altai region between India and Tibet sometime in the early 1920's. 

Friday, June 19, 2020

Please Tell This to the Honorable Judge

David Bret can not stop repeating the lie that I once called him a rapist, etc. I respond again for the one millionth time, to say he can take that one out of his cult hate arsenal now and once and for always.

I never called him a rapist and he knows that. He knows that because I have an email he sent to me apologizing for thinking I did such a thing and he blamed someone he called Chris A. Wagenti. (everything about Chris A. Wagenti and more will be in my forthcoming book "Die, Evelyn Zumaya, Die")

Now I consider myself a fairly intelligent person, but for the life of me I could not understand his subsequent explanation for the Wagenti lie. It was so convoluted and ridiculous and a few years later he tried to resurrect that lie but he forgot he originally created his fictional character as Chris A. Wagenti and referred to him as a woman he called Christina Wagenti. He must have read that “A.” wrong.

When I pointed out his mistake he dropped the subject but from then on he decided to not only call me homophobic a billion times a day but clackety, clack, clack, clack on his keyboard claiming that I called him a rapist a billion times a day. So to David Bret I say I am not nor ever have been amused by that lie which you vomit on a daily basis. I am the wrong person to be so sadistically tortured by you on that subject at all.

The only person I have ever called a rapist was the man who raped me when I was eleven years old.

And I hope David Bret prints this blog post out to take with him to bankruptcy court in a few weeks. He has done this in the past to try, and with zero success, to convince the court he is my victim. I hope he does so with this post...because I would like the judge to feel the pain he causes people through my words.

David Bret is headed into bankruptcy court because he lost the lawsuit we filed against him and he is refusing to comply with the verdict or pay us one dime of the awarded damages which are long overdue. He owes Renato and I a total of 44,274.01 Pounds, which is $54,682.83. U.S dollars and this includes all calculated interest to the date of this post.

I hope the judge will recognize how difficult it has been for us to attempt to stop the horror that is David Bret... and how long a journey it has been through courtrooms in three countries to try and make him stop attacking us or anyone else online ever again.

I would implore a judge to make this man pay for his misdeeds and as atonement for the cruelty to all the women he has done this to over the years.

And I would thank the bankruptcy judge for their compassion and for the part they will play in this very long trail to justice.

Everything David Bret posts online about me is a lie. Everything. I would tell the judge to please make this man pay.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Finding the Sarcophagus of Rudolph Valentino

Below I share one more article I wrote some years ago about a "find" I made while researching Affairs Valentino and its bizarre story:

The interview had all the elements of a scene right out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie: a Peter Lorre look-alike mortician, tastefully blacked-out mortuary windows and air sickeningly sweet with a mother lode of fresh blooms awaiting the morning’s funeral. In search of details about Rudolph Valentino’s death, I had traveled a long, long way for this interview. Despite the macabre setting and the fact that the gracious mortician was far too welcoming for my comfort, I forged on. Perhaps my uneasiness was due to the chilling realization he was employed by a vast corporation proudly billing themselves as the, “world’s largest death-care provider.”

At some point during the interview, I was asked if I’d ever heard of Valentino’s second coffin. The mortician explained how it had long been rumored within the funeral business that an outer casket encased Valentino’s coffin on the train ride from New York to Los Angeles. I said I knew nothing about an outer casket and asked why such a case would have been used. He went on explaining how in order to transport a corpse across state lines, coffins were required by Federal law to be encased in a sarcophagus or shipping case. Valentino’s coffin was encased in just such a shipping case which was custom-made for the journey and believed to still be in existence. Although the mortician claimed he had no idea where the case was located, he promised to make a few phone calls to see what he could find out.

That was the end of our discussion of the shipping case that day and I proceeded to photograph the Valentino file on record in Campbell's archive which included the lengthy invoice for services rendered and a massive scrapbook of newspapers clippings.

For a short while after that interview I had no clue my presence at Campbell's that day piqued interest in the location of Valentino’s shipping case. The imaginations of several morticians were sparked and this inspired a covert operation to capitalize on the missing shipping case.

About one month after the interview, I opened an e-mail from “the world’s largest death-care provider” to see photographs of a metal coffin loading onto the screen. While the images were downloading, I received a call from the mortician with news that this was indeed Valentino’s shipping case. Furthermore he’d found the owner and was trying to secure permission for me see the hidden treasure.

I told him I thought the piece should be authenticated by an expert and once again asked him for the owner’s contact information. With this he said he would get back to me and hung up. I would have to be content with nothing more than the thrilling photographs for a while longer.

