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Beyond Paradise: The Life of Ramon Novarro

Beyond Paradise: The Life of Ramon Novarro

4.2 12
by André Soares, Anthony Slide (Foreword by)

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The first Latin American to become a superstar, Ramon Novarro was for years one of Hollywood's top actors. Born Ramón Samaniego to a prominent Mexican family, he arrived in America in 1916. By the mid-1920s, he had become one of MGM's biggest box office attractions, starring in now-classic films, including The Student Prince, Mata Hari, and the original


The first Latin American to become a superstar, Ramon Novarro was for years one of Hollywood's top actors. Born Ramón Samaniego to a prominent Mexican family, he arrived in America in 1916. By the mid-1920s, he had become one of MGM's biggest box office attractions, starring in now-classic films, including The Student Prince, Mata Hari, and the original version of Ben-Hur. He shared the screen with the era's top leading ladies, such as Greta Garbo, Myrna Loy, Joan Crawford, and Norma Shearer, and became Rudolph Valentino's main rival in the "Latin Lover" category. Yet, despite his considerable professional accomplishments, Novarro's enduring hold on fame stems from his tragic death-his bloodied corpse was found in his house on Halloween 1968 in what has become one of Hollywood's most infamous scandals.

A lifelong bachelor, Novarro carefully cultivated his image as a man deeply devoted to his family and to Catholicism. His murder shattered that persona. News reports revealed that the dashing screen hero had not only been gay, but was dead at the hands of two young male hustlers. Since then, details of his murder have achieved near mythic proportions, obscuring Novarro's professional legacy. Beyond Paradise presents a full picture of the man who made motion picture history.

Editorial Reviews

Concisely written and carefully researched.
San Francisco Chronicle
The rise and fall of Ramon . . . Novarro . . . is superbly chronicled in this smooth, solid, exhaustively researched biography.
Washington Times
Intelligent, thoughtful, knowledgeable.
The Guide
One of the best books on Hollywood in years.
Tucson Citizen
A remarkable new book. . . as close to the truth as we are able to get.
Publishers Weekly
Mexican heartthrob Ramon Novarro (1899-1968) was one of early Hollywood's leading romancers. He got his big break in 1923's Scaramouche, went on to play the title role in 1925's Ben-Hur and later appeared with Greta Garbo in 1932's Mata Hari. However, despite these sizeable roles, today Novarro is chiefly remembered for how he died: he was beaten to death by two thieves. Now screenwriter and translator Andre Soares offers the thoroughly researched biography Beyond Paradise: The Life of Roman Novarro. Soares skillfully covers the actor's Mexican upbringing, his ascent to fame, his relationship with publicist and entertainment journalist Herbert Howe and the difficulties he encountered as a gay man. This is a straightforward and insightful account of one star's difficult life. 16-page photo insert not seen by PW.
Library Journal
One of the most popular leading men of the 1920s, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer player Novarro had a dark secret: he was gay. The Mexican-born star of such lushly romantic films as The Student Prince and The Pagan, as well as the worldwide sensation Ben-Hur, he tried to walk the fine line between concealing his homosexuality and refusing to play the Hollywood game (including a sham marriage) for the sake of appearances. A sensitive actor, he soon rose above the "Latin lover" stereotype and entered talking pictures with his stardom intact, especially in demand for roles featuring his pleasant singing voice. (He had hoped to be an opera singer.) Although his accent was not intrusive, his fame declined after a few years of poor roles, and he was forced to look to lesser studios and foreign countries to extend his career. In the early 1950s, Novarro returned to Hollywood for a few character roles and then was largely relegated to a life of wealthy retirement until his sordid 1968 murder by two hustlers. With this carefully researched, well-balanced, and intelligently written book, screenwriter Soares has probably produced the definitive Novarro biography. Recommended for all libraries.-Roy Liebman, California State Univ., Los Angeles Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Level-headed, impressively researched biography of the first Latin performer to succeed in Hollywood, from screenwriter and translator Soares. Soares’s well-framed and pleasantly flowing portrait of the star of Mata Hari and the original Ben-Hur consists primarily of critical narratives of Novarro’s cinematic work, which are observant without being tendentious or stuffy. As he details the silent-film star's professional life, Soares embroiders around it his ability to "embrace or reject the conservative cultural values he was raised with" (by his well-to-do Mexican family) and to segregate "areas of his life—professional, family, sexual—in the same manner as he compartmentalized his morals." The nub of this is Novarro's homosexuality, which he skillfully concealed from his audience, declares Soares, by utilizing "the most important public image strategy for a gay actor . . . to establish and maintain positive relations with the press." Prominent though Novarro’s love life is here, his biographer is more concerned with his acting career. It had big ups and downs: the rocky transition to talkies, the parts for which he was weirdly miscast (in one late film, the middle-aged, sophisticated Novarro, complete with Mexican accent, played an Indiana mill worker who became a Yale football star), and boozy deterioration as he was confined to character roles, a decline Soares blames on Novarro’s (and his studio’s) "lack of professional vision." Far from always incarnating a torrid Latin lover, the actor’s roles generally varied from intense and heroic to tender and unthreatening. Soares charts a sorry late-life disintegration, with Novarro "putting both his life and his public image in danger bydriving inebriated around Hollywood in search of sex," while he scraped up bit parts in TV shows like The High Chaparral. His sordid murder in 1968 prompted mostly cheesy vaporings from the press that had once protected him. An intriguing look at a bygone culture—and at a star who exploited its conventions without ever really adhering to them.

Product Details

University Press of Mississippi
Publication date:
Hollywood Legends Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

André Soares currently operates a translation business, working for numerous major American corporations. He is the author of several screenplays and is the chief editor of Alternative Film Guide.

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Beyond Paradise: The Life of Ramon Novarro 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
BwayMike More than 1 year ago
Extremely well researched and balanced account of the life and career of Ramon Novarro. Andre Soares provides readers with a good understanding of the complex Novarro personality along with the highs and lows of an extraordinary career and his tragic end. Mr. Novarro, one of the most charming of all film stars from the Golden Era, is unjustly neglected today. Hopefully this fine book will introduce movie fans to his films and place Novarro's importance as the first Latin American movie star back where it belongs.
JLewisJL More than 1 year ago
It is both surprising and disappointing that not too many other celebrity biographies get as detailed about their subject like this one. It even includes a title by title filmography and stage performance listing at the end, with full cast and personnel credits, production / release dates and even budget and profit information that is usually skipped in most movie books. The only real disappointment is that all of the photos are in the middle of the book and are not as plentiful as one might like for such an attractive screen personality. Ramon Novarro was, of course, a top leading man of the 1920s and early 1930s, the first Mexican to hit it mainstream and also the star of the most expensive and popular feature of the era, the 1925 version of BEN HUR. Despite success in talkies, he suffered a career downturn after he left Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1935 apart from a handful of interesting supporting parts and some TV work. His very mercurial nature and indecisiveness was his undoing, leading him into a disastrous attempt into independent film producing, stage acting and music. Alcohol addiction proved more detrimental than his hidden sex life. Unfortunately, he tended to rely on secretive, paid companionship in his later years... resulting in an unfortunate meeting with brothers Paul and Tom Ferguson, although his murder was partly accidental and under the influence. Like other books on Novarro, author Soares has to dispel the usual myths that never die away. Kenneth Anger made famous in his HOLLYWOOD BABYLON a tall-tale of his death resulting from a non-existent phallic-shaped sculpture given to him by Rudolph Valentino, whom he hardly even met when appearing in a movie back in 1921. Likewise, there was no bordello-visiting with William Haines in the 1920s either; a myth probably created by Anita Loos. Also MGM never forced him into any so-called lavender marriage, although the publicity department did occasionally cook up bogus romances between him and co-stars Greta Garbo and Myrna Loy. His relationship with both Irving Thalberg and Louis B. Mayer appears to have been quite favorable, if not always giving him roles he was best suited for. Had it not been for the sensational murder trial in the summer 1969, intriguingly only a month after Stonewall but long before other stars like Rock Hudson could be open about their then-unconventional private lives, he would probably be remembered more today for his film roles than his shocking death.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I first heard of Ramon Novarro from my grandfather. I had the fortune of seeing him in the original 1926 film version of Ben-Hur. Soares¿s biography is a pretty linear telling of Novarro¿s life and career. He explains the family history, Novarro¿s rise in the 1920s, his steady success in the `30s, and the times that surrounded the late Mexican screen idol. The only area I felt was lacking was over Novarro¿s homosexuality. There is never any real explanation as to the why or when Novarro became gay, especially in the conservative times he lived. Overall, this a fine biography on one of Golden Age Hollywood's forgotten stars.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Beyond Paradise is a poignant and powerful story of a classically gifted yet conflicted man who, as a gay, Latino movie star whose career encompassed silent films, talkies and television, never received the credit that author Andre Soares demonstrates is due. I found myself swept into this superbly paced book. Soares spins out the events of Novarro's life in a measured way, backing up occasionally to provide helpful information about important characters, places and events that contributed to the actor's story (including family background clear back to Spain and the origins of his stage name). Rather than sensationalizing Novarro's life and preserving the demeaning mystique of his death at the hands of male hustlers, Soares humanizes his subject. His balanced reflection of Novarro's weaknesses and strengths achieves an overall effect first of credibility and then of compassion that, at the end, brought me to tears over the sadness, more so than the violence, of Novarro's sordid death. Beyond