July 10, 2012
Born: June Beulah Hughes on January 1st, 1887 (see notes) in Leadville, Colorado, U.S. (spent most of her childhood in Salt Lake, UT) Died: on July 27, 1927 aged 40 In New York City, New York, U.S. of a heart attack (had heart problems for many years) while watching a Broadway play with her Grandmother Buried: Hollywood Forever Cemetery (next to Valentino)
Occupation: Screenwriter, Film Executive Years Active: 1916-1927 (her death)
Married: Italian cameraman and director Silvano Balboni (1924–1927, her death). Sometimes spelled as Sylvano
Known for: Launching Rudolph Valentino into superstardom. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Blood and Sand. Worked on disastrous productions of Ben-Hur and Greed. Also worked with Colleen Moore in her later years. Was renowned for her work in the film industry.
Sites: None (do you have a June Mathis site? Contact us!)
Books about: A biography on Mathis has been published in “Rudolph Valentino: A Wife’s Memories of an Icon by Natacha Rambova”. This biography is the first to contain many new facts about Mathis, including her early life and what became of Silvano Balboni. She is also briefly mentioned in Affairs Valentino by Evelyn Zumaya
She is mentioned extensively in Dark Lover by Emily Leider. She is also mentioned extensively in Nazimova: A Biography by Gavin Lambert, but extremely inaccurately. He meant well, but his research was shoddy at best.
Films About: No films on Mathis’ life. She is portrayed in all Valentino films, usually very inaccurately. Interestingly June’s only official onscreen appearance can be found in the 1923 film “Souls for Sale” in the cafeteria scene…for all of 10 seconds. Her other film work (pre 1916) is likely lost.
Voice: No recordings of Mathis’ voice are known to exist. If you have a recording please email us.
by Hala Pickford @2009, please do not use without permission.
When June Mathis died unexpectedly in 1927 at the age of 40, Jesse Lasky said of her, “When the history of motion pictures is finally written June Mathis’s (sic) name will be recorded as one of the most brilliant craftsmen ever associated with the screen.” Sam Goldwyn and others echoed his remarks. June Mathis had brought art to film, and pioneered a woman’s place in the industry. However history would not be so kind.
Today Mathis is solely remembered for having discovered Rudolph Valentino. If it weren’t for June Mathis, there would be no Rudolph Valentino as we know him. Adela St. Rogers‘ said of June and Rudy, “Without June Mathis there would be no Valentino. Only two women were ever important to Rudy. Natacha was one. June Mathis was the other.” Like many other people in Valentino’s life, June Mathis has been reduced to some stereotypical frumpy mother figure suited for a bad play (and in fact many films on his life have done her a great injustice). While he may have been one of her greatest achievements, he was certainly not her only one. Mathis was the first female executive and producer. She was voted the 3rd most important woman in the film industry by WAMPAS in 1926 and was part of the forming Academy when she died (she, however, was not a founding member as she passed too soon).
Originally a stage actress of some renowned, she left the stage to pursue a writing career while film was still young. Though she had no previous training, Mathis quickly rose through the ranks becoming the first female executive in filmdom with Metro Pictures. There she took full control of her own project, “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”; made Valentino a superstar, and worked on many Alla Nazimova films. After a string of successes with Valentino, Mathis continued her executive career, becoming more renowned and well paid then the year before. Not only was she not an old frumpy woman, but she was a bit of a man eater, dating many of her protégés. At a time when so few women had power, Mathis ruled the film world despite being completely behind the scenes.
June Mathis was born June Beulah Hughes in January 1887 in Leadville, Colorado* to Virginia ‘Jenny’ Hughes. Virginia claimed a birth year of 1860; while June’s maternal Grandmother Emily Hawkes claimed a birth year of 1852 (obviously one or the other was not telling the truth; Emily was probably born in 1842 as she claimed to marry in 1869). The family came from Illinois.
Her father is harder to verify. Mathis claimed in articles he was Dr. Philip Hughes from Wales, and that his family in the UK was quite illustrious. She also claimed he died when she was a baby, forcing her mother to move to Salt Lake City and herself to enter vaudeville to help earn her keep. The real situation is harder to discern. Jenny was said to have married ‘fellow widower’ William D. Mathis in 1887, when June was either a newborn or a toddler. W.D. had three children from his first marriage (Laura, George, and Samuel), all of whom were older than June. The youngest child, Samuel, was born in 1882, and was thus only a few years older than June. Mathis adored W.D. calling him her father and taking his name during her childhood. Philip doesn’t appear anywhere. June’s Salt Lake Obituary (where many who knew her still lived) mentioned her as coming from a ‘theatrical’ family. This could explain why her mother and maternal Grandparents were so willing to travel around the vaudeville circuit with her, leaving her stepfather and step-siblings in Utah. Mathis always cited her birth father as dead, well into the 1920s.
It is extremely unlikely he was so illustrious, or even a doctor. Silent film stars would usually cite an absentee parent as dead to save embarrassment. No Philip Hughes appears in the census (and if indeed a man by that name was a vaudeville performer he could be hidden in some obscure corner of the US during the census). However, a John T. Hughes appears in the 1900 census, having been born in 1854 and immigrated from Wales in 1876. He married a Margaret A. Hughes in 1897. The couple lived in Pennsylvania at the time. June first appears in the Utah papers that very year, which might give some very strong evidence that this indeed was her father. Indeed John could have left the family sometime in the 1890s, whether for another woman or just to leave. Either way, June would always refer to him as ‘dead’, even on her passport applications.
However they came about, the new family had settled in Salt Lake City, Utah, where William ran ‘Mathis Drug Store’ at 330 South Main Street. He was quite popular with the locals who called him ‘Pop’. William was so proud of Mathis he plastered clippings of her achievements all over his drug store walls. Mathis would mention missing him on a trip to Utah after his passing. Mathis was said many times to have entered vaudeville to help support her mother, but with such a small time period between marriages this is probably unlikely. From descriptions, Mathis was an endearing child who loved attention, growing to quite a bit of renowned in her adopted home town. There she was known as the ‘Cleverest Child Elocutionist in this part of the country‘.
It seems she took to entertaining at a young age, with many public performances occurring in 1898, when she was likely 11. The first such performance came reciting at the Ladies Auxiliary of the Democratic County Committee in October 1898 (despite the name, it was a gathering of what we now would call Republican women). A few weeks later she held another such performance with the paper remarking, “Little June Mathis recited in her usual charming style.” Mathis’ performances became a stable of these meetings well into 1899. Mathis continued performing, this time at the Utah Camp No. 338 at K. of P. Castle in February 1899. The paper singled out her performance remarking, “This little lady shows a remarkable presence of mind and memory, accompanied by a graceful carriage and splendid elocution. She recited “Tit for Tat” in true Irish brogue, and for an encore “Hol’ Dem Philippines” in the Negro dialect. Both were well rendered and vigorously applauded.” In addition she also sung a song. In March 1899 she gave another recitation, this time at the Blue Night at the YMCA parlors membership drive.
As a child Mathis had attended Whittier School. As a teen she attended Salt Lake High, though it is very likely her education was interrupted during her many travels. It appears she dropped out of school by the time she moved to San Francisco. Mathis moved to San Francisco at the age of 13 in 1900. Her mother, Grandmother, and Grandfather traveled with her. Her stepfather remained in Salt Lake where he proudly informed everyone of her accomplishments. There she was engaged to appear in a vaudeville act at Fishers. Mathis was eventually allowed to put together her own act of imitations and dances. After Fishers, she was hired by The Archie Levy Amusement Association who said of her act, “The Archie Levy Amusement association takes great pleasure in announcing the appearance of the very clever and capable little child artist, June Mathis, appearing in a choice selection of her own bright ideas. This capable and clever little genius is, beyond a question of doubt, the greatest in her respective line.”