Yet almost immediately, the intrigue surrounding the location of the case and the identity of the owner became so intense I began to wonder if I would ever see it. The mortician called me several times to update me on the status of my request to see the case. He also asked me what I thought the cash value of such a piece could be. Smelling the rat, I told him I didn’t have the slightest idea of its monetary value or interest in anything but its history.

I prepared to move as soon as I was given a go ahead and assumed I would make a quick trip to wherever, snap a few pictures and have my story. Instead, I soon landed squarely in the middle of heady negotiations for the sale of the shipping case and risked my neck for a just a few moments with Rudy’s mythical sarcophagus.

Access to the actual case complicated as the mortician made his power play to position himself as the only contact with the owner and thereby cash in on in any possible deal the shipping case’s owner might make. Granting new meaning to the word cagey, he brainstormed an elaborate but thinly constructed system of communication to guarantee his role.

He asked me not to call him at work, to only call him through a second contact he put me in touch with, to use only this cell number and that e-mail, etc. and I was never given the owner’s name. As he began his methodical and territorial watch over the artifact, the welcoming host who greeted me in his mortuary office a few months earlier morphed into agent OO undertaker.

He informed me the owner was interested in selling the shipping case and added that he had run into a snag because a few of his mortician cronies heard about the case’s impending sale and were scheming for their cut of the sale.

Mortician was thoroughly dismayed at this turn of events and lamented to me about it over the phone. He was so distressed and paranoid at the deteriorating status of his gambit I could almost hear the sweat beading on his forehead.

Ignoring the cloak and dagger, I called the cell phone of mortician's mystery contact number two and after some doing, I was at long last given an address where I could view the case. I scheduled some immediate travel arrangements and boarded a plane for Los Angeles. Within a few hours I had landed, rented a car at the airport and was following my usually unreliable MapQuest directions to the designated address.

The address was that of a mortuary situated deep in some heavy inner city skid row real estate. It was the kind of neighborhood no prudent soul would dare cross without a police escort. Nevertheless, it was easy to imagine a time when the establishment could have been surrounded by a more Mayberry-like backdrop. But on the morning of my appointment the streets were alive and humming with prostitutes pacing for work, homeless campers organizing their life's possessions on the sidewalk, and wild-eyed, ranting desperados preaching to whom ever would listen.

Having arrived a few minutes early, I made a quick dash into a nearby McDonalds for a sorely needed cup of coffee. This was no predictable Micky Dee safe zone that sunny morning. After noticing several of the tables were burned char black in an apparently substantial blaze and that the disheveled, armed guard posted in front of the counter was swaying and half conscious, I made what I hoped would be a subtle retreat to my rental car.

I failed miserably only to be followed through the parking lot by a squirrley-eyed teenager. At this point I made the executive decision to spend the remaining few minutes before my private viewing of Rudolph Valentino’s long lost shipping case sipping my coffee in the safety of the rental car driving around the block.

Meanwhile inside the mortuary, the bronze and copper casket was being dragged out of its warehouse storage for the first time in seventy seven years. Like a great vessel run aground, the case was so cumbersome it took three mortuary workers to heft the unwieldy bark onto a mortuary gurney. They had their orders to have the neglected relic on display in one of their private chapels by nine o’clock sharp. Just before the hour they wheeled the shipping case into the small sanctuary, lifted off the heavy cover and propped it against the wall.

It was up to the floor mortician that morning to oversee the arrangements in each of the mortuary chapels and it was during his inspection of the shipping case installation that he noticed an inscription on the casket’s tarnished lid. After retrieving a can of brass polish from his office he began to wipe away the years of neglect. The inscription read, “Rudolfo Gugliemi, Rudolph Valentino, Born May 6, 1895 Died August 23, 1926.” The mortician found the inscription curious because his name also happened to be Rudolph.

Mortician Rudy had just finished his brass polishing when I arrived. He escorted me into the side chapel off the lobby where the gurney had been positioned in front of several rows of church pews. After months of anticipation, I paused to appreciate the point blank impact of the moment. The e-mailed photographs did this masterpiece no justice.

The case was in extraordinary condition, masterfully constructed and appeared to have been completely hand made. The delicate beads of solder were so expertly placed I was sure some jeweler in 1926 must have labored an eternity in its execution. In his best professional whisper, mortician Rudy left the chapel telling me to take my time. He didn’t seem sure why I was there and probably wondered why I would come so far to sit in a church pew paying my respects to an empty casket.

