Pocas estrellas de cine de la época muda tuvieron tan extensos reportajes. Ramón Novarro fue uno de ellos. En las siguientes tres entregas comparto la que Herbert Howe, amigo de Ramón considera la primera biografía del actor. Está llena de recuerdos personales y destaca la relación que lleva con su familia y el hondo respeto y amor que tiene por sus padres. También nos percatamos de su profunda y exquisita cultura sobre historia, música y filosofía. También aflora su muy latino sentido del humor. Su concepto teatral que recrea en su Teatro Íntimo, que construye en su casa, lugar donde promueve la Revista Novarro, nos muestra su amor a lo clásico. La importancia que le da a su entorno, en especial a su hogar, que rompe con lo que las estrellas hollywoodenses construyen en Beverly Hills y donde diseña una azotea como las tenían las antiguas casonas mexicanas. Tampoco se deben omitir sus opiniones sobre actores y actrices de la época y su relación con los directores Rex Ingram y Ernst Lubitsch.
Herbert Howe reseñó On the Road with Ramón (De gira con Ramón) su amistad y admiración por el actor. A diferencia de las otras estrellas mexicanas del cine mudo norteamericano — Dolores del Río o Lupe Vélez — en México poco se han estudiado las aportaciones a la cinematografía que el oriundo de Durango dejó. Es probable que ello se deba a su homosexualidad que afloró a raíz de su penosa muerte. Sin embargo durante los años de la década de 1920, Ramón Novarro fue una de las más famosas estrellas de Hollywood. Entre sus filmes destacan Ben-Hur, El prisionero de Zenda y Scaramouche.
Resalta en la extensa entrevista y crónica el nulo conocimiento que tiene el autor sobre la historia y sociedad mexicanas, así como querer convertir a Ramón en un caballero español, más que mexicano.
El texto y las fotografías provienen del Motion Picture Magazine de abril de 1927 (Vol. XXXIII, No. 3, pp. 36-38 & 86-90 & 93):
On the Road with Ramón I
By Herbert Howe
The Author Explains His Friendship with Novarro
At first thought it would seem there could be little in common between a Mexican devoutly religious and an American devoutly pagan; one a bounding go-getter and the other a descendant of Sitting Bull, who wasn’t named that way for his love of work. But Ramón and I have a common camp ground that dates back to the teepee period.
When my ancestors from Ireland followed the Pilgrims to this country, the first thing they did was to set up my ancestors on this side to a round of drinks. One of my ancestors on this side saw right away the future for fire-water in America and, exclaiming “Whoopee!” traded my Irish ancestor the two Dakotas for a bottle of Irish whiskey. When you consider what that bottle would be worth today, you can see what a shrewd, far-seeing Indian my ancestor was. Unfortunately he took down with a cold immediately and had to drink the bottle at one sitting, thus getting the name of Sitting Bull—his ensuing conversation supplying the idea for the last name.
During the general merriment of the pow-wow, someone suggested that everybody get married, and my Indian ancestor and my colleen ancestor, the daughter of the first bootlegger to this country, eloped to the nearest Justice of the Peace Pipe, and thus started the great American civilization that resulted in me.
While my ancestors were getting acquainted in the Dakota teepee, Ramón’s ancestors came yachting over from Spain and met his ancestors in Mexico, who belonged to a political party known as Aztecs. Again hands were shaken, and also cocktails. And again old shoes and rice flew thru the air with merry quips.
Still further back, before the Spaniards, Ramón has Creek relatives, while in our family, way back, there are also bootblacks. So you can sec by what close ties our respective families are knit.
Personally, I hate to hear people boast of their family connections, but when you’re a mixture of bootblacks and redskins, you’ve got something more to talk about than the bluebloods have.
It’s a darned colorful background and serves to explain our roving tendencies which figure in the following chapters.
Blood will tell.—The Author.
Ramón Novarro invariably travels incognito. He evades the usual publicity fanfare attending the tours of movie stars. He never appears in the spot-light of “opening nights” and rarely attends social functions.
