The Divo and the Duce: Promoting Film Stardom and Political Leadership in 1920s America

Giorgio Bertellini
University of Michigan

In the post–World War I American climate of isolationism, nativism, consumerism, and the democratic expansion of civic rights, Italian-born star Rodolfo Valentino and Italy’s dictator Benito Mussolini became surprising paragons of authoritarian male power and mass appeal. Drawing on extensive archival research in the United States and Italy, Giorgio Bertellini’s The Divo and the Duce (University of California Press, 2019) shows how both men’s popularity, political as well as erotic, depended largely on the efforts of public opinion managers, including publicists, journalists, and even ambassadors. Beyond the democratic celebrations of the Jazz Age, the promotion of their charismatic masculinity through spectacle and press coverage inaugurated the now-familiar convergence of popular celebrity and political authority.