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Beyond Paradise: The Life of Ramon Novarro: Tragic Gay Actor Biography

Beyond Paradise Ramon Novarro: Tragic gay actor biographyBeyond Paradise: The Life of Ramon Novarro: Biography of tragic gay actor discusses his personal life and career. (Pictured: The Ben-Hur star with Greta Garbo in the 1931 blockbuster Mata Hari.)

Beyond Paradise: The Life of Ramon Novarro discusses the tragic gay actor best remembered for the silent Ben-Hur & for his brutal death

The tragic story of gay actor Ramon Novarro is told in Beyond Paradise: The Life of Ramon Novarro. A top Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer contract player from the mid-1920s to the mid-1930s, Novarro is best remembered as the star of the mammoth silent blockbuster Ben-Hur and for his brutal death on Halloween eve 1968.

Ramon Novarro movies

Among Ramon Novarro’s best-known movies are three in which he played the title role: Fred Niblo’s mammoth, problem-plagued Ben-Hur (1925), the most expensive and ultimately most successful worldwide blockbuster until Gone with the Wind; Ernst Lubitsch’s bittersweet romance The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (1927), co-starring future Best Actress Academy Award winner and Queen of MGM Norma Shearer; and W.S. Van Dyke’s The Pagan (1929), a major international box office hit in which Novarro introduced the immensely popular “Pagan Love Song.”

Check out: Ramon Novarro ‘The Pagan’ clip.

Also worth noting are five major productions featuring Ramon Novarro under the guidance of Rex Ingram, one of the silent era’s most prestigious and most influential filmmakers: The Prisoner of Zenda (1922), which provided Novarro – billed as “Ramon Samaniegos” – with his breakthrough movie role; Trifling Women (1922), a Gothic tale with several elements in common with Billy Wilder’s 1950 classic Sunset Blvd.; the blockbuster Scaramouche (1923), the epic tale of the French Revolution that solidified Novarro’s Hollywood stardom; the interethnic love story Where the Pavement Ends (1923); and the Rudolph Valentino-esque The Arab (1924).

With the exception of Trifling Women, which starred the ill-fated Barbara La Marr, the Rex Ingram-Ramon Novarro collaborations all featured Ingram’s wife and close Novarro friend, Alice Terry.

See also: Samuel-Novarro house.

Success in early talking pictures

Despite stories to the contrary, Ramon Novarro made an easy transition to sound. An aspiring opera singer, he was particularly successful in early MGM musicals such as Sidney Franklin’s Devil-May-Care (1929), Robert Z. Leonard’s In Gay Madrid (1930), and Charles Brabin’s Call of the Flesh (1930), all three featuring Dorothy Jordan as Novarro’s romantic interest.*

Among Ramon Novarro’s most popular talking pictures are George Fitzmaurice’s romantic spy melodrama Mata Hari (1931), one of Greta Garbo’s most spectacular box office hits; Sam Wood’s pre-Code – and outrageously politically incorrect – romp The Barbarian (1933), in which Novarro seduces, rapes, and makes love to up-and-coming MGM contract player Myrna Loy; and William K. Howard’s romantic musical The Cat and the Fiddle (1934), opposite another MGM newcomer, Jeanette MacDonald – which actually lost money because of its bloated production budget.

In the mid-1930s, MGM declined to renew Novarro’s contract following the costly box office flop The Night Is Young (1935). From then on, he made sporadic film and television appearances until his death in 1968. Novarro’s last movie role was that of a suave villain in George Cukor’s unusual Western Heller in Pink Tights (1960), starring Sophia Loren and Anthony Quinn.

Gay actor at odds with himself: Catholicism vs. homosexuality

Ramon Novarro’s personal life was a troubled one. While as a young man the gay actor seemed to have been at peace with both his Catholic faith and his sexual orientation, as the years went by he became increasingly torn between the two. Heavy drinking was a means of escape – and the cause of several near-fatal car accidents.

As an older man, Novarro consistently sought the company of young men for hire. Two of those, brothers Paul Ferguson and Tom Ferguson, were eventually convicted of his death. (Years later, Paul Ferguson blamed the Catholic Church’s anti-gay stance for his own anti-gay bias in his youth. See also: “Ramon Novarro alleged gay love affair with Rudolph Valentino.”)