Few people really know him, for he is by nature, shy and retiring. No one outside of his family knows him as Herbert Howe does, who is the only writer capable of writing this, the first biography of Novarro ever published. (A. W. F.)
Sabbath in Hollywood, at the twilight hour when chimes are sounding from a thousand cocktail shakers, the door of my teepee opened and there stood Ramón.
“Say, Herb, would you like to go to Italy in the morning?”
“Sure.” I said soothingly. “But how about skipping over the Himalayas this evening for exercise?”
“I’m going to play Ben-Hur.”
“So-O!” I blared with a prophet’s pride. “They’ve discovered what the rest of us knew all along, that you alone can win the race for them.”
With one hand I ripped the priceless tapestries from the wall, and with the other I telephoned Harry Carr to come over and help pack.
Pershing Enters Plot
For some mysterious motive, still a riddle to the police, our departure was ordered in secret. So, disguised as actors, we left from the Pasadena station. To complete the illusion, we both spoke English, albeit with a marked accent. All went well, with no one suspecting our real celebrity, until a telegram arrived from Irving Thalberg, addressed to Ramón Novarro. Thenceforth, we were dressed, and ready to give ourselves up to the police.
Once aboard the Leviathan, we felt secure—until General Pershing walked up the gang-plank.
The General Applauds
I had been abroad with the General in 1918, and he had caused me a great deal of trouble. He didn’t recall my face, but I remembered his distinctly. However, I am not one to accuse another of being upstage. After all, the General and I had not been buddies.
Altho the General did not recognize me, he did Ramon, and gave him a hearty hand at the ship’s concert, for which Ramon played some Mexican things, and the General delivered a talk. The receipts were designated for seaman and poor actors. The General said he never had heard of poor actors in the financial sense, at least not poor movie actors, and he wanted his contribution to go intact to the seamen.
Upon our return from Italy, Ramón was elected by the officers of Annapolis from a long list of players for the leading role in “The Midshipman,” produced under Government auspices. The choice was indorsed by Washington, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the General put in a good word for Ramón, noting what a good seaman the boy was. (He never missed a meal.)
When Doubles Won’t Do
In view of the General’s amiability I thought of posting him for guard duty at the door of our cabin. No one under the rank of General could have stemmed the assaults of hero-worshippers. All thru the day and night notes drifted under the door. They came in every scent and shade, and I opened them all impartially. I’ll rifle anyone’s mail for a laugh, and, besides, I thought there might be quarters enclosed for photographs. I’ve found, however, that while love for a star may be great, it seldom amounts to a quarter’s worth.
There were notes from mamas with dramatic daughters, who wanted to recite sonnets to Ramón. There were invitations to lunch, dinner and champagne suppers, teas and swimming parties in the ship’s pool. And there were notes with such lines as “I’m the girl who smiled at you on deck ‘A’ this morning. . . . I’ll be on the boat deck at ten tonight.”
Realizing that Ramón couldn’t possibly fill all the engagements, I undertook to double for him in night work. I know now the danger of doubling… Especially in close-ups…
The New Religion
We speak loftily of silly fans, having in mind the flappers, but no one is quite immune to the balmy touch of Hollywood’s artificial sun. The new religion breeds fanatics among the aged and intellectual as readily as in the ranks of callow youth.
Living in the gray monotone of democracy, in an irreligious time, we have no objects for veneration, yet the will-to-adore remains with us. Romance is not dead, it’s just away, and no amount of scoffing can ever kill it. We must have pictorial symbols for the imagination — princes, prelates or movie stars. Of the three, the movie star is capable of satisfying the greatest number. The power of his influence as a world personality is as yet unrealized. We only catch a hint of it when a great favorite dies.
Ramón with his freedom from vanity went unsuspecting to the fray, acceding with graceful courtesy to as many requests as he could fulfil. He posed tirelessly for amateur kodaks, until halted by the corporation lawyer with dour council as to blackmailers. Fat rougish ladies bubbling with mother instincts and sly innuendoes received the same polite attention accorded flappers, who, being younger and slimmer-ankeled, were less coquettish. (Edison is right — the flappers have more sense than their elders.)
