Wednesday, December 23, 2020

On Rudolph Valentino's First Christmas in America

It is now fact that Valentino's sister-in-law Ada's Uncle Ernesto Filomarino hosted Valentino on his first arrival in New York just before Christmas in 1913. It was with great pride we brought this story forth. I am sure Ernesto Filomarino's wife Rose babied the newly arrived Rodolfo mercilessly and waited on him hand and foot... just as all Italian women do to the men in their lives. Not to overly generalize, but I feel fairly safe in saying Italian women treat their men like kings. Italians have their strong points and one of them is certainly this lavish hospitality.

Italians are so hospitable that they would make up a comfy bedroom for any visitor and that visitor could stay as long as they wanted to. And while they were a guest in that home, they were treated like family and the food presented to them would be never-ending and godlike delicious. Such is Italian hospitality and food.

So when as an Italian...Renato was questioning the theory that Valentino spent his first Christmas in New York alone, poor and hungry, there was a collective gasp of horror to the very idea from the Filomarino family. Uncle Ernesto was not, not, not that kind of person they said. He was a man of social status and a proud member of the Italian community.

In light of Ernesto Filomarino's financial position, the household most probably had a maid and a cook. A man of his status would never have his wife cooking and cleaning all day long. So with a full time cook, the food would have been plentiful and fabulous. And lest we remember that at the time Frank Mennillo operated a wine import business. So between the two, young Rudolfo hit the ground running as the saying goes. Neither man would have permitted their new guest in America to feel a single hunger pang.

There would not have been many presents for Rodolfo that Christmas because the stacks of gifts are not part of the Italian tradition. But stunning quantities of food and wine sure is. There would have been platters of freshly made agnolotti, panettone to eat by the fistfuls, the best chiantis and evening dinners would last for hours on end.

I am so thrilled this story of Ernesto Filomarino arrived at long last to light up Valentino's true first American Christmas story. How happy Renato was to put the pieces together of this important revision. I think by now almost everyone in the Valentino world realizes how fiction has and still does impact the Valentino legacy, which makes these great discoveries about his actual story all the more welcomed and valuable.

To think of Rodolfo happy, enthusiastic, full of food and energy during his first days in New York is wonderful. And what was the deal (and still is!) with that tired old Hollywood myth portraying rags to riches versions of events as being superior. It is all so Calvinistic, so pre-code and it reeks of false morality and Hollywood's efforts to enforce decency. And the overt racism in it all... implying those Italian immigrants had to be poor to be liked; a rich Italian being a sinister force to most Americans... how deplorable. 

Yet I can not fathom why there is such a persistent, maudlin attachment to the, “Rudy arrived poor and alone” scenario. According to two respectable families, news articles and more documentation...this was not the case at all. 

I find it shocking Tracy Terhune, Donna Hill, Simon Constable and Eleanor Gribbin, etc. have not been excited about this, choosing to ban this and all of our new discoveries. 

And I can imagine Simon Constable, upon hearing the name of Ernesto Filomarino...churning feverishly through his newspapers online archives trying to find dirt on Uncle Ernesto. And I can imagine David Bret, upon hearing the name of Ernesto Filomarino churning out a new book in an hour, claiming it is based on some secret, secret new document, revealing Ernesto was also one of Valentino's lovers...Well, Merry Christmas, you hard-working mud-slingers... good luck.  

But I say to Ernesto and Rose Filomarino... thank you for feeding the boy way back then! And sorry it took so long to give you the credit for your fine Italian hospitality.

Merry Christmas all!