One Night with Valentino



 From Chapter 1: Wild-hog Wild

Two of Steward’s aunts moved to Columbus in 1926, selling their share of the Woodsfield boardinghouse in order to buy and run a boardinghouse that was just a short walk from the Ohio State University campus. They did so for the express purpose of seeing Steward and his little sister, Virginia, through their college years at OSU, for they had resolved to provide both children with the best possible university education despite their extremely limited income. Taking his last year at a public high school in
Columbus rather than in Woodsfield, Steward helped out at the new boardinghouse in whatever way he could; he also continued to write poetry and fiction, play jazz piano, and collect celebrity autographs and letters. Since many entertainers passed through Columbus on whistle- stop tours, he was now able to pursue them in person, simply by waiting outside their theater or else in the lobby of the town’s best hotel.

Steward was by now also having a good deal of casual sex, mostly with the undergraduate males with whom he shared his home. “My aunts’ house on Seventeenth Avenue had about eleven rooms,” Steward later recalled. “Six of the bedrooms were rented to two boys each, making a full house of a dozen young men. Over the years I managed to have about half the population of the place—some reluctant, some returning again and again.” Steward’s most remarkable sexual experience, however, happened as a result of his autograph- collecting* adventures, and took place in downtown Columbus.

Although Steward never mentioned the encounter in his published memoirs, he detailed its specifics in an interview he granted to a friend just four years before his death:

I had a friend at the best hotel in Columbus, the Deschler-Wallich . . . He called up one night and said, “Somebody has registered here. I don’t know whether you’d be interested or not. His name is Rudolph Guglielmo.” [sic] That was [Rudolph] Valentino’s real name, of course. And I said, “Oh, my God, I’ll be down in a minute.” That was July 24, 1926.

The great silent-film actor Rudolph Valentino was always assumed to be forcefully heterosexual, even while under attack by the popular press as a promoter of male effeminacy. Steward had long been in awe of him, for throughout the 1920s Valentino had been considered a top Hollywood star and a paragon of virility. Just six days before coming to Columbus, however, Valentino had been lambasted for his mannerisms in the Chicago Tribune, in what later became known as the “Pink Powder Puffs” incident.

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