Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Valentino Will Die--Donis Casey

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Need a break from current events this week? We may think we've cornered the market on celebrity fame and fandom in our time, but author Donis Casey is here to disabuse us of that notion with a fascinating look at the life of Rudolf Valentino. Rudy's life would have made a great (and tragic) novel in itself, but in VALENTINO WILL DIE, Donis has given us icing on the cake, as you will see!

DONIS CASEY: People have always behaved like idiots. You learn that pretty fast when you do research for a historical novel. I don't know if that's much comfort right now, but at least spending time in the past does provide a nice temporary respite from the present.

His name was Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d'Antonguolla, but the world knew him as Rudolph Valentino, screen legend, superstar, and the original “sexiest man alive”. He blazed across the silver screen like a comet and burned out as quickly and just as spectacularly, dying at the tender age of 31, thus ensuring his status as a tragic romantic icon for all time. 

 

She was born Blanche Tucker, but the world knew her as Bianca LaBelle, star of the wildly popular silent movie serial The Adventures of Bianca Dangereuse. When I first wrote about Blanche in the Alafair Tucker Mysteries, she was a six year old girl living with her very large family on a farm in Oklahoma in the 1910s. I watched through ten novels as she grew up to be a smart, beautiful, but headstrong teen, bored with life on the farm. I decided it would be fun to fling Blanche into the world and see what happened. I didn't know myself she was going to end up a movie star - until she did.

 Blanche/Bianca is a fictional character. But Rudolph Valentino was decidedly real.

 I used Rudy as a side character in my first Bianca Dangereuse novel, The Wrong Girl, as one of Bianca’s many famous friends. I knew Rudy was the first great screen lover and an international heartthrob whose early death caused a frenzy of grief. But when I dug into the research on Rudy’s life, I ended up down the rabbit hole. He was a fascinating guy. An Italian immigrant with a French mother, he loved art and music and spoke five languages. He was hot tempered but quick to forgive, loved women but by his own admission didn't understand them, extremely athletic but equally sweet, boyish, and naive. He was also flummoxed by his unbelievable fame.

But what really intrigued me was that as soon as he died, rumors began to fly that he had been murdered. Rudolph Valentino emigrated to the United States in 1913 at the age of 18, eventually becoming a dance instructor in New York – a job he didn't particularly like, but he was good at it and it paid the bills. As it turned out, his skill as a dancer was his ticket to fame. He moved to California, and in 1921 the relative unknown was cast in the lead role in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's silent epic The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and tangoed his way to immortality. 


In 1921, just before Four Horseman came out, Rudy married his first wife, Jean Acker, On their wedding night she inconveniently discovered she was a lesbian and locked him out of the bridal suite. He became a big star almost immediately thereafter, which led Jean to decide she wanted a divorce and a lot of alimony rather than an annulment. After four years of fighting in court and mere weeks before the divorce from Jean was finalized, Rudy married director Natacha Rambova (whose real name, I’m thrilled to report, was Winifred Shaughnessy Hudnut) in Mexico. Jean pressed charges and Rudy was arrested for bigamy the minute he stepped foot back in the United States. After the dust settled, Rudy was happy for a while, but Natacha was a force of nature and refused to take a back seat to the superstar. Feeling hemmed in, she left him.

 After Natacha, Rudy became infamous for his many affairs and was hounded by the paparazzi. He abused his body mercilessly with endless parties and dangerous stunts. He threw himself into the whirlwind national promotional tour for his final movie, Son of the Shiek, the sequel to his blockbuster movie of a few years earlier, The Shiek. After endless interviews during the day, he’d party all night - and ended up in a New York City hospital with a perforated ulcer. Terrified of being cut open, he didn't allow doctors to operate on him until it was too late. He died of a massive infection on August 23, 1926.

One hundred thousand mourners crammed the street in front of the chapel where Rudy’s body lay. The press of people shattered the plate glass window in front of funeral home. Traffic was snarled for blocks and cars overturned. Fifty thousand people filed by the body until Rudy’s agent called it off because so many were taking “souvenirs” from the viewing room. Rudy’s body was sent by train to Los Angeles for burial. Crowds lined the tracks all the way. Several women committed suicide.

The rumors started immediately that Rudy’s death was not natural. He had been shot by a jealous husband. He had been poisoned by Mussolini or the Black Hand or persons unknown. A jilted lover put ground glass in his food. He wasn't really dead. It was all just publicity stunt. Was Rudy murdered? Probably not. Not in the real world, anyway. But in my fictional world - now, that’s another story. Just ask his friend Bianca LaBelle.