Ramón took the sudden onslaught standing up, but it bewildered him a little. The Ben-Hur period marked for him a definite transition. He was fortunate at this time in being isolated in Italy where a man, be he anything of an artist, may gain a balancing perspective.
Goethe said he never would have been Goethe had he not visited Italy. Ramón certainly would not have been the man and artist he is had he not visited Italy at this propitious time.
Ben-Hur in Training
Rome was depressed in heat, the company in chaos and everyone’s disposition out of tune.
Venice beckoned and I departed for the Lido surf.
On my return I found Ramon in training. He arose at six in the morning, and after thirty minutes in the gym went for roadwork with a trainer. As variation he would row and swim in the Tiber.
Ramón is an Olympian, his powerful body in surprising contrast to the classic refinement of his face. “Young Hercules with the face of Apollo,” is Harry Carr’s phrasing of him. “Michelangelo’s David with the face of an El Greco don,” says the captious Rex Ingram.
His superb physique is a heritage rather than an acquisition. There are none of the bulging muscles of the over trained athlete but that symmetry of strength in harmony with beauty which is the Greek ideal. He has had little time for sports since his childhood, when he engaged in mock bullfights, football, swimming and the Mexican game of la bandera. Aside from a vacation spent at Dempsey’s training camp, where lie topped off some boxing lessons, he has had only an ordinary round of exercise.
Suppleness combined with mental alacrity fits him for any game he enters. He is particularly adroit as a fencer. A swordsman by nature, like every Spaniard, he has the swift flexibility of a Toledo blade. In his hand a rapier is alive, and in dueling he displays that grace of savagery which marks the Spanish character.
“The Soul of Spain”
For all his religious training Ramón has about him a pagan ecstasy he conjures the figure of a shepherd boy herding flocks on a Thracian hill, a lyric primitive, detached from the world and time. Havelock Ellis defines him perfectly in “The Soul of Spain.” “The Spaniard is, and remains today, in the best sense of the word a savage. His childlike simplicity and intensity of feeling, his hardness and austerity combined with disdain for the superfluous, his love of idleness tempered by the aptitude for violent action, his indifference to persons and interests outside the circle of his own life—these characteristics and the like, which have always marked the Spaniard, mark also the savage.”
And word for word, they mark Ramón.
A Loyola Romantic
Havelock Ellis likewise defines the romantic spirit of the Spaniard which Ramón exemplifies. He is not in the common sense of the word “romantic” — the expression of a superficial sentimentality, chivalry peculiarly identified with Spain — the chivalry embodied in the conception of the Cid, which finally drove the Moor out of Spain — however fantastic and extravagant it sometimes became, was stern in its ideals and very practical in its achievements.
When Loyola, the knight of a new chivalry, watched over the weapons of his spiritual armor in his long vigil at Montserrat, he was not artificially aping the knight of old-world chivalry, but actually satisfying the spiritual instinct of the true Spaniard…
Loyola, like Francis of Assisi, was soldier as well as saint, a practical idealist and a gleaming figure of romance.
I have never seen Ramón lose his temper. Self-possession with him is a trait rather than an achieved virtue. I saw him knock a fellow in the general direction of Heaven but he did it with an apologetic grace that partook of courtesy. He wasn’t angry, he was regretful. Afterward he lifted the fellow to a couch and bathed his head. The man had made unpleasant remarks concerning a lady whom Ramon admires, and was obdurate in refusing to retract them. “But he had been drinking,” said Ramón. “I should not have struck him. I am ashamed.”
The Savage at Verdi’s Mass
I saw the savage when we went to the Eliseo for a rendition of Verdi’s Requiem Mass. We arrived late—thru no fault of Ramón’s — and were told to wait until the second part. At the same time the ushers were admitting a uniformed personage who wore insignia enough to gain entree to every lodge in the world. As the door opened, emitting the strains of divine music, Ramón bounded forward with the ferocity of a young tiger smelling blood. Knocking aside the world’s champion club member, who later was identified, despite his bruises, as a big league prince, Ramón vaulted into seats which I believe had been reserved for members of the royal family. But Mussolini himself couldn’t have unseated my friend, the savage.
