Vintage photograph on loan from William Hays
Born in Durango, Mexico, Ramón Novarro came to the United States following the Mexican revolution
in 1916. A major star in the waning years of the silent film era, Novarro is best remembered for his
title role in Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925). Though he was promoted as a Latin lover and “the new
Valentino”, he was a gay man who never gave in to studio pressure to marry just to maintain the illusion of
heterosexuality. Unlike many silent stars, Novarro was able to make the transition to sound films, though
his popularity faded and he ended his career playing small parts on television. His life came to a tragic end
in 1968, when he was murdered in his Hollywood home during a robbery.
Novarro inscribed his portrait to Will Hays, the first President of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors
Association of America. Hired by the studios to monitor the content of their films as a means to avoiding
government interference in their industry, Hays developed a production code that ensured that homosexuality
and many other adult themes would be kept out of Hollywood films for decades.
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