DEBS: Here's more about VALENTINO WILL DIE:

Though Bianca LaBelle, star of the wildly popular silent movie serial The Adventures of Bianca Dangereuse, and Rudolph Valentino, the greatest screen idol of all time, have been friends for years, in the summer of 1926 they are making their first picture together, a steamy romance called Grand Obsession One evening after dinner, a troubled Rudy confesses that he has received anonymous death threats. In a matter of weeks, Rudy falls deathly ill. Could it be poison? As Rudy lies dying, Bianca promises she will find out who is responsible. Was it one of his many lovers? A delusional fan? Or perhaps Rudy has run of afoul of a mobster whose name Bianca knows all too well. With time running out, Bianca calls on the one man she believes can help them before the charmed life of Rudolph Valentino comes to an end.

And look at these fab quotes--one from our very own Rhys Bowen!

"A delicious glimpse into Hollywood's Golden Age... Bianca might be a glamorous star, but she is also a likable, smart, and feisty heroine." Rhys Bowen

 "Casey smoothly incorporates real events and people into a plot that’s more thriller than mystery. Lovers of old movies and Hollywood gossip will have fun." - Publishers Weekly review of Valentino Will Die

DEBS: Readers, do you think it's harder to be famous now than it was in Valentino's day? The idea of fifty thousand people coming to view Rudy's body is really staggering!


 Donis Casey is the author of Valentino Will Die (Feb. 2021) the second episode (following The Wrong Girl, 2019) in a fresh new series, starring Bianca LaBelle, star of the silent screen action serial,The Adventures of Bianca Dangereuse. In addition to this series about a beautiful headstrong, and wildly lucky girl in glamorous 1920s Hollywood, Donis is also the author of ten Alafair Tucker Mysteries, an award-winning series featuring the sleuthing mother of ten children, set in Oklahoma during the booming 1910s. Donis is a former teacher, academic librarian, and entrepreneur. She lives in Tempe, AZ. Read the first chapter of each of her books at her website, www.doniscasey.com

 


69 comments:

  1. I am so excited for this book, Donis! Congratulations. And I LOVE the covers - they're fabulous. I'm a big fan of old Hollywood and, yes, reading about how crazy people were then makes me feel a bit better about people now - but only a bit! The librarian in me is dying to know what's your best resource for the old Hollywood gossip?

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    1. Hi, Jenn! Since the historical eras I write about are early 1900s in the U.S., I can still "read all about it" in the newspapers!It's harder to get hold of the old Hollywood gossip rags, but not impossible It's fascinating to see what people were talking about at the time - what they knew and when they knew it.

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  2. Rudolph Valentino certainly led an interesting life!
    Your story sounds wonderful, Donis . . . I am looking forward to reading about Bianca’s adventure with Rudy . . . .

    I’m not sure that it’s harder to be famous today, Debs, but I am sure it’s very different. I think in Valentino’s day, Hollywood had an air of mystery and allure about it. Today, between the media and social networking sites, that mystery and allure has vanished. People are still famous, but not in the way that early Hollywood brought fame to its stars . . . .

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    1. Joan, back in Rudy's day, the studios paid the gossip columnists good money to make sure they wrote just the right things about their stars. It was a lot easier to control a star's image and make sure the really salacious stuff was covered up.

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  3. I think it would be easier to be a star back then. While the press was following stars then (as they do now), you don't have the online mob mentality you do now. And there isn't the pressure for you to put out content on social media in addition to all the appearances and interviews you still have to do now.

    Wonderful sounding book. Congrats!

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    1. Thanks, Mark. You're right about the social media. Stars had a measure of privacy and a layer of protection between themselves and the press back then.

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  4. I love the premise - and the setting!

    Like Joan, I'm interested in your research sources. Please share.

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    1. No idea why that pegged me as Unknown - this is Edith Maxwell.

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    2. Hi, Edith. Like I told Jenn, I subscribe to several newspaper archives and get a lot of information that way. I read several biographies of Rudy for this one, too. I even read his diary, which was published posthumously. Heavily edited, no doubt. But my favorite resource for getting the feel and look of the time is watching old silent movies. I must have seen a million of 'em. Thank you, YouTube!

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  5. It is easier to become famous now. Just ask the Kardashians. All you have to do is release a sex tape and you can launch an empire built on absolutely nothing.

    It's probably HARDER to actually BE famous considering the 24 hour news cycle that has to be constantly fed.

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    1. I never quite understood the Kardashian phenomenon, Jay. There's fame and then there's notoriety.