Again Marcus Aurelius
“Stoicism, the instinctive philosophy of savage everywhere, is the fundamental philosophy and almost the religion of Spain… Marcus Aurelius bears the imprint of his native country.”
Only a stoic, a veritable reincarnation of the Emperor who reigned there in Rome, could have played out unrebelliously the role of Ben-Hur. There was tyranny and chaos. The retakes alone, with scenes reenacted twenty and thirty times, were sufficient to make an ordinary Christian forget his God.
Ramón’s day started at six in the morning and ended at an indefinite hour at night.
In the galley scenes his entire body was bronzed and for the desert sequence he covered himself with collodion which crystallized and cracked, giving the appearance of parched and peeling skin. He spent an hour putting on his make-up and more than an hour in the evening taking it off with kerosene, soap and water. In the summer months it melted and in the fall it froze!
“How do you escape the flu, running around naked in all sorts of weather?” he was asked.
“That’s the way to escape it,” replied the Aztec-Spaniard.
In reality a pantheist, Ramón’s worship includes the sun. He ranks sun-baths above physical exercise in the maintenance of health, and on the roof of his home in Los Angeles there is an enclosure open to the sky, where he toughens in the elements.
(Fans as yet have not acquired planes.)
For recreation after work in Rome he attended the theaters and opera, always searching for new ideas in music and stagecraft. During his stay in Italy he spent a thousand dollars in old operatic scores and songs. Those comprise but a small part of his music library in Los Angeles.
We usually dined at the Castello dei Caesari because of the view it commands of Rome. Ramon’s favorite vettura was drawn by a horse with the impressive name of General Díaz. The driver charged a few lire more than the meter registered. “But that’s to be expected with a general leading us,” said Ramón.
Imagine our embarrassment for the high-ranking beast when one evening he fell down and had to be assisted up a hill with the combined aid of Ramón, the driver and me. I don’t think he ever quite regained his old military bearing; nevertheless, we stuck to him.
A Star and a Proverb
The road to the Castello led past the Forum, over which there peered each night an invariable star. We came to know it conversationally. I felt it was the eye of some gigantic Caesar whose punishment for vanity was to gaze down on the ruins of his own achievements. In this theory Ramón was reluctant to concur.
His romantic spirit, as I have noted, is practical toward achievements. The sense of futility that currently oppresses the world has for him a taint of morbidity. He is creative, but as the true artist is, his joy is in the achieving rather than in the rewards. “Work for results but leave the results with God” is a Hindu proverb of his adoption.
Thanksgiving at Frascati
Thanksgiving day in Rome — with nothing to be thankful for, since the chef didn’t know how to make turkey stuffing, and couldn’t or wouldn’t follow the recipe which Carmel Myers’ mother had written for me.
Ramon was sunk in a “cholo” mood, a polite expression I have for the soul-flown state into which he passes when the stage is devoid of action.
Frascati in the Alban Hills is admirably situated for the lotus-eater, and I chose it as suiting the mood of the day. We settled at a table of a little caffe under the trees of a stone-paved piazza. Near by sat a huge signora, with feet well apart to sustain her upper edifice. A market stretched before us, vegetables, peaches, watermelons and green almonds lolling juicily under wide umbrellas in the sun, with here and there a bottle of wine sparkling out vivaciously like the eye of a gay cocotte. A donkey kicked up its heels flirtatiously, as tho it had partaken of the bottles, and a wine cart painted with scenes from the life of a saint, which I mistook for the Pavlowa ballet, creaked piously by with liturgic snores from its driver.
A Ghost Laughs
Ramón came out of his somnolence with: “Just nine years ago this Thanksgiving I arrived in Los Angeles. What dreams I had!”
He spoke in the thwarted tones of a mother who has seen her babes slowly strangled in their cribs.
“And I recall the Thanksgiving when I worked all day thonging leather for costumes. It was at the home of a theatrical manager. There was a turkey dinner. Its fragrance was ravishing. I was living on bread and milk. I worked on the costumes while the family ate. They didn’t offer me any. I had bread and milk with my brother at five o’clock.”
“Not so today!” I shouted with bursting heart as I ordered the cameriere to bring my dolorous friend a bottle of the best vintage.
Sad memories vanished and we drove blithely off to Tusculum, Cicero’s home town, which was founded by a son of Circe. Back in the silent hills we found the remains of a Roman theater whose only patrons today are the ghosts of the early A. D.’s and the only performers the birds in the olive-trees.
But it was a theater. I knew that from the way Ramón bounded into life. Springing into the arena, he regaled the shades with an impromptu burlesque of movie scenes… an actor registering passion (with subtlety) at the scent of a red rose (symbolic)… an actress portraying grief (with restraint) over the death of her child-without-a-name… and, triumphantly, a roaring likeness of Ramón Novarro himself in the act of mounting his first wild Arab steed in Tunis.
Suddenly I heard a laugh from the stone bench behind me. Was it my own echo? I turned and stared into air. Evidently, an echo. My attention returned to Ramón… another laugh, and this time I distinctly felt a jocular slap on the back.
When Ramon caught up with me a mile down the road, I was trying to shake off the Empress Faustina.
(Baedeker note: Persons contemplating a visit to ruins filled with the ghosts of bygone days should refrain from wine at lunch.)
Tasso and a Banana
Motoring lazily around the seven hills of Rome one Sunday afternoon, we came upon the Janiculum. Before the monastery of Saint Onofrio, Ramón ordered the car to an abrupt stop and reverently got out.
“Here Tasso died,” he said.
After a silent visit to the poet’s apartments, we sat for an hour in the porch while Ramon spoke glowingly of Torquato, who had illumined him as a child.
He recalled the self-oblivious period of his own youth when he was acting at the Majestic Theater in Los Angeles, before entering pictures. Between performances he would recite heroic roles for practice. While waiting for a street-car one day he burst into Richard Ill’s soliloquy and so frightened three old ladies that they scurried away to the next car stop.
“I met the manager of the Majestic not long ago,” Ramon laughed. “He said, ‘I’ll never forget, Ramon, the day I met you on the street. I almost ran into you, but you didn’t see me. You were eating a banana and reciting Tasso!’”
“By the way,” I said confidentially, “was your sanity ever questioned in those days?”
“Oh, yes.” replied Ramon airily. “When I was working in the prolog at the California Theater and playing extra in pictures at the same time, Marion Morgan telephoned the theater and asked for me. She wanted me for a bit in a dance scene of a Holubar picture.”
“I would like to speak to Mr. Samaniegos,” she said.
“We have no one by that name,” they told her. They were right. I had taken the stage name of Zerreco for some eccentric reason. Miss Morgan did not know this, but she did know I was in the prolog.
“I’m sure you have him,” she insisted. “He’s very young. Never does anything twice alike. He’s kind of crazy.”
“Oh, yes, we have him,” they said and promptly called me.
Just another evidence of the coincidence of genius and insanity, Lombroso would probably say.
Certainly I never saw madness so realistically portrayed as by Ramón Novarro in a scene of the galleys. Three years Ben-Hur had been chained to an oar. “Three years as the world marks time – three centuries as we know it here.” With glazed eyes staring, he rowed to the agony beat of the hortator’s gavel, and beat by beat it pitched his frenzy toward a maniacal rage. Perspiration clotted his face and his eyes bulged out of their sockets. Suddenly he strained up from his chains — a piercing scream, nerve-snapping — and he collapsed, limp flesh across a paralyzed oar.
Death-house stillness — then a spontaneous cheer from the three hundred Italian extras, “Bravo, Novarro! Bravo!”
That scene never reached the screen. “But remember, too, all my bad ones that didn’t,” says Ramon philosophically.