In 1901, Mathis was engaged to play the Orpheum in San Francisco, which was the highest one could go in San Francisco at the time. Her stepfather was so excited he shared the telegram with the local newspaper. Mathis did well with vaudeville, signing with the Keith Circuit in Chicago. There she played the Haymarket, Olympic, and Grand Theatres. While in Chicago, Mathis received a telegram asking her to appear in a May Vokes play. Mathis made her professional stage debut in 1903, with Vokes in “Where are You?”. Though she was 16 years old (and likely already shaving years off of her age), Mathis was still billed as a ‘baby’ which was the common practice for teenagers at the time. Mathis was a success as ‘Baby’ and toured “Where are You?” well into 1904, eventually performing back in Salt Lake to wild acclaim. After this she was offered the role of Janey in Ezra Kendall’s “The Vinegar Buyer”, again to much acclaim. Mathis was put under contract for this play and her salary was said to have rose substantially. Mathis was then signed with Burrows and Lancaster where she played the larger cities in a variety of plays including “When Georgina was 18”, and “Jolly Jolliers”. After this she was engaged to play with Will T. Hodge in “Eighteen Miles from Home”.
In only four years, Mathis’ star had risen from a nobody to a featured and well reviewed player. In 1907 she was given her first star billing in, “The Girl Patsy”, which was written by Jane Mauldin Feigl. At the age of 20, Mathis was said to be one of the youngest leading ladies in the profession. The role gave Mathis so much acclaim that she was eventually selected by Julian Eltinge in 1908, for a major role in his play, “Brewster’s Millions”. Eltinge, a wildly popular drag performer, would become a close friend of Mathis’, the two working together for many years. It is quite possible that Mathis first spotted her own protégée Rudolph Valentino in one of Eltinge’s films in 1918.
Mathis made her way to New York City in 1910 where she lived with her Grandparents, mother, and some boarders. Again William was in Salt Lake. It was said in 1910 she did a play called, “Going Some” which may have brought her out to the East Coast. It must not have gone well for very long, as Mathis mentioned in an interview towards the end of her life, “
Years ago I tried to be an actress on the speaking stage. I wasn’t much a success. Yet no matter how discouraged I felt, how weary I became doing the rounds of the manager’s offices, I always had one place of comfort. The office of Mrs. DeMille, who was a casting agent. She was the mother of Cecil and William De Mille. She worked very hard and I certainly meant nothing in her life. But no matter how…I went there. She always spared time to see me and send me out again with fresh courage. When Cecil was beginning to win his first great success I met the brothers out there. William didn’t remember me, but Cecil did. ‘Mother would love to see you again’ he said and sent me to call on her. There she was as great as ever ready to help me. I can’t forget that kindness and the only way I can repay it is by trying to extend it to others.”
Making the rounds in New York could be quite dreadful and heartbreaking, as many silent film stars described. Likely in need of some income; Mathis described her first foray into film during the ‘off season’ (Summertime). Mathis had decided to pursue ‘flickers’ which were considered ‘vulgar’ at the time. Only an actor or actress down on their luck would dare pursue them. Not wanting to soil her reputation, Mathis performed under a fake name in a comedy shot in New England during this time. Mathis confided in another interview it had been a part of a ‘Zulu’ woman in a slapstick comedy (thus likely being a short in blackface). Unimpressed with acting, Mathis decided to go behind the camera. She hung around sets learning about directing, filming, lighting and writing techniques. Judging by her description, her foray into film must have occurred around 1910 though it could have occurred as late as 1912. Despite her many goals and aspirations, Mathis had been a very sickly child from a young age. Her heart troubles began as a child and had never quite gone away (eventually it would cause her death). After ending her time with Brewster’s, Mathis had to take rest as she had become severely ill (from what, is not mentioned). Mathis grew better and claimed she had healed herself with the power of positive thinking. An insistent Spiritualist, Mathis’ beliefs would become more powerful and profound through the years.
With her health intact, Mathis was signed to play once again with Eltinge in 1912 with, “The Fascinating Widow” a play that would give them both great acclaim. She toured with the production, which would go on to sell out 20 weeks in Chicago. Mathis noted that while touring Widow, a local newspaper had asked her to write an article for them. After she had done so, the editor commented that she was a good writer; why not try that for a profession? Mathis was flattered but still unsure about leaving the stage. She possibly returned to Salt Lake for a brief visit, but soon left for San Francisco. While there she took up several ‘dreadful’ musical comedies and small roles (Mathis was said to be a soubrette). Though Mathis enjoyed comedy, she hated performing in musical comedies. The company traveled to Los Angeles where a friend in film noticed her sketches (she was said to have a gifted artistic bent from a young age) and suggested she enter film. Again Mathis was unsure. However, after another performance of the dreadful comedy, Mathis packed her trunks and decided she was done with the stage for good. Mathis was convinced she could be a wonderful scenario writer (screenwriter). In her opinion film adaptations of literature always fell short of a climax, something she felt she could do better. Having saved enough money, Mathis took her mother and moved to New York, where she studied under an editor friend for two years. Mathis said of the time that she studied during the day and attended the movies at night.
Oddly, she also seemed to make one last foray into stage, with the one off Broadway performance of the unfortunately titled, “Granny Maumee” in April 1914. Mathis was adamant for the rest of her life that most screenwriters never took the time to study, and that’s why many of them failed. She hated ‘half baked’ attempts and would say so in many interviews. In addition to her studies, Mathis read every piece of literature she could find, insistent on studying the greats. Mathis’ writing style would be quite consistent over the years. If it was drama it would contain comedic elements, and if it was a comedy it would usually stay light-hearted. Most of her films were somewhere between the two genres, using drama and humor, with a heavy dose of spiritualist themes about redemption and the power of belief. Mathis’ masterpieces seem to be quite long, considering they stay consistently entertaining speaks well of her skill.
Many have said that Mathis was a firm believer in the Bible and book of Revelations in particular (thus a draw to “Four Horsemen”). In 1926 she said, “All our moral pictures have shown the effect of the Bible. Every time a writer writes a subtitle pointing out the paths of good and evil he draws his similes from the pages of the Bible. There are no pictures which do not show at some point of contact with The Holy Book”. However for an adaptation of Sir Gilbert Parker’s “Right of Way”, Mathis eliminated the religious propaganda and chose to treat religion as a great, universal thought of God instead of a sect idea. More often than not Mathis’ films seemed to contain vague spiritualist and occult ideas, rather than strictly Christian ones. When speaking of Christianity and film, Mathis would usually proclaim that she believed in clean comedy, finding European films ‘vulgar’. This was a common thing to do during the 20s, while trying to keep a step ahead of vicious moral codes. It seems in private Mathis felt differently, as she inserted several clever and scandalous comedic bits into many of her films (such as the children picking up a discarded cigarette in the background of “Turn to the Right”). In Four Horsemen, she deliberately inserted a small bit of German soldiers cross-dressing, admitting in the press she had done it for those who knew to what she was alluding. It seems likely her time on the road, particularly with Eltinge, had given her some liberal beliefs that would not please the women’s church clubs of the time. In an interview she declared, “You can’t portray life and obey the censor!”
George Henderson remembered Mathis’ skill dealing with censors noting,
“After Miss June Mathis, one of the most noted screen writers, had completed her version of Four Horsemen, 137 cuts in the film were made by the censors in Pennsylvania. Yet Miss Mathis has had years of experience in evading or complying with censorship rules and the whole expert force of Metro Studios was working with her. While I was talking with Miss Mathis a director appeared at her door and asked, “What kind of wine glasses will we use in that trading post scene?” “Champagne glasses,” answered the writer. “Use a white wine so we can claim it is white cider they are drinking when the censors object.””
Likely in early 1915, she entered a film story writing contest. Though Mathis did not win, she received many offers from film studios who liked her writing style. Finally, the notable Edwin Carewe was able to convince her to join Metro Pictures. Mathis’ first film was “The House of Tears”. Many of Mathis’ films, particularly before she was an executive, were directed by Carewe. One wonders if there was a romantic relationship there, though such things are hard to prove. Mathis seemed to have a habit of partnering or later on mentoring creative men who she would share relationships with, and leaving them creatively once the relationship had ended. As a writer for Metro, Mathis quickly rose through the ranks working with Carewe.
