Friday, December 9, 2011

HOLA Legends: Ramón Novarro

Ramón Novarro (1899–1968), born José Ramón Gil Samaniego on February 6 in Victoria de Durango, Durango, Mexico, was a leading man actor in Hollywood in the early 20th century. He was the next male "sex symbol" after the death of Rudolph Valentino. The son of a doctor, the family (with 12 children) moved to Los Angeles, California, U.S.A. to escape the after-effects of the Mexican Revolution in 1913.

A second cousin of the actresses Dolores del Río and Andrea Palma, he entered films in 1917 in bit parts; and he 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, his revealing costumes causing a sensation, and was elevated into the Hollywood elite. With Valentino's death in 1926, Novarro 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 considered one of the great romantic lead actors of his day. He appeared with Norma Shearer in The Student Prince of 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 also starred with the French actress Renée Adorée in The Pagan (1929). He also starred with Greta Garbo in Mata Hari (1932) and was a qualified success opposite Myrna Loy in The Barbarian (1933).

When his contract with MGM Studios expired in 1935, the studio did not renew it. He 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 John Huston's We Were Strangers (1949) starring Jennifer Jones and John Garfield. A Broadway tryout was aborted in the 1960s, but he kept busy on television, appearing in NBC's "High Chaparral" as late as 1968.

At the peak of his success in the late 1920s and early 1930s, he 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 architect Lloyd Wright. After his career ended, he was still able to maintain a comfortable lifestyle.

He had been troubled all his life as a result of his conflicting views over his Roman Catholic religion and his homosexuality, and his life-long struggle with alcoholism is often traced to these issues. He was a friend of adventurer and author Richard Halliburton, also a celebrity in the closet, and was romantically involved with journalist Herbert Howe, who was also his publicist during the late 1920s.

He was murdered on October 30, 1968, by two brothers, Paul and Tom Ferguson (aged 22 and 17, respectively), 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 his house. The prosecution accused them of torturing him for several hours to force him to reveal where the nonexistent money was hidden. They left with a mere 20 dollars they took from his bathrobe pocket before fleeing the scene. He allegedly died as a result of asphyxiation, choking to death on his own blood after being brutally beaten. The two brothers were later caught and sentenced to long prison terms but were quickly released on probation. Both were later re-arrested for unrelated crimes, for which they served longer terms than for their murder conviction.

He is buried in Calvary Cemetery, in Los Angeles. His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is at 6350 Hollywood Boulevard.

Singing the song "Lonely"

With Greta Garbo in Mata Hari (1932)

In Ben-Hur (1925) [subtitled in Spanish]

Tribute to Ramón Novarro

No comments: