Acker photographed by James Abbe, 1920s
October 23, 1893
Trenton, New Jersey, U.S.
|Died||August 16, 1978
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Other names||Mrs. Rudolph Valentino|
Jean Acker (October 23, 1893 – August 16, 1978) was an American film actress with a career dating from the silent film era through the 1950s. She was perhaps best known as the estranged wife of silent film star Rudolph Valentino.
Early life and career
Acker was born Harriet “Hattie” Ackers on October 23, 1893 in Trenton, New Jersey. Her father was Joseph Ackers, said to be of Cherokee descent. Her mother Margaret (unconfirmed) was Irish. In the 1900 census, Hattie is with Joseph and her grandparents, but no wife of Joseph is listed. In fact, he is reported to be single. Growing up on a farm, she became an expert horsewoman. She attended the St. Mary’s Seminary in Springfield, New Jersey, for a time. Sometime prior to 1907, the family moved to Lewistown, Pennsylvania. In the 1907 Lewistown Directory, Joseph is listed with a wife by the name of Eleanor. When he married Eleanor is not yet known, but it was after 1900 and before the family moved to Lewistown. They were divorced in 1912. Six years later, Joseph married Virginia Erb in Lewistown. He managed the Casino Bowling Alley and The Ritz restaurant, and later owned the Boston Shoe Store on Valley Street. He also managed several bowling alleys in the Philadelphia area, and it may have been that during these visits Jean was “bitten by the acting bug.” She performed in vaudeville until she moved to California in 1919. After arriving in Hollywood, Acker became the protegee and lover of Alla Nazimova, a film actress whose clout and contacts enabled Acker to negotiate a $200 per week contract with a movie studio. Acker appeared in numerous films during the 1910s and 1920s, but by the early 1930s she began appearing in small, mostly uncredited film roles. She made her last on-screen appearance in the 1955 film How to Be Very, Very Popular, opposite Betty Grable.
Marriage to Valentino
After meeting and befriending the then-struggling actor Rudolph Valentino at a party, they entered a two-month courtship and married on November 6, 1919. Acker quickly had regrets and locked him out of their hotel bedroom on their wedding night. The marriage was reportedly never consummated.
After filing for divorce, Valentino did not wait the requisite period for it to be finalized before marrying his second wife, Natacha Rambova, in Mexico, and he was charged with bigamy when the couple returned to the United States. Acker then sued Valentino for the legal right to call herself "Mrs. Rudolph Valentino." Valentino remained angry with her for several years, but they mended their friendship before his death in 1926. Acker wrote a popular song about him soon after he died called "We Will Meet at the End of the Trail".
Acker had an affair with the actress Alla Nazimova. Nazimova included Acker in what was dubbed the "Sewing circles", a group of actresses who were forced to conceal the fact that they were lesbian or bisexual, and romantically and sexually attracted to women, thus living secret lives. Another of her female lovers was Grace Darmond, with whom she was involved during her relationship with Valentino.
After divorcing Valentino in 1923, Acker was engaged to Marquis Luis de Bezan y Sandoval of Spain. Then, she was in the news over her relationship with Rahmin Bey. In 1930, after she lost her fortune in the 1929 stock market crash, she sued William Delahanty, claiming that he agreed to pay her $18,400 a year if she gave up her film career. The married politician denied that he made such a promise but admitted that he spent thousands of dollars on Acker. Acker met Chloe Carter, a former Ziegfeld Follies girl, who was the first wife of film composer Harry Ruby. Acker would remain with Carter for the rest of her life. The couple owned an apartment building together in Beverly Hills. Acker died of natural causes in 1978 at the age of 84, and is buried next to Carter in the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.
Though not born in the Central Pennsylvania town of Lewistown, Jean Acker is considered a local celebrity. Her face dominates an outdoor mural titled "Mifflin County Movie History" and is located on Monument Square in Downtown Lewistown. The mural was painted in 2012 by Dwight Kirkland of Blackleaf Studio, Mifflintown, PA.
|1913||The Man Outside||Helen Lattimore|
|1913||In a Woman's Power|
|1913||Bob's Baby||Bob's Cousin|
|1913||The Daredevil Mountaineer|
|1914||The $5,000,000 Counterfeiting Plot||Helen Long|
|1915||Are You a Mason?||Alternative title: The Joiner|
|1919||Never Say Quit||Vamp|
|1920||An Arabian Knight||Elinor Wayne|
|1920||The Round-Up||Polly Hope|
|1921||Brewster's Millions||Barbara Drew|
|1922||Her Own Money||Ruth Alden|
|1923||The Woman in Chains||Felicia Coudret||Credited as Mrs. Rudolph Valentino|
|1927||The Nest||Belle Madison|
|1933||No Marriage Ties||Adrienne's Maid||Uncredited|
|1934||Miss Fane's Baby Is Stolen||Friend of Miss Fane||Uncredited|
|1935||No More Ladies||Nightclub Extra||Uncredited|
|1937||Vogues of 1938||Extra||Uncredited|
|1939||Good Girls Go to Paris||Bit Part||Uncredited|
|1940||My Favorite Wife||Postponed case witness||Uncredited|
|1942||Obliging Young Lady||Cousin||Uncredited|
|1944||The Thin Man Goes Home||Tart||Uncredited|
|1946||It's a Wonderful Life||Uncredited|
|1947||The Peril of Pauline||Switchboard operator||Uncredited|
|1948||Isn't It Romantic?||Townswoman||Uncredited|
|1951||The Mating Season||Party guest||Uncredited|
|1952||Something to Live For||Wife||Uncredited|
|1955||How to Be Very, Very Popular||Undetermined Supporting Role||Uncredited|
- Leider, Emily W. Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino. New York City, Farrar Straus Giroux, 2003. ISBN 0-374-28239-0. p. 100.
- "Jean Acker of Metro Weds". Motion Picture News. 1919. p. 3774.
- Donnelley, Paul (2005). Fade to Black: A Book of Movie Obituaries. Omnibus Press. p. 935. ISBN 1-84449-430-6.
- Donnelley, Paul (2005). Fade to Black: A Book of Movie Obituaries. Omnibus Press. p. 7. ISBN 1-84449-430-6.
- Madsen, Axel (2002). The Sewing Circle: Sappho's Leading Ladies. Kensington Books. p. 103. ISBN 0-7582-0101-X.
- Newman, Ben-Allah (2004). Rudolph Valentino His Romantic Life and Death: His Romantic Life and Death. Kessinger Publishing. p. 50. ISBN 1-4179-1464-5.
- Briggs, Joe Bob (2005). Profoundly Erotic: Sexy Movies that Changed History. Universe. p. 30. ISBN 0-7893-1314-6.
- Jean Acker at Find a Grave
- "The Evening News - Google News Archive Search". Retrieved 2013-12-05.
- "The Deseret News - Google News Archive Search". Retrieved 2013-12-05.
- "Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - Google News Archive Search". Retrieved 2013-12-05.
- "Rochester Evening Journal - Google News Archive Search". Retrieved 2013-12-05.
- Shearer, Stephen Michael (2006). Patricia Neal: An Unquiet Life. University Press of Kentucky. p. 391. ISBN 0-8131-2391-7.
- Donnelley, Paul (2005). Fade to Black: A Book of Movie Obituaries. Omnibus Press. p. 8. ISBN 1-84449-430-6.
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