It was Wednesday, October 30, 1968. In Los Angeles the temperature had peaked around 75 degrees - - a wonderful autumn day - - dropping to 59 degrees once the sun set. The American Basketball Association, famous for Dr. J and the L.A. Stars, were in town for a brief stop. "Hey Jude" by the Beatles sat atop the records charts and dominated the radio airwaves while Airport by Arthur Hailey was the current New York Times fiction bestseller.
At 3110 Laurel Canyon Drive was a Spanish Colonial designed by Lloyd Wright, son of Frank Lloyd Wright. Nestled in the Hollywood Hills, it had been owned since 1927 by former stage, screen and television star Ramon Novarro. Novarro was now 69 and frail, many days away from his life as a sex symbol of MGM following in Rudolph Valentino's vaulted footsteps after the infamous Valentino had died unexpectedly. Despite being retired from acting for many years, Novarro had made wise real estate investments with his movie earnings and this allowed him to live very comfortably.
|Navarro with the great Garbo|
Novarro, ever the gentleman and always gracious, served beverages - - liquor - - and read older brother Paul's palm, ironically predicting a bright future. He played his piano, sharing with the brothers a tune he had composed and wrote. He showed them promotional photos of himself as a young and virile MGM star. It's likely that the former actor engaged in sexual activity with the older brother and then at some point the elder Ferguson demanded that Novarro hand over the $5,000 he was rumored to keep hidden in his home.
|The young and beautiful Novarro|
The murderers decided to ransack the house, dumping Novarro's professional stills and photos on the floor, attempting to create a scene of a burglary gone wrong. Complicating the matters, they also thought it would help matters to make the crime seem as though a vengeful woman had committed it, and so wrote on the bathroom mirror "Us girls are better than fagits (sic)." They left the house with the cash they had netted from their torture and murder - - $20, taken from the pocket of Novarro's robe.
|Novarro with a young Joan Crawford|
The Fergusons were found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison after each brother testified that it was the other that had killed their innocent victim. The judge presiding over their criminal trial stated they should never be released; they both were. The younger Tom was released after only six years; the elder Paul was out in nine years.
Nine years total for the brutal murder of a defenseless man. It boggles the mind. I believe the brothers were paroled for one reason only - - homophobia. Novarro and his lifestyle were made out to be the guilty party. If you solicit gay sex, look what happens. It's a sad injustice, most especially for Ramon Novarro.
|The Hollywood Hills home where Novarro died|
In 2005, Tom Ferguson committed suicide at a Motel 6 by slitting his own throat. He left no note nor commented on his part in the murder.
|Ramon Novarro, toward the end of his life|
The October 30, 1968 homicide was a sad end to the life of a man often described as giving, kind, gentle and unassuming. A man who not only managed to make a success for himself in silent films but rather easily transitioned into "talkies," a feat that was accomplished by very few, to become our first Latin American star. It's tragic that his personal life was put on trial and that he is more recalled today for his gruesome end and an urban legend than for the happiness he provided many silent film and Depression-era audiences.
Ramon Novarro should be remembered as a kind, gentle soul who after achieving film success supported his large and extended Mexican family; a devout Catholic who more than once considered the priesthood or monastery, so ardent was his religious devotion; a well liked professional of whom nobody appeared to have anything bad to say; a talented actor who also had a glorious singing voice and a talent for dance; and, as his gravestone memorializes for all time, a beloved brother.
|Photo taken in September 2015 during my visit to Calvary Cemetery in L.A.|