Occasional Blog

This is where I say things that I need to say that I haven’t said elsewhere.

Rudolph Valentino Died 90 Years Ago Today (So the Woman in Black Returned)

Valentino's Woman in Black

The Woman in Black at the 89th annual Rudolph Valentino Memorial, August 23, 2016

Rudolph Valentino died 90 years ago today, aged just 31 and still smoking hot, and as they have done for 89 years since, his fans gathered at 12:10 pm in the mausoleum at Hollywood Forever Cemetery to pay tribute–songs, praise, sermons about the eternal life of fame.

For decades, a mysterious woman in black would show up at the event, deliver a single rose, and vanish. Her identity was eventually revealed to be Ditra Flame (“FLAH-may”), to whom the gallant actor had been kind when she was a sickly little girl. Flame eventually had to stop attending because so many competing Women in Black began showing up.

At the event today, a film crew jostled to catch everything. The Woman in Black in attendance was chased by two cameramen and a boom mic and cornered as she stood before Valentino’s niche. She might even have been one of them.

But Americans today seem mostly unable to feel empathy for a past they didn’t experience themselves. The ritual may be weird, but I love it. It’s rare to see people work hard to keep a few lights from the past illuminated.

It may seem meaningless or trivial, but it’s a way of recognizing that other lives were just as real as our own.

Woman of Black at Valentino's crypt

The mysterious Woman in Black waits for the director to get the best shot of her lovelorn penitence.

Valentino memorial keyboadist

Keyboardist at the Valentino Memorial. Sitting among the ashes of the departed, he played the hits of Andrew Lloyd Webber and “Wind Beneath My Wings.”


The Heartthrob Remembered near the place of his interment


What Will Become of the Home Where Walt Disney Lived When He Was a Loser?

In July 1923, young Walt Disney arrived in Los Angeles and moved into this little Craftsman home, 4406 Kingswell Ave. His uncle and aunt lived there and charged him $5 a week for room and board. The Disney studio really began in the garage out back, the only work space he could afford.

It’s not often remarked that this modest house was just one block west of the famous Vitagraph film studio—on the left in the picture below, you can see a yellow building on its lot—which must have thrilled and frustrated the young man who was so desperate to break into the business that he paid his uncle to slave away in a hot shed.

Disney loved the neighborhood, Los Feliz, and he moved at least four more times in the same area before his status earned him a spread near Beverly Hills. Earlier this year, this house was sold. It was a private sale; it never went on the market, and the buyers had no idea about its importance to American cultural history; the previous owner has been ill and had resorted to renting it.

That’s why it took everyone by surprise when a demolition permit was granted for this coming November. After all, only last year it was declared eligible for landmark status. Preservationists are scrambling. Besides appealing to the new owners’ better (or mercenary) nature, one option is to dismantle it and move it to a museum. Or, given its stature in pop culture, somehow buy it back as a tourist attraction; had the public known it was for sale, that’s what would have happened.

Perhaps the home’s benefactor will be, ironically, the former Vitagraph Studios that tempted a nobody named Walt Disney from behind its gate at the end of his street. That studio, the one forbidden to young Disney, is still working. It’s now known as Prospect Studios. And its owner is called The Walt Disney Company.

Dreams do come true, and sometimes wilder than anyone could have imagined them, but sometimes they have to lay dormant—or get left behind, or rot, or even be given to someone else—for a long time before they can.

Walt Disney home Kingswell, Los Angeles

Walt Disney’s first home in Los Angeles. He rented the shed in the back yard. Glamour!