By 1917 she had moved to head of the Scenario department, making her the first female film executive in history. While Mathis was constantly lauded as the top female in the film industry during her career, some clarification is needed. Mathis likely tied America’s Sweetheart, Mary Pickford, for the title. Pickford was an extremely astute and powerful businesswoman; however this knowledge was kept quiet from the public to preserve her image of innocence at a time when females in positions of power were not encouraged. Other than acting, Pickford had her own production company (run by her mother, the equally brilliant Charlotte Pickford Smith), approved everything from scripts to costumes to casting, and eventually was 1 of the 4 founders of United Artists. Pickford gained almost full control of her films in 1915 and 1916, meaning she would be the first female producer just a year before Mathis. However this does not account for Helen Gardner, (the first vamp type) who had her own production company in 1912. However, Mathis would become an executive before Pickford, and Gardner, again just by a few years.
Unlike the other women, Mathis was strictly behind the scenes, and no such expectations were made of her to preserve some sort of image. Though Mathis never achieved the independence and wealth that Pickford did (ironically in the last year of her life, Mathis was rumored to be signing with UA) she was likely the highest achieving, ranking, and paid female in the industry who did not appear on camera. Unlike Pickford, Mathis was hands on in directing, crew selection, production, casting, editing, writing, and scouting. No other writer (including Anita Loos or Frances Marion, though Marion possibly earned more as the exclusive Pickford scenarist) or even acting female would out rank her in such power. Mathis is constantly overlooked as a female pioneer in this regard (as is Pickford as well).
Through 1917 Mathis made several important films including “The Millionaire’s Double” (Lionel Barrymore), “The Call of her people” (Ethel Barrymore), “Somewhere in America” (Mary Miles Minter), “The Jury of Fate” (Tod Browning), “The Legion of Death” (Tod Browning), and “Aladdin’s Other Lamp” (Viola Dana). In fact Viola Dana would credit Mathis for ‘discovering’ her, though she had been in film since 1914.
In 1918 Mathis began another important year. She wrote “Red, White, and Blue Blood”, which ironically was directed by Charles Brabin (who would cause her much grief several years later during Ben-Hur). With War in the air, Mathis wrote several propaganda films including “To Hell with the Kaiser” (which gave Karl Dane a key role) and “Why Germans Must Pay!” What Mathis really thought of the Great War is anyone’s guess; however her epic blockbuster, “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” was notable as one of the first anti war films. Much of Hollywood was pressured into making propaganda films, something many filmmakers openly regretted (including D.W. Griffith and Raoul Walsh).
In 1918 Julian Eltinge began work on his own war film, “Over the Rhine”. However the film took too long to shoot, with the war over by the time it was to be released. With war films now out of style, Eltinge shelved the picture. The film would be recut and released in 1920 as “An Adventuress”. The final cut in 1921, “The Isle of Love” is the only one that survives today. In the film were two nobodies in small roles: Virginia Rappe (soon to be the cause of the Fatty Arbuckle lynching) and Rudolph Valentino. Mathis claimed she first seen Valentino in Clara Kimball Young‘s picture, “The Eyes of Youth” (a film that would definitely speak to her Spiritualist beliefs). However one must wonder if she had seen him in a cut of Eltinge’s film, or even met him during the production. Mathis had a long association with Eltinge, she would even write a skit for his ‘Revue of Nineteen Nineteen’.
However he was found, Valentino would always speak fondly of Mathis saying, “For seven long years, working hard, playing small parts in sometime atrocious pictures I labored to be ‘found’. But it was June Mathis who opened the door of opportunity for me. It was she who saw me for the part in the Four Horsemen.” For another interview he said, “She discovered me, anything I have accomplished I owe to her, to her judgment, to her advice and to her unfailing patience and confidence in me.”
In addition to being trusted with Frances X. Bushman, Viola Dana, and Mae Murray; Mathis was given control over eccentric Russian actress Alla Nazimova. Mathis had penned “Toys of Fate” which became Nazimova’s breakthrough film; launching her into film superstardom. Now a guaranteed star, Nazimova demanded to move to Los Angeles and that Mathis pen her future films as well. In October 1918, Mathis left New York to work on “A Red Lantern” for Nazimova. Of note, “A Red Lantern” was Anna May Wong‘s first film role (lost in a crowd of extras). Mathis was able to cut down on her output during 1919, something she had hoped to do for quality control. By 1920 her output stayed study. One interesting film from that year is “The Saphead” which would be Buster Keaton‘s first feature film. During these years, Mathis would be noted as a dramatic writer who added a heavy dose of spiritualism into her films. However Mathis had a knack with comedy, even inserting it when writing a dramatic film. This would become more noticeable especially during 1922 with such films as “Turn to the Right” which features her heavy dose of spiritualism and believe to achieve attitude, many dramatics, but also many funny bits inserted usually between the dramatic scenes. With a lesser hand this could be tiresome, but with Mathis it was brilliant.
Mathis had begun work on adapting Vincent Blanco Ibanez’s “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” which she intended to make fit her lofty vision. Mathis was certain one needed to be ‘far sighted’ to see the big picture. She had been certain from a young age she could make a spectacle bigger and better than anything before it. Mathis would succeed, launching both Rex Ingram and Valentino into stardom. Four Horsemen would be the highest grossing film of 1921 beating out Charlie Chaplin’s “The Kid”. It would gross $9 million (in 1933 dollars) and be the 6th best selling silent film ever. It would be remade in 1962 as a talkie. In 1920, Mathis ‘discovered’ Rex Ingram. Ingram had been directing b pictures since 1914. He and Mathis worked together on his first film for Metro, “Hearts are Trumps” which was possibly made while Four Horsemen was in the works. The duo were said to be inseparable, spending extremely long days at the studio working on her masterpiece.
Mathis was never one to be shy with the opposite sex. She enjoyed telling the story of a drunken leading man who tried to rape her in her dressing room. Mathis bit him on his shoulder and ‘held on like a little bulldog’ until he let her go. Ironically they had to go out and play a love scene soon after, with Mathis proudly playing the sweet ingénue in love once again. As much as the accusations of ‘frumpy’ and ‘motherly’ have been lobbed at her, it seems Mathis had just as many relationships as anyone else, though such things are so terribly hard to verify 90 years later. Most sources use a terrible photo of Mathis with frizzy hair and bad lighting, furthering the impression of her being a frumpy, ugly, old woman. However other photos prove that though she was no Ziegfeld girl, Mathis wasn’t as dull and haggard as she is usually made out to be. In her teens, her looks and fashions were highly praised by the press and critics. As an executive she would buy the finest clothes from Paris, which shows in photos. Another claim often lobbed at her is ‘overweight’. Mathis had been ill as a child and was still suffering from a heart condition during her film years. She would jokingly note in interviews she had a little fat for ‘health’. Though not as stylish or slim as Anita Loos or Frances Marion, Mathis made up for her looks with a wit and noted bubbly personality. One interviewer said of her, “She has wide cheeks, full grey eyes and what she frankly calls ‘fat, to nourish the nerves.’ Her poise is perfect. She gives the impression of tremendous reserves of energy…Miss Mathis is thoroughly feminine, even concealing her age, which I guess in the late 30’s.” (she was 36 at the time).
Relationships with both Ingram and Valentino have been written off as ‘inaccurate’, though no one has ever cited why. It appears much of this came from a Nazimova biography, as there were many rumors swirling around during the 1920s about her romances. In fact, the story of probable affairs with either Ingram or Valentino are tangled together, all seeming to cumulate in 1921. Mathis thought fondly of both men, and believed she had lived lifetimes with both before (Mathis was a big fan of reincarnation). She felt a motherly type tendency towards both, believing she had been a mother to both men in a previous lifetime, particularly Valentino (in somewhere like Egypt she noted). There seems to be some solid evidence that she did indeed have an affair with Ingram. She took and mentored him, giving him a major film to show off his talents. Before Valentino was chosen for the role of Julio (something Mathis seemed to have intended all along), it seems the relationship was bordering on serious.
