We are well into the 100 Nights at the Crystal Ballroom, leading up to its 100th birthday on January 21, 2014. Until then, the joint will be lit up with nightly entertainment, from national acts to the return of longtime Portland favorites, from showcases of up-and-comers to themed events inspired by the Crystal’s past.
We’re taking a look back at some of the acts to have come through this gorgeous space. For example, this gorgeous man – Rudolph Valentino, the 1920s silent film star who was one of the biggest box-office draws after WWI, with such motion pictures as The Sheik, Blood and Sand and The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
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In the summer of 1923, a debonair but disinclined Rudolph Valentino came to Cotillion Hall (today’s Crystal Ballroom) to meet with his fans. Barred from appearing in vaudeville or movie productions until 1925 because of contractual problems, he grudgingly conceded to tour the country by rail, giving dance exhibitions, judging dance contests and hawking the skin-care products of his sponsor. Accompanying Valentino were his dancing partner (and wife of the day) Winifred, his Argentine orchestra, and an entourage of assistants and other hangers-on.
The curious, who hoped to sneak a peek at the Sheik during his stopover in Portland, were frustrated by his discretion. He and his wife lingered in their private railroad car, registered at a hotel under assumed names, and limited their public appearances to the scheduled exhibitions at the Cotillion. Valentino’s official excuse for not making himself more available was the expense involved: he could not afford to constantly replace the pricey outfits that his admirers insisted on tearing from his body.
On Saturday and Sunday, June 2 and 3, conditions at Cotillion Hall were “sweltering” –and not just because of the summer heat. Flamboyantly attired in boots, brightly colored sashes, flowing pants, and slicked-back hair, Valentino did not visually disappoint his audience. Bordering on grouchy, though, he told the Cotillion’s crowd of 1200, “I don’t particularly enjoy this dancing my way around the country. [These] one-night stands interfere with bathing hours… But, you know, I have to live.” To the delight of his fans, he eventually transformed into his sultry persona. Addressing the females in the crowd (and appealing to any suppressed desires they might possess), Valentino intimated in his thick Italian accent that “the modern dances have unquestionably helped to preserve and even to awaken the love between many husbands and wives and the happiness in many homes.”
Ironically, Valentino and his wife divorced soon after this event at Cotillion Hall, and he passed away just three years later at the age of 31, after a routine ulcer operation.
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[ Excerpted from Tim Hills’ The Many Lives of the Crystal Ballroom (1997). ]