Ramon Novarro
Novarro, c. 1934
Ramón Gil Samaniego

(1899-02-06)February 6, 1899
DiedOctober 30, 1968(1968-10-30) (aged 69)
Cause of deathAsphyxiation (murdered)
Resting placeCalvary Cemetery
Other names
  • Ramon Samaniego
  • Ramón Samaniego
  • Ramon Samaniegos
Years active1917–1968
RelativesDolores del Río (cousin)
Andrea Palma (cousin)
Julio Bracho (cousin)
AwardsHollywood Walk of Fame (Motion Picture)

Ramón Gil Samaniego[1] (February 6, 1899 – October 30, 1968), known professionally as Ramon Novarro, was a Mexican actor. He began his career in American silent films in 1917 and eventually became a leading man and one of the top box-office attractions of the 1920s and early 1930s. Novarro was promoted by MGM as a "Latin lover" and became known as a sex symbol after the death of Rudolph Valentino. He is recognized as the first Latin American actor to succeed in Hollywood.

Early life

Ramon Novarro by George Hurrell

Novarro was born Ramón Gil Samaniego on February 6, 1899, in Durango City, Durango, north-west Mexico, to Dr. Mariano N. Samaniego, and his wife, Leonor Pérez Gavilán.[1] The family moved to Los Angeles to escape the Mexican Revolution in 1913.[2] Novarro's direct ancestors came from the Castilian town of Burgos, whence two brothers emigrated to the New World in the seventeenth century.[1]

Allan Ellenberger, Novarro's biographer, writes:

The Samaniegos were an influential and well-respected family in Mexico. Many Samaniegos had prominent positions in the affairs of state and were held in high esteem by the president. Ramon's grandfather, Mariano Samaniego, was a well-known physician in Juarez. Known as a charitable and outgoing man, he was once an interim governor for the State of Chihuahua and was the first city councilman of El Paso, Texas.... Ramon's father, Dr. Mariano N. Samaniego, was born in Juarez and attended high school in Las Cruces, New Mexico. After receiving his degree in dentistry at the University of Pennsylvania, he moved to Durango, Mexico, and began a flourishing dental practice. In 1891 he married Leonor Pérez-Gavilán, the beautiful daughter of a prosperous landowner. The Pérez-Gaviláns were a mixture of Spanish and Aztec blood, and according to local legend, they were descended from Guerrero, a prince of Montezuma.[3]

The family estate was called the "Garden of Eden". Thirteen children were born there: Emilio; Guadalupe; Rosa; Ramón; Leonor; Mariano; Luz; Antonio; José; a stillborn child; Carmen; Ángel and Eduardo.[3] At the time of the Mexican Revolution, the family moved from Durango to Mexico City and then returned to Durango. Three of Ramón's sisters, Guadalupe, Rosa, and Leonor, became nuns.[4] He was a second cousin of the Mexican actresses Dolores del Río[5] and Andrea Palma.


Silent films

Novarro with Greta Garbo in Mata Hari (1931)

Novarro began his film career in 1917, playing bit parts, supplementing his income by working as a singing waiter, a taxi dancer and as a dancer in revues choreographed by Ernest Belcher (father of Marge Champion). His friends, actor and director Rex Ingram and his wife, actress Alice Terry, began to promote him as a rival to Rudolph Valentino, and Ingram suggested he change his name to "Novarro".[6] From 1923, he began to play more prominent roles. His role in Scaramouche (1923) brought him his first major success.

Novarro achieved his greatest success in 1925, in Ben-Hur. His revealing costumes caused a sensation. He was elevated into the Hollywood elite.[7] As did many stars, Novarro engaged Sylvia of Hollywood as a physical therapist (although in her tell-all book, Sylvia erroneously claimed that Novarro slept in a coffin).[8] With Valentino's death in 1926, Novarro became the screen's leading Latin actor, though ranked lower than his MGM contemporary John Gilbert as a leading man. Novarro was popular as a swashbuckler in action roles, and considered one of the great romantic lead actors of his day. He appeared with Norma Shearer in The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (1927) and with Joan Crawford in Across to Singapore (1928).

Talking films

Novarro with Joan Crawford in Across to Singapore (1928)

He made his first talking film, starring as a singing French soldier, in Devil-May-Care (1929). He starred with Dorothy Janis in The Pagan (1929), with Greta Garbo in Mata Hari (1931), with Myrna Loy in The Barbarian (1933) and opposite Lupe Vélez in Laughing Boy (1934).

When his contract with MGM Studios expired in 1935 and the studio did not renew it, Novarro continued to act sporadically, appearing in films for Republic Pictures, a Mexican religious drama, and a French comedy. In the 1940s, he had several small roles in American films, including We Were Strangers (1949), directed by John Huston and starring Jennifer Jones and John Garfield. In 1958, he was considered for a role in the television series The Green Peacock, with Howard Duff and Ida Lupino, after their CBS Television sitcom Mr. Adams and Eve (1957–58). The project, however, never materialized. A Broadway tryout was aborted in the 1960s. Novarro kept busy on television, appearing in NBC's The High Chaparral as late as 1968.

At the peak of his success in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Novarro was earning more than US$100,000 per film. He invested some of his income in real estate, and his Hollywood Hills residence is one of the more renowned designs (1927) by Lloyd Wright, the son of Frank Lloyd Wright.[9] When his career ended, he was still able to maintain a comfortable lifestyle.

Personal life

Novarro with Lupe Vélez in Laughing Boy (1934)

Novarro was troubled all his life by his conflicted feelings toward his Roman Catholic religion and his homosexuality.[10] His life-long struggle with alcoholism is often traced to these problems.[11][12][13] In the early 1920s Novarro had a romantic relationship with composer Harry Partch, who was working as an usher at the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the time, but Novarro broke off the affair as he achieved greater success as an actor.[14][15] He was romantically involved with Hollywood journalist Herbert Howe, who was also his publicist in the late 1920s,[16] and with a wealthy man from San Francisco, Noël Sullivan.[17]

Along with Dolores del Río, Lupe Vélez and James Cagney, Novarro was accused of promoting communism in California after they attended a special screening of the film ¡Que viva México! by Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein.[citation needed]


Novarro was murdered on October 30, 1968, by brothers Paul and Tom Ferguson, aged 22 and 17, who called him and offered their sexual services. In the past, he had hired prostitutes from an agency to come to his Laurel Canyon home for sex, and the Fergusons obtained Novarro's telephone number from a previous guest.[18][19][20]

According to the prosecution in the murder case, the two young men believed that a large sum of money was hidden in Novarro's house. The prosecution accused the brothers of torturing Novarro for several hours to force him to reveal where the (non-existent) money was hidden. They left the house with $20 they took from his bathrobe pocket. Novarro died as a result of asphyxiation, having choked to death on his own blood after being beaten.[21] The two perpetrators were caught and sentenced to long prison terms, but released on parole in the mid-1970s. Both were later re-arrested for unrelated crimes for which they served longer prison terms than for the murder of Novarro.[22] In a 1998 interview, Paul Ferguson finally assumed the blame for Novarro's death.[23] Tom Ferguson died of suicide on March 6, 2005. Paul Ferguson died in 2018, while serving out a 60-year sentence for rape in Missouri.[24][25]

Novarro is buried in Calvary Cemetery, East Los Angeles, California.[26]

Novarro's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is at 6350 Hollywood Boulevard.

In popular culture

Image of Ramón Novarro.


