World History 1926 Part 3

About the history of the world in 1926, actor Rudolph Valentino died, Hirohito becomes emperor of Japan.



Aug. 23 Actor Rudolph Valentino, 31, died of complication arising from a perforated ulcer and appendicitis in New York. What followed was an amalgam of press agentry, yellow journalism, and movie star worship at its worst. To hype circulation, the New York Evening Graphic ran a fake front-page photo composed of Valentino's head and another man's body lying in a casket. Overnight some 100,000 people lined up for 11 blocks at the doors of the Campbell funeral parlor for one last look at the Great Lover. Armed police had to beat back the pressing crowd, and about 100 mourners were injured. Actress Pola Negri, claiming to be Valentino's one true love, showed up in a $3,000 mourning gown and wept uncontrollably. The funeral services in the Actor's Chapel of St. Malachy's Church drew similar hysterics. And in Hollywood, all film studios suspended production for two minutes in Valentino's honor. None of this, of course, did Valentino any good, but it did mean big box office for his old films. Reissued after his death, his movies brought in $2 million in two months. Thus, although Valentino died heavily in debt, his estate was soon solvent.

Dec. 25 Hirohito, 25, became the 124th emperor of Japan, succeeding his father, Yoshihito. A direct descendant of Japan's first emperor, Jimmu, who had founded the dynasty in 660 B. C., Hirohito acceded to the throne with all the pomp and majesty of his many forebears. In Kyoto, he solemnly walked up to the small Shinto shrine to inform his ancestors that he now occupied their throne. Dressed in orange robes, he listened as the prime minister officially introduced the new emperor to the world. He then went off alone to a secluded hut to commune with the spirits of his ancestors. The monarch in Japan at this time was not merely the titular head of the country; he was the country. All sovereignty flowed from him. Yet Japanese tradition forbade him from interfering in politics or messing his hands in the day-to-day running of the government. He made no decisions; decisions were made in his name. For this reason, it is difficult to assess what part, if any, he played in the events of W. W. II. Another factor peculiar to Japanese monarchy is imperial divinity. Until Hirohito stunned his subjects by rejecting his divinity in 1946, the Japanese had worshiped their emperors as gods. For his part, Hirohito was thought to be less caught up in the imperial trappings than were his predecessors. Indeed, as a 20-year-old crown prince he became the first royal prince to leave Japan on tour. He even winked at the tradition that royalty was never to touch money by having his attendants place bets for him at a British racetrack. Besides presiding over countless state occasions, Hirohito has developed a great interest in marine biology. Considered an expert, he has spent countless hours bent over a microscope in a specially designed biology laboratory at the Imperial Palace in downtown Tokyo.

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