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    2. I like the distinction you make between fame and notoriety, Donis. I should also point out that, if I made and released a sex tape, the likelihood of my becoming famous would be very, very low. Except maybe on some comedy channel.

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  6. DONIS: I like the premise of your book and the tragic life of Valentino was unknown to me.

    There still remains a mystery about the sudden death of Hollywood celebrities that we still talk about today: JAMES DEAN, MARILYN MONROE, ELVIS. We did not know much about their personal lives and secrets were only revealed years later in biographies and documentaries. And we remain fascinated about their tragic deaths decades later, and conspiracy theories abound. PRINCESS DIANA is a more recent celebrity whose tragic death we have raised to ICON status and we still wonder about the cause of her accident.

    I suppose it is EASIER to be famous these days (i.e. 15 minutes of fame). Celebrities can self-promote themselves with their own TV shoes, or globally via online videos or photos. And the paparazzi are relentless, especially in the US. But I figure their celebrity is SHORT-LIVED. They will never reach ICONIC status like the tragic celebrities I mentioned above.

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    1. Rudy was the first, Grace. The rumors about his death started instantly. Conspiracy theories are apparently not a new phenomenon.

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  7. This is so fascinating! What a treat to read. And fame—well, I think it depends on how famous. You can easily be flash in the pan “famous “ —but 50,000 mourner famous? Very unusual!

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    1. It was amazing how famous he was in his own time. He didn't like it, either. A week or so before he died, he asked the writer H.L. Mencken for advice on how to handle the relentless pressure. After Rudy died, Mencken wrote a touching tribute to him. In the end Mencken said Rudy was "precisely as happy as a small boy being kissed by 200 fat aunts."

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    2. Menken always said it perfectly, didn't he?

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  8. "Winifred Shaughnessy Hudnut"! Goes to show you really can't make these things up. Donis, you've struck gold. And I love your sense of humor. It's got to be easier now to be famous but then flame out... courtesy of social media. But to have lasting fame? We only have limited bandwidth so there's only space for a few of those. The fact that Rudolph Valentino is still a name we all recognize is pretty phenomenal.

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    1. Rudy was unbelievably famous in his own time, Hallie, the first real heartthrob. But I wonder if it wasn't partly his sudden tragic death at such an early age that sealed his fame for all time.

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  9. SIDEBAR! Thank you so much to everyone who came to the event at Key West Library! Seeing the attendee list was complicated—but I know Joan and Edith and Coralee and DruAnn were there! Awwwww. Lucy/Roberta was a perfect moderator, and Rhys, Julia and I had a wonderful conversation. And Debs came to support us! Who else was there? Thank you! (And thank you, Donis, for allowing the brief digression!)

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    1. It was a great session! I had to restart my laptop to improve the connection so I missed a bit, alas.

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    2. It was a fun time! Too bad the chat was disabled because it would have been nice to see who else was online.

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    3. BTW, did anyone see this recent study about the impact of turning OFF Zoom video?
      Saving 96% of personal carbon footprint...who knew? I only used audio for two other recent Zoom virtual events but not because I read this study.

      https://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/releases/2021/Q1/turn-off-that-camera-during-virtual-meetings,-environmental-study-says.html

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    4. I was there, too, although I missed the first five minutes. It was great to see you all, and looking well.

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    5. It was a great discussion! Thanks to the Friends of the Key West Library (and, Lucy, of course!) for hosting this.

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    6. What a great discussion, ladies! It was so lovely to see you all!

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    7. Great fun! I love seeing you all discussing your lives and your work. There is so much to share and you are all such interesting people!

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    8. I was there, Hank. I was disappointed that I couldn't see a list of attendees and that chat was disabled for the attendees. But, it was a lovely event and a great discussion.

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    9. I wasn't able to be there but I heard it was fanTAStic! Congratulations!!

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    10. And to clarify what I posted above, by having 200+ audience participants on Zoom without video, we greatly reduced our environmental footprint for this event, so BRAVO! I think the internet providers need to be more transparent about what a huge environmental impact each Zoom participant makes when connecting by video. Not saying you have to stop/reduce using Zoom but consider whether it is necessary for you to connect by video when you are a passive audience participant.

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    11. Yes, that's fascinating, Grace. Hmmm. I do enjoy knowing who else is there. I had to sneak to look at the attendee list! But for me, part of the fun is knowing who else is there. SO pleased to "see" so many dear friends!

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  10. Donis, welcome to JRW and congratulations on your new book. I love to meet real characters in historical fiction. Valentino was one of the original sex icons of the silver screen. I can remember my mother, a young New Yorker in the 1920's, telling me about how gorgeous he was and all the "crazy" he inspired. I am also fascinated by your character, Bianca and the history you have created for her.