The Vision in Venice
Completing work in the galley sequence, Ramón chose Venice as a vocational point. We rode all night in a day coach, and when finally we settled in a gondola we promptly went to sleep. A horrific bellow brought us to. The gondolier was outraged. His gondola was not a camera. If we poor clods could only notice the glories of Venice? Ignoring our pathetic protests, he dumped us at the Riva degli Schiavoni in front of our hotel.
Refreshed by a siesta, we strolled the Piazzo di San Marco. Venetian lace in a window reminded Ramon of gifts from home. We entered and were greeted by Olga Asta, the proprietress.
Signed photographs of Doug and Mary adorned the walls, and the signora assured us that they were fine patrons. Suddenly she stopped and fixed Ramón with a querying eye. “You — you, too, look like someone famous,” she exclaimed.
Ramon’s face was shrubbed with beard, grown for the galley scenes, and his hair flowered in lengthy locks.
“Yes, you remind me of someone famous. Let me think! Not a cinema actor. No! An artist, perhaps… but no.” The signora stood transfixed. Suddenly she let forth a piercing shriek. “I know… Jesus Christ!”
Shop girls and lace makers scurried from all corners, startled by the signora‘s outburst. Ramón flushed and smiled.
“Jesus Christ!” cried the signora in a second convulsion, pointing a trembling finger at Ramón.
The shop girls emitted little stricken cries. I was afraid they would fall to their knees and demand miracles. Coming out of her trance, the signora glanced at me, whereupon I quickly shuffled off. I didn’t want to be mistaken for John the Baptist by some local Salome.
I decided, on quitting Olga’s place, that to prevent further confusion, Ramón should have a shave and hair-cut. We visited a barbiere and as I submitted my own locks to the shears I heard the man ask Ramón in an awed whisper, “Are you playing Jesus Christ, signore?”
“I’m sure I don’t know,” replied Ramón.
A Protean Slot-Machine
A few days later in the Hotel Danieli awaiter took on a sudden recognizing air.
“You look like someone, signore,” he said to Ramón.
I hastily crossed myself.
“A saint?” asked Ramón modestly.
“No.” said the waiter, “Oberdamm, the man who assassinated the Emperor of Austria in… ”
God or assassin, Ramón has the divine magic of reminding everyone of someone. Marion Morgan once said, “Ramón is like a slot-machine: put a nickel in and any character you want will come out.”
She was paying tribute to his art for characterization, but discounting this, he is by his very appearance a symbol to the imagination.
Eluding the Police
After driving a chariot for two months in the chill of winter, Ramón decided either to have the flu or a vacation. Hurling this ultimatum at the production manager, he achieved a week’s leave of absence, and we mounted a train for the French Riviera.
Shortly before our arrival at San Remo he announced that he had forgotten his passport. Forgetting your passport while touring Europe is like forgetting your bed sheet on the way to a Ku Klux Klan parade — you might just as well turn around and go home. My disgust was on the point of expression when a surreptitious peep at my own passport informed me that it was out of date.
“Never mind,” I said valiantly. “Maybe we can get by on Mrs. Myers’ recipe for turkey dressing; it’s written on Carmel’s engraved stationery and looks official.”
The guards at the border refused to accept either Mrs. Myers’ recipe or the hundred-lira notes that we fingered temptingly. There was an albergo on the Italian side, and we registered there for the night, thinking that when the guards went to sleep we could easily shove them over the cliff into the ocean. But the albergo proprietor said that the guards did not sleep. He believed, however, that parties had crossed from his hotel by descending the cliff to the beach.
The next morning we made our way along the sands to the French line. There we were halted by an Italian guard with an interrogation as to passports. We replied in the Indian sign language with dumb signs toward the hotel, indicating we were merely out for a stroll. The guard smiled, as one invariably does at the dumb, and we walked tenderly into France. We walked until we rounded the first corner, then we soared.