Beyond Paradise: The Life of Ramon Novarro in paperback

Beyond Paradise: The Life of Gay Actor Ramon Novarro” update: The hardcover edition of Beyond Paradise: The Life of Ramon Novarro was published by St. Martin’s Press. The paperback edition was published by the University Press of Mississippi in Spring 2010.

* Dorothy Jordan is probably better known as the wife of King Kong co-director Merian C. Cooper, and for helping to launch the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movie partnership. Adele Astaire’s understudy in the Broadway production of Funny Face, in 1933 Jordan dropped out of RKO’s musical comedy Flying Down to Rio to marry Cooper. Rogers was her replacement.

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David (Paris) -

Dear Mr Soares,

I like very much Ramon Novarro ; his play, his beautiful face, his smile, his voice are so fascinating and when I see his movies he is so present..I like very much your book ; I wrote it in english but it would be nice to have a translation of it in French.
An other point is that its difficult to see movies with Ramon in Europe. Many movies are not available on dvd and its the same with the songs… ! I like very much “Devil may care”, its so “charming”…. and the Shepherd’s serenade is so sweet….
The end of his life, his secret and that tragic end are so sad.. Its an other reason to love him more..
Thank you for that beautiful book, its more than a book..
(excuse my bad english)

Martin Hoyos -

Also I meant to add to my previous note about your book that I felt this deep sadness for Mr Novarro when he was murdered. Honestly I can understand his complexities particularly when it comes to his sexuality and it’s very sad to see how alone he must’ve felt in his old age. In the end, happiness is in our own hands but when we have demons haunting us throughout our lives, we forget how to try to obtain it. I think perhaps that was his issue as well as his heavy drinking which didn’t help.
It was a very sad ending indeed and like you already stated in your book, most of it was his own fault including when his film career began to diminish. I agree with you how he could’ve had another successful movie with Greta Garbo. Perhaps there was truly a lack of focus from Mr Novarro.

Thanks again for writing a great book!


Martin Hoyos -

Dear Andre,

I love reading biographies but yours took the cake for me. I recently bought it and couldn’t put it down for the next week or so. Thank you for shining a light on a figure who deserves to not be forgotten for his contribution to old Hollywood. Apart from being a very handsome man, Ramon was also a great actor. I recently purchased some of his films and loved him in The Red Lily, The Pagan, and even The Flying Fleet. I thought he was miscast on The Barbarian to be honest but you pointed that out already several times in your book about him being miscast in several of his films.
I only wish there was a compilation of sorts on CD where his best recordings can be heard all in one shot. I’d have to look into that a little further. I find him a pleasant singer based on what I heard in his films.
The ending was brilliantly executed. You didn’t glamorize his murder like many other publications. You simply stated the facts as much as you were able to from your research.

Ramon Novarro was a complex man like many of us but even though he was only 5’6 boy was he mighty in front of that camera!

RIP Ramon.


Andre -

Hey, Martin,

Thank you very much for writing. Glad you enjoyed “Beyond Paradise.”
I think my favorite Novarro is the one in “The Pagan.” I also really like him in “In Gay Madrid,” but many find that romantic comedy one of his worst films…
A compilation CD would be cool. I’m assuming Time Warner owns the copyright to the songs.
If you find out something about this issue, please let me know.
Thanks again for writing.

jessy -

Ramon Novarro was a great actor .

carolyn hoyt -

Was not aware of this book until last week so just ordered it and am looking forward to reading it.

Surfing the web today and was pleased to see that Mr Navarro is remembered on many sites for his movies and great good looks. The tragic end of his life should never be allowed to overshadow this talented man’s memory.

gustavo -

Mr Andre Soares

Your boock is very interesting. I was read in Durango Mexico, and i think about your investigation was very hard


Gustavo Melero
P.S. I have many fhotografies of Ramon, Dolores, Andrea and Julio Bracho

Andre -

Thanks, Gustavo!

Ken Speth -

Andre, I just want to thank you for writing the wonderful book “Beyond Paradise - The Life of Ramon Novarro”. I recently ‘discovered’ Mr. Novarro, and really knew nothing about his life until I read the book. He was truly a great actor & singer, and I wish I could have been born earlier in the 20th century so as to possibly have met him in person (I was 5 years old when he died that horrible death).
I also find myself wondering how different his life might have been, had he not started drinking and let alcohol take over, especially during his last years. I can only pray that he is now at peace, with no more demons to haunt him.
Thank you again for writing such a sensitive and informing book.
Ken Speth


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