Thursday, August 8, 2013

Ramon Novarro In A Nutshell

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:


mister muleboy said...


really: dreamy

Beveridge D. Spenser said...

I liked his police inspector in TheBig Steal. His poor English and overall Mexicanity tricks you into seeing him as a buffoon, the usual dumb cop. But he might bathe smartest man in the movie. A nice comic turn.

Cynthia said...

Last evening, TMC showed the Ben Hur movie. We were blown away by how good it was. Mr. Navarro was quite the looker! Thank you for finding out so much about him and sharing it here. He is someone I would have liked to know more of especially after seeing that performance. So sad to hear of how he died.

Mythical Monkey said...

Last evening, TMC showed the Ben Hur movie. We were blown away by how good it was. Mr. Navarro was quite the looker!

I'm glad you liked it! I think it's one of the best silent movies, a good one to dive into if you're not otherwise a fan of the medium.

Uncle Tom said...

I'd never heard of Navarro until TCM ran the marathon of his movies - I ended watching about half of them.

Anonymous said...

I thought Ramon was very good in Ben Hur, in spite of the flaws in the plot/script and the fact that his "childhood friend" turned nemesis was played by an obviously much-older actor.