June 13, 2012
With the Roaring Twenties in full swing and the first talkies on the horizon, Hollywood’s booming film industry already had its share of bankable stars—Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, Douglas Fairbanks, Buster Keaton. But in the summer of 1926, an Italian immigrant named Rodolfo Alfonso Rafaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina D’Antonguolla would join them. Known as the “Latin Lover,” Rudolph Valentino would, by summer’s end, single-handedly change the way generations of men and women thought about sex and seduction.
It’s sad Valentino never live to see that autumn. And it’s sadder that he spent his final weeks engaged in an indecorous feud with an anonymous editorialist who had questioned his masculinity and blamed him for America’s “degeneration into effeminacy.”
Born in Castellaneta, Italy, in 1895, Valentino arrived at Ellis Island in 1913, at the age of 18. He lived on the streets and in Central Park until he picked up work as a taxi dancer at Maxim’s Restaurant-Caberet, becoming a “tango pirate” and spending time on the dance floor with wealthy women who were willing to pay for the company of exotic young men.
Valentino quickly befriended a Chilean heiress, which might have seemed like a good idea, but she was unhappily married to a well-connected businessman named John de Saulles. When Blanca de Saulles divorced her husband in 1915, Valentino testified that he had evidence that John de Saulles had been having multiple affairs, including one with a dance partner of Valentino’s. But his refined, European and youthful appearance at the trial had some reporters questioning his masculinity in print, and John de Saulles used his clout to have the young dancer jailed for a few days on a trumped-up vice charge. Not long after the trial, Blanca de Saulles shot her husband to death over custody of their son, and Valentino, unwilling to stick around for another round of testimony and unfavorable press, fled for the West Coast, shedding the name Rodolpho Guglielmi forever.
In California, Valentino began landing bit parts in films and, as he did in New York, building a clientele of older wealthy women who would pay for dance instruction. So charming was the young Italian that he would often show up at movie auditions driving fancy cars his clients had lent him. Impulsively, he married actress Jean Acker, but a regretful (and lesbian) Acker locked him out of their hotel room on their wedding night. She quickly sued for divorce.
By 1921, Valentino was starring in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which became one of the highest-grossing films of the silent era. Also that year, he was cast as Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan in The Sheik—another wildly successful film, which would define Valentino’s image as a brooding but irresistible lover. It was an image he would despise.
In 1922, a writer named Dick Dorgan opined, in Photoplay magazine, opined that , “the Sheik is a bum Arab, that he is really an Englishman whose mother was a wop or something like that.” Valentino was infuriated by the insult to his mother and tried to have Dorgan banned from the studio. He also swore he would kill the writer if he saw him. The magazine apologized and promised some favorable pieces in the future, but a few months later, it published Dorgan’s “A Song of Hate,” in which he railed against Valentino’s “Roman face,” his “patent leather hair,” and his ability to make women dizzy. The article was somewhat good-natured—a common man’s jeremiad against a guy who danced too well and was too good-looking—but Valentino resented its references to his long eyelashes and the earrings he wore in films.
Valentino’s next few films performed erratically at the box office, and contract disputes with various studios forced him out of the movie business for a time. In 1922, he married Natacha Rambova, a costume designer, artistic director and occasional actress, but stood trial on bigamy charges because he hadn’t yet divorced Acker. He and Rambova had to have their marriage annulled; in March 1923 they remarried legally.
To make money until he was free to sign a new studio deal (and to pay off Acker), Valentino joined a dance tour throughout the U.S. and Canada. Sponsored by Mineralava beauty products, Valentino and Rambova performed as dancers and spokespersons, and Valentino judged beauty contests. He returned to films with the title role in Monsieur Beaucaire in 1924, under a new contract with Ritz-Carlton Pictures. Although the Louis XV drama was fairly successful, Valentino had to wear heavy makeup and ruffled costumes in an overtly feminized role. The actor, ever sensitive about his masculinity, was determined to be more careful about the roles he chose. He and Rambova would divorce in 1925, leading to public speculation that Valentino was a homosexual and that he had been engaged in “lavender marriages” of convenience to hide it. There is no definitive evidence in any credible biographies written of the two that either Valentino or Rambova was gay; rather, the speculation reflected contemporary sterotypes and prejudices, and was no doubt inspired by Valentino’s personal style and refined European tastes. Simply put, the man dubbed the “Latin lover” by the studios seems to have sought long-term relationships with women.
