Hollywood's Great Latin Lover vs. Hollywood's Great Jewish Mother

The great pioneering director D.W. Griffith hired Rabbi Isadore Myers as the Jewish technical consultant on his great epic, Intolerance, 1916. Griffith was so happy with Rabbi Myer’s expert advice and attention to detail that he said to the good Rabbi:

“How can I ever repay you?”

Replied Rabbi Myers: “I have a daughter who would like to get into pictures.”

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Rudolph Valentino at the height of his fame.

True to his word, Griffith extended a helping hand to Carmel, Rabbi Myer’s striking and talented daughter. Carmel Myers (1899 – 1980) appears fleetingly as a dancing girl in Intolerance and after production wrapped, she was signed as a contract Griffith player. A few months later, the future star Colleen Moore arrived in Hollywood, also under exclusive contract to Griffith.

Myers and Moore became close friends. In her excellent memoir Silent Star, Colleen Moore remembers that a club for young actresses–Our Club–was organized as a means of mutual support. The young actresses would lunch on Sunday, discuss movies, books, “boys” and generously feed one another tips on what roles were available at which studios. Myers was an active member.

A typical meeting included: Anita Stewart, Patsy Ruth Miller, Helen Ferguson, Billie Dove, Virginia Zanuck, Gertrud Olmsted, Julanne Johnston, Clara Horton, Ruby Keeler, Loretta Young, Aline MacMahon, Ruth Roland, Carmelita Geraghty, Pauline Garan and Ann Harding. Mary Pickford was godmother to this extraordinary gathering of up and coming stars.

Carmel’s biggest break came when she was chosen to play the wicked Iras in the huge and deeply troubled MGM production of Ben Hur,1925.

Ben-Hur-1925

The rabbi’s beautiful daughter was frequently cast as the sexy vamp in silent films. She starred and worked with some of the best known stars of the time: John Barrymore, Mary Astor, Rudolph Valentino, Norma Shearer, Adolph Menjou, Eleanor Boardman, Lon Chaney, and Joan Crawford. Carmel made the transition to sound quite nicely, and as she grew older eased gracefully into character parts. But when the roles got too small she shifted into real estate–always a smart bet in Los Angeles–and launched her own perfume company. In 1951 Carmel starred in her own TV show for one season.

But let’s rewind to 1918, when Myers was an emerging Hollywood star. In the comprehensive Valentino biography, Dark Lover, author Emily W. Leider reports that the young, incredibly handsome dancer and aspiring actor Rudolph Valentino–real name, Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Piero Filiberto Guglielmi di Valentina d’Antonguolla–was struggling for a foothold in Hollywood. Back in Italy, Valentino’s beloved mother had just died and Valentino was mired in a black depression.

He sat in his small apartment and wept. His financial situation was precarious. Never smart about money, Valentino’s Mercer car had been repossessed because the future star could not afford the monthly payments. Rudy was forced to walk and take streetcars to the endless rounds of casting sessions. Valentino (1895 – 1926) who, in The Shiek, 1921 was transformed into the world’s greatest lover, was lonely, isolated and yearning for love.

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Carmel Myers, the rabbis beautiful daughter.

Leider narrates Valentino’s brave but naive attempt to court the Jewish beauty:

Carmel Myers, a teenaged star who picked him to play her boyfriend in two romantic comedies, says he tried to date her but was stymied by her overprotective mother, a rabbi’s wife. When informed by her mother that Carmel was too young to go out with men, he said, ‘Madame Myers, when I want something I never let anyone stand in my way.’ And Mama asked him, ‘Even if the person standing in your way weighs two-hundred and fifty pounds.’

Deadpans Carmel, “I never did have dinner with him.”

Of course, the rebbetzin (Yiddish: rabbi’s wife) did not block Rudy’s path because of Carmel’s tender age. Carmel was 19-years old in 1918, an appropriate age for dating. The truth is that Mama Myers would not allow her daughter to date a non-Jew. American Jews were assimilating at a frightening rate, especially in Hollywood, and Mama was determined that her daughter choose a Jewish husband and raise a Jewish family. Mama got her wish. Carmel Myers was married three times–all Jewish men.

In 1919 Rudy impulsively married actress Jean Acker–a lesbian–who, on their wedding night, locked him out of her bedroom. The marriage was never consummated. They divorced in 1921. Next, Valentino married Natacha Rambova–real name: Winifred Kimball Shaughnessy–the flamboyant costume designer. Rambova was domineering, artistically uncompromising, and she seriously damaged Valentino’s career. They divorced in 1925. A year later, in August, while in New York, Valentino, the most popular male star in the world, was hospitalized with appendicitis and gastric ulcers. Peritonitis set in and the 31-year old star star died.

Over 100,000 people lined the streets of New York for Rudolph Valentino’s funeral. Agatha Hearn, a New York woman and mother, shot herself while clutching a batch of Valentino photos. In London, a young actress named Peggy Scott, surrounded by photos of Valentino, ingested poison and left a note saying: “With his death my last bit of courage has flown.”

A second funeral was held in Los Angeles. Among the numerous mourners weeping at Valentino’s grave was Carmel Myers.

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Robert J. Avrech

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