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Few of silent film heartthrob Rudolph Valentino’s adoring fans knew that he got his start by trying to escape a dirty secret. The lurid tale began in 1912 when notorious playboy Jack de Saulles made headlines by marrying the beautiful young heiress Blanca Errázuriz. After the birth of their son, though, Jack was chasing every chorus girl on Broadway. By 1916, Blanca wanted a divorce and discovered that one of her husband’s mistresses was the dance partner of Rodolfo Guglielmi, a professional tango dancer. Blanca cultivated the young performer, and the ambitious Italian gave evidence on her behalf in divorce court. Furious, de Saulles had Guglielmi arrested on trumped-up vice charges, tarnishing the dancer’s reputation. Then, one sweltering August night when it looked like de Saulles wasn’t going to share custody of their son, Blanca shot him dead. Her family hired the best defense lawyer, who savaged de Saulles’s reputation and painted Blanca as a saint. During the “most sensational trial of the decade,” millions devoured the details of how the high-society marriage had unraveled. Guglielmi, who had already fled to California to avoid poisonous publicity, changed his name to Rudolph Valentino and became Hollywood history.
Colin Evans has written for the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, History magazine, and the medical journal Scope. The author of 16 books on forensics and true crime, he lives near Bath, England.