In early 1926, Valentino joined United Artists at the urging of Chaplin and Fairbanks. Mired in debt, he was practically forced into making a sequel to The Sheik. Though women continued to swoon over him, and some men imitated his mannerisms and slick-backed hair (they became known as “Vaselinos”), many more men grew skeptical of the foreign-born actor. Fairbanks was dashing and unquestionably masculine, but Valentino, with his dandy clothes, his wristwatch and a slave bracelet?
Photoplay published yet another piece, this one by Herbert Howe, that described Valentino’s his influence on leading men after his stellar tango in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse like this: “The movie boys haven’t been the same,” Howe wrote. “They’re all racing around wearing spit curls, bobbed hair and silk panties.… This can’t keep up. The public can stand just so many ruffles and no more.”
But it was the Chicago Tribune that really set Valentino off. On July 18, 1926, the paper ran an unsigned editorial under the headline “Pink Powder Puffs” that blamed Valentino for the installation of a face-powder dispenser in a new public men’s room on the city’s North Side:
A powder vending machine! In a men’s washroom! Homo Americanus! Why didn’t someone quietly drown Rudolph Guglielmo [sic], alias Valentino, years ago?… Do women like the type of “man” who pats pink powder on his face in a public washroom and arranges his coiffure in a public elevator?… Hollywood is the national school of masculinity. Rudy, the beautiful gardener’s boy, is the prototype of the American male.
Valentino seethed at the editorial’s insinuations and ridicule. Since The Son of the Sheik was about to open, Oscar Doob, the film’s press agent, suggested that Valentino challenge the “Pink Powder Puffs” writer to a duel. Valentino sent his dare to the Chicago Herald-Examiner, the Tribune’s competitor: “To the man (?) who wrote the editorial headed ‘Pink Powder Puffs’ in Sunday’s Tribune, I call you in return, a contemptible coward and to prove which of us is a better man, challenge you to a personal test.” Noting that a duel would be illegal, Valentino said he would be happy to settle things in a boxing ring. And while Doob was immensely pleased with the publicity, he had no doubt that Valentino was “burned up” about the editorial.
“It’s so unfair. They can say I’m a terrible actor if they like, but it’s cowardly and low to hold me up as a laughing stock and make fun of my personal tastes and my private life,” Valentino told a Herald Examiner reporter. “This man calls me a ‘spaghetti-gargling gardener’s helper.’… As for being a gardener’s helper, I specialized in college in landscape gardening because in Italy, that is as fine an art as architecture or painting.”
The Tribune editorial writer did not come forward, but the actor traveled to New York and arranged to have boxing lessons from his friend Jack Dempsey, the heavyweight champion. Valentino was actually quite fit, and Dempsey tried to help, getting in touch with sportswriter Frank “Buck” O’Neil. “Listen, O’Neil,” Dempsey told him, “Valentino’s no sissy, believe me…. He packs a pretty mean punch.”
“Cut the crap,” O’Neil told him. “I don’t buy it, and neither does anyone else.” O’Neil then volunteered to take on Valentino in the ring, and the actor quickly agreed to fight him the following afternoon on the roof of the Ambassador Hotel. The next morning, reporters arrived at Valentino’s suite, only to see him decked out in an “orchid bathing suit and lavender lounging robe.”
“I’m going back to Chicago and I’ll have satisfaction,” Valentino told them, still incensed over the “Pink Powder Puffs” editorial. Privately, reporters marveled at Valentino’s bulging biceps and wondered what the star would do if he found out the editorial writer was a woman.
Valentino and O’Neil met on the roof, with reporters and photographers attending, and despite O’Neil’s promise that he would not hurt the star, he popped Valentino on the chin with a left. The actor responded by dropping his larger opponent with a left of his own. Somewhat stunned, Valentino apologized and helped the writer to his feet.
“Next time Jack Dempsey tells me something, I’ll believe him,” O’Neil told reporters. “That boy has a punch like a mule’s kick. I’d sure hate to have him sore at me.”
