10-30-1960

Ramon Novarro

RAMÓN NOVARRO, Mexican actor died (b. 1899); A Mexican actor who achieved fame as a :Latin lover” in silent films. A cousin of actress Dolores Del Rio, he entered films in 1917 playing bit parts, and supplemented his income by working as a singing waiter. His friends, the 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 he achieved his greatest success in Ben-Hur, with his revealing costumes causing a sensation, and Novarro was elevated into the Hollywood elite. With Valentino’s death in 1926 he became the screen’s leading Latin actor, though ranked behind his MGM stablemate, John Gilbert, as a model lover. He was popular as a swashbuckler in action roles, and was also considered one of the great romantic lead actors of his day.

While at the peak of his success in the late 1920s and early 1930s, he was earning more than $100,000 per film. He invested some of his income in real estate. After his career ended he was still able to maintain a comfortable lifestyle. MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer tried to coerce Novarro into a “lavender marriage”, which he refused. Some claim there is no evidence that Mayer tried to coerce Novarro into contractual marriage, but Novarro himself intimated as much in interviews late in his life. Novarro had been troubled all his life as a result of his conflicting views over his Roman Catholic religion and his sexuality.

Novarro’s life ended when he was murdered by two Mormon brothers, Tom and Paul Ferguson, whom he had paid to come to his Laurel Canyon home for sex.

According to the prosecution in the Novarro murder case, the two young men believed that a large sum of money was hidden in Novarro’s house. The prosecution accused them of torturing Novarro for several hours to force him to reveal where the nonexistent money was hidden. They left with a mere twenty dollars they took from his bathrobe pocket before fleeing the scene. Novarro died as a result of asphyxiation, choking to death on his own blood after being brutally beaten. He was buried in Calvary Cemetery in Los Angeles. The two brothers were later caught and sentenced to long prison terms, but were quickly released on probation. Both were later rearrested for unrelated crimes, for which they served longer terms than for their murder conviction.

In late 2005, the Wings Theatre in New York City staged the world premiere of Through the Naked Lens by George Barthel. The play combined fact and fiction to depict Novarro’s rise to fame and a relationship with Hollywood journalist Herbert Lowe, who later became Novarro’s “publicist.” After Photoplay magazine sent Howe to Tunis to cover Novarro in 1923, the two became — as the books call it — “inseparable.” Novarro’s relationship with Herbert Howe is discussed in two biographies: Allan R. Ellenberger’s “Ramon Novarro” and Andre Soares’s “Beyond Paradise: The Life of Ramon Novarro.”