Novarro in The Prisoner of Zenda (1922)
Novarro with Anna May Wong in Across to Singapore (1928).
Novarro in MGM publicity photo (1933)
Novarro portraying catholic saint Juan Diego in The Saint Who Forged a Country (1942)
Year Title Role Notes
1916 Joan the Woman Starving Peasant Uncredited
1917 The Jaguar's Claws Bandit Uncredited
Lost film
The Little American Wounded Soldier Uncredited
The Hostage Uncredited
Lost film
The Woman God Forgot Aztec man Uncredited
1918 The Goat Uncredited
Lost film
1921 A Small Town Idol Dancer as Ramón Samaniego
The Concert Dancing shepherd Uncredited
Lost film
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse Guest at Ball (extra) Uncredited
Man-Woman-Marriage Dancer Uncredited
Lost film
1922 Mr. Barnes of New York Antonio as Ramon Samaniego
The Prisoner of Zenda Rupert of Hentzau as Ramon Samaniegos
Trifling Women Henri / Ivan de Maupin Lost film
1923 Where the Pavement Ends Motauri Lost film
Scaramouche André-Louis Moreau, Quintin's Godson
1924 Thy Name Is Woman Juan Ricardo
The Arab Jamil Abdullah Azam
The Red Lily Jean Leonnec
1925 A Lover's Oath Ben Ali Lost film, but A.M.P.A.S. has 25 feet of this film
The Midshipman Dick Randall
Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ Judah Ben-Hur
1927 Lovers José Lost film
The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg Crown Prince Karl Heinrich
The Road to Romance José Armando
1928 Across to Singapore Joel Shore
A Certain Young Man Lord Gerald Brinsley Lost film
Forbidden Hours His Majesty, Michael IV
1929 The Flying Fleet Ens. / Ltjg Tommy Winslow
The Pagan Henry Shoesmith, Jr.
Devil-May-Care Armand de Treville
1930 In Gay Madrid Ricardo
The March of Time Himself Unfinished film
Call of the Flesh Juan de Dios
Sevilla de mis amores Juan de Dios Carbajal Spanish version of Call of the Flesh
1931 Le chanteur de Séville Juan French version of Call of the Flesh
Daybreak Willi Kasder
Son of India Karim
Mata Hari Lt. Alexis Rosanoff
Wir schalten um auf Hollywood Himself
1932 Huddle Antonio "Tony" Amatto
The Son-Daughter Tom Lee / Prince Chun
1933 The Barbarian Jamil El Shehab
1934 The Cat and the Fiddle Victor Florescu
Laughing Boy Laughing Boy
1935 The Night Is Young Archduke Paul "Gustl" Gustave
1936 Against the Current
Director, writer
1937 The Sheik Steps Out Ahmed Ben Nesib
1938 A Desperate Adventure André Friezan Alternative title: It Happened in Paris
1940 La Comédie du bonheur Félix
Ecco la felicità Felice Ciatti Italian version of La comédie du bonheur
1942 The Saint Who Forged a Country Juan Diego
1949 We Were Strangers Chief
The Big Steal Inspector General Ortega
1950 The Outriders Don Antonio Chaves
Crisis Colonel Adragon
1960 Heller in Pink Tights De Leon
Year Title Role Notes
1958 Disney's Wonderful World Don Esteban Miranda 2 episodes
1962 Thriller Maestro Giuliano Episode: "La Strega"
1964 Dr. Kildare Gaspero Paolini 3 episodes
1964–1965 Combat! Charles Gireaux
Count De Roy
2 episodes "Silver Service" & "Finest Hour"
1965 Bonanza Jose Ortega Episode: "The Brass Box"
1967 The Wild Wild West Don Tomas Episode: "The Night of the Assassin"
1968 The High Chaparral Padre Guillermo Episode: "A Joyful Noise", (final appearance)