Was there a relationship with Valentino? It doesn’t seem as impossible as most assume. Mathis adored him as a friend, with others noting they seen each other once a day for the first several months after they had met. Mathis’ friendship with Valentino seemed to overshadow whatever relationship she indeed had with Ingram. Ingram did not like Valentino, in fact to such a point it might be evidence that he and Mathis were romantically involved. Four Horsemen was Mathis’ film through and through. She wrote the story, had a hand in crew and casting, and worked right alongside Ingram during filming. Mathis mentored Valentino during filming, something he mentioned as being extremely thankful for. However it might have been more than just mentoring, as Ingram refused to direct Valentino and barely spoke to him, making such extra help necessary. By the time Four Horsemen was released, the bad blood boiled further. Ingram had thought this film would be his breakthrough, but instead it became Valentino’s. Ingram never had another major success and all but retired by 1924. Valentino, however, would go on to fame and critical acclaim until his death. Ingram became almost obsessive with his mission to prove he was better than Valentino. In a 1921 interview touting his new find ‘Ramon Samaniegos’ (aka Ramon Novarro), Ingram insisted it was the director who made such stars and that Valentino was nothing, he would prove it with this new Latin Lover (even going as far to make a film titled “The Arab” ripping off the The Sheik).
Apparently the bad blood never went away, as Alice Terry would tell film historian Anthony Slide how certain she was both Pola Negri and Rudolph Valentino were gay (though both had well noted relationships with each other and other member of the opposite sex).
Though Adela St. Johns is known for making colorful versions of events, she quite possibly revealed the truth in the 1950s,
“In the first months of their friendship, June and Rudy saw each other every day, every night. It is ridiculous to dismiss her merely as the woman who discovered Valentino, for she molded his thought, taste, work and soul. FIRST woman executive in the industry, June didn’t fall in love with him. She had already given her heart; as well as her brains to Rex Ingram. But she did see Rudy as Julio and insisted that he play the part: For Valentino to build Rex Ingram’s “Four Horsemen” at the box office might have been O.K. But audiences didn’t even see the beauty of Ingram’s sets, nor the skill he’d used with lighting. They were watching Valentino dance. Forever after “the Four Horsemen” was to be known as the picture that made Valentino. Oh, it was a famous victory for June, the triumph of Valentino. But soon, finding beautiful Alice Terry, an extra girl he’d promoted to dance with Valentino asleep on the set, Rex Ingram woke up, took her to dinner, and married her. The marriage rocked Hollywood. What would June do? In public June showed the magnificent condescension of a duchess. If her heart broke in private, nobody except her friend Rudy knew it. Nothing could shake the friendship between June and Rudy, but Ingram did break up what might have been the greatest three-way combination in all picture history.”
Perhaps most telling is Ingram had divorced his wife Doris Pawn in 1920; before he likely met Terry, but about the time he would have been with Mathis. Mathis, Valentino, Ingram, and Terry would all go on to work on, “The Conquering Power”. It would seem that whatever business was between Mathis and Ingram, it did not come to a head until that time, as the now trio (sans Valentino) worked on one final film, “Turn to the Right”, which was released in 1922 (however production had begun in 1920). Before being spotted by Ingram, Terry had indeed been nothing more than an extra girl. Ingram and Terry secretly eloped in November 1921 while working on their first non Mathis film, “The Prisoner of Zenda”. It would be during this time that Ingram grew vocal in his hatred for Valentino, and began to push Novarro as a new star. It doesn’t seem he, nor Mathis, had much to say about each other after the marriage. Though both he and Terry would have plenty of mean things to say about Valentino. Ironically, somehow with the silence, Mathis was written out of her creative partnership with Ingram. During the 20s it was believed she had a hand in discovering Ramon Novarro as well, and that she deserved more credit for collaborating with Ingram than she got. Most Ingram fans to this day refer to his movies as ‘Ingram/Terry pairings’ when in reality his major films were ‘Mathis/Ingram’ pairings.
As for Valentino, Mathis’ friendship with him grew stronger. Before “Turn to the Right”, Mathis began work with both Nazimova and Valentino on “Camille”. Some have suggested Mathis did not write this film, though they have given no reason why. Nazimova seemed to hold a high opinion of Mathis and its likely she sought her out. Mathis introduced Nazimova to Valentino, who in turn introduced Valentino to her art director, Natacha Rambova. When Mathis had previously worked with Nazimova, Rambova was not yet in the picture. It seems by most accounts that Rambova and Mathis got along during these early years. Mathis, her mother Virginia, Rambova, and Valentino would constantly dine together. Mathis’ mother died in January 1922 (her stepfather would die a little over a year later on September 14th, 1923). All three were deeply affected by her death, as both Valentino and Rambova had admired her greatly. According to Rambova, it was at this time Mathis and a friend of Mathis introduced her and Valentino to spiritualism and automatic writing. This is quite an explosive, yet obvious, claim as all Valentino and Rambova biographers have seemed to overlook it.
Mathis was a proud Spiritualist, believing in the occult, the power of thinking, automatic writing, reincarnation, and séances. Of reincarnation Mathis said, “If you are vibrating on the right plane, you will inevitably come in contact with the others who can help you. It’s like tuning in on your radio. If you get the right wave-length, you have your station.” Never shy of her beliefs, it was said she chose George Walsh for the lead in Ben-Hur because of his ‘orangish-yellow aura’. She incorporated her beliefs into her films from the very start, and never made shy of her beliefs to the press. A press release for “Why Women Love” describes Mathis writing method, which sounds very similar to the description the ‘soul of Rudy’ gives in Rambova’s book. Rambova is usually cited as introducing and encouraging Valentino towards Spiritualism, but it does not seem unlikely that his ‘little mother’ would not have had some influence on him. Rambova mentioned how Valentino wrote Day Dreams with a belief that certain spirits of deceased writers were the ones responsible for the poems and credited their initials in his book. Mathis held a similar belief, believing that General Lew Wallace had aided her to adapt “Ben-Hur”; that she had received psychic inspiration from F. Marion Crawford in transposing “The Palace of the King”; and that Frank Norris had communicated with her regarding “Greed”.
After completing three pictures for Alice Lake, Mathis joined Valentino by moving to Famous Players-Lasky. Valentino wanted her to write “The Sheik”, but the script had already been written. After putting Valentino in two quickie pictures, Famous-Players finally utilized her in writing what would be one of his greatest films commercially and critically, “Blood and Sand”. Following in the Latin Lover vein, the film furthered Valentino’s superstar status. It was also the first of his many pairings with Nita Naldi. Mathis adored Naldi and said of her “She’s the most interesting personality I’ve seen in some time. I’d love to write for her.” Sadly, Mathis would never get to write for Naldi again. Blood and Sand would be one of the top four grossing films of 1922 (making two years in a row the duo had been on the list, and only one of two Valentino/Mathis films to be remade as a talkie. On his death bed Valentino cited it as his greatest performance.
Mathis wrote two follow up films, “The Young Rajah” and “The Spanish Cavalier” both of which were to be released in 1922 and 1923. Once filming on Blood and Sand had wrapped, Valentino and Rambova eloped in Mexico, violating the bigamy laws of the time (Valentino’s divorce to Jean Acker had not been finalized for one year). Valentino was arrested and very upset with his treatment by Famous Players. Against his will he made “The Young Rajah” which would be his last Mathis penned film. “The Young Rajah” is all but lost today (surviving in just a few seconds worth of film) but it is a quintessential Mathis film. Extremely heavy on spiritualism and her religious beliefs, the film did poorly. It was the first major flop for both Mathis and Valentino in a long time. Valentino, angered by his treatment at the studio, began on a one man strike that would bar him from any form of employment (later downgraded to just film employment). Some wish to blame Mathis for the failure, though it is hard to really judge without having the film to view. For her part Mathis felt it was a failure herself saying, “The film was terrible. Valentino kept displaying that wonderful profile to the camera, but the part didn’t need it. He looked lost – and it showed.” “The Spanish Cavalier” was turned into “The Spanish Dancer” and given to Pola Negri.
