Once upon a time you wouldn’t need a caption to tell you this was Valentino.
Reporting on her blog today on Valentino’s cursed ring (https://bookemjanoblog.wordpress.com/2018/10/14/ghosts-the-curse-of-valentinos-ring/), our friend “Janowrite” had to add that she meant the actor Rudolph Valentino, not some fashion magnate that I never heard of.
Rudolph Valentino died before talkies were invented, but he was the big silent movie star and international heart-throb, and during the days of my own childhood, many years afterward, there was no need to explain to anyone who Valentino was. I knew, and I was just a little kid playing with Crazy Ikes.
Jose Raul Capablanca, the world chess champion who once went eight years (!) without losing a game, also died before I was born. But I knew he was the world’s greatest chess player well before I began to learn how to play chess at the age of ten. Y’know those little fillers they used to have in newspapers, to plug in when the article didn’t quite reach to the bottom of the column? Some of those were about Capablanca. He–and Valentino, too–also used to turn up in anecdotes told by Bennett Cerf in his daily feature, Try and Stop Me (remember that?). I learned about a lot of famous people, reading Bennett Cerf.
But heck, racehorses then were more famous than a lot of celebrities are now.
It’s strange, when you think of it. In the 1950s we had only a few TV channels, no Internet, no social media–and yet the people who were famous, back then, were really famous! You didn’t have to be a chess player to know who Capablanca was. You didn’t have to watch silent movies to know who Valentino was. You didn’t have to hang out at the racetrack to know who Sea Biscuit was.
We’ve done something to shrink our pop culture giants. I can’t explain it, but I can see it. Like, Capablanca was a giant–but how many of you even know that Magnus Carlson, of Norway, is the world chess champion today? Crikey, I’m not even sure I spelled his name right.