Sunday, September 20, 2020

Who Was Ernesto Filomarino?

 Who was Ernesto Filomarino? He was Alberto Valentino's wife Ada's Uncle. Her mother was a Filomarino and Ernesto Filomarino's sister. He emigrated early to America and enjoyed tremendous success supplying books to the Italian-American community. As Renato points out, many Italian-American immigrants at the time were illiterate and Ernesto accommodated this reality as we see in his advertisement for his national enterprise. His books were shipped nationally and he published a catalog of various items. Ernesto Filomarino was a wealthy man, advertising nationally as this ad was found in a San Francisco Italian newspaper. He was a pioneer in establishing affordable books for the Italian community in America.

Translation: "Do You Want Me? Soon Done! Buy the following views, now released, splendid and topical: 24 Views of the European war, 24 Views of the cities of Italy, 24 Views of the ITALO-TURKISH war and you will get me free, 72 Views and Graphoscope all for only $1 ( $26.00 today). We ship express. Those who want registered parcels, 25 cents more ($6.50 today). General catalog of the Library, 12 cents ($3.00 today). Send order and payment to E. FILOMARINO & Co., 215 Spring Street, New York City." 

                                        Ernesto Filomarino operates a printing press.

Even more fascinating than Uncle Ernesto's stereoscopic inventory shipped nationwide, was his hosting of family members who emigrated to New York. When Rudolph Valentino arrived in America in December of 1913, he gave the immigration officials the address and name of Ernesto Filomarino as his new home in America; 215 Spring Street, New York... New York.

We discovered insight into Ernesto's home and position when Renato recently found a second family member, Federico Rizzo, a cousin who arrived on June 1, 1916, also being boarded by Ernesto. 

Yet, the image of Valentino arriving to be hosted by a wealthy family member is no where to be found in the studio-generated version of his life story. Because this one small aspect of Valentino's story was an important one for Valentino's employers in Hollywood to change. They felt it imperative they portray Valentino as the rags to riches Horatio Alger hero who arrived in New York desperately poor, not speaking a word of English and knowing no one. After researching this with the assistance of the Filomarino family, I can say this absolutely was not how it all happened.

A teen-age Valentino arrived to Uncle Ernesto Filomarino's home... which because of his great success must have been a rather fabulous domicile. And having lived "Italian" for many years now I know one thing well; Italians live large. They take great pride in their homes, cook a great deal of food, they want you to eat a great deal of food and the food is always delicious with plenty of bread, wine and antipasto to go with. The classic cinemagraphic image of Valentino, having not eaten in days, shuffling along the streets of New York shivering like the little match girl is ridiculous in light of the existing documentation about Uncle Ernesto. I alleged the case for Valentino being welcomed by wealthy friends and family in Affairs Valentino by presenting the story of Frank Mennillo and Uncle Ernesto furthers this change in the Valentino narrative.

If Valentino held fast to that story of his was because he was convinced his popularity would dissipate if his public knew he arrived to spend his first day with Mennillo's tailor and his first night sleeping in Uncle Ernesto's very comfortable mansion. I do not dispute the sleeping on a park bench stories but knowing what I do now, if Valentino slept on a park bench it was not for being homeless.

The thin broth version of those years has to be changed I think. I think that false version was created and perpetuated out of racism towards Italians. In reality, the world Valentino arrived to was not so harsh. He had money and some in his homeland say he arrived with $4000. U.S. dollars, others $300... In 1913 that was an enormous amount of money. The Guglielmi family held great pride in their royal lineage and were not poor folk. They would have never sent Rudolph to begin a new life with pennies in his pocket and to live as destitute in a place where he knew no one. He went to New York because Uncle Ernesto was there and had a grand home with many rooms. And can we imagine those rooms in the Filomarino home had fine linens, were elegantly appointed and it was not some boarding house where Valentino's suitcases were confiscated until he paid for his room.

Who thought that one up? They probably got a nice bonus for it. Valentino sleeping in a movie theater? Hardly. He arrived a prince and would always be one. Despite his struggles to be on his own, he danced with stars, made love to wealthy ladies like Blanca DeSaulles and left New York with the Masked Model road show as a star with billing. In the cast photo taken he stands center which is exactly where he should have been standing.

I once asked the Mennillo family when Frank Mennillo knew Rudolph and they answered, “Oh, Frank met him at the boat and took him straight to his tailor to have a couple of suits made for him. And he told Rudolph he should never been seen without a pair of fresh white spats on.”

This is hardly the description of someone grinding along the city streets for hours in search of a bowl of soup.

When Valentino was working with Baltasar Cué on “The True Story” of his life...his goal was to write the truth and it was then he told Cue the existing version, as told by the studios, was inaccurate and wrong. I wonder if he would have gone on, had he not died, to finish the book and give credit to Uncle Ernesto.

When I think of Valentino now in those first New York days, I think of him waking up in a bed of fresh linens, having his breakfast served to him on a silver tray and then heading off to greet the day in high fashion befitting his actual social status. He did well and quickly and I think it is time to brush that patina of desperation off his legacy and appreciate his truth. He had many people who loved and cared for him then and he was the “Marquis” and they saw to that. Truth is always more attractive to me than the fiction.

Thanks to Renato for finding the Ernesto Filomarino story. And thank you Renato for translating the advertisement.