Poor Rudolph Valentino. Sex symbol, cultural icon, Hollywood star—he had it pretty rough, didn’t he? Back in the 1920’s when most Americans made about $2000 a year, Valentino made $7500 a week. Women fought over him, and men resented him. His nickname was ‘the Latin Lover’.
While this all may sound like rather a lot of fun, in reality Valentino was a deeply unhappy person. He was blacklisted from taxi dancing jobs on trumped-up gigolo charges, and arrested for bigamy for marrying his second wife too quickly after divorcing his first. In a constant series of arguments with the studios that controlled his career, in and out of tumultuous relationships with a string of women, and adamantly fighting public accusations of homosexuality, Valentino was a very early example of the kind of train-wreck Hollywood existence that ordinary people can’t seem to get enough of.
It is an understatement to say his death at age 31 had an impact on the public. 10,000 people flooded into the streets for his funeral after appendicitis and gastric ulcers unexpectedly killed him. There were reports of female fans committing suicide. A riot broke out near the funeral home and over 100 mounted policemen were dispatched to calm the situation; rumors were flying that the body inside wasn’t Valentino’s, but a decoy’s. Rudy’s latest girlfriend collapsed in hysterics on top of his coffin.
What a life, what a death. So…do you know what Valentino was famous for? Can you name one of his films? I must admit, I couldn’t either, but I did have the fuzzy impression that it involved him wearing eyeliner and a bed sheet on his head in a sort of faux-Arabic style. Sorry, I’m just not that up on my silent films.
Before he died, Valentino continually stressed that his best work was Blood and Sand, the story of a Spanish matador who betrays virtue when fame and money come his way. When it was first released in 1922, Blood and Sand was a smash hit—there was even a cocktail named after it—but after Rudy’s death the film was largely forgotten. If like me, you also had the bed-sheet-on-head image floating around in your mind, you’d be right: Valentino’s most enduringly famous role was in The Sheik, precisely the film he didn’t want overshadowing his favored role.
My Grandmother would have been six years old when Blood and Sand came out and ten when Valentino died, so surely this was all a little over her head. But she would have grown up with the legend of him, just like my mom grew up with James Dean, and I grew up with River Phoenix.
After downing the ginger brandy a couple of weeks ago, I made a beeline for a bottle I had never heard of: Peter Heering. No clues in the name, then. I turned to my friend Wikipedia, who tells me that Peter Heering—aka Cherry Heering—is a cherry liqueur which has been made by a Danish manufacturer since the 1880’s. It is most commonly known as an ingredient in that paper-umbrella-prop, the Singapore Sling.
I thought about making it a tropical happy hour today, but then reconsidered. It’s dark and stormy out; I’m feeling moody and misunderstood. Perhaps Cherry Heering would rather be remembered in another way. Perhaps it feels the Singapore Sling isn’t its best work. Instead, we’re mixing up a Blood and Sand, and drinking to Valentino.
The recipe calls for blood oranges (which seems fairly important, since the word blood is in the name), but my local didn’t have any in stock so we’re just going with the basic navel variety today.
Blood and Sand
- 1 oz. Scotch whiskey
- 1 oz. Blood orange juice
- 3/4 oz. Sweet Vermouth
- 3/4 oz. Peter Heering
- Orange zest for garnish
Put the ingredients into a shaker with ice, then shake and strain into your cocktail glass. Serve garnished with orange zest.