Born: Durango, Mexico, 6 February 1899. Career: Emigrated to the United States, and worked as singing waiter and dancer with the Marion Morgan Dancers on Orpheum Circuit; 1916—extra in film Joan the Woman and many others; 1922—helped by Rex Ingram, and given part in The Prisoner of Zenda; 1930—directed Spanish and French versions of his film Call of the Flesh, and the original film Contra la corrienta, 1936; 1935—on stage in the operetta A Royal Exchange in London; continued to act in small parts after World War II. Died: Killed by intruders, 31 October 1968.
Films as Actor:
The Hostage; The Little American; Joan the Woman; The Jaguar's Claws
The Goat (Crisp)
Small Town Idol (Kenton); The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Ingram)
Mr. Barnes of New York (Schertzinger) (as Antonio); Trifling Women (Ingram) (as Henri/Ivan de Maupin); The Prisoner of Zenda (Ingram) (as Rupert of Hentzau)
Where the Pavement Ends (Ingram) (as Motauri); Scaramouche (Ingram) (as André-Louis Moreau)
The Arab (Ingram) (as Jamil Abdullah Azam); Thy Name Is Woman (Niblo) (as Juan Ricardo); The Red Lily (Niblo) (as Jean Leonnec)
The Midshipman (Cabanne) (as James Randall); A Lover's Oath (Earle) (as Ben Ali)
Ben-Hur (Niblo) (title role)
Lovers? (Stahl) (as José/Ernesto); The Road to Romance (Robertson) (as José Armando); The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (Lubitsch) (as Prince Karl Heinrich)
Across to Singapore (Nigh) (as Joel Shore); A Certain Young Man (Henley) (as Lord Gerald Brinsley); Forbidden Hours (Beaumont) (as Michael IV)
The Flying Fleet (Hill) (as Tommy); The Pagan (Van Dyke) (as Henry Shoesmith Jr.)
Devil-May-Care (Franklin) (as Armand); In Gay Madrid (Leonard) (as Ricardo); Call of the Flesh (Brabin) (as Juan)
Daybreak (Feyder); Son of India (Feyder); Mata Hari (Fitzmaurice)
Huddle (Wood); Son-Daughter (Brown)
The Barbarian (Wood)
The Cat and the Fiddle (Howard); Laughing Boy (Van Dyke); The Night Is Young (Murphy)
The Sheik Steps Out (Pichel)
A Desperate Adventure (Auer)
La Comédie du bonheur (L'Herbier)
La Virgen que forjó una Patria (Bracha)
We Were Strangers (Huston); The Big Steal (Siegel)
The Outriders (Rowland); Crisis (Brooks)
Heller in Pink Tights (Cukor)
Films as Director:
La sevillana and Le Chanteur de Seville (Spanish and French versions of Call of the Flesh)
Contra la corrienta (+ sc)
By NOVARRO: articles—
"Alice Terry," in Photoplay (New York), July 1924.
"My Eleven Years of Stardom," in Pictures and Picturegoer, 1 July 1933.
On NOVARRO: books—
Ellenberger, Allan R., Ramon Novarro: A Biography of the Silent Film Idol, 1899–1968, with a Filmography, Jefferson, 1999.
On NOVARRO: articles—
Terry, Alice, "Ramon Novarro," in Photoplay (New York), July 1924.
Biery, Ruth, "Why Ramon Novarro Decided to Remain in the Movies," in Photoplay (New York), October 1928.
Bodeen, DeWitt, "Ramon Novarro," in Films in Review (New York), November 1967.
Obituary in New York Times, 15 November 1968.
Bodeen, DeWitt, "Ramon Novarro," in Silent Picture (London), Summer 1969.
Ankarich, M.G., "Ramon Navarro," in Hollywood: Then and Now, no. 3, 1991.
Varga, J., "Ramon Novarro—Part II," in Classic Images (Muscatine), August 1992.
Golden, E., "From the Mailbag: The Tragedy of Ramon Novarro," in Classic Images (Muscatine), May 1992.
Brock, P., "Memories of Ramon Novarro," in Classic Images (Muscatine), May 1992.
Bateson, D., "1230 Ramon Novarro," in Film Dope (Nottingham), July 1992.
Gill, Brendan, "Ramon Novarro: A Screen Idol's Lloyd Wright House," in Architectural Digest (Los Angeles), April 1994.
* * *
Ramon Novarro came to fame as a rival to Rudolph Valentino: he was the biggest name in a group of Latin Lovers that also included Antonio Moreno and Ricardo Cortez. He was less pretentious than Valentino and there was a natural style to his acting which to some extent removed Novarro from the "just a pretty face" class of performer. Despite the ease and charm of his performances, however, one is very much aware that he was a decidedly feminine actor, almost too beautiful to be taken seriously. He was a former male model, and his homosexuality was a fairly open secret in Hollywood. Presumably, his sexual preference did have some influence on his acting style, did persuade him to use a little too much facial makeup, and (most unfortunate of all) did encourage him to indulge in a considerable amount of seminude posing on-screen at a time when he was developing what looked suspiciously like a paunch.
Rex Ingram, who discovered and directed Rudolph Valentino in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, also discovered Novarro and worked hard to make him a screen idol the equal of Valentino. From the villainous Rupert of Hentzau in The Prisoner of Zenda, Ingram transformed Novarro into the tragic lover of Trifling Women, and co-starred him in a series of romantic pictures with his wife, Alice Terry. With the title role in Ben-Hur, Novarro reached the pinnacle of his career, although he gave a better performance the following year in Ernst Lubitsch's The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg. Age began to take its toll, and despite Novarro's trying desperately to look youthful in his early talkies, it was pathetic to see the aging matinee idol playing a parody of himself in such films as The Sheik Steps Out.