Paradise is a redeeming treatment of a remarkable human being. One wishes that Novarro himself could have read it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I first read this biography last year, shortly after publication. I had already read a previous bio on Novarro, so had a pretty good idea about the main points of his life and his film career (already summarized in other reviewers comments of the book on this page). There is such a depth of information in this biography, yet Soares has successfullly and skillfully focused on the key salient points of this man's life and in doing so has created a living story of a past hollywood superstar. Sure, Novarro knew many people in Hollywood, but by keeping the focus on the issues that shaped Novarro's life (his religion, his homosexuality and his drinking) and his film career (his youthful devasting good looks and his loss of them at a relatively early age (in his 40's), his relationship with his 'discoverer' and mentor the director Rex Ingram, his blockbusters and his flops and just being a super star when movies went from silent to talking) Soares tells of the story and of the fate of a 'god' of the silver screen. Unfortunately Novarro's fate is akin to a story of a greek god that ends up falling down from his starry height. An amazing biography, a lesson in the fleeting glories of beauty, fame and good fortune (Novarro at least managed to hold on to his $$ fortune)
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a longtime admirer of Ramon Novarro, legendary "Latin Lover" of Hollywood's silent and early-talkie era, I eagerly anticipated the publication of this book when I first learned of it earlier this year. However my eagerness was not without some apprehension, as I knew that Novarro's story could easily be sensationalized or distorted due to the myriad of myths, exaggerations, and speculations that have arisen in the thirty-plus years since his murder made unsavory headlines in the late 1960s. What a welcome discovery it was, then, to at last read Andre Soares' exceedingly straightforward and reliable study of the talented and tormented star, which is as fascinating as it is trustworthy. The thoroughness of Soares' research in itself is remarkable, especially given the time that has passed since the events of which he writes took place. Soares bridges the gap of many decades by providing a rich contextual background for the unfolding of his narrative. Along the way the reader learns much about the prevailing practices, trends, and attitudes that existed in Hollywood and elsewhere during Novarro's lifetime. With admirable objectivity as well as good taste, Soares covers every aspect of Novarro's life, including the young hopeful's trek from Mexico to Hollywood with his younger brother; his rise to international acclaim as the star of the silent "Ben-Hur"; his subsequent reign as one of MGM's stellar leading men opposite such luminaries as Norma Shearer, Greta Garbo, Myrna Loy, and Jeanette MacDonald; his struggles with alcoholism and the irreconcilability of his homosexuality with his Catholic faith; his attempted comebacks, some successful and others less so; and the events surrounding his tragic end. Never in my wildest dreams did I think this book would be as fine as it is. Here's wishing first-time biographer Andre Soares a long and prolific career.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ramon Novarro's two most intriguing characteristics were his extraordinary beauty as a silent film star and the gruesome urban legend regarding the manner of his death. Not quite enough to make for a top-notch celebrity biography, you might think. But Andres Soares writes with such an authoritative grasp of the facts regarding both Novarro and the times he lived in, this is one of the better books on Hollywood and the glories (and consequences) of fame that I have read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It can't have been easy for Soares to put this book together, since Novarro and most of his contemporaries were deceased when he started his research. However he accomplishes his task with finesse and style, telling his facts in a manner that both interests the reader and leaves you wanting the next chapter. I have to say this is one of the best film star biographies I've ever read, because it's not a fawning fan piece, overly critical, or full of rumors that have been presented for years as "truth" (Soares rightfully clears up the stories about Novarro's death, which unfortunately have eclipsed the actor's life work for the past 25 years). If you wish to introduce a friend to Ramon Novarro, please buy this book for them.