Valentino was certainly a committed actor. But he was also one for dramatics. After “The Young Rajah” flopped, Valentino was left with a bitter taste in his mouth. He was disappointed with his own performance, but he was equally upset with the production house, Famous Players-Lasky. Though Valentino was one of the biggest names in showbiz and had been part of two Famous Players-Lasky films that were box office hits – “The Sheik” and “Blood and Sand” – his salary was set at $1250 per week.
Some of his contemporaries like Mary Pickford earned $7000 a week more than Valentino. So, after returning to New York and discussing his future with the production house with his lawyer and wife, Valentino decided to go on a one-man strike against Famous Players-Lasky.
A Hint of Nepotism
Natacha Rambova’s influence over her husband led to a bit of good ol’ showbiz nepotism. It’s true the couple had met on the set of “Unchartered Seas” where Rambova was the set and costume designer. It can’t be disputed that Rambova was a talented designer and had great artistic vision. But Rambova certainly used her marriage to the major motion-picture actor, Rudolph Valentino, to give her career the boost it needed.
With her guidance, Valentino often arranged for Rambova to be hired for the set design of the movie he was filming. In total, the couple worked on seven films together and towards the end of Valentino’s career, Rambova and Valentino exerted more influence on the artistic direction of these films like “Monsieur Beaucaire.”
Tensions On Set
When Rudolph Valentino and eccentric costume designer, Natacha Rambova, tied the knot, not everyone was impressed. If Rambova’s controlling behavior was limited to her set and costume designers, perhaps, she’d have had more friends around the studio. But not everyone was her fan. As Valentino’s wife, producers and crew saw Rambova as too interfering. One of her pain points was the film actor’s contracts with the studios.
Often Rambova took it upon herself to negotiate – or rather renegotiate – her husband’s contracts. After a two-year hiatus, it was Rambova who decided on the terms of Valentino’s new contract, stating that her husband would earn $7500 per week. Famous Players-Lasky may have agreed to the deal, but studio producers weren’t all that pleased with Rambova’s involvement.
Keep It Real
As Rudolph Valentino’s career developed, the actor became more interested in the artistic direction of his films. The triumph of “The Sheik” at the box office was proof enough of Valentino’s creative vision. However, even the great actor’s artistic direction had its limitations, namely, budget. For the film, “Blood and Sand” the filming was supposed to be on location in Spain. Producers didn’t quite get the show on the road – not Valentino’s vision of a road exactly.
Filming instead took in a studio, leaving the silent actor fuming. Not only did it he believe that filming on location made the movie more real, but he was hoping to go to Europe to see his family who he hadn’t seen in almost a decade.
As soon as Rudolph Valentino got his foot into the showbiz door, there was no stopping him. From 1919 to 1922, the actor took on numerous roles. In 1919 alone, the actor had starred in seven movies. But, in 1922, Valentino and Famous Players-Lasky fell out. Valentino demanded better wages. At first, Valentino stopped accepting payments from the production house – even though he was still in debt to them – and refused to return to work.
Famous Players-Lasky filed a lawsuit against Valentino. Despite their lawsuit against Valentino, it soon became clear to the production house that they were losing a lot of money over the ongoing lawsuit against Valentino. They agreed to raise Valentino’s salary to $7000 per week. But the actor wouldn’t budge.