The religion of Rudolph Valentino is quite interesting. Raised Catholic as was the custom in Italy at the time, he was never much interested in religion, yet would attend church to make his devote mother happy.
When Valentino moved to New York, and later California, he didn’t seem to take much interest or comfort in religion. His mother died during this time causing him to be severely depressed. Not long after he married Jean Acker at a party, not a church.
It’s unclear when Valentino took an interest in Spiritualism, but by the time he was living with Natacha Rambova he was proudly proclaiming his new faith. Who introduced him to the faith is unknown, as both Natacha and his mentor June Mathis were passionate spiritualists. In fact both Valentino’s big breaks contained elements of either Spiritualism or the Occult (The Eyes of Youth and The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse).
Spiritualism was the Kabbalah of its day (while Christian Science was the Scientology of the same time period). Taking cues from Christianity, it mixed Christian beliefs with Occult practices. Today the word ‘occult’ carries a negative connotation for some weird reason. More than anything it represents a belief in the metaphysical and the unknown, the use of magic, prayer, or divination to reach some spiritual conclusion. Nothing evil or Satan like about it. Most Spiritualists practiced séances and communicating with the dead or spirit guides. Many also used various forms of divination.
Spiritualism reached its peak during the late 1800s, and again once in the 1920s. It’s still around today, but not a major faith.
How devote Valentino was is kind of unknown. He proudly proclaimed his beliefs during interviews and even released a book of poetry titled “Day Dreams” (also commonly spelled ‘Daydreams’) which he supposedly was inspired to do while automatic writing (taking a pen and letting a spirit ‘write’ for you). Valentino was a terrible driver (he was very near sighted). While in Italy Natacha feared for their lives, as his driving was concerning her more than usual. Valentino apparently told her not to worry, their spirit guide “Black Feather” would protect them (well in fairness it seemed to work!)
However by most accounts Natacha was his inspiration for the faith, and as their marriage crumbled he no longer seemed interested in automatic writing like he had once been. According to George Ullman who was with him before and during his death, Valentino had no premonition of his impending doom. However others would argue his attempts to reconcile many of his friendships in his final months may have been some sort of a sign. He even made right with his boss from Famous Players-Lasky, who just 3 years earlier he had gone on a very public strike from. Ullman recounted that when Valentino was wheeled into the ambulance he cried, “Jenny” which was one of his spirit guides. His last word was “Madre” (Mother in Italian)…quite possibly he believed these to be spirit interactions.
Valentino seemed to be most active as a spiritualist during his time with Natacha, particularly 1922-1925. They practiced automatic writing and conducted many séances. They believed Valentino’s spirit guide was a Native American named Black Feather, who Valentino posed for a photo dressed as. They also believed there was another helpful spirit named Jenny, who they were certain was June Mathis’ recently deceased mother.
One story asserts Valentino had his palm read by the Pier in Santa Monica, CA. The reader told him he would not live long and he seemed to not believe them. Whether this is true or not one can only guess. One confirmed story had Valentino visiting a psychic with Vilma Banky at the same location after his divorce. The psychic who used a crystal ball told him he should never marry. Contrary to popular stories, the psychic apparently did not tell him he had a short time to live…at least according to Vilma.
The only psychic thing he seemed to partake in was séances, where he was certain he received important news and messages. Ullman noted that though he did not believe as the Valentinos did, he was always amazed at how nothing shocked them, that they always seemed to know everything that was going on.
In 1923 he starred in the Mathis penned “The Young Rajah“. Though his first flop the film had serious spiritualist undertones. In the film a young Indian Prince (who doesn’t know his origin and lives in America) has visions via his third eye of future events. Only a few snippets of this film still survive.
Whether Valentino believed in reincarnation or not is hard to say, though many spiritualists including Mathis believed in it. As he lay dying Natacha conducted several séances in France (where she was staying). These eerily showed Valentino confused and lost, almost unable to communicate. Back in New York, Ullman (who was with him) noted he was delirious during his final days, believing he and Ullman had been lost in the woods. When Rudy died Natacha conducted more séances and wrote about them. In her belief (according to her memoirs) he was in some sort of heaven, along with other deceased stars.
According to Ullman, Valentino seemed to return to Catholicism on his deathbed. He gave his last confession and was read the last rites per Catholic tradition. Two Catholic masses were held for him and on his tombstone is the symbol of the cross. What Rudy really thought towards the end of his life is unknown, though Ullman claimed the session with the priest seemed to give him great joy and comfort.
Valentino’s spiritual beliefs have been the basis for much of his fanatic death cult. After Natacha’s book, many fans seemed to believe indeed that Valentino was roaming around somewhere, still able to communicate with them. During the 1950s and 1960s this seemed to peak, with many delightfully insane stories of Valentino’s ghost visiting various women or talking to Memorial Guild head Leslie Flynt. This trend has continued with a rash of ‘seance inspired’ books being published in the past few years.