Biography

The son of a prosperous Mexican dentist, Ramon Novarro moved to California with his family to escape the revolution in his country. The family's wealth having been left behind, young Novarro took on a number of odd jobs, ranging from piano teacher to cabaret singer. He toured vaudeville in a musical act, picking up extra and bit work in Hollywood. When cast as the lovable scoundrel Rupert of Hentzau in director Rex Ingram's The Prisoner of Zenda (1922), Novarro scored an immediate hit, and was promptly built up by the Hollywood press agent brigade as "the New Valentino." His most famous silent role was as the title character in MGM's mammoth Ben Hur. At his peak, Novarro earned 5,000 dollars a week, and was receiving tons of fan mail from devoted female fans. His pleasant speaking voice and above-average singing prowess enabled Novarro to weather the talkie revolution, but his films -- with notable exceptions like Mata Hari (1932), in which he was teamed with Greta Garbo -- became increasingly routine. After leaving MGM in 1935, Novarro appeared in a flop Broadway play, and attempted several movie comebacks. Though wealthy enough not to need work, Novarro was restless when not before the cameras; he continued accepting character roles in the U.S., Mexico, and Europe, and produced and directed (but did not star) in the 1936 Mexican production Contra la Coriente. He remained active into the 1960s with good guest-star appearances on television. Though touted throughout his career as a ladies' man, Novarro was in fact a homosexual. His gentlemanly discretion in this and all matters earned him the respect of his fellow workers; it is doubly tragic, then, that the 69-year-old Ramon Novarro was brutally murdered in his home in the Hollywood Hills. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi