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Book remembers leading man of 1920s

Ramon Navarro challenged Rudolph Valentino for title as cinema's reigning ‘Latin lover'
Published: May 1, 2012

During Hollywood's silent era, most people remember Rudolph Valentino as cinema's reigning “Latin Lover.” But there was another dashing, dark-eyed actor who, though now mostly forgotten, regularly challenged Valentino for the crown.

Ramon Novarro was for many years in the 1920s a hot property in Hollywood and one of the industry's most sought-after romantic leading men. As one of MGM's top box-office attractions, Novarro headlined such classic films as “The Student Prince,” “Mata Hari” and the original, silent version of “Ben-Hur,” and shared the screen with such luminous leading ladies as Myrna Loy, Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo and Norma Shearer.

But his film legacy was tarnished by the sordid nature of his untimely death, and that story is told in grim detail in the riveting but tragic biography “Beyond Paradise: The Life of Ramon Novarro” (University Press of Mississippi, $25). The 416-page paperback is the work of Andre Soares, a California screenwriter who is also chief editor of “Alternative Film Guide.”

Soares writes that Novarro was born Ramon Samaniego to a prominent Mexican family. He came to America in 1913 to flee the violence of civil war in his native country.

Throughout the 1920s and '30s, Novarro was a Latin heartthrob, idolized by millions and the star of some 50 motion pictures, whose fame as a “Latin lover” rivaled Valentino's (who was, in fact, Italian).

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