Still, the match proved nothing, and in the coming days, Valentino continued to fume about pink powder puffs. The more he mentioned the editorial to reporters, the more he invited the judgment that he must be hiding something. Valentino even met with the writer H.L. Mencken for advice, but when Mencken told him to ignore the taunts, the actor ignored him instead. Mencken would later write, “Here was a young man who was living daily the dream of millions of other young men. Here was one who was catnip to women. Here was one who had wealth and fame. And here was one who was very unhappy.”
In late July, Valentino attended the New York premiere of The Son of the Sheik. The temperature was close to one hundred degrees, but a mob of thousands formed around the theater, and as Valentino tried to make his way out of Times Square they ripped at his clothes. He escaped sufficiently intact to read about the melee in the next morning’s New York Times review of his film. More important to Valentino, however, was that the review said the film was full of “desert rough stuff and bully fights” and “leaves no doubt” about his masculinity. Referring to the “Pink Powder Puff” editorial, the reviewer warned any writer to think twice before accepting Valentino’s challenge, as “the sheik has an arm that would do credit to a pugilist and a most careless way of hurling himself off balconies and on and off horses. One leap from a balcony to a swinging chandelier is as good as anything Douglas Fairbanks ever did.”
The film was a hit, and the whispering about the star’s masculinity began to fade. As the sheik, he still appeared to be wearing eye shadow, and perhaps his lips bore a slightly darker stain of rouge, but after all, he was in show business.
Two weeks later, Valentino collapsed in his suite at the Ambassador and was taken to a hospital. After emergency surgery for a ruptured appendix, his doctors were hopeful he would recover. Then he developed pleuritis in his left lung and was in severe pain. At one point, he asked a doctor, “Am I still a pink powder puff?” Some reporters and readers were convinced that the actor’s hospitalization and the daily updates on his condition amounted to yet another publicity stunt. But on August 23, Rudolph Valentino slipped into a coma and died just hours later, surrounded by hospital staff.
On the news of his death, more than 100,000 people gathered on the streets in chaos outside the Frank Campbell Funeral Home. Flappers tore at their own clothes, clutched at their chests and collapsed in the heat. The New York Police Department tried to bring the order to the mob, and there were reports of despondent fans committing suicide. Inside the funeral home, four Black Shirt honor guards, supposedly sent by Benito Mussolini, stood nearby in stark tribute to the fallen star. (It was later learned that the men were actors, hired by the funeral home in, yes, a publicity stunt.)
The Polish actress Pola Negri, who had been having an affair with Valentino, fainted over his coffin. Upon reviving, she announced that she was to have been his third wife and quickly claimed the role of the dead star’s “widow.” For the funeral, she sent a massive floral display with thousands of blood-red roses surrounding white blooms that spelled out “POLA.” His body traveled back to the West Coast on a funeral train, and he was laid to rest in Hollywood.
The hysteria following Valentino’s death did not abate, and when The Son of the Sheik was released nationally months later, it was acclaimed as one of his best movies—a swan song of masculinity. Rumors that he actually died by the gun of a jealous husband or scorned lover kept the tabloids in business. And for decades, a veiled woman in black arrived at Valentino’s Hollywood tomb on the anniversary of his death to place twelve red roses and one white one on his grave. Once it was learned to be yet another press agent’s stunt, competing ladies in black began arriving at the tomb, knocking roses to the ground as they scuffled for position in front of newspaper photographers.
Whether the quality of Valentino’s voice would have killed his career in talkies is a subject of endless debate. Some say his accent was too thick, others who knew him well say his rich, husky baritone would only have helped him reach even greater heights of fame. But nearly a century after he arrived on these shores, his very name remains tantamount to a male seducer of women. In that sense, his work outlasted the biases of his time.
Books: Allan R. Ellenberger, The Valentino Mystique: The Death and Afterlife of the Silent Film Idol, McFarland & Co. Inc. Pub, 2005. Jeanine Basinger, Silent Stars, Knopf, 1999. Michael Ferguson, Idol Worship: A Shameless Celebration of Male Beauty in the Movies, StarBooks Press, 2005.
