Ramon Novarro

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Ramón Novarro
Ramon Novarro1.jpg
Ramón Novarro in a photography by George Hurrell
Born José Ramón Gil Samaniego
(1899-02-06)February 6, 1899
Durango, Mexico
Died October 30, 1968(1968-10-30) (aged 69)
North Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Asphyxiation
Resting place
Calvary Cemetery
Other names
  • Ramon Samaniego
  • Ramón Samaniego
  • Ramon Samaniegos
Years active 1917–1968

Jose Ramón Gil Samaniego, best known as Ramón Novarro (February 6, 1899 – October 30, 1968), was a Mexican film, stage and television actor who began his career as a leading man in silent films in 1917. Novarro was promoted by MGM as a "Latin lover" and became known as sex symbol after the death of Rudolph Valentino.

Early life[edit]

Novarro was born José Ramón Gil Samaniego on February 6, 1899 in Durango, Mexico, to Dr. Mariano N. Samaniego, and his wife, Leonor. The family moved to Los Angeles, California, to escape the Mexican Revolution in 1913.[1]

Allan Ellenberger, Novarro's biographer, writes:

[...t]he 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.[2]

The family estate was called the "Garden of Eden". Thirteen children were born there: Emilio; Guadalupe; Rosa; Ramón; Leonor; Mariano; Luz; Antonio; José; a stillborn child; Carmen; Ángel and Eduardo.[2] At the time of the revolution in Mexico, the family moved from Durango to Mexico City and then back to Durango. Three of Ramón's sisters, Guadalupe, Rosa, and Leonor, became nuns.[3] He was a second cousin of the Mexican actresses Dolores del Río[4] and Andrea Palma.

Career[edit]

Silent films[edit]

Novarro with Greta Garbo in Mata Hari (1931)

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.[5] 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).[6] 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).

Novarro with Joan Crawford in Across to Singapore (1928)

Talking films[edit]

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), with Myrna Loy in The Barbarian (1933) and opposite Lupe Vélez in Laughing Boy (1934).

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, Ramón 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.[7] When his career ended, he was still able to maintain a comfortable lifestyle.

Novarro with Lupe Vélez in Laughing Boy (1934)

Personal life[edit]

Novarro was troubled all his life by his conflicted feelings toward his Roman Catholic religion and his homosexuality.[8] His life-long struggle with alcoholism is often traced to these issues.[9][10][11] MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer reportedly tried to coerce Novarro into a "lavender marriage", which he refused.[12] He was romantically involved with journalist Herbert Howe, who was also his publicist in the late 1920s.[13]

Along with Dolores del Río, Lupe Vélez and James Cagney, Novarro was accused of promoting Communism in California. It happened after they attended a special screening of the film ¡Que viva México! by famed Russian filmmaker Sergei M. Eisenstein.

Death[edit]

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.[14][15] 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.[16] 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.[17]

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[edit]

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.

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.[18]

In the Season 3 episode "Every Dog Has His Day..." 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".

In John Guare's play The House of Blue Leaves, the lead character jokes that he is Ramon Novarro when he calls his friend, a film director. (The play deals with the subjects of celebrity and violence.)

Filmography[edit]

Film
Year Title Role Notes
1916 Joan the Woman Starving Peasant Uncredited
1917 The Jaguar's Claws Bandit Uncredited
1917 The Little American Wounded Soldier Uncredited
1917 The Hostage Uncredited
1917 The Woman God Forgot Aztec man Uncredited
1918 The Goat Uncredited
1921 A Small Town Idol Dancer as Ramón Samaniego
1921 The Concert Dancing shepherd Uncredited
1921 The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse Guest at Ball Uncredited
1921 Man-Woman-Marriage Dancer Uncredited
1922 Mr. Barnes of New York Antonio as Ramon Samaniego
1922 The Prisoner of Zenda Rupert of Hentzau as Ramon Samaniegos
1922 Trifling Women Henri/Ivan de Maupin
1923 Where the Pavement Ends Motauri
1923 Scaramouche André-Louis Moreau, Quintin's Godson
1924 Thy Name Is Woman Juan Ricardo
1924 The Arab Jamil Abdullah Azam
1924 The Red Lily Jean Leonnec
1925 A Lover's Oath Ben Ali *lost; but A.M.P.A.S. has 25 feet of this film
1925 The Midshipman Dick Randall
1925 Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ Judah Ben-Hur
1927 Lovers José
1927 The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg Crown Prince Karl Heinrich
1927 The Road to Romance José Armando
1928 Across to Singapore Joel Shore
1928 A Certain Young Man Lord Gerald Brinsley
1928 Forbidden Hours His Majesty, Michael IV
1929 The Flying Fleet Ens./Ltjg Tommy Winslow
1929 The Pagan Henry Shoesmith, Jr.
1929 Devil-May-Care Armand
1930 Le chanteur de Séville Juan French version of Call of the Flesh
1930 In Gay Madrid Ricardo
1930 The March of Time Himself Unfinished film
1930 Call of the Flesh Juan de Dios
1930 Sevilla de mis amores Juan de Dios Carbajal Spanish version of Call of the Flesh
1931 Daybreak Willi Kasder
1931 Son of India Karim
1931 Mata Hari Lt. Alexis Rosanoff
1932 Huddle Antonio "Tony" Amatto
1932 The Son-Daughter Tom Lee/Prince Chun
1933 The Barbarian Jamil El Shehab
1934 The Cat and the Fiddle Victor Florescu
1934 Laughing Boy Laughing Boy
1935 The Night Is Young Archduke Paul "Gustl" Gustave
1936 Against the Current
Director, writer
1937 The Sheik Steps Out Ahmed Ben Nesib
1938 A Desperate Adventure André Friezan Alternative title: It Happened in Paris
1940 Ecco la felicità Felice Ciatti Italian version of La comédie du bonheur
1940 La comédie du bonheur Félix
1942 The Saint That Forged a Country Juan Diego
1949 We Were Strangers Chief
1949 The Big Steal Inspector General Ortega
1950 The Outriders Don Antonio Chaves
1950 Crisis Colonel Adragon
1960 Heller in Pink Tights De Leon
Television
Year Title Role Notes
1958 Disney's Wonderful World Don Esteban Miranda 2 episodes
1962 Thriller Maestro Giuliano Episode: "La Strega"
1964 Dr. Kildare Gaspero Paolini 3 episodes
1964-1965 Combat! Charles Gireaux
Count De Roy
2 episodes
1965 Bonanza Jose Ortega Episode: "The Brass Box"
1967 The Wild Wild West Don Tomas Episode: "The Night of the Assassin"
1968 The High Chaparral Padre Guillermo Episode: "A Joyful Noise"

References[edit]

  1. ^ Meier, Matt S.; Gutiérrez, Margo (2003). The Mexican American Experience: An Encyclopedia. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 284. ISBN 0-313-31643-0. 
  2. ^ a b Ellenberger, Allan R. (2009). Ramon Novarro: A Biography of the Silent Film Idol, 1899-1968; with a Filmography. McFarland. pp. 5–6. ISBN 978-0-7864-4676-6. 
  3. ^ (Ellenberger 2009, pp. 8–9)
  4. ^ Monush, Barry (2003). Screen World Presents the Encyclopedia of Hollywood Film Actors: From the Silent Era to 1965. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 188. ISBN 1-557-83551-9. 
  5. ^ Rodriguez, Roberto (1996). "The early years - the portrayal of minorities in Hollywood film industry". Black Issues In Higher Education. web.archive.org. Archived from the original on 16 May 2007. Retrieved 2014-02-26. 
  6. ^ Hollywood Undressed: Observations of Sylvia As Noted by Her Secretary. Brentano’s. 1931. Retrieved 2014-02-26. 
  7. ^ "Lloyd Wright (1890–1978)". ArchitechGallery.com. Retrieved 2011-06-26. 
  8. ^ (Ellenberger 2009, p. 148)
  9. ^ Soares, André (19 April 2010). Beyond Paradise: The Life of Ramon Novarro. University of Mississippi Press. p. 245. 
  10. ^ Mann, William. Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood. New York City: Penguin Books. p. 97. ISBN 978-0142001141. Retrieved 2014-02-26. 
  11. ^ "Ramon Navarro (sic)". Olvera-street.com. Retrieved 2011-06-26. [dead link]
  12. ^ Holliday, Peter J. "Novarro, Ramon (1899–1968)". glbtq.com. Retrieved 2007-11-01. 
  13. ^ Slide, Anthony (26 February 2010). Inside the Hollywood Fan Magazine. University of Mississippi Press. p. 79. ISBN 978-1604734133. Retrieved 2014-02-26. 
  14. ^ "Ramon Novarro Slain on Coast. Starred in Silent Film 'Ben-Hur'. Ramon Novarro, Silent Era Star, Slain". New York Times. November 1, 1968. Retrieved 2014-09-11. Ramon Novarro, the Mexican-born star of scores of Hollywood movies made in the nineteen-twenties and thirties, was found bludgeoned to death in his $125,000 Hollywood Hills home early this morning. 
  15. ^ Maloney, J. J. "The Murder of Ramon Novarro". crimemagazine.com. 
  16. ^ (Ellenberger 2009, pp. 182,187)
  17. ^ (Ellenberger 2009, p. 196)
  18. ^ Archives of the Greek National Theatre (in Greek)

Bibliography[edit]

  • Ramírez, Gabriel (1989). Crónica del cine mudo mexicano. México: Cineteca Nacional. ISBN 968-805-416-X. 
  • Orozco, Federico (1996). Albores del cine mexicano. Editorial Clío. ISBN 968-6932-45-3. 
  • Ellenberger, Allan R. (1999). Ramon Novarro: A Biography of the Silent Film Idol, 1899-1968, with a Filmography. New York: McFarland & Co. ISBN 0-5331-3396-3. 
  • Soares, André (1999). Beyond Paradise: A Biography of Ramón Novarro. New York: St. Martin's Press. 

External links[edit]