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Curse of the Tiger's Eye: The Incredible True Story of Rudolph Valentino's Ring

Curses are a common theme in the occult and stories abound, none more macabre than that of tiger's eye ring of Rudolph Valentino.

Rudolph Valentino ring.jpg

Tiger's eye is a gold-and-brown quartz crystal whose vibrant sheen comes from alternating bands of inclusions. One such crystal, polished and set into a man's ring, caught the eye of famed actor Rudolph Valentino, star of the silent screen and the first international male sex symbol. Known simply as "the Latin lover," the Italian-born American was at the height of his fame when he bought his infamous ring at a shop in San Francisco, despite the warnings from the shop keeper, who told the actor that the ring's previous owners had all met misfortune.

Undeterred, Valentino wore the ring through filming of "The Young Rajah," which turned out to be his only box office flop. It seems his common sense got the better of him for a time and Valentino put the ring away, only to take it out again for the premiere of his next film, "Son of the Sheik." A few weeks after the movie opened, Valentino collapsed outside of his New York apartment and was rushed to the hospital. Initially diagnosed with acute appendicitis, it was later discovered that he had several ruptured ulcers. He went for surgery but soon died of septicemia.

In the aftermath of his funeral, which drew 100,000 mourners (incredible for the time) and caused several suicides from grief, the executors of his will gave his lover, Pola Negri, her choice of Valentino's belongings. She chose her beloved's favorite ring... and almost immediately fell gravely ill.

Pola put the ring away, and there it stayed for several years, until she met a young actor named Russ Columbo, who was said to be a near-double for the striking Valentino. Pola gave the ring to the young man as a gift, "from one Valentino to another." A few days later, after a heated argument, Russ Columbo was shot by a friend and killed.

This painting by Federico Beltrán Masses depicts a reclining Valentino and his lover, Pola Negri, wearing the infamous ring

This painting by Federico Beltrán Masses depicts a reclining Valentino and his lover, Pola Negri, wearing the infamous ring

Columbo's possessions went to his cousin, who immediately gave the ring to Columbo's best friend, an entertainer named Joe Casino, who locked the accursed thing in a glass case and never wore it. That is, until many years later, when, deciding the curse was all a fantasy, he started sporting it around town. It wasn't long -- mere weeks, in fact -- before Joe Casino got into an automobile accident. His car was hit by a truck and he died on the scene.

The ring passed to Joe Casino's brother, Del, who was convinced the "curse" was nothing but a series of grim coincidences and wore it for many years without incident, even loaning it to a Valentino impersonator, who also suffered no ill effects. It seemed like Del was correct and the curse was all a bunch of hooey -- that is, until his home was robbed. Unable to make an escape in time, the thief was trapped by police, who fired a warning shot that struck the man, killing him instantly... with the stolen ring in his pocket.

Del decided not to tempt fate any further and kept the ring under lock and key until it was requested by a 21-year-old figure skater named Jack Dunn, who was being considered for the role of Rudolph Valentino in an upcoming biopic on the infamous actor's life. Dunn wore the ring and some of Valentino's clothing to a screen test and died ten days later from tularemia, a rare blood disorder he'd contracted after handling a dead rabbit on a hunting trip.

The ring was returned to Del Casino, who kept it in a chest until his death (of natural causes), whereupon the executors of his will moved it, along with several other possessions, to a bank vault in Los Angeles. While the tiger's eye was in residence, the bank suffered two robberies, one of which saw the ring itself stolen. Several of the thieves were shot and killed by police in the ensuing chase. After being arrested, the leader of the gang said if he'd known what was in the vault, he would've chosen a different bank.

After the ring was returned to the vault, the bank suffered a cashier's strike and then a fire in which the ring disappeared. It's current whereabouts are unknown, as is the origin of its prodigious curse.

Although I don't explicitly reference it in the story, attentive readers will note the doctor's description of Etude's apartment in the first course:

Light poured in through the high windows and bounced off the white walls, illuminating the art even under an overcast sky. A long, stone-studded Polynesian battle club hung from the wall next to a six-foot-tall black-and-white photograph of a naked woman in chains resting intimately with a leather-clad pig with a cat-o’-nine-tails in its mouth. I turned away. There was a mummified hand in a glass case. Each finger wore a ring and each ring flaunted a different colored gem.

That is not, as some have suggested, a reference to the Infinity Gauntlet. The mummified hand is a reliquary, the preserved remains of a saint. By placing the ring on it, the old sorcerer has neutralized its evil. And there it stays until another mysterious fire...

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