"Valentino Is Dead"! was the top headline splashed across the country on August 24, 1926. What started as an emergency appendectomy turned into a developed case of peritonitis. Although doctors were optimistic about the actor's condition, Valentino slipped into a coma, thus ending the "Latin Lover"'s life at 31 years old. Once the news broke, hysteria ensued. Two fans tried to take their lives right in front of the hospital where a large group of Valetino's followers had camped out in order to know firsthand of his progress. Over the following hours, many other fans would attempt suicide at the loss of their idol. Two funeral masses were held, both of which topped the estimates of nearly 100,000 people each in attendance. At the first mass in New York, a riot broke outside the church and it is said a decoy dummy was placed in the coffin to prevent a kidnapping.
As a result of the New York riot, the second mass held in Lost Angeles was by invitation only. But that did not stop fans from crowding the streets surrounding Hollywood Memorial Park. The crypt at Hollywood Forever Cemetery was supposed to be temporary but ended up being Valentino's permanent burial next to his lifelong friend and film producer June Mathis. Then suddenly on the one year anniversary of his death, a mysterious woman in black appeared at Valentino's crypt to leave a single rose behind.
Some suspected to be actress Pola Negri who was inconsolable at the funeral, having flung herself onto his coffin in hysterics. Negri had claimed that they were engaged to be married at the time of her death but denied being the Lady in black.
On the second anniversary of his death, it is reported that press agent Russel Birdwell hired a girl to dress in black and appear at the crypt as a publicity stunt. The appearance caused such a stir that the girl loved the attention and decided to do it again the following year. But once the girl arrived, there was another a girl already clad in black standing by the crypt. Each year an unidentified woman would arrive at Valentino's crypt to place a single red rose in honor of the actor's memory.
But it seems the original "Lady in Black" was Ditra Flame. Ditra only came forward when her yearly ritual became a superficial event for attention-seekers. When she came forward, Ditra related the story of how she met Rudolph Valentino while she was a very ill little girl in the hospital. The charismatic actor brought her a single red rose and told her, "You're not going to die at all. You are going to outlive me by many years. But one thing is for sure, if I die before you do, you please come and stay by me because I don't want to be alone either. You come and talk to me." Ditra recovered and when Valentino passed away, she remembered what he had said.
By the 1950s, Ditra was frustrated by the theatrics involving her personal connection to The Sheik and thus was forced to stop visiting his crypt. In 1984 she passed away with her tombstone identifying her as the Lady in Black.
Recently, a short piece was done by Ben Manckiewcz on Turner Classic Film channel about the Lady in Black. In the piece, he interviewed the current reigning "Lady in Black", Karie Bible. She is an avid film historian and Hollywood Forever Cemetery's tour guide. She pays tribute to both the memory of Ditra and Valentino by placing a red rose on the crypt on the anniversary of the actor's death.