A few facts about silent film star Ramon Novarro:
● He was born José Ramón Gil Samaniego in Durango, Mexico, in 1899. At age fourteen, he moved with his family to Los Angeles to escape the Mexican Revolution.
● Novarro made his acting debut with an uncredited part as a starving peasant in Cecil B. DeMille's 1916 costume epic, Joan the Woman.
● After ten more small, usually uncredited bit roles between 1917 and 1921, Novarro scored his breakout role as Rupert of Hentzau in the 1922 version of The Prisoner of Zenda.
● Novarro's biggest role was the title character in Fred Niblo's silent classic, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. Among his silent works, I can also highly recommend Scaramouche and Ernst Lubitsch's The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg.
● As was the case with many actors of the time, his career suffered with the advent of the talkies. He made his talkie debut in 1929, and of these early efforts, I'd point you to 1931's Mati Hari in which he co-starred with an especially luminous Greta Garbo. MGM dropped his contract in 1935.
● Novarro was a devout Roman Catholic; he was also gay, and was tormented by the conflict between his sexuality and his religious beliefs. Nevertheless, he refused to enter into a sham marriage to satisfy the gossip columnists or his boss, Louis B. Mayer.
● Of his later movies, I am a big fan of his work in the 1949 comic noir The Big Steal, starring Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer. There he is a Mexican police inspector who plays cat-and-mouse with a thief and his pursuers. He also appeared in an episode of The Wild Wild West, a childhood favorite of mine.
● Novarro was brutally murdered in his home in 1968 by two male prostitutes who mistakenly believed Novarro had a large cache of money hidden in his home. They eventually made off with $20, were captured, convicted and served less than ten years each for their crimes.
● And while we're here, how about a few more photos of Ramon Novarro:
with Ernst Lubitsch:
with Joan Crawford:
with Norma Shearer: