Listen to the Lost Voice of Rudolph Valentino
By Meg Boeni
“For lover, the thesaurus gives us Lothario, Romeo, Casanova, Don Juan; most people, I discover, give you Valentino.”
Journalist and screenwriter Adela Rogers St. Johns’s assessment of Rudolph Valentino, thought by many to be the greatest romantic actor of the silent film era, is a bold one, but it’s only a small window to his lasting popular appeal. Though he was only 31 when he died, the Italian-born first sex symbol of the silver screen acted in and produced over 40 films, including Camille, The Sheik, and Passion’s Playground. He starred in numerous advertisements and promotionals, and even published a book of poetry.
Valentino passed away in 1926, just a few years short of the rise of talking pictures, and his voice is thought by many to have been lost in time—but the man they called the Sheik left behind two sound recordings, both made at the New York Brunswick studios in May of 1923. “Kashmiri” and “El Relicario” were recorded using the acoustical process, with the singer amplified through a megaphone-like brass horn. The result of this pre-microphone technology is that the strident recording quality makes it difficult to determine what Valentino’s natural speaking voice would have sounded like, but his soft Italian accent and emotional delivery come through make his twin recordings worth listening to.