I was there to document the objet d'art and as soon as he departed I got down to work. The case was mine to investigate and inspect from all angles so I set up my tripod and took a quick twenty or thirty photographs. I brushed my hand along its dusty interior and examined the detailed tooling of the handles. Scratch marks from the transport of Valentino’s interior coffin were still evident. The mortician had polished the cover of the case to a brilliant shine and I noticed Guglielmi had been misspelled.

Staring into the long metal box it was hard not to visualize its cargo of long ago. It was in this case Rudy’s lifeless body jostled along the rails on his last ride home to California. I felt no subtle twinge at that thought and at the evidence before me of the brutal honesty of Valentino’s death. And after weeks of negotiating access to view the shipping case, I was suddenly gripped by the desire to pack up my briefcase and camera and get as far away as I could from the grisly find.

I stopped by Mortician Rudy’s office on my way out to shake his hand and thank him for his time. Before I left I decided to have a stab at it and asked him directly if he could give me the owner’s name. Apparently he had not been briefed on the subterfuge preventing me from knowing the identity of the case’s owner. For with no hesitation he jotted down the man’s name and phone number. I thanked him again, dashed back to the rental car, and headed off to the airport and home.

When I placed the call to the case’s owner, he granted me a stilted interview but was slightly confused as to how I got his number and assumed I was an interested buyer. I finally had the story and photographs but it would be a bit longer before I could make any graceful exit from the thorny subject of the shipping case. I realized my error in telling the mortician at Campbell's that I  had spoken with the shipping case's owner when he became immediately paranoid I would compromise his deal. I assured him I would not reveal the owner's name to anyone out of a courtesy for him for arranging my viewing of the case.

Within a few days I made another trip to Los Angeles for another interview with Valentino memorabilia collector, Bill Self. Like the naive child of the Valentino world I was at that time, I told him excitedly about my find and how I had seen the case. I showed him the photographs, did not tell him I knew who the owner was and left to fly home to San Francisco.

Like any other artifact pertaining to Rudolph Valentino, from the moment the case was uncovered its cash value was increasing with each passing day. The day after my visit with Bill Self, the mortician called me to say he had spoken with Self and learned he was also interested in buying the case. Bill Self wasted no time calling Campbell's to be directed to the mortician. 

Bill Self then sent me an e-mail informing me he had just spoken with the mortician at Campbell's and added he had already been to see the shipping case that day, had contacted the owner and was about to refuse the mortician's offer to buy it for 15,000$. I called Self and asked him how he learned the identity of the owner. He told me that he recognized the case from a photograph of Valentino's coffin being off loaded and knew the mortuary was one belonging to the Cunningham family. Incredibly, they were still in business and still had possession of the shipping case. Bill Self had his hands on that case within five minutes of my leaving his home that day.

Of course the mortician suspected I betrayed him by telling Self the owner's name which I had not, but his hopes for the ready chunk of cash had fallen through. Although Bill Self told me the price of the shipping case was too steep for him, in hindsight I believe at that point Self already had taken ownership of it and had that case in his collection.

When I downloaded the photographs I took of the shipping case, my fifteen year old daughter brought one thing to my attention. To my practical eye she pointed out what appeared to be a circular orb floating over the casket. She declared the perfect orb drifting in the space above Valentino’s shipping case definitive evidence of ghostly presence. I did not wholeheartedly believe her claim, but ghost or no ghost, as far as I was concerned leaning in to touch the inside of Valentino’s open sarcophagus was a disturbing end to an utterly disquieting tale. I asked Self a few times if he knew what ever happened to the shipping case but he never gave me an answer.

According to Campbell's records, the case originally cost nine hundred dollars. This would be about $9000 today. Two other charges were added to the original cost of the shipping case; a mechanic was paid fifteen dollars to solder the base to a brace in the train car and an engraver was paid 25$ to misspell Rudy’s name on the cover.

The unexpected appearance of this artifact confirms there are still treasures to be found and new stories to be told about Rudolph Valentino which reveal a trail not quite cold. I lament I told Self about the shipping case because as is the case with almost every other Rudolph Valentino artifact, this museum piece has vanished into a secret archive of some private collector, never to be seen by Valentino's public again.

I learned at one point from Bill Self that another Valentino collector owned a crypt space near Valentino's. I often wonder if Self acted as middle man and sold this to that collector so they could be buried in the shipping case and next to their idol. Who knows?

I never heard from the mortician at Campbell's again and I think he waited a bit too long to close a deal on the shipping case. He and I underestimated Bill Self's ability to find the owner and arrive with the cash in hand.