Thursday, July 28, 2011

The "Chicago" Sheik

I like to think that I am worldly. I read, though maybe not as much as I should. I travel, having been to four of the seven continents (or 3 of the 5, depending on how you count 'em). And I'm plugged in, for what seems to me, almost every waking minute. If it's not the computer, it's the television, the radio, or my iPhone. I sometimes even sleep with my iPad! I listen to NPR, watch the evening news, and subscribe to more than a few magazines and newspapers. I do prefer to read fiction over nonfiction, however I can always appreciate a good history book.

I do watch a lot of television but I'm somewhat picky about what I watch – though my mother would disagree if she read this. I hate reality shows, game shows (except Wipe Out! – what's the deal with that show?), docu-dramas, and most sitcoms, except those involving Larry David. I'm hooked on a few dramas, crime and action shows, especially those that are dark and twisted, like Dexter or True Blood. And I love movies. I will watch almost any movie once, or at least I try. Except for movies on the Lifetime Channel. You understand. Everyone has their limits.

So a few weeks ago an event left me completely humbled. I realized there's a whole genre of movies out there that I know little about: Silents. I had tried watching Charlie Chaplin with my father years ago, but I just didn't get it. Not worth my time, I said. That funny little man. No thanks. But while I'm scanning all these photo albums of my grandparents, I ran across some rather unusual photos. A man in costume, standing, sitting, and reclining. How strange. I flipped one over and found handwritten on the back, The Sheik.

My best friend of late, Google, helped me out by finding numerous links for "the sheik". Among them was a blog by Brad Frick called Rudolph Valentino Collectibles. Wow! The Sheik is a movie and I might have actual photos of Rudolph Valentino in my possession. These weren't just postcards either, these were actual photos, stamped Feb 26, 1922. A collectible! What a discovery! I am so sure these are the real deal, that I urgently wanted to share them with Brad, so he could add them to his collection for all to see.

So I wrote a comment on Brad's blog, we exchanged a few emails, and yes, he would be happy to tell me more about the photos. Send them along. Here is Brad's response:  

Unfortunately, your photos do not depict Valentino.  He never had a mustache for his Sheik roles.  I have no idea who is pictured in your photos.  I wish I had more information for you, good luck and have a great day.  

Disappointment, followed quickly by sheer embarrassment.

Below are pictures of the real Rudolph Valentino in the Son of Sheik, the 1926 sequel to his 1921 movie The Sheik. Photos courtesy of Brad Frick.

How embarrassing! Why didn't I look at the photos more carefully? I know I sometimes have problems with ID'ing people (i.e. I earlier posted a photo of my dad and had to replace it when one of my brothers said it looked like our uncle, my mother's brother, not even in the same family tree! – and he was right). But how could I have not looked more closely at the photos of Valentino? Do all men in sheik outfits look the same? (I never thought I'd utter those words...) And more importantly, how could I have never seen a Valentino movie before?

Anyway, Brad was very sweet about my ignorance and we emailed a few more times. I added his blog to my bloglist (on the right column above) because now I'm very interested in broadening my knowledge of classic movies. I encourage you to check it out because it's a great blog!

However, I still need your help. Are the earlier photos of my grandfather? Could it have been some initiation or ritual of one of his many clubs or organizations? He was an active member of the Freemasons, the Delta Sigma Upsilon fraternity, the Junior League, and the Oriental Consistory (Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite of the Freemasons of Chicago). What do you think?


  1. The mustache looks fake; without it, he looks like us.

  2. Really? How funny. Thanks for the identification. I guess the two of your are better at this than me.

  3. Here is my two cents. First off, you should watch Buster Keaton silent films (but if Chaplin didn't do it for you neither may Keaton). The Sheik images were definitely not from a freemason ritual. The quality of the shots doesn't make it look like a major studio shot. The mustache seems haphazard. Also the photos seems to be all in one place. So I am guessing its an early century photographer just taking pictures of people in costume for fun. This was probably a relative or a friend of the family who posed.

  4. Thanks Jeff. I think you're right. I actually really enjoyed Beyond the Rocks with Valentino and Gloria Swanson. But I'll try Keaton next. And maybe another Chaplin.