Tuesday, 26 June 2018
Around the World in Another 80 Gays : Part 19) Tarzan Speaks and Mexico Revolts
Previously : 31) Clive Aspin is active in the promotion of pride among traditional Maori sexualities, an example of which appears in the legend of 38) Tutanekia which is commemorated in a popular World War I song, similar in sentiment to another popular war-time song by 39) Ivor Novello (1893-1951).
39) Ivor Novello’s original name was David Ivor Davies, and you can’t get a more Welsh name than that. He was born in the Welsh capital of Cardiff. His mother, Clara Novello Davies, was a renowned singing teacher and founder of a women’s choir and it was her musical connections that got Ivor his start in music. Ivor would change his name to Novello legally later in life.
Ivor’s first significant contribution to music was during World War I when he wrote the music to a poem written by an American writer. This song was “Keep the Homes Fires Burning”. It was published shortly after war was declared. The sentiment of the words made the song a success, and after the British public adopted it as a patriotic message to their brave boys fighting in France it became as popular as the Maori song “Pokarekare Ana” was in New Zealand during World War II.
After the war Ivor wrote many songs and musical comedies. As his fame spread so did publicity shots, and it was one of these that put him on the road to the silver screen. Film-makers thought he had the perfect looks for a romantic lead in silent films. He starred in two early Alfred Hitchcock films, “The Lodger” and “Downhill” (which Ivor also wrote). By 1930 Ivor Novello was the UK’s top male film star.
He was soon given a contract as a writer and actor by MGM in Hollywood. It was for MGM that Ivor wrote what can easily be his most famous line. It doesn’t come from a song, but from a film. Even more than 80 years after the film was released in 1932 they have been repeated many, many times. Ivor’s words are “Me Tarzan, you Jane” from the film “Tarzan the Ape Man”. Ivor later said, “I never wrote such rubbish in my life”.
His acting career was equally disappointing. He only appeared in one film for MGM and his position as a rising Hollywood leading man and sex symbol came to nothing. He came back to the UK and carried on with his musical career to greater success.
Perhaps the problem was with Hollywood. The silent film industry was relatively small and there was very little room for more than one handsome hero. The death of Hollywood’s first sex symbol, Rudolf Valentino (himself surrounded by a whole network of lgbt connections, including one which I’ll mention later), in 1926 left a void that was hard to fill. Even though Ivor Novello was of heart-throb of British cinema and more than capable of filling Valentino’s romantic shoes he was not really a swash-buckling action hero. Besides, MGM had another actor they were also grooming as a “New Valentino”, a young gay immigrant from Mexico called Jose Sarmeniego. MGM turned him into the sex symbol who became known as 40) Ramon Novarro (1899-1968).
40) Ramon Novarro had been acting in silent films since 1916. When Ivor Novello was being the star of British films Ramon gained stardom as Ben Hur in 1925. MGM were already billing him as a “Latin Lover” and he quickly became the frontrunner to fill the shoes of Valentino which Ivor Novello couldn’t.
Unlike Ivor Novello, Ramon Novarro struggled with his sexuality. As with other gay men in early Hollywood he was “encouraged” to marry just for the sake of the studio’s reputation. He refused. When his MGM contract finished he found work hard to find, although he didn’t need to work because his salary from 20 years with MGM was enough for him to live on for the rest of his life.
By the 1960s Ramon was virtually forgotten. He appeared in a handful of American tv series as guest star, but the manner of his death in 1968 brought him back into the spotlight – for the wrong reasons.
Ramon often hired male prostitutes to come to his Hollywood mansion. Two brothers got hold of his address and posed as rent-boys. They believed Ramon must have lots of money at his home. When Ramon refused to give them any he was tied up, tortured and beaten. Ramon died in agony, chocking on his own blood. The brothers got away with only 20 dollars. Over the years various sensational “details” of his death were published, including the unfounded claim that Ramon’s body was found with a sex toy which Rudolf Valentino had given him.
Ramon Novarro was born in Mexico into a highly respected family. By the time he was a teenager Mexico was in turmoil. Mexican President Diaz lost the support of his people. There was corruption, inflation and unemployment, and eventually revolution broke out. Ramon and his family were living in Durango at the time. In 1913 Durango was besieged by rebels and counter-rebels and the family escaped to Mexico City.
In Mexico City inter-rebel fighting led to the arrival in the city of an individual whose story I told in more detail in “A Revolutionary Colonel”, 51) Amelio Robles Avila (1889-1984). While Robles Avila continued to fight for the Zapatista forces Ramon Novarro and his family returned to Durango which had become relatively safe. In 1916 they decided to escape the revolution by entering the USA. Almost immediately Ramon entered the film industry with uncredited bit parts in several films before becoming a star after his role in the title character in the 1925 film “Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ”.
Among the other reasons why the Mexican Revolution occurred was a scandal implicating President Diaz’s son-in-law. Some 42 men were arrested in a police raid on an all-male party. Only 41 of them were arrested, which is why the incident is (quite appropriately in this sequence of 80 Gays) called 42) The Dance of the 41 (1901).
Next time : The nameless 41 lead us to murder in the Czech Republic.