Realizing there wouldn’t be much for her to do without Valentino, Mathis signed with Goldwyn on November 21st, 1922 (about the time Young Rajah was released) as an editorial director. It was the highest office she had ever held and her pay was said to be extraordinary, somewhere around $750 to $1500 a week. Samuel Goldwyn would later try to take a lot of credit for Mathis, saying he had signed her at Metro (though he was probably ousted out by the time she was signed), that he had insured her life for $1 million (this happened either at Goldwyn or First National), and that he had thought highly of her despite the disasters to come.
As Valentino began to fight his battles with the court and film industry, Mathis began preparations for a new major super production, “Ben-Hur”. She wished to have Valentino play Ben-Hur (a role that would eventually go to Ramon Novarro in the end) but his injunction made that impossible. Mathis began picking her cast and crew including director Charles Brabin, who she had worked with once before. She mentioned admiring his few films with Theda Bara, who was, by this point, his wife. Mathis chose Kathleen Key to play Tizrah (a role she would keep), Frances X. Bushman as Messala (a role he too would keep) and George Walsh to play Ben-Hur. The cast and crew left for Italy in March 1924 to shoot on location, something costly and expensive. The production was expected to cost $3 million, with $1 million being for the rights alone. When Mathis would return in the fall of 1924, rumors swirled she was engaged to Walsh. Whether Mathis’ relationship with Silvano Balboni started in Italy or upon her return to the US is hard to discern. It’s possible she could have had a relationship with George Walsh, but there isn’t very solid evidence for it. Miriam Cooper (Walsh’s sister in law), makes no mention of Mathis in her autobiography. Other than supposedly meeting her future husband, the trip and production would prove a massive disaster for Mathis, Brabin, and Goldwyn. Any and everything that could go wrong did. There were translation problems, costly equipment problems, and finally creative problems.
Brabin did not get along with Mathis, feeling it was his picture instead of hers (despite the fact she was his boss and in charge of the film). It reached the point that Brabin would not even speak with her, or pretend to listen and then do his way anyways. By June 1924, newspapers were abuzz that resignations were imminent. By July the original crew was off the picture with production and a mostly new cast moved to Hollywood for reshoots (ironically Ingram would claim to help direct the new film). Mathis would make subtle digs at Brabin in the press, and would almost ironically and boldly give a speech at the “Optimists Club” just a few months later titled, “Filming Ben-Hur under difficulties”.
While at Goldwyn, Mathis was pegged for another major fiasco: editing Erich von Stroheim‘s ten hour epic masterpiece, “Greed”, down to a more manageable size. Mathis and von Stroheim were friends and respected each others work. In fact, they were brought to Goldwyn at the same time, with von Stroheim rumored to direct “Ben-Hur”. Stroheim himself reluctantly knew the film had to be edited and asked Rex Ingram to do so. This took the film down to a length of about two hours. Mathis herself never edited it, being preoccupied with Ben-Hur (production on Greed started in 1923, and Mathis would be gone during most of the fiasco), but left a note to a staff editor to do so. Mathis has been unfairly blamed for the editing over the years. Her name was likely associated with the film due to her position (Editorial Director) and her prestige. The press never seemed to have a bad word to say about Mathis, every film was her latest ‘masterpiece’. Promoting “Greed” as such would surely bring in people who may not have attended else wise. Though she received a contractual credit; Mathis never touched the film.
Mathis returned to the US in July 1924 from France alone. On August 2nd, 1924 Mathis signed with First National Pictures. She was again an executive, signed by Richard A. Rowland who had given her one of her first promotions at Metro many years before. Mathis was said to be making $50,000 a year or $1,000 a week. On Rowland’s advice, Mathis was set to write and edit films for Colleen Moore and Corinne Griffith. Many people have retroactively decided this was a downgrade, despite the fact she was still an executive and still making a high salary (quite likely one of the highest she ever earned). Mathis had enjoyed writing comedy her entire career, and judging by her time at First National it suited her. Mathis’ first project for Moore was said to be “Bobbed Hair”. However Moore had to finish filming “So Big” (ironically directed by Brabin) before she could begin work on Mathis’ film. “Bobbed Hair” would eventually be made by Marie Prevost. Meanwhile Mathis began work on “Sally”.
Valentino had, by this time, ended his strike and returned to the screen finishing his obligations to Famous-Players. He was set to make his own film, “The Hooded Falcon”, which was to be Natacha and his masterpiece. Mathis was rumored as a writer for the project, and was officially attached by the end of August 1924. Fearing she would be too busy trying to make good with Colleen Moore’s deadline, she presented a preliminary script to Valentino, Rambova, and the director. Mathis and Valentino had not seen much of each other since his first marriage to Rambova in 1922, as Mathis had left to work on Ben-Hur and Valentino had left on a national dance tour with Rambova. Adela St. Johns suspected this was the moment their relationship became strained.
Until the marriage, Mathis had been friendly with Rambova. When Valentino was arrested, Mathis along with Thomas Meighan and George Melford fronted the bail money for his release. Perhaps the incidents that followed lowered Mathis’ opinion of Rambova. Rambova, for her part, felt the world had unfairly turned against her in the past two years. She was seen as controlling and manipulating her husband into a whiny artistic bore. How much is her fault is still debatable, though at the very least it can be said she never forced Valentino to do anything. In an ironic twist, many contemporaries saw Mathis as being not only the Spiritualist influence on Valentino, but the artistic one as well. He met Mathis before he met Rambova, and surely Mathis’ direction and advice on Four Horsemen and The Conquering Power meant something to him. It almost appears that with “Monsieur Beaucaire”, Rambova was trying to be like Nazimova, while Valentino was trying to be like Mathis in their artistic goals. Or perhaps even more so “The Hooded Falcon” was such a mission. Either way, both films were a disaster.
Valentino, Rambova, and the director agreed that Mathis’ script would not do. George Ullman, Valentino’s manager, delivered the news to Mathis. Mathis, who was known for her temper and strong will (ironically she always claimed to fight fair and never lose her cool), promptly refused to speak to either Rambova or Valentino ever again. Mathis’ strong will was legendary in its own sort of way. Mathis did not deny it, only claiming that she fought ‘fairly’ and only for things she was certain should be left in her films. Even her husband would not be immune from such debates. One article noted Mathis was said to be ‘indignant’ when George Walsh was fired from Ben-Hur, despite her denial of their relationship. Judging by her actions, Mathis did not take perceived wrongs lightly. However, when it came to those nearest to her, she never said a word to the press. She never remarked on her break up with Ingram (personally or professionally), and she never remarked about this spat with Valentino. According to all those around the duo, Mathis and Valentino thought very highly of each other personally and professionally. Mathis had written “The Spanish Cavalier” for him, and according to Natacha, Mathis had also written a Cellini project for him (she said this was before the strike, but it sounds like something that occurred perhaps shortly after; based on various reports). It would be quite odd for Mathis to just simply walk away from such a relationship. Surely something else had led up to such a drastic decision. Unfortunately, both Ullman and Rambova wrote just the basics of the situation in their respective books (Ullman rewrote his memoirs shortly before his death; sadly he didn’t include any further details on this situation).
Rambova felt she had been unfairly blamed once again, which would indicate Mathis had cited Rambova as the source of her frustration. Press reports from the time note that, “All of Hollywood” was waiting to see which woman would win the battle for superiority, which by December the press had decided Rambova was (in their portrayal, unfairly,) the winner. Rambova had taken the heat for Valentino’s last two failures, but it seems the spat with Mathis was the climax of the presses hatred of her. Rambova had written the original outline and once again tried to doctor the script. Perhaps, Mathis felt she had no right to criticize her work, being an amateur in the screenwriting field. Still something more seems to lie underneath the situation.
