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Donald Biddle Keyes, 17 Feb 1894 - 17 Nov 1974
Rudolph Valentino, 6 May 1895 - 23 Aug 1926
Gelatin silver print
Image/Sheet: 23.9 x 18.6cm (9 7/16 x 7 5/16")
Mat: 55.9 x 40.6cm (22 x 16")
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Restrictions & Rights
Born Castellaneta, Italy
In Hollywood’s silent era, Rudolph Valentino represented a different kind of male screen personality than the swashbuckling Douglas Fairbanks, known for his soaring roles as Zorro and Robin Hood. Valentino’s colossal breakthrough came in 1921 in Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, one of the first films to gross more than one million dollars at the box office. Audiences thrilled as his tango dancing exploded across the screen, igniting his own screen stardom and popularizing this street dance as America’s hottest new craze.
Valentino’s tango also illustrated how movies could spread social dance to a vastly larger audience than Irene and Vernon Castle’s Castle Walk ever reached in the teens. By the 1920s, media culture—movies, radio, recordings, magazines—gave vast audiences constant access to whatever was new. When the vogue for tango paled, the cultural pipeline would generate a new dance. Charleston anyone?