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    1. Bianca was one of the ten children of the protagonist in my first series, the Alafair Tucker mysteries, Judy. After ten books I really began to wonder what happened to the young ones I hadn't settled yet. And it had just turned 1920. It's funny how sometimes stories lines just create themselves.

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  11. Wow. I love this premise.

    I think it's easy to be infamous. But truly famous like Valentino? I think that's hard.

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    1. He loved the work, from all that I read, but he really hated the fame. He was constantly stalked by people who were convinced they loved him. Or hated him. Nut cases, basically. They've always been with us.

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  12. Congratulations, Donis! The book sounds divine. I am always fascinated by the divide between public and private lives.

    I work on the fringes of the entertainment industry. Because I see the backstage world, as well as the front-of-house stuff, I know perfectly well that the dazzling guy in the tuxedo is quite likely to show up for work in ratty jeans and a sweatshirt, griping about his golf game, and yearning for junk food from the vending machine. And is all the more endearing for it. It's fun to see the "backstage" side of icons like Valentino.

    I have found it interesting that a number of young actors today are ditching social media. You might know their names, but you can't cyber stalk them through their social media presence because they haven't got one. They just do good work and don't focus so much on the fame thing, which I think is healthy.

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    1. Now, that's the smart thing to do. Of course Rudy existed before social media, but news of his "private" life was carefully controlled at the time and probably half fiction. From what I can tell, he was really a very sweet and rather naive guy.

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  13. Congratulations on your new release. What fun!

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  14. How fascinating! And just now I am remembering a book my grandmother had, fiction I'm sure. Something about a young woman and early movies. I don't think it was a Nancy Drew, but it was similar. Oh well, maybe I'll remember more later.

    Not sure whether being famous was harder or easier back then. I would guess that fame might last longer than today. Now I think it could almost be famous today, unknown next week. But what do I know? I was reminded of Elvis, the Valentino of his day. Were there others? James Dean, of course, but I don't think there was the same magnitude.

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    1. Rudy gets an extra fame boost for being the first to be so adored and so tragic. Dying young puts a romantic shine on these heartthrobs, Judi. They're forever young and beautiful.

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  15. With a name like that, he had to be famous! Can you imagine trying to remember such an alphabet soup of names? And I love the tidbit about his second wife, and her real name. Reminds me of today's "musician formerly known as Prince", and Kei$ha, et al. Nothing new under the sun, right?

    I confess to a bit of fascination with Rudolph V in my early years, when you could find old black and white silent movies on TV late at night. Wasn't he the original "Latin lover"? He was a contemporary of the likes of Fatty Arbuckle, if I'm not mistaken, another notorious and infamous star of the silent film era, with loads of scandal surrounding him.

    How fun, to reimagine his life, Donis.

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    1. He was the original Latin Lover, Karen. He was very European in his sensibilities, rather emotional, not at all like the stoic ideal of American manhood at the time. I think that might be why women loved him. Fatty had already been through his horrible trial but was still on the scene when Rudy came to fame. Fatty was framed, by the way.

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  16. Donis, I was so fascinated by your story that I not only want to read the book, I'm going to have look up some of the silent movies on YouTube. Rudy must have had some amazing quality of magnetism to have inspired such adoration. This made me think about the Beatles, the Valentinos of my teen years, and they didn't much like their fame, either. That level of mania is not easy to live with.

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  17. No kiddin', Debs! My favorite Valentino movies are his first, Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and the last, Son of the Sheik. There's a movie called Something New, starring the wonderful Nell Shipman, that actually gave me the idea for the Bianca Dangereuse silent screen serial. It's short and exciting.

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  18. I know of Valentino, of course, but I honestly figured his real name was the male equivalent of "Winifred Shaughnessy Hudnut." I'm glad to find out he was the real deal. I've never seen any of his movies, but I did read THE SHEIK when I was 14 (my grandmother had a copy) and boy, was it spicy. At least, in my recollection.

    I suspect it's easier to get famous today, but harder to live that way now everyone can be a paparazza with her cell phone. But will today's famous people last? I mean, their heyday was almost a century ago, but everyone still knows the names of Valentino, Gloria Swanson, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. Will audiences in 2120 know who Bruce Willis and Scarlett Johansson are?

