Wednesday 1 November 2023

Day Of The Dead: Out Of His Hollywood Tree

We’re halfway through what the Christian Church calls Hallowtide. This is the 3-day period of remembrance and devotion to our ancestors. It began with All Hallow’s Eve (corrupted into Hallowe’en), followed by All Hallow’s Day (or All Saint’s Day), and tomorrow is All Soul’s Day. We don’t need to go into the history of Hallowtide, except to say that historians day there’s no evidence that there was any similar festival in pagan of pre-Christian times. No, the Celts didn’t have a festival called Samhain. As far the evidence suggests, Samhain was the name of a month or time of year, not a festival.

Mexico is the country that is most widely recognised as celebrating Hallowtide in a unique way in the festival which translates into English as the Day of the Dead. It was the Spanish colonists are recorded as taking Hallowtide to the Americas, and perhaps the ancestors of today’s subject was among them. The person whose ancestors I have chosen to delve into was the early Hollywood sex symbol Ramon Novarro (1859-1968).

There another reason why I have chosen him. Two days ago, the day before Hallowe’en, was the 55th anniversary of Ramon Novarro’s murder. You can read a bit about Ramon in this “80 Gays” article.

Ramon was not the only member of his family to make it big in the early days of cinema. His first cousin (daughter of his mother’s sister) was Andrea Palma (1903-1987), who became a big star in their native Mexico, though she did make a memorable supporting role in an American gilm, “Tarzan and the Mermaids” (1948) starring Johnny Weismuller.

A more distant cousin, Dolores del Rio (1904-1983), had bigger success in the US. She is particularly remembered as a lead character in “Flying Down to Rio” (1933), though people usually only remember two supporting actors, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, the legendary dancing partnership first brought together for this film. Dolores and Ramon were third cousins, both being great-great-grandchildren of Leandro Sanchez Manzanera and his wife. Dolores was also famous for an affair she had with Orson Welles.

There are several other acting cousins of Ramon Novarro, including some alive today, but his ancestry shows no indication of where the acting bug came from. So, what is his ancestry?

Ramon Novarros’ real name was José Ramón Gal Samaniego. His parents were Dr. Mariano Sameniego (1871-1940) and Leonor Pérez-Gavilán (1872-1949). Both came from well-connected and prominent families with long lineages. Ultimately, as you might guess, the majority of Ramon’s ancestry came from Spain.

There is a tantalising rumour that Ramon has Aztec ancestry through his mother, to no less a person than Moctezuma (or Montezuma), probably the most famous Aztec “emperor”, but I am unable to find any information to verify this. However, that doesn’t stop Ramon from having family connections to other Mexican emperors. His grandfather’s great-uncle was married to the sister of Agustin I Yturbide (1783-1924), the first Emperor of Mexico after independence from Spain. He wasn’t in office long. There was a lot of opposition to Mexico becoming a monarchy, most strongly in the Mexican Congress. Agustin dismissed Congress and appointed his own. Very soon almost everyone else turned against him and he was ousted.

A feature of European colonialism is that quite a lot of the first colonists came from wealthy, landed families and minor aristocracy (most of the US Founding Fathers were from the upper classes). Because of this Agustin Yturbide can be put on the list of Ramon Novarro’s famous distant blood relatives in addition to his connection though marriage. Ramon and Agustin are descended from a Spanish noble called Fernán Yañez de Saavedra (d.1370). In turn, Fernán is descended from an illegitimate daughter of King Sancho IV of Castile (1221-1284). Going back further, and one of King Sancho’s ancestors was King Henry II of England, meaning I am a very distant cousin of Ramon Novarro also.

That opens up a huge catalogue of blood relatives that Ramon Novarro can claim. For this particular article, however, let’s just concentrate of some Hispanic cousins.

I haven’t done a massive amount of research into the ancestries of many Latin American or Spanish celebrities and famous people, though I have done some into those of national leaders. Through the same small group of Conquistadors in Ramon’s ancestry he is distantly related to at least two Presidents of El Salvador, six Presidents of Nicaragua, several dozen from Costa Rica, a couple from Colombia, and a couple from Argentina.

Among the Colombian Presidents in Virgilio Barco Vargas (1921-1997). One of my previous “Out of His Tree” articles featured President Barco’s gay son, the activist Virgilio Barco Isakson.

As far as Mexico is concerned, Ramon has at least four Mexican Presidents as distant cousins. One in particular is of interest, the fourth president Anastasio Bustamente (1780-1853). We enter Abraham Lincoln territory here. That is to say, there is clear evidence that the president shared a bed with another man, but that doesn’t necessarily indicate homosexuality. Both Lincoln and Bustamente shared a bed with another man. That was common in pre-20th century times. We have no evidence that any physical or sexual intimacy occurred. However, even though I still have reservations about the sexuality attributed to Abraham Lincoln I a have fewer regarding Anastasio Bustamente. It is widely reported that he preferred the company of young men, and he never married. So perhaps, he could have been gay.

Which other well-known Latin Americans are related to Ramon Novarro though his Conquistador ancestors? Well, there’s Che Guevara, Simon Bolivar, Eva Peron, and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Going back and looking at Ramon’s non-Hispanic cousins, you can get a good idea from the articles I wrote about descendants of King Edward II of England, beginning here.

So, that’s Ramon Novarro’s family tree. It is dominated by the bloodlines and legacy of the Spanish Conquistadors. His immediate ancestry centres on the Durango province of Mexico, but most of his earliest colonial ancestors settled in the northern part of Spanish Mexico, the area which is now the US state of New Mexico.

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