Excerpts from "the first rough draft of history" as reported in The Washington Post on this date in the 20th century.
With such films as "The Sheik" and "Blood and Sand," Rudolph Valentino was idolized as the "Great Lover" during the 1920s, becoming one of Hollywood's first sex symbols. His death, at age 31, caused worldwide hysteria, several suicides and riots at his funeral viewing. Each year on the anniversary of his death a mysterious "woman in black" -- and sometimes several -- appeared at his grave. An excerpt from The Post of Aug. 24, 1926:
New York, Aug. 23 (By A.P.). --
Rudolph Valentino, the greatest lover of them all in the whole history of motion pictures, died today.
For eight days he had waged battle with disease such as he never had to fight to vanquish his opposing forces on screen.
In the hospital, as on the silver screen, he had fought valiantly, his determination to win never clouding the essential cheerfulness of his disposition.
The last words he ever spoke, but a few hours before he died, were said in friendly conversation with one of the doctors who had tenderly attended him since his operation for appendicitis a week ago Sunday.
He said then that the greatest thing he was looking forward to was a fishing trip, on which he invited the physician to accompany him.
Soon after that he lapsed into coma, from which he never roused. From time to time he strained and tossed, as though there were words he wished to utter. His three doctors and two nurses bent low above him, trying to catch his meaning from the faint muttering which was all that passed his lips.
But they could make no sense of it and if Rudolph had a last message, some word to send to family or friends, to actor companions or fan admirers, his weakness forbade its delivery. ...
His body was removed from the hospital where he died today to a funeral chapel through crowds which became so large that police reserves had to be called to restore order.
Covered with a cloth of gold the body was taken from the private entrance of the Polyclinic hospital in West Fifty-first street to the funeral establishment at Broadway and Eighty-sixth street. As word spread of what was happening, hundreds flocked in from all around. When the conveyance reached the funeral chapel the crowds were blocking traffic and causing great and growing confusion.
It was revealed today, after Rudolph Valentino was dead, that the condition from which he died first evidenced itself six weeks ago. Doctors would not express an opinion on what chance there might have been for him to live if more immediate action had been taken. ...
Dr. Harold D. Meeker, one of the doctors who attended the screen star, said that six weeks ago the actor complained of stomach trouble, but had not considered it anything serious. Dr. Meeker believed that this was in fact the first appearance of the gastric ulcer which caused collapse eight days ago and death today. ...
Before the body was removed from the hospital the death certificate, signed by the chief resident physician, was filed with the board of health. It gave the cause of death as ruptured gastric ulcer and general peritonitis, with septic pneumonia and septic endocarditis as contributing causes.