Day 275 of Colourisation Project – February 6
Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.
Mexican born actor Ramón Novarro took over the mantle of Hollywood’s top ‘Latin Lover’ when Rudolph Valentino died in 1926.
Born Ramón Samaniego in Durango, Mexico, on this day, 6 February 1899, Novarro was the first Latin American actor to become a superstar and one of MGM’s biggest box office attractions during the Golden Era of silent movies. He was the Ricky Martin of his day.
He appeared in over 50 movies including the now-classic films, Scaramouche (1923), the original version of Ben-Hur (1925), The Student Prince (1927), and Mata Hari (1931).Despite his successful career, Novarro’s enduring hold on fame has been overshadowed by the circumstances of his tragic death. Novarro was found bludgeoned to death in his Hollywood Hills home on Halloween Eve in 1968. What has become one of Hollywood’s most infamous scandals, is compounded by the fact that Novarro bore the weight of a heavy secret all his life, only to have it divulged to the world in explicit detail through a gruesome end to life.
His secret was his sexuality. One of Hollywood’s most popular leading men was gay. He had been romantically involved with his publicist, Herbert Howe in the late 1920s. Ignoring studio requests, Novarro refused to partake in a sham Hollywood marriage for the sake of appearances. ‘Lavender marriages’ as they were known were not uncommon in Hollywood – Rudolph Valentino and Natacha Rambova, Tallulah Bankhead and John Emery, Rock Hudson and Phyllis Gates to name a few were all tainted mauve.
Novarro struggled with his Catholicism and his homosexuality and worked hard to conceal it from his family and from the public. When on October 30th, 1968, Novarro was savagely beaten to death by two young hustlers, the Hollywood myth of the Latin lover was shattered. His brutal death and the ensuing court case exposed Novarro’s secret life by splashing it across the newspapers of the world. News reports revealed that the dashing idol had not only been gay, but was dead at the hands of two young male prostitutes he had invited into his home for sex.
According to the prosecution in the murder case, the two hustlers believed that a large sum of money was hidden in Novarro’s house and so tortured him for several hours to force him to reveal where it was hidden. Novarro died from asphyxiation as a result of choking on his own blood. They left the house with the $20 they took from his bathrobe pocket.
They were sentenced to long prison terms, but incredulously released on probation less than seven years later. Both were later re-arrested for unrelated crimes for which they served longer prison terms than for Novarro’s murder.
To this day, Ramón Novarro’s professional legacy has been eclipsed by the sensationalism of his murder at the age of 69. He deserved much better.
He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6350 Hollywood Boulevard.
“I was always the hero – with no vices – reciting practically the same lines to the leading lady. The current crop of movie heroes are less handicapped than the old ones. They are more human. The leading men of silent films were Adonises and Apollos.” ~ Ramon Navarro