Ramon Novarro Brutal Death Pt.2: Convicted Killer Blamed Catholicism

Ramon Navarro autographed photoMovie Star Ramon Novarro Brutally Killed Halloween Eve 1968

Paul Ferguson, in a letter he wrote me at the time I was working on Beyond Paradise, blamed his Catholic background for Ramon Novarro's death:

“When [Novarro] kissed me, I reacted like a Catholic, what they call homosexual panic. Some old guy in the desert says, 'Kill homosexuals.' It's inbred. . . . I was too drunk to be civilized. Whatever my most primitive moral standings were, I reacted. It had nothing to do with Novarro, nothing to do with his being homosexual. It all had to do with how I saw myself. And the fact that my brother was there. And that he could see me in that homosexual act. It all had to do with my Catholic upbringing, with my five thousand years of Moses. And that's the only reason why this whole thing happened. Because that's what society teaches you. . . . I think after I hit Mr. Novarro . . . I turned around and sat down on the sofa. I got up and went to find [Novarro] in the bedroom. 'This guy's dead.' . . . We didn't go there to rob him. We had never heard of those $5,000. We didn't steal anything … There was no robbery, no torture, no murder. The killing was manslaughter.”

As for me, I've often wondered: Who would Ramon Novarro have blamed for what happened?

Of course, though considerably more complex than a clear-cut case of intentional gay bashing as some have claimed, Novarro's death was no less tragic. Only a deranged bigot – or a member of the rabid p.c. crowd – would consider it a fair comeuppance for an old pervert who had lured a minor to his house. Tom Ferguson, after all, was no child; as for Novarro's “perversions” … Well, let's just say that among those was the fact the he was a sexually active gay man prior to the American Psychiatric Association's decision to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1973.

Luckily, Ramon Novarro is no longer remembered merely as the gay guy who died with Rudolph Valentino's (non-existent) dildo shoved down his throat. (If you think tabloid journalism is something new, you clearly don't know much about the history of the media and you've never read Hollywood Babylon or other such trash.) Anyhow, today Novarro's work can often be seen on Turner Classic Movies and several of his movies have become available via the Warner Archive Collection.

Personally, I find Novarro at his best in Ernst Lubitsch's The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (1927), light-heartedly and then heartbreakingly in love with Norma Shearer in one of the best silent movies ever made; W. S. Van Dyke's The Pagan (1929), perhaps Novarro's most relaxed, easy-going performance, introducing the hit “Pagan Love Song”; Robert Z. Leonard's In Gay Madrid (1930), a poorly received musical comedy that I find quite charming thanks to Novarro's comedy timing and light singing; and Sam Wood's The Barbarian (1933), an unbridled mix of sex, romance, comedy, and drama, thankfully made before the full enforcement of the moralistic Production Code; in the film, Novarro is pitted against/with/on top of Myrna Loy.

Ultimately directed by Fred Niblo (after Charles Brabin was fired from the runaway production), the 1925 version of Ben-Hur was Novarro's biggest hit. In fact, the pseudo-historical epic was to become the biggest worldwide hit of the silent era and the biggest blockbuster until Gone with the Wind. Yet, Ben-Hur was not Novarro's greatest showcase, for his performance as the Jewish hero-turned-Christian convert is hardly what one would call subtle.

Ramon Novarro naked movie star Ben-HurNow, I should add that despite Novarro's silent movie mannerisms and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' (oftentimes bizarre) Oscar picks, Novarro is eons better than Charlton Heston in William Wyler's bloated, ponderous 1959 remake – winner of 11 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor. Novarro looks much better than Heston, too, as can be attested by the photo on the right.

As for Mata Hari, George Fitzmaurice's highly successful melodrama was chiefly a Greta Garbo vehicle; Novarro's role as the lovestruck Russian aviator was thoroughly subordinated to that of Garbo's sultry spy. Although the movie did boost his box office appeal, the effect waned rapidly. Novarro's MGM career and de facto stardom would be over three years later.

["Ramon Novarro Death Pt.2: Convicted Killer Blamed Anti-Gay Catholic Doctrine” continues on the next page. See link below.]

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4 Comments to Ramon Novarro Brutal Death Pt.2: Convicted Killer Blamed Catholicism

  1. zigzzagz

    I don't even remotely agree with poster Artfrankmiami that Heston's method of acting is passe. Actually, apart from the style of clothes in his 60's-70's output the acting and movies hold up quite well. The man was a stud, or what today they call a goat. Though why they call it that I couldn't say. Lol
    Funny how everything goes in cycles though. The first leading men were small lightly built, almost pretty of face, then they were pushed out in favor of the more masculine leading men like Clark Gable and Gary Cooper. They got bigger and more physical like Heston and Kirk Douglas and sometimes rougher and tougher looking and sometimes even a bit leathery like John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Jack Pallance or James Quinn who were not exactly conventionally handsome. Then it rolled back over as the pretty boy came back around the time of Matt Dillon, Brad Pitt, and Rob Lowe's emergence. It isn't just styles of clothes that, as they say, always return to fashion.

  2. artfrankmiami

    First, as I infer from your story, there was nothing shoved down Navarro's throat to kill him. Having read that in Hollywood Babylon, the horror of the image of that stuck in my mind and has stayed with me all these years later. I can finally file that away.

    Second, I haven't seen all of the silent Ben Hur to compare to the '59 version but regardless, they are products of their times. I don't think Heston's is ponderous and even he said that after the Chariot race, the movie loses steam (I saw it at an old Miami movie palace in the early 90s and had trouble staying awake after the race).

    in response to watcherofolde, I don't think it's bias as much as Heston's acting style is now passé (not sure if that's the word I'm looking for but it will do for now). I love pretty much anything Heston did and he even criticized himself for the “gritting teeth” acting but watching Ben Hur, I noticed he always had this kind of “leaning” he did, especially in movies where he was trying to look amorously interested, with his arm extended on the back of the seat toward the subject of interest. (There was even a slight version of this in a Johnny Carson interview). We grew up with him so we can still see the greatness of what he was, but I've noticed that he's fallen out of favour with the younger generation with exceptions to Planet of the Apes. Oddly, there isn't a lot of good he-man actors like him any more.

  3. watcherofolde

    Your bias is showing. I bet you don't like anything Heston did.

  4. joanette dorazio

    I just finished watching Ramon Novarro in MataHari.
    He was easy to watch, and so easy to like, on many levels. He radiates integrity, sensitivity, and inner strength!
    If he were reborn 50 years later, he would have been easily accepted in the movie and media world! Sadly, the evil misdoing by the Ferguson brother shows how sadly mis information can cruelly cutout the life of another.