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    1. Julia, the interesting thing about Valentino was that he was truly original for the time, full of Italian passion and derring-do , something Americans had not seen much of to then. The fact that he was such a dish didn't hurt, I'm sure.(and quite the over-actor in his earlier movies, though he got better as he went along) I read The Sheik, too. Still steamy, and the movie was pretty darn suggestive.

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  19. Rudolph Valentino, such an iconic figure of romantic, swoon-worthy adventures. I've only seen clips of him in films, but he did have a presence. I should watch a Valentino silent film sometime. Can you Google them and find where to watch one?

    Donis, congratulations on Valentino Will Die. It sounds like a fascinating read.

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    1. Kathy, I watched them on YouTube. Actually, I got the CD of The Sheik from my public library. Sometimes you can get old silent movies that way.

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  20. Donis, your book sounds fascinating and fun. And I'll bet the research was too! I enjoy watching silent movies. Utterly fascinating to watch a WW1 movie and realize the uniforms, etc. are all army surplus. Authentic. I have seen some of Valentino's movies. He certainly had appeal although that tango he performed was awful! No doubt Hollywood choreography. I'm sure he was unprepared for the stardom he achieved. The studio inventing his back story, romances, and his publicity had to be awkward and confusing at times. Being a matinee idol probably became a burden with his studio just piling it on. His unexpected death added to his legend, just like Jean Harlow, Marilyn, and others later on. It is such a sad ending, and so human.

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  21. I often wonder how Rudy would have fared once the talkies came in. I understand he had an Italian accent that was not too heavy. Would that have made him seem even more exotic and steamy?

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  22. Donis, welcome to Jungle Reds. I LOVE silent films. Did you know that Deaf actors and Deaf actresses were in Silent movies since they did not have to speak? The famous actor who played the Joker on Batman - Cesar Romero had relatives in silent movies. His Deaf uncle Romero and his Deaf aunt, who was his uncle's wife, were from Cuba and they were in several Silent films, according to Hollywood Speaks, a history of Deaf in movies, by John Schuchmann (spelling?). I have wondered if it was true that Valentino was murdered.

    Was Bianca deaf?

    Your book sounds wonderful. I want to read your books.

    Diana

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    1. No, Bianca wasn't deaf, but I'd heard about the deaf actors. By the mid-1920s, the actors actually had scripts, because audiences could often read their lips! Sometimes actors would turn their backs to the camera so they could ad-lib profane remarks to their costars. I didn't know about Cesar Romero's aunt and uncle. I'll have to research! Another interesting tidbit: in the 1910s and early 20s, film quality was so poor that the eyes of blue eyed actors disappeared - they looked like Little Orphan Annie! So deaf people had an advantage but blue eyed actors couldn't get work. How ironic. (film quality improved by the mid '20s so the blue-eyed were no longer unemployable)

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    2. Donis, you are a font of interesting tidbits!

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  23. I love movies & books from the 20's, 30's and 40's, and mixing celebrity facts with fiction is exciting and a great escape to another time! (I love Rhys Bowen's Royal Spyness series!) Can't wait to read this book.

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  24. Can't tell you how much I've enjoyed the Alafair Tucker series. It's wonderful! Will there be no more entries? Say it isn't so!

    The Wrong Girl is on by TBR pile. Next up actually.

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    1. Thank you! If I can find a publisher who's interested, there may be more Alafairs in the future.

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  25. Good luck with this,Donis!. Sounds wonderful and I'm going to order ASAP.

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  26. The first series of books that you have written intrigue me and I will read them first. Today's discussion is very interesting! I knew quite a bit about Valentino, acquired knowledge from various sources. He had a short, tragic life but was a very interesting person. The first real heartthrob!

    There is one commenter that seems to be dominating discussions and I for one appreciate comments from many sources not the dominance by one commenter. Just my opinion.

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    1. He was fascinating, Susan, I couldn't even scratch the surface.

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  27. The first series of books that you have written intrigue me and I will read them first. Today's discussion is very interesting! I knew quite a bit about Valentino, acquired knowledge from various sources. He had a short, tragic life but was a very interesting person. The first real heartthrob!

    There is one commenter that seems to be dominating discussions and I for one appreciate comments from many sources not the dominance by one commenter. Just my opinion.

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  28. The first series of books that you have written intrigue me and I will read them first. Today's discussion is very interesting! I knew quite a bit about Valentino, acquired knowledge from various sources. He had a short, tragic life but was a very interesting person. The first real heartthrob!

    There is one commenter that seems to be dominating discussions and I for one appreciate comments from many sources not the dominance by one commenter. Just my opinion.

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  29. Wow, this books sounds fascinating. And so does your earlier series! I look forward to reading them all. :)

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