- Category : Actor
- Type : MGP
- Profile : 5/1 - Heretical / Investigator
- Definition : Split - Small (18,21,27,28,54,57)
- Incarnation Cross : LAX Masks 1
Ramón Novarro (February 6, 1899 – October 30, 1968) was a Mexican leading man in Hollywood in the early 20th century. He was the next male "Sex Symbol" after the death of Rudolph Valentino. Novarro was the victim of a violent extortion attempt which resulted in his death.
Navarro was born José Ramón Gil Samaniego on February 6, 1899 in Durango, Mexico, to Dr. Mariano N. Samaniego. He moved with his family to Los Angeles, California, to escape the Mexican Revolution in 1913.
Allan Ellenberger, Novarro's biographer, writes:
...the Samaniegos were an influential and well-respected family in Mexico. Many Samaniegos had prominent positions in the affairs of state and were held in high esteem by the president. Ramon's grandfather, Mariano Samaniego, was a well-known physician in Juarez. Known as a charitable and outgoing man, he was once an interim governor for the State of Chihuahua and was the first city councilman of El Paso, Texas...
Ramon's father, Dr. Mariano N. Samaniego, was born in Juarez and attended high school in Las Cruces, New Mexico. After receiving his degree in dentistry at the University of Pennsylvania, he moved to Durango, Mexico, and began a flourishing dental practice. In 1891 he married Leonor Pérez-Gavilán, the beautiful daughter of a prosperous landowner. The Pérez-Gaviláns were a mixture of Spanish and Aztec blood, and according to local legend, they were descended from Guerrero, a prince of Montezuma.
The family estate was called the "Garden of Eden". Thirteen children were born there: Emilio; Guadalupe; Rosa; Ramon; Leonor; Mariano; Luz; Antonio; José; a stillborn child; Carmen; Ángel and Eduardo.
At the time of the revolution in Mexico, the family moved from Durango to Mexico City and then back to Durango. Ramon's three sisters, Guadalupe, Rosa, and Leonor, became nuns.
A second cousin of the Mexican actresses Dolores del Río and Andrea Palma, he entered films in 1917 in bit parts. He supplemented his income by working as a singing waiter. His friends, actor and director Rex Ingram and his wife, the actress Alice Terry, began to promote him as a rival to Rudolph Valentino, and Ingram suggested he change his name to "Novarro." From 1923, he began to play more prominent roles. His role in Scaramouche (1923) brought him his first major success.
In 1925, Novarro achieved his greatest success in Ben-Hur. His revealing costumes caused a sensation. He was elevated into the Hollywood elite. As did many stars, Novarro engaged Sylvia of Hollywood as a therapist (although in her tell-all book, Sylvia erroneously claimed that Novarro slept in a coffin). With Valentino's death in 1926, Novarro became the screen's leading Latin actor, though ranked behind his MGM contemporary, John Gilbert, as a leading man. He was popular as a swashbuckler in action roles and considered one of the great romantic lead actors of his day. Novarro appeared with Norma Shearer in The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (1927) and with Joan Crawford in Across to Singapore (1928). He made his first talking film, starring as a singing French soldier, in Devil-May-Care (1929). He starred with Dorothy Janis in The Pagan (1929), with Greta Garbo in Mata Hari (1931), and opposite Myrna Loy in The Barbarian (1933).
When his contract with MGM Studios expired in 1935 and the studio did not renew it, Novarro continued to act sporadically, appearing in films for Republic Pictures, a Mexican religious drama, and a French comedy. In the 1940s, he had several small roles in American films, including We Were Strangers (1949), directed by John Huston and starring Jennifer Jones and John Garfield. In 1958, he was considered for a role in the television series The Green Peacock, with Howard Duff and Ida Lupino, after their CBS Television sitcom Mr. Adams and Eve (1957–58). The project, however, never materialized. A Broadway tryout was aborted in the 1960s. Novarro kept busy on television, appearing in NBC's The High Chaparral as late as 1968.
At the peak of his success in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Ramon Novarro was earning more than US$100,000 per film. He invested some of his income in real estate, and his Hollywood Hills residence is one of the more renowned designs (1927) by Lloyd Wright, the son of Frank Lloyd Wright. When his career ended, he was still able to maintain a comfortable lifestyle.
In 1957, Novarro was awarded The George Eastman Award, given by the George Eastman House for distinguished contribution to the art of film.
Novarro was troubled all his life by his conflicted feelings toward his Roman Catholic religion and his homosexuality. His life-long struggle with alcoholism is often traced to these issues. MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer reportedly tried to coerce Novarro into a "lavender marriage", which he refused. He was a friend of adventurer and author Richard Halliburton as well as a celebrity in the closet. He was romantically involved with journalist Herbert Howe, who was also his publicist in the late 1920s.
In 1934, Novarro was one of the victims of a witch hunt for Communists in Hollywood. Along with Dolores del Río, Lupe Vélez and James Cagney, he was accused of promoting Communism in California. It happened after they attended a special screening of the film Que viva Mexico! by famed Russian filmmaker Sergei M. Eisenstein. Copies of the film were claimed by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin to be re-edited.
Novarro was murdered on October 30, 1968, by brothers Paul and Tom Ferguson, aged 22 and 17, whom he had hired from an agency to come to his Laurel Canyon home for sex. According to the prosecution in the murder case, the two young men believed that a large sum of money was hidden in Novarro's house. The prosecution accused the brothers of torturing Novarro for several hours to force him to reveal where the non-existent money was hidden. They left the house with $20 they took from his bathrobe pocket. Novarro died as a result of asphyxiation—having choked to death on his own blood after being beaten. The two perpetrators were caught and sentenced to long prison terms, but released on probation in the mid-1970s. Both were later re-arrested for unrelated crimes for which they served longer prison terms than for the murder of Novarro.
Ramón Novarro is buried in Calvary Cemetery, in Los Angeles. Ramón Novarro's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is at 6350 Hollywood Boulevard.
In popular culture
Novarro's murder served as the basis for the short story by Charles Bukowski called The Murder of Ramon Vasquez, as well as for the song by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, "Tango," recorded by Peggy Lee on her Mirrors album.
In late 2005, the Wings Theatre in New York City staged the world premiere of Through a Naked Lens by George Barthel. The play combined fact and fiction to depict Ramon Novarro's rise to fame and his relationship with Hollywood journalist Herbert Howe.
Novarro's relationship with Herbert Howe is discussed in two biographies: Allan R. Ellenberger's Ramón Novarro and André Soares's Beyond Paradise: The Life of Ramón Novarro. A recounting of Novarro's murder can be found in Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon.
Prize-winning Greek playwright Pavlos Matesis wrote a play in two parts titled "The Ghost of Mr. Ramon Novarro", which was first staged at the National Theatre of Greece in 1973.
In the episode "Every Dog Has His Day..." (Season 3) of All Creatures Great and Small, Novarro is referred to by the housekeeper, Mrs. Hall.
Novarro's death was referenced in The Sopranos episode "Cold Stones".