Considered the movies' first male sex symbol, Rudolph Valentino tangoed his way into the hearts of American women in 1921 with his breakthrough role in The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse, in which he played the playboy son of an Argentine cattle baron. His most famous role was as the title character in The Sheik, a bodice-ripper set in the Arabian desert.
Born in Italy in 1895, Valentino emigrated to the United States at the age of 18 and worked for a time as a taxi dancer at Maxim's. Following a relationship with a married woman who shot her husband during a messy divorce proceeding, Valentino fled New York and ended up in Los Angeles.
He had minor roles in a number of films before being spotted by screenwriter June Mathis who thought he would be perfect in her next picture. The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse, released in early 1921, made Valentino a star. His performance in The Sheik six months later cemented his image as the screen's greatest sex symbol.
Despite his success, Valentino spent lavishly and was often in debt. He was twice married, had numerous relationships with women (and possibly men) and was once arrested on bigamy charges.
On the subject of romance, The Great Latin Lover, as he was known, offered up this insight: "To generalize on women is dangerous. To specialize in them is infinitely worse."
Valentino died at the age of 31 after an operation for a perforated ulcer, still at the height of his popularity. As many as 100,000 people attended his memorial service in New York.
Trivia: Sheik Condoms, first marketed in the 1930s, were named after Valentino's most famous role and carried his silhouette on the package. Silhouette of what, exactly, is unclear ...