Samuel-Novarro House for Sale: MGM Star Ramon Novarro Architectural Landmark First Owner

Ramon Novarro swimming in his Los Feliz Hills house

Lloyd Wright's Samuel-Novarro House is back in the market (November 2011), as per Curbed Los Angeles. Located in the Los Feliz Hills, the eastern section of the Hollywood Hills, the house was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright's son Lloyd Wright in the late 1920s. In order to pay for Wright's services, personal secretary Louis Samuel embezzled money from the financial holdings of his boss, Hollywood star Ramon Novarro (photo), to gamble in the stock market. Novarro had had such confidence in Samuel that he had given his former dance classmate/intimate companion power of attorney over his financial affairs. The market crash in late 1929 and the extended bear market that followed wiped out Samuel's investments.

As I wrote in Beyond Paradise: The Life of Ramon Novarro, upon discovering he didn't have enough funds to buy a new car, “the star who had made $248,000 in 1928, $170,000 in 1929, and $125,000 for his latest picture [respectively, approx. $3.3 million, $2.2 million, and $1.6 million in 2011 dollars] immediately called his bank. He was informed he had a total of $160 in his account.”

Though devastated by Samuel's betrayal, Novarro opted not to press charges. The star of Scaramouche, Ben-Hur, and The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg was then at the height of his fame. Musicals were in vogue at the dawn of the talkie era, and Novarro had a pleasant singing voice; the last thing he needed was a potentially career-damaging scandal.

Instead, Novarro took over the Los Feliz Hills home. After some extensively remodeling – including some interior-decorating assistance from MGM's Cedric Gibbons – he moved into the modernistic premises in 1932. That same year, Novarro received $30,000 from the Internal Revenue Service for “overassessment of income tax and interest” as a result of his embezzlement losses, but still refused to divulge Samuel's name to the press.

Prior to moving to the Hollywood Hills, Novarro had mostly been living with his large – and quite traditional – Mexican family in the West Adams District, a couple of miles west of downtown Los Angeles. As Novarro explained at the time, “I had to get away from home, to live alone in a house of my own. I had to cater to whims and notions of my own that would be impossible for others to live with. For instance, I am frequently seized with a sudden desire to play my piano when I am somewhere en route between my bath and my bedroom, clad as God made me. Now, living alone, I can gratify this desire.”

Ramon Novarro swimming photo: Matias Bombal Collection.

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