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Working titles for the film were The Life of Rudolph Valentino and The Valentino Story. Although the onscreen title reads Valentino, print publicity for the film often listed the title as Valentino: The Loves and Times of Rudolph Valentino. Rudolph Valentino (1895-1926), born Rodolfo Gulielmi, left Italy in 1912 at the age of seventeen and arrived in America the following year. As in the film, Valentino earned a living doing various odd jobs, including dish-washing, but gained attention through his dancing. The film glosses over the darker periods of Valentino's early days in America which included brushes with the law for blackmail and petty theft. As portrayed in the film, after some brief stage appearances, Valentino went to Hollywood in 1917, where he appeared in bit screen roles. However, it was screenwriter June Mathis, not an actress, who gave Valentino his big break in 1921. Mathis insisted that he be cast in the lead of M-G-M's production of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which was directed by Rex Ingram, the "Bill King" character in the film. In Valentino the release dates of several of the actor's films are altered; Paramount's The Sheik, for example, was actually released in 1921. Valentino's striking good looks and bold film characterizations gained him enormous popularity both in the U.S. and abroad. Nevertheless, Valentino's endured a rocky period under the management of his wife, set designer Natasha Rambova, before he returned to acclaim in United Artists' production of The Eagle in 1925. Valentino's final film was United Artists' The Son of the Sheik, released in 1926. Valentino died at the age of thirty-one of peritonitis brought on by a perforated ulcer and ruptured appendix. Unlike the film, there was no romantic scandal attached to Valentino's abrupt illness and death.
Valentino marked the motion picture debut of actor Anthony Dexter. An Hollywood Reporter April 1952 news item notes that Valentino's brother and sister filed a suit against producer Edward Small and Columbia Pictures, alleging that Valentino maligned the reputation, character and memory of their brother. The suit was settled in October 1952 for $500,000. In July 1951 actress Alice Terry, who had co-starred with Valentino in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and Conquering Power, and upon whom the character of "Joan Carlisle" was very loosely based, filed suit against Small and Columbia for depicting her character as having carried on a "meretricious and illicit love affair" with Valentino, while married to director Ingram. The suit was settled in January 1953, awarding Terry $750,000. In March 1952, writer Charles Marion filed suit against producer January Grippo for abandoning his project on the life of Valentino, scripted by Marion. According to the suit, Grippo accepted payment and an associate producer credit from Small on Valentino in return for ceasing his production which would have interfered with the Columbia film. The outcome of that case has not been determined. In 1975 United Artists released Valentino, starring ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev, directed by Ken Russell.