Articles: “Valentino Still Irate,” New York Times, July 20, 1926. “Why Wasn’t He Drowned Years Ago, Asks Article,” Boston Globe, July 21, 1926. “Valentino Challenges Editor to Fight Duel,” Hartford Courant, July 21, 1926. “Pola Sobs Out Grief During Studio Rests,” Boston Globe, August 22, 1926. “Sheik of the Movies, Wearing Hospital Nightshirt, Beseiged by Worshipping Fans and Press Agents, Even in Grave Illness,” Boston Globe, August 22, 1926. “Many Hurt in Mad Fight to Pass Valentino Bier,” Boston Globe, August 25, 1926. “Pola Negri Prostrated by News of Valentino’s Death,” Boston Globe, August 25, 1926. “Valentino Passes with No Kin At Side; Throngs in Street,” New York Times, August 24, 1926. The Rudolph Valentino Society, http://rudolphvalentino.org/index.html. “Celebrities of the 20s: Rudolph Valentino,: by Anthony Ehlers, http://raesummers.wordpress.com/2011/01/10/celebrities-of-the-20s-rudolf-valentino/.
November 8, 2011
In the summer of 1921, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle was on top of the world. Paramount Pictures had paid him an unprecedented $3 million over three years to star in 18 silent films, and he’d just signed another million-dollar contract with the studio. The portly comedian’s latest film, Crazy to Marry, was playing in theaters across the country. So his friend Fred Fischbach planned a big party to celebrate, a three-day Labor Day bash at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco.
But by the end of the week, Fatty Arbuckle was sitting in Cell No. 12 on “felony row” at the San Francisco Hall of Justice, held without bail in the slaying of a 25-year-old actress named Virginia Rappe. Crazy to Marry was quickly pulled from theaters, and a nation was outraged to discover a sordid side to the off-screen lives of Hollywood stars. Behind Arbuckle’s troubles was a mysterious woman named Maude Delmont, a witness for the prosecution who would never be called to testify because police and prosecutors knew her story would not hold up on the stand. Yet what she had to say would be more than enough to ruin Arbuckle’s career.
October 18, 2011
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently signed legislation permitting Nik Wallenda—self-proclaimed “King of the High Wire” and descendant of the legendary Flying Wallendas—to cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope. Wallenda plans to run a cable, two inches thick and 2200 feet long, between two cranes raised 13 feet from the ground. To train, he will take wire walks over water near his Florida home while a caravan of airboats swarm around him, blasting winds up to 78 miles per hour to approximate the winds and spray of the falls. For the real thing, a rescue helicopter will hover nearby. “Worse-case scenario,” Wallenda said, “I sit down on the wire, the helicopter swoops in, I hook on and they get me out of there. I look goofy, but nobody gets hurt.”
History’s most famous tightrope walker (or “ropedancer” or “funambulist,” in 19th century parlance) performed without the luxury of such assurances. During the winter of 1858, a 34-year-old French acrobat named Jean François Gravelet, better known as Monsieur Charles Blondin, traveled to Niagara Falls hoping to become the first person to cross the “boiling cataract.” Noting the masses of ice and snow on either bank and the violent whirls of wind circling the gorge, Blondin delayed the grand event until he would have better weather. He always worked without a net, believing that preparing for disaster only made one more likely to occur. A rope 1,300 feet long, two inches in diameter and made entirely of hemp would be the sole thing separating him from the roiling waters below.
Blondin, born in 1824, grew to be only five feet five and 140 pounds; he had bright blue eyes and golden hair (which gave him his nickname). He believed that a ropewalker was “like a poet, born and not made,” and discovered his calling at the age of four, mounting a rope strung between two chairs placed a few feet apart. The following year he enrolled at the École de Gymnase in Lyon. He first came to America in 1855 at the behest of theatrical agent William Niblo and was about to begin an engagement with Franconi’s Equestrian Troop when the idea struck to cross the falls. “He was more like a fantastic sprite than a human being,” wrote his manager, Harry Colcord. “Had he lived a century or two earlier he would have been treated as one possessed of a devil…. He could walk the rope as a bird cleaves to air.”
Blondin also understood the appeal of the morbid to the masses, and reveled when gamblers began to take bets on whether he would plunge to a watery death. (Most of the smart money said yes.) On the morning of June 30, 1859, about 25,000 thrill-seekers arrived by train and steamer and dispersed on the American or Canadian side of the falls, the latter said to have the better view. Both banks grew “fairly black” with swarms of spectators, among them statesmen, judges, clerics, generals, members of Congress, capitalists, artists, newspaper editors, professors, debutantes, salesmen and hucksters. Vendors hawked everything from lemonade to whiskey, and Colcord gave tours to the press, explaining the logistics of what the Great Blondin was about to attempt.
