Valentino became the first matinee idol in cinema. A popular but
controversial actor during the silent film era, Valentino was known as the Latin
Lover despite being Italian. His exotic, romantic screen persona thrilled female
audiences, but puzzled the ... moremale-dominated press. He was often criticized for
being effeminate, a label he routinely denounced, going so far as to challenge a
particularly strong critic from the Chicago Tribune to a boxing match. Valentino
died prematurely at age 31 and is best remembered for 1921's "The Sheik."