Novarro, Ramon (1899–1968)

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Novarro, Ramon (1899–1968)

Silent film actor Ramon Novarro (February 6, 1899–October 30, 1968), best-known for his portrayal of the title role in Ben Hur (1925), was born José Ramón Gil Samaniego in Durango, Mexico. Although he seriously considered becoming a priest, it was a desire to become a musician, along with the violence of the Mexican Revolution, that brought him to the United States in 1915. Needing to find employment immediately, he began working as an extra in the burgeoning Hollywood film industry. After a number of uncredited roles, his breakthrough came with The Prisoner of Zenda (1922) and was followed by the critically acclaimed Trifling Women (1922), both directed by studio director Rex Ingram, under whose direction Novarro "prove[d] his worth as a performer" (Soáres 2002, p. xi).

Novarro' next picture with Ingram, Where the Pavement Ends (1923), led to his signing a lucrative five-year contract with Metro Studios, where the goal was to make him a star. Scaramouche (1923), also directed by Ingram, was his most popular film to date. However, in 1924 he began filming the epic blockbuster Ben Hur, playing the title role of Judah Ben-Hur, which would cement his stardom. He spent the next decade enjoying success in the film industry, often being typecast in a "Latin lover" role. However, his contract with MGM Studios expired in 1935, and the studio chose not to renew it. He lived in California until his murder in 1968 by two young men attempting to rob him at his house.

See alsoCinema: From the Silent Film to 1990 .


Ellenberger, Allan R. Ramon Novarro: A Biography of the Silent Film Idol, 1899–1968, with a Filmography. London: McFarland, 1999.

Soares, André. Beyond Paradise: The Life of Ramon Novarro. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2002.

                                                                Stacy Lutsch