A light rope, not even an inch thick, had been attached to one end of his hempen cable so it could be conveyed across the Niagara River. On the American side the cable was wound around the trunk of an oak tree in White’s Pleasure Grounds, but securing it on the Canadian side presented a problem. Blondin’s assistants feared that the light rope wouldn’t bear the weight of the cable as it was drawn up the gorge for anchorage in Canada, but the rope dancer, to the delight of his audience, executed a daring solution.
After tying another rope around his waist, he rappelled 200 feet on the small rope, attached the second rope to the end of the cable, and then blithely climbed back to Canadian ground and secured the cable to a rock. To prevent swaying, guy ropes ran from the cable at 20-foot intervals to posts on both banks, creating the effect of a massive spider web. Blondin could do nothing, however, about the inevitable sag in its center, approximately 50 feet of cable to which it was impossible to fasten guy ropes. At that spot, in the middle of his crossing, he would be only 190 feet above the gorge. “There were hundreds of people examining the rope,” reported one witness, “and, with scarcely an exception, they all declared the inability of M. Blondin to perform the feat, the incapacity of the rope to sustain him, and that he deserved to be dashed to atoms for his desperate fool-hardiness.”
Shortly before 5 p.m., Blondin took his position on the American side, dressed in pink tights bedecked with spangles. The lowering sun made him appear as if clothed in light. He wore fine leather shoes with soft soles and brandished a balancing pole made of ash, 26 feet long and weighing nearly 50 pounds. Slowly, calmly, he started to walk. “His gait,” one man noted, “was very like the walk of some barnyard cock.” Children clung to their mothers’ legs; women peeked from behind their parasols. Several onlookers fainted. About a third of the way across, Blondin shocked the crowd by sitting down on his cable and calling for the Maid of the Mist, the famed tourist vessel, to anchor momentarily beneath him. He cast down a line and hauled up a bottle of wine. He drank and started off again, breaking into a run after he passed the sagging center. While the band played “Home, Sweet Home,” Blondin reached Canada. One man helped pull him ashore and exclaimed, “I wouldn’t look at anything like that again for a million dollars.”
After 20 minutes of rest Blondin began the journey to the other side, this time with a Daguerreotype camera strapped to his back. He advanced 200 feet, affixed his balancing pole to the cable, untied his load, adjusted it in front of him and snapped a likeness of the crowd along the American side. Then he hoisted the camera back into place and continued on his way. The entire walk from bank to bank to bank took 23 minutes, and Blondin immediately announced an encore performance to take place on the Fourth of July.
Not everyone admired Blondin’s feat. The New York Times condemned “such reckless and aimless exposure of life” and the “thoughtless people” who enjoyed “looking at a fellow creature in deadly peril.” Mark Twain later dismissed Blondin as “that adventurous ass.” One indignant resident of Niagara Falls insisted that he was a hoax, that there was “no such person in the world.” Nevertheless, on July 4, Blondin appeared at the American end of the cable, this time without his balancing pole. Halfway across, he lay down on the cable, flipped himself over, and began walking backward. He stopped again to take a swig from his flask, and then made it safely to the Canadian side. On the journey back he wore a sack over his body, depriving himself of sight. “One can scarcely believe that the feat was indeed real,” wrote one reporter, “and stands gazing upon the slender cord and the awful gulf in a state of utter bewilderment.… I look back upon it as upon a dream.”
Blondin announced subsequent crossings, promising that each would be more daring than the last. On July 15, with President Millard Fillmore in attendance, Blondin walked backward to Canada and returned to the U.S. pushing a wheelbarrow. Two weeks later, he somersaulted and backflipped his way across, occasionally pausing to dangle from the cable by one hand. Shortly after that he made another crossing, and, after a brief rest, appeared on the Canadian end of the cable with Harry Colcord clinging to his back. Blondin gave his manager the following instructions: “Look up, Harry.… you are no longer Colcord, you are Blondin. Until I clear this place be a part of me, mind, body, and soul. If I sway, sway with me. Do not attempt to do any balancing yourself. If you do we will both go to our death.”
A few of the guy ropes snapped along the way, but they made it.