Ramón’s Winning Way
The Riviera sequence was the gayest of our trip abroad. Each day we chartered a car and drove over the Corniche road to Nice or Cannes. Ramón usually went to sleep on these excursions. Scenery doesn’t interest him particularly save in terms of a back-drop. He likes the Casino at Monte Carlo, where there was action — the movement of roulette-wheels and the swifter movement of francs from your pocket to that of the croupier. It only required a half-hour for Ramón to discover a secret method of winning. By following this carefully we were able to lose fifty dollars in fifteen minutes each evening — thus saving a great deal of time. Time is more valuable than money, of course, but I felt that to win more than fifty dollars’ worth of it per evening was a sin, inasmuch as there were poor bartenders and waiters who needed the money — right there in Monte Carlo.
The Monastic Life
Florence is Ramón’s favorite city of Italy. There we visited the medieval monastery of Certosa, crowning a hill of vines and olives. Fortified and serene, it has remained thru centuries a beacon to the spirit of man. At its gates all worldly ambitions fall away, to be replaced within by the white garments of saintly aspiration. The monks arise at dawn to work in the vineyards and to pursue in silence a devoted, self-mortifying, contemplative life. Only twice a week, when they dine together in the refectory, is there any communication between them.
“How simply they live,” mused Ramon, “and how successfully!”
A white-robed monk, with clear, fine eyes in which twinkled a genuine joy, escorted us thru the corridors and showed us the bare, clean cells, whose windows gaze on to a tranquil valley of contentment.
“I feel I will end my days in a monastery,” said Ramón firmly.
“Not in this one,” I said. “There’s no music.”
Ramón regarded me sadly. I had a very false conception of him. “By the way, Herb, I found the score of a wonderful opera today in Florence and some fine old Tuscan songs. Would you like to hear them this evening?”
Troubadour and Ariel… “Shelley with a face that reminds you of those frescoed saints you see in Florence.”
Louis B. Mayer, arriving to inspect the Italian situation, had revived the drooping morale of the company by announcing that Ben-Hur would return to Hollywood and the rescuing hands of Irving Thalberg.
Fifteen minutes after Ramón had completed his final scene in the Roman studio we were on a train bound for Paris and the Restaurant Foyot.
Jacques received us at the door with a recognizing smile, and took us to our usual table.
“Fraises de bois,” I read on the menu. “M’God — wooden strawberries!”
“Strawberries from the woods,” corrected Ramón sniffily, “and, from the price, I gather that the woods go with them.”
We indulged ourselves beyond the dreams of Lucullus. As the check was presented I asked Ramón if he loved Foyot as much as before.
“Love it?” he said, paying the luncheon check for twenty-five dollars. “Can’t you see I’m buying it?”
A Knight Returns
The return trip on La France was in contrast to the trip over, which we had made aboard the Leviathan. Eschewing all society, Ramon stayed in his cabin, permitting his beard to grow while he drummed a guitar. The guitar had been purchased at my behest. On previous trips Ramón had carried a set of practice chimes. You can smash a guitar, but you can’t smash a set of steel chimes. I can pay no higher tribute to Ramón’s charm as a musician than to say that the guitar arrived intact in New York.
Ramón singing Mexican songs is the lyric, the gay and insinuating Ramón whose charm is irresistible. Moved by my delight in the songs and Mexican legends which he recounted, Ramón one night recited the names of all the streets in Mexico City! Such was his intention, at least, until I broke in with, “Now I’ll name the streets of my home town.” But all I could recall were Main Street and Phillips Avenue.
As we were repacking our trunks on the eve of landing, Ramón showed me a notebook containing a line which he had written before sailing for Rome. It was: “If my Ben-Hur is remembered, I have not lived in vain.”
He threw back his head and laughed.
He had grown up.
(Ramón Novarro, when a child of twelve, conducted a marionette theater in his Mexican home and gave public performances.
Today in his Los Angeles home he has a beautiful little theater, seating just sixty people, equipped with every device of modern stagecraft. “It is the laboratory,” writes Herbert Howe, “of a man to the theater born. Here he conducts his experiments in stagecraft, and occasionally presents, to an invited audience of friends, vivid glimpses of old Spanish drama and folk-songs plucked from the fields of Italy, France, Spain and Mexico.”)