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book reads with all the passion that the ingredients on a box of powdered milk does. Soares does not seem to ever build any tension or personality with any of the people in the book. It's poorly written and boring. This is unfortunate because I waited for a book on Novarro for a long time and was bored silly by the haphazard way the story was told, the lack of interest in the subject that the author, Andre Soares, wrote about and how little he knew about Novarro's personal life. The only thing dramatic about the book was the cover and Andre Soare had nothing to do with that, now did he? Though he states that Mr. Novarro went to parties and had movie star friends yet there is never an instance when he goes into any detail or has any inside information of interest. For instance, Novarro was friends with Gloria Swanson but there are no passages that mention where they met, what they did together or why they were friends. Near the end of the book he mentions they played cards together for years and that was that! I didn't even know that they knew each other until Ramon's life was almost over and yet they were both part of the Hollywood scene since the 1910s. It's basically the same with all the movie stars he hung out with. They're never placed in situations though they are mentioned as friends. With the stable of stars that Ramon knew there really should have been some fun stuff written about them, instead there is nothing! Yawn! It's the same with Ramon's lovers, I never had any real indication what the relation was about or why they were initially attracted to each other. Soare places them at location shoots but never are any intimate details displayed. As a matter of fact, the author cannot even state for sure whether most of Novarro's lovers were really lovers or just friends. Double Yawn! In nearly every movie Ramon did, including Ben-Hur, the author mentions how overweight Novarro was, which gets annoying by the hundredth time he writes that. OK, Andre Soare thought Novarro was fat, I got it, but to have it repeated over and over again seemed like mere filler after a while. Over all, this book is in need of a good editor and a writer who knows more about Novarro's life than what is written here. I came away with a dull headache.
Guest More than 1 year ago
"Latin Lover" Novarro was one of the more enigmatic stars of the silent/early talkie period of Hollywood. In this expansive book the author has thoroughly researched his subject to provide thought-provoking insight--WITHOUT wild speculation--on the life and times of superstar Ramon Novarro who spent his life in conflict over religion, his alternative lifestyle, and his rampant drinking problem. The author fully documents the tragic death of the Ben-Hur star, even interviewing the two brothers responsible for his horrendous death. This is a welcome addition to the library of cinema history and a telling account of Hollywood's first Latin-American star.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Beyond Paradise: The life of Ramon Novarro by André Soares is well-researched, even-handed, unsentimental biography. It is also superb history of the first great epoch in the history of Hollywood. Andre Soares' assiduous research is applied, like a powerful cleaner, to dissolve the dark varnish of rumor and gossip which has obscured the luster, colors, and tonalities of the life and career of this artist. I came away from this book knowing about a significant movie star; I also discovered many new things about the movie business of the 'Twenties and 'Thirties. Rather than repeating received ideas about movie studio prejudice, the author, by meticulous examination of financial records, demonstrates that, for the most part, stars were promoted or demoted, neither for off-screen sexual orientations, nor for the sound of the voices, but according to the profitability of their movies. Ramon Novarro could 'open' a picture on the strength of his name alone; his films commanded boxoffice worldwide; and for these reasons this gay leading man prospered while other, gay leading men were dismissed when they failed to bring in profits. (By the same token, the canard that John Gilbert's voice killed his career in the talkies, is proved false. John Gilbert demanded a ruinously high salary which practically made it impossible for a film to make a profit.) Similarly, the ludicrous slander, retailed by Kenneth Anger in his book Hollywood Babylon, that Novarro's murder was effected by bludgeoning him with a dildo, is shown to be scurrilous fantasy, with no basis in fact. The author interviewed the murderers as well as the prosecutor, and has scrutinized the available records, and shows that Novarro's sad and violent death, while brutal, cruel, and shocking, was ordinary as manslaughters usually are. Refreshing to read a biography of a gay man which refuses to fit its subject into a Procrustean bed of fashionable victimhood. The Ramon Novarro of Beyond Paradise commands respect as a successful, if flawed, gentleman, and as a great artist of the cinema.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Given the more sensational aspects of legendary film star Ramon Novarro's life (superstardom with the release of the silent "Ben-Hur," a career fraught with dizzying highs and devastating lows, clandestine homosexual relationships, arrests for drunk driving, and ultimately a highly publicized murder at the hands of two young male "hustlers") author Andre Soares has displayed remarkable restraint and integrity in recounting the life story of an exceedingly handsome, talented, and complex individual. BEYOND PARADISE is beautifully and intelligently written, exhaustively researched, and presented with rare reverence for the truth. Take it from someone who's been reading star bios for nearly 30 years: They don't get any better than this one.