Hollywood Remains to Be Seen

Ramon Novarro
1899 - 1968

Calvary Cemetery

Silent film star Ramon Novarro was a dashing and popular leading man, but his film career has unfortunately been overshadowed by his violent death.

Novarro was the son of a prosperous Mexican dentist, but his family left the country at the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution in 1910 and settled in Los Angeles. Novarro worked several jobs, including grocery clerk, singing waiter, piano teacher, usher in a movie house, and busboy at the elegant Alexandria Hotel, where he met a young dancer named Rodolfo Guglielmi, later known as Rudolph Valentino. During this time, Novarro also worked as a film extra. His first screen appearance was a small part in "Joan the Woman" (1916), directed by Cecil B. DeMille.

But Novarro's big break happened when his friend, Rudolph Valentino, set the screen on fire in "The Sheik" (1921), and film fans fell in love with Valentino's slick black hair, smoldering eyes and swarthy sensuality. Almost immediately, every studio needed a "Latin lover," and Novarro fit the bill. Navarro's first starring roles were in "The Prisoner of Zenda" (1922), "Scaramouche" (1923) and a "Shiek" copy called "The Arab" (1923), all directed by Rex Ingram. Novarro quickly became known as "Ravishing Ramon" and "The Second Valentino." Novarro and Francis X. Bushman co-starred in "Ben-Hur" (1925), the silent epic which was filmed partially on location in Italy.

In addition to playing the sexy leading man roles in high-adventure films, Novarro also tried his hand at light comedy and romantic roles, including "The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg" (1927) with Norma Shearer, "Across to Singapore" (1928) with Joan Crawford, and "Forbidden Hours" (1928) with Renée Adorée. Novarro was one of the few silent film stars who successfully made the transition to "talkies," and he starred in several musicals, including "In Gay Madrid" (1930) and "Call of the Flesh (1930), both co-starring Dorothy Jordan.

Novarro continued to make adventures, musicals and comedies through the early 1930s, co-starring with some of the top actresses in Hollywood, including "Mata Hari" (1931) with Greta Garbo, "The Son-Daughter" (1932) with Helen Hayes, "The Barbarian" (1933) with Myrna Loy, "The Cat and the Fiddle" (1934) with Jeanette MacDonald, and "Laughing Boy" (1934) with Lupe Velez. By the end of the 1930s, however, Novarro had been replaced by the next wave of romantic leading men, and he retired from films. He made a brief comeback with a small role in "We Were Strangers" (1949), starring John Garfield and Jennifer Jones. In the 1960s, Novarro had moved to the small screen, making guest appearances on such television series as "Combat!," "Rawhide," "Bonanza" and "Dr. Kildare."

Unfortunately, Novarro's career has been somewhat overshadowed by his violent murder. Though Novarro had been a big-screen sex symbol who could apparently have any women he wanted, in his later years he was known to hire the services of male prostitutes. In 1968, two teenage brothers, Paul and Tom Ferguson, heard a rumor that Novarro had $5,000 in cash hidden in his house, so they decided to rob him. The brothers went to Novarro's home, pretending to be interested in a sexual encounter. They drank with Novarro, then brutally beat the 69-year-old actor to death before ransacking his home in an unsuccessful search for the money. Both brothers were convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison, but were paroled after serving only seven years.

Novarro was born José Ramón Samaniegos on Feb. 6, 1899, in Durango, Mexico. He died on Oct. 31, 1968, in Los Angeles, CA.

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