Sadly what it is seems impossible to find in a way satisfactory of historical research, as of this writing. Valentino gave an interview shortly after the incident stating how he still cared for and respected Mathis, and hoped things would be resolved soon, “I cannot tell you how sorry I was not to be able to accept her script. But it just would not do, and we were wasting so much money so we just had to postpone that production. I shall make this modern picture ‘Cobra’ while the script is being rewritten.” He also almost cryptically added after being asked what kind of boy he was, “A very troublesome little boy, who occasioned his mother much sorrow,” perhaps a reference to his and Mathis’ belief they had been mother and son in a past life. The article goes on to mention that he smiled and as the reporter explained, “You would never, never, guess what kind of sorrow. His besetting sin, if you please, was falling in love with grown up ladies as old as his own mamma!” (the only two possible women to match that description were Blanca de Saulles and Mathis).
One further event occurred to make the situation even more cryptic. Mathis married Silvano Balboni soon after declaring to never speak to the Valentinos again, in early December 1924. Silvano Balboni (just as often spelled Sylvano, on official documents he used Silvano), was an Italian cameraman from Genoa. He was born in 1894, though later he would claim 1904 for awhile (June’s age fibbing must have rubbed off on him). When he married June the press was told he was an ‘Italian nobleman’ who worked as a director for 15 years in Italy. That is unlikely, though he may have had a family of some prestige as his brother was a doctor. Not much else is known of him before or after his time with June. There were definitely two sides to him, and it seems the relationship had more aspects to it then most realize. The couple were said to have met while on production for Ben-Hur. This is the most accepted story, but there is a kink in it. Balboni traveled to the US in September 1922, two months before Mathis was hired at Goldwyn. One reporter, who claimed to be friends with the couple, noted Balboni mentioning how when he was a poor cameraman and didn’t know who June was, he’d ‘steal flowers from her garden because they were so pretty’.
Odd enough in and of itself, the story also seems to verify that he had spent some time struggling in California before Ben-Hur. One newspaper report notes he was brought in for Ben-Hur, possibly meaning he and Mathis met before the production traveled to Italy. How much involvement Balboni had is really hard to discern, though his language skills were probably extremely valuable. Mathis said she wasn’t very impressed with him at first. Of the moment she fell in love with him she explained, “It was one day when I had got some sand in my eye, and he took it out so tenderly that when I was able to see again the first thing I saw was my Sheik!” Mathis soon insisted him into all of her work, as a cameraman and as a director.
How happy the relationship was is disputable. Indeed they did one joint press interview, and attended many Hollywood parties and events, but a private understanding is lacking here. No one seems to have thought it important to record for posterity. While they put on a happy show, Balboni’s actions after her death might hint at something deeper, though again the conclusions are hard to draw. Mathis apparently made the decision to marry on the spur of the moment (some reports called it a ‘secret’ wedding), insisting she wanted orchids and all the trimmings. But by the time arrangements had been made everything near Los Angeles was closed. Balboni suggested marrying in Santa Ana, CA where they could still marry without delay. Mathis had a fit insisting nothing good came of quickie Santa Ana marriages, but apparently she was eventually convinced to try Riverside instead, as they married at the Mission Inn in Riverside, CA.
So why did Mathis stop speaking with Valentino over the rejection of one script? What did she hold against Natacha that caused Natacha to feel she was unfairly blamed? Why did she rush a script for someone so dear to her in the first place, considering the fact that if it did well it surely would have redeemed them both in the film world? And why did she marry Balboni so suddenly (practically eloping) after the spat? Many films have unfairly portrayed Mathis as a frumpy woman with an unrequited love for her protégé (not that anything in those films is accurate to begin with). Many women who knew Valentino remembered him more for his cooking than his smoldering sexuality, claiming whatever it was on the screen they did not see in real life. Mathis and Valentino had been extremely close in an almost daily friendship that lasted three years. Mathis obviously saw great potential in him as an actor, who also happened to possess unnaturally good looks. But what her private opinions were remains unknown. One could look at her actions as unrequited love. Perhaps feeling she had lost her chance when Rambova came along. However that does not account for her and Rambova’s cordial friendship during the time Rambova and Valentino were dating/living together. However the rush marriage to Balboni seems to point to something of this nature.
Contrary to reports, Mathis did not ‘bring Balboni back with her’. She signed her contract with First National on August 2nd, 1924. Balboni didn’t return from Naples until September 1st, 1924 (add to that June had returned from France, not Italy, as Balboni did). He signed a ‘declaration of intention’ (the first step to citizenship, it would be valid for up to seven years from that date) on September 16th. Mathis was attached to The Hooded Falcon right before Balboni returned. The fight likely occurred sometime in November, with news of it breaking in early December. It would seem Mathis must have had some sort of relationship with Balboni before November…but when did it start?
The couple could have known each other as early as 1922, or could have started dating as late as September 1924. Given the whispers about her relationship with George Walsh, it probably indicates Mathis and Balboni were not a couple until their return, as the Walsh rumors usually accompanied news of her departure from Ben-Hur. Reports of Mathis’ marriage broke December 15th, 1924; the same time the spat reports were also breaking. This seems extremely telling, why such a rush to marry Balboni so near a personal rough patch? Given this evidence, there might be a strong indication that Mathis and Balboni had barely been together romantically, when her spat with the Valentinos occurred. Such a quick marriage to an Italian, who reminded her of a ‘Sheik’, while Valentino himself referenced older women giving him love trouble, might be some solid evidence that either Mathis did, at some point, have a romantic relationship with Valentino; or at the very least, had unresolved romantic feelings for him. In addition, Mathis and Valentino ended their creative partnership soon after his marriage to Rambova. There was no reason Mathis had to do this. Valentino was a bankable star, and though “Young Rajah” failed, it was obvious neither thought there was a reason to end the partnership (given the future films ready to produce). Once the strike began, Mathis left for Goldwyn, where she wanted Valentino for the role of Ben-Hur, but was unable, legally, to get him. Whatever had been boiling between that time and the end of her stint on Ben-Hur obviously came to a head over The Hooded Falcon. And indeed, Rambova had been around most of that time. Before the marriage, maybe Mathis did not feel threaten. And after, there was obviously tension (both reasonable and unreasonable). It is my opinion based on all this, that Mathis at least had some sort of romantic feelings for Valentino; and there might be a strong indication of an actual romantic relationship of some sort, particularly given what had happened with Ingram before Natacha was in the picture. I doubt the full story will ever be uncovered, but maybe someday, some more information will be found to shed more light on the matter whatever it may be.
Onto a less controversial theory, perhaps with no romantic intentions what so ever, Mathis felt Rambova was (or had become) vindictive and controlling, as other people with Valentino had begun to feel. Natacha seems to hint at this in her book, saying those around Valentino had begun to tell him how harmful she was. Whether she specifically meant Mathis or not is unknown. Both Rambova and Mathis had, at one point, been in control of Valentino’s career direction, maybe Mathis felt shut out. Both Rambova and Mathis were strong, power hungry women with major artistic skills including drawing, direction, production, and casting. However Mathis excelled at writing and never did much with costuming (on occasion she designed a few costumes); while Rambova did the opposite. While Mathis succeeded for being a strong woman involved in every aspect of production, Rambova did not. And though much of her work is lost, it does indeed seem Rambova’s work was unfairly misjudged in her own time. Films such as Monsieur Beaucaire prove she indeed possessed some skill and insight. One almost wonders if Rambova aspired to become just as powerful as Mathis. Not only did she begin to assert herself behind the scenes more in 1924, but the film proceeding “The Hooded Falcon” had been “A Sainted Devil”. It was Valentino’s one and only Latin Lover film without June, and stills alone reveal the film to resemble Rambova’s take on Mathis’ previous Latin films. Almost a more stylized version of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. It was also based on a Rex Beach story, an author Mathis had mentioned admiring greatly since the start of her career. The film was the second flop for the Rambova/Valentino film pairing (in fact, Valentino would not have another success until The Eagle). Did this, perhaps, set off some spark between the two women?