He crossed at night, a locomotive headlight affixed to either each of the cable. He crossed with his body in shackles. He crossed carrying a table and chair, stopping in the middle to try to sit down and prop up his legs. The chair tumbled into the water. Blondin nearly followed but regained his composure. He sat down on the cable and ate a piece of cake, washed down with champagne. In his most famous exploit, he carried a stove and utensils on his back, walked to the center of the cable, started a fire and cooked an omelet. When it was ready, he lowered the breakfast to passengers on deck of the Maid of the Mist.
Blondin performed in China, Japan, Australia, India and throughout Europe. He soured on America in 1888 when he was forbidden to perform in Central Park and had to settle instead for St. George in Staten Island. Although he was then 65 years old, he carried his son and another man on his back and made another omelet for the crowd. By the time he gave his final performance, in 1896, it was estimated that Blondin had crossed Niagara Falls 300 times and walked more than 10,000 miles on his rope. He died of complications from diabetes the following year. In nearly 73 years on this earth, he never had life insurance. No one, he’d always joked, would take the risk.
Books: Blondin: His Life and Performances. Edited by G. Linnaeus Banks. London, New York: Routledge, Warne, and Routledge, 1862.
Articles: “Blondin, The Hero of Niagara,” by Lloyd Graham. American Heritage, August 1958; “High Above Niagara, a Funambulist Cooked a Well-balanced Breakfast,” by Martin Herbert Kaufman. Sports Illustrated, April 16, 1979; “A Daredevil’s Toughest Challenge,” by Charlie Gillis. Macleans.ca, August 5, 2011; “An Exciting Scene,” New York Times, July 4, 1859; “When Blondin Left America Gasping.” The Hartford Courant, August 1, 1959; “He Walked Across Niagara Falls,” by Bennett Cerf. Los Angeles Times, June 28, 1959; “Poised Between Life and Death.” Chicago Daily Tribune, February 28, 1897; “A Chat With Blondin.” New York Tribune, August 12, 1888; “Blondin, The Rope Walker.” New York Times, June 5, 1888; “The Experiences of a Rope-Walker.” Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, November 1888.
August 30, 2011
“In 1912—and you can write this down—I killed a man in Detroit.”
Al Stump, commissioned in 1960 to ghostwrite Ty Cobb’s autobiography, My Life in Baseball: The True Record, would say it was a boozy, pill-induced, off-the-record confession—a secret revealed by the Detroit Tigers great as he spent the last painful year of his life battling cancer. The confession never made its way into the book Stump was writing for Doubleday & Company. With Cobb insisting on editorial control, Stump claimed, his role was to help the ballplayer give his account of his legendary but controversial life and career, even if the effort might be self-serving. It was, after all, Cobb’s book, he said, so the sportswriter filed the murder confession away with the rest of his notes.
Instead, the autobiography offers an account of a comeuppance rather than a killing, an encounter more in line with the “Nobody can pull that stuff on me!” persona that the baseball legend still liked to project at age 73. In that version, Cobb was riding in his car with his wife, Charlie, to the railway station in Detroit to catch a train for a Tigers exhibition game in Syracuse, New York, when three men waved them down. Thinking they might be having some trouble, he stopped to help. Immediately, the men attacked Cobb, who slid out of the car and began to fight back. “One of the mugs I knocked down got up and slashed at me with a knife,” the book says. “I dodged, but he cut me in the back. I couldn’t tell how bad it was. But my arms were still working.”
Cobb says the men retreated as he chased one of them down, “leaving him in worse condition than he’d arrived in.” Another one returned and cornered Cobb in a blind passageway. “I had something in my hand, which I won’t describe [Cobb was known to carry a “big Belgian revolver” at the time], but which often came in handy in Detroit in the days when it was a fairly rough town. I used it on him at some length. If he still lives, he has the scars to show for it. Leaving him unconscious, I drove on to the depot.”
By 1912, Cobb had established himself as one of the baseball’s biggest stars, and he would eventually be recognized as one of the greatest to ever play the game. When the National Baseball Hall of Fame inducted its inaugural class in 1936, he received more votes than any other player, including Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Christy Matthewson and Honus Wagner. By all accounts, he was fiery, belligerent, mean-tempered and capable of violence. But did he kill a man?