Ramon Novarro (February 6, 1899 – October 30, 1968)
You’ve probably never heard of Ramon Novarro, but this guy was a big deal back in the 1920s. Born Jose Ramon Gil Samaniego in Durango City, Mexico, he began his career in 1917 in silent films who was catapulted to fame after he starred in the original 1925 version of Ben Hur and he was one of those few silent-era-megastars to actually maintain a successful career after Hollywood introduced dialogue audio. Novarro was promoted by MGM as a “Latin lover” and became a sex symbol after the death of Rudolph Valentino. At the peak of his fame, Novarro was earning $100,000 a film (equivalent to $1.2 million today).
His family moved to Los Angeles in 1913 to escape the Mexican Revolution. Novarro was troubled all his life by his conflicted feelings toward his Roman Catholic religion and his closeted homosexuality…and his alcoholicism. Fast forward a few decades after Novarro’s career had slowed down and we arrive at October 30, 1968, when he paid, Paul and Tom Ferguson (hired prostitutes) to come over his house for little mid-century version of “Netflix and chill.” All went smoothly until the Ferguson brothers got wind of $5,000 that was supposedly hidden somewhere in the house and proceeded to torture and beat Novarro until he gave up the stash. The only snag in their plan was that there was no $5,000, and they beat the poor guy to death, finishing him off by suffocating him with a lead dildo (which was gifted to him years earlier by Rudolph Valentino). The accused ended up leaving the home with only $20 and were later convicted of the crime only to be acquitted some time in the 1970s. Later on, after being locked up for another heinous crime, they finally admitted their bloody role in Novarro’s murder, but due to double-jeopardy, never had to face the full consequences. Novarro does have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Novarro was 69 at the time of his death.