Whatever bad blood there was, it seemed fresh to Rambova. In 1926 when she wrote her memoirs (a year before Mathis died) she constantly referred to June by her full name, would barely mention her to begin with, leaving her out in obvious spots (such as speaking about her mother Virginia), and explicitly leaving her out of ‘Rudy’s’ soul’s messages. In several places, Natacha (or ‘Rudy’s Soul’) goes into great detail about theories Mathis had discussed with the press years before, almost word for word. Yet even though Natacha has Rudy’s ‘soul’ devote a whole chapter to the magic of writers, Mathis isn’t even mentioned once in that section.
After marrying Balboni, Mathis began production on “Sally”. Once again it was almost entirely her production, from script to editing to crew. “Sally” was a major hit and Mathis was quickly put to work on “Irene” and “Classified”. Some of her final films were noted vehicles for Anna Q. Nilsson, Blanche Sweet, and Barbara LaMarr. Mathis’ films did so well she was said to be unable to take a honeymoon until a year after the wedding (at which point she, or the press, would claim she had just married, in December 1925…a year after the fact). When she returned, she began putting Balboni to work, their first pairing was “The Far Cry”. Soon after, Mathis took trips to her hometown as well as New York City. By early 1926, Mathis negotiated to do four films a year with Balboni, which were to be “June Mathis Productions”. She only completed “The Masked Woman” and “The Greater Glory” before leaving to freelance.
On October 31st, 1926 she left First National over production disputes. She began freelancing as a scenario writer for most of 1927. Mathis was rumored to be signed with both MGM and UA months before her death. Mathis’ final films would be “An Affair of the Follies” and “The Magic Flame” (with Vilma Banky). One final film, “Reno” would be made as a talkie in 1930.
Despite her vow never to speak to Valentino again, Mathis luckily changed her mind. After returning to Los Angeles she attended a preview screening of “Son of the Sheik” in Santa Monica, CA in May 1926 with some friends. Valentino spotted the group and went over to say hello. All of the ladies were touched and many tears were said to have been shed. Mathis and Valentino became instant friends again, spending time together and advising each other on various troubles. Mathis was one of the friends who insisted he should see a doctor for the pain he was having, but Valentino did not listen. Mathis attended the premiere of “Son of the Sheik” at the Million Dollar Theatre in Los Angeles, CA. It was probably the last time she saw him alive. Valentino died unexpectedly while in New York in August 1926. Mathis was deeply affected, swearing she had seen his apparition in her living room at the very moment he passed (eerily similar to a scene in Four Horsemen). To the press, she gave a touching statement saying, “My long association with Rudolph Valentino endeared him to me, as he has become endeared to everyone who knew him, my heart is too full of sorrow at this moment to enable me to speak coherently. I only know that his passing has left a void that nothing can ever fill in that the loss to our industry is too great to estimate at this time.” She and Balboni attended both the NY and CA funerals.
Valentino died $150,000 in debt with no money available for his burial expenses. Mathis owned a block of crypts in a mausoleum at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Her mother and father were buried there, and spaces awaited her, Balboni, and her Grandmother, Emily Hawkes. Rambova offered to bury Valentino in her family crypt in New York, but Ullman (who was in charge of his estate) declined. Mathis offered her crypt, saying he could stay until she needed it herself. Sadly that would only be a year later, almost to the day. Balboni and Mathis sat on a committee of Italian Americans who were attempting to give Valentino a more proper resting place. The original idea was an Italian Garden in the heart of Hollywood, featuring statues of him in various costumes, as well as a movie theatre. Sadly all such plans would fall through when Mathis died. Mathis began work on her own films once again. In October 1926, WAMPAS named her the third most influential and important woman in the film industry (ranking just behind Mary Pickford and Norma Talmadge). Mathis beat out the other three major female writers including Anita Loos, Frances Marion, and Jeanie Macpherson.
It was her 10th year as a writer. When she died, AMPAS passed a resolution of mourning, noting she was one of the founders of the Academy (though according to the Academy she is not on the founding list, probably meaning she passed too soon to take any part its formation). Mathis was constantly cited as the highest paid and most talented screenwriter during this time. She made a trip to New York City without Balboni in May 1927. With her Grandmother Emily Hawkes (occasionally spelled Hawks or referred to as ‘Millie’) on July 27th, she watched “The Squall” in a Broadway Theater. Her last words were reportedly, “Oh Mother I’m dying!” which has led to confusion over who she was with at the time of her death. However her mother had passed a few years prior in 1922. Mathis was 40. Two doctors and two nurses were in the audience and tried to assist her, but she had already passed. 134 Until the coroner could arrive, Mathis’ body had to lay in an alley surrounded by a crowd.135 Her 85 year old grandmother was in shock, stroking her hand and insisting if she could take her granddaughter home, everything would be okay. She reportedly kept saying, “June! June! Speak to me!”
The official cause of her death was a heart attack, likely brought on by her life long suffering from valvular heart disease, which she had been born with. Such disease is fatal when not treated with some kind of surgery, something impossible in 1927. Balboni wasn’t alerted until the next night, at which point he left for New York. One report said he was so distraught he needed medical assistance. Mathis’ funeral was held at the same church as Valentino’s in New York. A reporter noted that the craziness of Valentino’s funeral was absent, though the church was filled with sincerely grieving mourners. Mathis’ body was sent back to California for burial. There her body laid in state at the funeral chapel of W.P. Strother on Hollywood Blvd for two hours on August 5th, 1927. Hundreds of cinema and literary elite were said to have paid their respects. A service was held at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, with flower tributes sent from George Ullman, Charlie Chaplin, Tom Moore, Colleen Moore, and Alberto Valentino. Mathis had offered to write a screenplay for Alberto if he ever entered film as he had intended, shortly after Valentino’s death.
Mathis’ grandmother was said to be so upset she had to be carried out of the mausoleum. Valentino’s body was moved into her husband’s future crypt, while Mathis took place in her own crypt. George Ullman was said to be handling the funeral arrangements and the rest of the decisions appear to have been made by her stepsister Laura. Balboni isn’t mentioned anywhere. In the 1930s Balboni sold the crypt to the Valentino family, making it Valentino’s official final resting place. Mathis said of the borrowed crypt, “He is my guest in my future home and I don’t intend to ask him to leave.” They remain side by side to this day.
Mathis’ estate became a mess, bringing out an ugly side of Balboni. In September 1927 his brother Dr. Tulio Balboni was appointed the administrator of Mathis’ estate by Silvano’s lawyers. Mathis’ had written a will before a surgery shortly before her death, but had failed to properly date it. She had specified a life long stipend for her Grandmother (who was 85 years old) and her estate was originally estimated to be worth $200,000. She also asked that her step-sister be provided for. When her Grandmother passed, Mathis had willed the rest to Balboni (including $12,300 in securities and $10,000 in property). Without the proper date, the will could be broken by inheritance laws; leaving everything to Balboni. Days later, Mathis’ will was ruled ineligible for probate, due to the missing date, which was believed to be March 1927.
A legal battle broke out over the trust for her Grandmother, and the remaining half of her property. Balboni’s lawyers tried to have Hawkes barred from protesting, insisting Balboni would ‘provide for her’. Nothing was mentioned of her sister. In March 1928, Balboni got his way and won the battle, receiving all rights to Mathis’ estate and disinheriting her now nearly 85 year old Grandmother and step-sister. Her estate was worth $100,000 total when he won it. He also took low blows at Hawkes in court saying with her bobbed hair and ‘short skirts’ she, “was equipped with a wardrobe that would be the envy of any flapper.” He even went as far as to insinuate that Hawkes wanted her inheritance for an extravagant wardrobe. Hawkes appealed, but it appears nothing came of it. Emily Hawkes died in 1933 at the age of 90 or 91.
Balboni seems to be a man with two faces. One reporter noted on New Years Eve 1928 he attended a Hollywood ball, but mostly sat silent. He directed a few films that year, none of particular note. Balboni left for Italy in 1930. While back in Italy, Silvano married De Gasperis Louise (also called Luisa) on October 29th, 1930 near Rome. She was eight years younger than June had been. The couple had a son on June 29th, 1931. Silvano named him Paolo Antonio (also called Paul Anthony). At some point, Balboni traveled to Bremen before returning to America in January 1933. In September he left back to Genoa. In February 1934 Balboni returned to California, this time with his family.
