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Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

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Ladies in Black visit tomb of Valentino

Lady in Black mourns Rudolph Valentino
Los Angeles Times file photo

Here's the earliest photograph I could find of a Lady in Black mourning Rudolph Valentino, Aug. 23, 1937, 11 years after the movie star's death. In the first few years, memorial services were held on the anniversary, although the services eventually ceased and the large crowds dwindled to about 50 mourners.

In 1934, The Times referred to a "mysterious veiled woman" who visited the tomb every year at what was then Hollywood Cemetery. One story notes that a Lady in Black also appeared on Christmas and Easter. Someone wrote on the back of this photo: "Not Ditra Flame." Are those white shoes?!

Lady in Black mourns Rudolph Valentino
Los Angeles Times file photo

Here's a Lady in Black at a revival showing of "The Sheik,"  at the Four Star Theater in Hollywood, June 3, 1938. She is also not Ditra Flame.

Lady in Black mourns Rudolph Valentino, 1940
Photograph by the Los Angeles Times

This is what the well-dressed Lady in Black was wearing in 1940. Those are awesome sunglasses, ma'am. She too is not Ditra Flame.

Lady in Black mourns Rudolph Valentino, 1953
Photograph by Frank Q. Brown / Los Angeles Times

At last, Ditra Flame (two syllables, apparently pronounced Fla-may), Aug. 23, 1953. She identified herself as the president of the Hollywood Valentino Memorial Guild.

Lady in Black mourns Rudolph Valentino, 1976
Photograph by William S. Murphy / Los Angeles Times

On Aug. 23, 1976, the 50th anniversary of Valetino's death, a Lady in Black and her companion arrived in a black limousine. "She knelt in silent homage and appeared to weep," photographer William S. Murphy wrote.

Lady in Black mourns Rudolph Valentino, 1989
Photograph by Douglas R. Burrows / Los Angeles Times

Estrellita de Rejil does a turn as a Lady in Black, Aug. 23, 1989.

Owl dresses up like Valentino
Photograph by William S. Murphy / Los Angeles Times

This guy showed up in 1976 on the 50th anniversary of Valentino's death. He called himself "The Owl."
Boo! It's the ghost of Valentino!
Los Angeles Times file photo

Yes, it's a little Rudolph Valentino sheik ghostie. Or is this a haint? Isn't he cute? Boo! I wish I could say we never actually published this picture, but we did, on May 1, 1952. It was in the Mirror, though, so maybe that's not quite so bad.

Note: This is Alpheus Corby's "Castle," built in Conklin, NY, in 1900. A medium said that Valentino's ghost appeared to her here in 1926. Boo!

Postscript: Ditra Flame died in 1978 in a home in Ontario cluttered with Valentino memorabilia. She was 78.

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Comments (3)

There's a new lady in black. She works for Hollywood Forever Cemetery and wears vintage clothing. She appeared in a piece Josh Manckiewcz did on TCM about the cemetery. Her name is Karie Bible.

The "Lady in black" tradition is awful and here is the reason why. That girl was a young lady who was gravely ill and not expected to live. Valentino like a true gentleman, came to visit her everyday until she recovered. She asked what she could do for him. "Promise me you'll do the same if I pass before you", has said. She did, dressing n black so nobody would recognize or see her. Eventually she passed and it became not a respected, revered thing, but Hollywood schtick of the worst possible kind. These, "Ladies in black" have no idea what they are doing, what it's significance is, or the story behind it. they are more or less fame junkies, using Valentino and this girl to grab their 15 minutes and numerous camera opportunities. I respect Rudolph Valentino and the original Lady in black, but I detest this tradition and if I am the only person who says it the so be it.

Wonderful research, Larry. Thank you for providing a full 50-year chronology. And I appreciate that you've reproduced the historic photos in color -- rather than converting them to grayscale -- allowing us to see the old newspaper art department's graceful brushed accenting of highlights in black fabric, through what now provides a bluish glow on top of slightly more sepia-toned originals.


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