  1. ^ a b c Soares, André (April 19, 2010). Beyond Paradise: The Life of Ramon Novarro. University Press of Mississippi. p. 5. ISBN 978-1-6047-3458-4. Retrieved April 7, 2024.
  2. ^ Meier, Matt S.; Gutiérrez, Margo (2003). The Mexican American Experience: An Encyclopedia. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 284. ISBN 0-313-31643-0.
  3. ^ a b Ellenberger, Allan R. (2009). Ramon Novarro: A Biography of the Silent Film Idol, 1899–1968; with a Filmography. McFarland. pp. 5–6. ISBN 978-0-7864-4676-6.
  4. ^ Ellenberger 2009, pp. 8–9
  5. ^ Monush, Barry (2003). Screen World Presents the Encyclopedia of Hollywood Film Actors: From the Silent Era to 1965. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 188. ISBN 978-1-5578-3551-2.
  6. ^ "Novarro" is a misspelling for the Spanish surname "Navarro".
  7. ^ Rodriguez, Roberto (1996). "The early years – the portrayal of minorities in Hollywood film industry". Black Issues In Higher Education. Archived from the original on May 16, 2007. Retrieved February 26, 2014.
  8. ^ Hollywood Undressed: Observations of Sylvia As Noted by Her Secretary. Brentano's. 1931. Retrieved February 26, 2014.
  9. ^ "Lloyd Wright (1890–1978)". ArchitechGallery.com. Archived from the original on July 7, 2011. Retrieved June 26, 2011.
  10. ^ Ellenberger 2009, p. 148
  11. ^ Soares 2010, p. 245
  12. ^ Mann, William (2002). Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood. New York City: Penguin Books. p. 97. ISBN 978-0-14-200114-1.
  13. ^ "Ramon Navarro [sic]". Olvera-street.com. Archived from the original on March 28, 2010. Retrieved June 26, 2011.
  14. ^ Gilmore, Bob (1998). Harry Partch: A Biography. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-06521-3.
  15. ^ Holliday, Peter J. "Novarro, Ramon (1899–1968)". glbtq.com. Archived from the original on November 7, 2007. Retrieved November 1, 2007.
  16. ^ Slide, Anthony (February 26, 2010). Inside the Hollywood Fan Magazine. University Press of Mississippi. p. 79. ISBN 978-1-60473-413-3. Archived from the original on January 9, 2017. Retrieved February 26, 2014.
  17. ^ "Finding Aid to the Noël Sullivan papers, [ca. 1911–1956], [ca. 1911–1956]" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on December 26, 2017. Retrieved December 25, 2017.
  18. ^ Rechy, John (August 24, 2003). "A star is killed: Hollywood's deadly secret". LA Times. Archived from the original on July 12, 2018. Retrieved March 5, 2019.
  19. ^ "Ramon Novarro Slain on Coast. Starred in Silent Film 'Ben-Hur'. Ramon Novarro, Silent Era Star, Slain". The New York Times. November 1, 1968. Archived from the original on February 18, 2015. Retrieved September 11, 2014. Ramon Novarro, the Mexican-born star of scores of Hollywood movies made in the nineteen-twenties and thirties, was found bludgeoned to death in his $125,000 Hollywood Hills home early this morning.
  20. ^ Maloney, J. J. O'Connor, Pat (ed.). "The Murder of Ramon Novarro". Crime Magazine. Archived from the original on January 6, 2009. Retrieved March 5, 2019.
  21. ^ Ellenberger 2009, pp. 182, 187
  22. ^ Ellenberger 2009, p. 196
  23. ^ Ivey, Randall (July 21, 2010). "'Beyond Paradise: The Life of Ramon Navarro' by Andre Soares". Lambda Literary. Archived from the original on February 28, 2019. Retrieved March 5, 2019.
  24. ^ "'Ramon Navarro Hustler's Murder in Hollywood". May 23, 2012. Archived from the original on April 22, 2020. Retrieved March 30, 2020.
  25. ^ "Was Ramon Novarro's Murderer Posting on IMDb from Prison?". High Shrink. August 9, 2020. Retrieved April 25, 2021.
  26. ^ Wilson, Scott (August 14, 2016). Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons (3rd ed.). McFarland. p. 374. ISBN 978-1-4766-2599-7.
  27. ^ "Archives of the Greek National Theatre". NT Archiver (in Greek). Εθνικό Θέατρο. 2008–2011. Archived from the original on March 6, 2019. Retrieved March 5, 2019.