In 1924, shortly before her married June, he had signed a ‘Declaration of Intent’ (the first of a two step system to becoming a US citizen). Upon returning in 1934, Balboni again signed a declaration (each declaration was only valid for 7 years). Quite crassly, Silvano sought press, hoping to get some work as a cameraman (he also failed to mention his new family). It seems he was not successful, as it appears he was making movies in Italy in the 1950s. When he returned to Italy is not known, though it could have been at some point in the 1930s.
Mathis’ death sent shock waves across the industry. Many saw her as a sincerely powerful and pioneering force in film, and they were certain her name would live on for such works. Sam Goldwyn said of her death, “The untimely death of June Mathis is (sic) come as a blow to us. A truly brilliant scenarist, Miss Mathis was, a tremendous personal factor in the successful growth of the art of picture making. The vast continuity done by her was for my productions the magic flame, which makes her loss all the more poignant to me personally.”
Jesse Lasky said of her death, “The motion picture industry has lost its wisest counselors. The death of June Mathis comes as an overwhelming shock to all of us. She pioneered women’s place in the new world of entertainment. When the history of motion pictures is finally written June Mathis’ name will be recorded as one of the most brilliant craftsmen ever associated with the screen.”
Unfortunately none of that came to pass. Unlike her contemporaries, Mathis barely lived to see talkies exist, let alone succeed in them. Today, no-one realizes her films are her own, or that her films are the only Valentino films that were remade as talkies. No one remembers the work she did, or why she did it. Her memory is regulated to a footnote as the frizzy, frumpy, fat woman who discovered Valentino, despite the fact that she did so much more than that. Unlike Frances Marion or Anita Loos, there hasn’t been one single biography written about her. Not only did Loos and Marion live long enough to write their own accounts (to much acclaim at that), but both women had had numerous biographies and studies written about them. Mathis has nothing. Reportedly, a biography is in the works, but if anything will ever come of it no one knows. Poor Mathis will probably end up on a McFarland rack, overpriced and under promoted. A recent Frances Marion author gave a lecture which included numerous references to Anita Loos and Mary Pickford, but not one of Mathis.
Perhaps one of the greatest things to mourn about her early death is the fact Mathis was unable to record her own thoughts for posterity, as both George Ullman and Natacha Rambova did the year she died. Mathis’ insight would have been invaluable to understanding the life and career of Rudolph Valentino, let alone her own works. Unfortunately so much of this story is lost to history. Considering Mathis’ influence and work with Valentino alone she deserves better. But alone, on her own merit as a female film executive she deserves better.
Notes: As everyone else did in the day of hard to trace birthdays June was renowned for hiding her true age. Many sources give her birthday as June 30th, 1889. This date appeared on the 1910 census, however the 1900 census is probably a truer indicator as Mathis was just entering an entertainment career at the time. Also of note by 1900 William Mathis was listed as her father, not Philip Hughes. In the 1900 census she is listed as being born January 1887, in Colorado.
Mathis would change her birthday to suit her whims, usually sticking to the June birthdate and placing the year as 1889 or 1894. When she died many obituaries noted she was ‘about’ a certain age, no one knew for sure. However the local Salt Lake newspaper (which worshiped her and always had exclusive scopes from the family) noted she was in her ’40s’.
(this is not complete, if you would like to help please contact us!)
*Valentino related films are in red
Films as Writer:
The Magic Flame (1927, continuity, starring Vilma Banky)
An Affair of the Follies (1927)
The Masked Woman (1927)
The Greater Glory (1926)
Irene (1926, starring Colleen Moore)
Ben-Hur (1925, adaptation…Mathis’ version was aborted and this version took its place. Valentino was briefly considered for what ended up being Ramon Novarros role)
We Moderns (1925)
Classified (1925, scenario)
The Desert Flower (1925)
Greed (1925, Mathis did not actually edit this film, and her credit as a contractual obligation. She and Stroheim were friends)
In the Palace of the King (1923, adaptation)
The Day of Faith (1923, adaptation)
The Spanish Dancer (1923, adaptation. Originally was slated for Rudy, ended up being a Pola Negri film ironically)
Three Wise Fools (1923)
The Young Rajah (1922, screenplay)
Blood and Sand (1922, written by)
Hate (1922, adaptation)
Kisses (1922, also adaptation)
The Golden Gift (1922, story)
Turn to the Right (1922)
The Idle Rich (1921, adaptation)
Camille (1921 film) (written by, rumor has it Alla Nazimova either helped write or wrote the entire screenplay. Possible but not confirmed)
A Trip to Paradise (1921)
The Conquering Power (1921)
The Man Who (1921)
The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse (1921, Mathis had complete control of this film, it was almost completely her doing)
Hearts Are Trumps (1920, scenario)
Polly with a Past (1920, scenario)
The Saphead (1920, scenario, starring Buster Keaton)
The Price of Redemption (1920)
Parlor, Bedroom and Bath (1920)
Old Lady 31 (1920, scenario)
The Right of Way (1920)
The Walk-Offs (1920)
The Willow Tree (1920)
Fair and Warmer (1919)
Lombardi, Ltd. (1919, scenario)
The Brat (1919, also titles)
The Microbe (1919)
The Man Who Stayed at Home (1919)
Some Bride (1919)
Almost Married (1919)
The Amateur Adventuress (1919)
The Red Lantern (1919, starring Alla Nazimova)
The Island of Intrigue (1919)
The Parisian Tigress (1919, story)
Blind Man’s Eyes (1919)
Way of the Strong (1919, scenario)
Satan Junior (1919)
Johnny-on-the-Spot (1919, scenario)
Out of the Fog (1919)
The Divorcee (1919)
The Great Victory, Wilson or the Kaiser? The Fall of the Hohenzollerns (1919)
Eye for Eye (1918)
Sylvia on a Spree (1918, scenario)
Five Thousand an Hour (1918)
His Bonded Wife (1918)
Secret Strings (1918, scenario)
Kildare of Storm (1918, scenario)
The Silent Woman (1918)
The House of Mirth (1918)
A Successful Adventure (1918, also story)
To Hell with the Kaiser! (1918, featured Karl Dane in one of his earliest successful roles)
A Man’s World (1918)
The House of Gold (1918, scenario)
Social Quicksands (1918)
The Winning of Beatrice (1918, scenario)
Toys of Fate (1918, scenario)
The Trail to Yesterday (1918, scenario)
With Neatness and Dispatch (1918, scenario)
Social Hypocrites (1918)
The Claim (1918)
The Brass Check (1918)
The Eyes of Mystery (1918, adaptation)
The Winding Trail (1918, story)
Daybreak (1918, adaptation)
The Legion of Death (1918, also story)
Blue Jeans (1917)
Red, White and Blue Blood (1917)
The Voice of Conscience (1917, scenario)
Draft 258 (1917)
The Jury of Fate (1917, adaptation)
Somewhere in America (1917)
Miss Robinson Crusoe (1917, story)
The Trail of the Shadow (1917, scenario)
Aladdin’s Other Lamp (1917)
Lady Barnacle (1917, scenario)
The Call of Her People (1917)
The Beautiful Lie (1917, scenario)
The Millionaire’s Double (1917, story)
A Magdalene of the Hills (1917, scenario)
The Power of Decision (1917, scenario)
His Father’s Son (1917, scenario)
The Barricade (1917, scenario)
Threads of Fate (1917)
The Sunbeam (1916, scenario)
The Dawn of Love (1916)
God’s Half Acre (1916, scenario)
The Purple Lady (1916, scenario)
Her Great Price (1916, scenario)
The Upstart (1916, scenario)
Films as Executive:
Her Second Chance (1926, editorial director)
Irene (1926, editorial director)
The Far Cry (1926, editorial director)
The Girl from Montmartre (1926, editorial director)
What Fools Men (1925, editorial director)
The Marriage Whirl (1925, editorial director)
Sally (1925, editorial supervisor)
Three Weeks (1924, editorial director)
Name the Man (1924, editorial director)