Ramon Novarro Looks Back

Ramon Novarro
Ramon Novarro

Novarro opens the book of his past. Here are strange revelations.

It happened in an Automat restaurant in New York about thirteen years ago. The weather was cold and snow had recently fallen. ‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house plenty of creatures were stirring—especially after the theaters had closed.

Among the bus boys, whose duties included clearing the tables when patrons finished eating, was a young Mexican who spoke broken English.

From time to time his bright black eyes turned anxiously toward the clock, not because he was a shirker and wished to go home, but because he had never before missed a midnight mass on Christmas Eve, and the hour was drawing near.

Earlier in the evening the boss had told him that il by twelve o’clock the crowd had thinned be might go then, instead of working until three a. m., as he ordinarily did.

Eleven thirty, eleven forty-five, and still people lingered over their coffe, talking. The boy watched them anxiously. As soon as a customer put down his empty cup he seized it and whisked it away to the kitchen. And as he hurried about clearing the tables he kept thinking about midnight mass.

At eleven fifty-five he asked permission to leave. The answer was no. There were too many customers, the manager told him, not unkindly.

So Ramon Novarro missed bis first Christmas Eve mass. To you or me the incident might seem unimportant. To Ramon it was a minor tragedy.

“But I thought,” said he, “Well, I did the best I could, so that’s all there is to it.’ ”

Folded up on a divan in the Metro-Goldwyn reception room he told me something of those lean early years. He looked rather tired, but his low-pitched voice was full of verve and interest — and music ! He speaks rapidly, seldom having to hesitate, over his choice of words.

“My salary,” he continued, “was so small that I could hardly live on it. I ate one meal a day, in the afternoon before going on duty. But every night, just before I left, I stole an apple and are it for breakfast next morning.

“I was with the Marion Morgan dancers then, but we were between engagements. For several hours during the middle of each day we rehearsed and then I went to the Automat. Finally our show was to open for a three-day try-out in Mt. Vernon, before we were to bring it to New York. I had to give up my job at the Automat, although I had been promised two dollars a week increase.

“When we got to Mt. Vernon I had just one dollar left in the world. Alter the first-night performance, I wondered whether I should spend the money for a room or buy supper. I could do one or the other, but not both. As l’had had almost nothing to eat that day, I decided to spend it for food. Alter that I went back to the theater and persuaded the doorman to let me go inside.

“Charwomen were scrubbing the stage. I found a couch off to one side and lay down, spreading my mackintosh over my body. My overcoat was in the pawnshop.

“While I lay there trying to sleep, I could hear those women sweeping, sweeping, sweeping. When I was about half asleep, one of them came over to me and very gently drew the mackintosh over me again, as it was sliding off. I shall always remember her kindness.

“Soon after that we received our salary. When I got back to New York I went to the Automat and paid the manager for the apples I had stolen. It amounted to one dollar and seventy-five cents, I believe.”

When the dancing troupe returned to Los Angeles, Ramon got a number of local engagements, one of which was in a prologue at the California Theater. To-day it houses all the Spanish pictures from the studios. There Ramon’s “In Gay Madrid” and “Call of the Flesh” were shown.

When Ramon and his partner appeared there about eleven years ago they looked like a couple of school kids. Dressed in the minimum of clothing, they performed a beautiful but sensuous dance which Ramon described as “dirty.” Later they were engaged to appear in Ben Turpin’s “A Small-town Idol.” This number, I believe, was also dirty.

“Then,” said Ramon, “we were engaged to do a dance in another picture, our sketch being called ‘Loose Lovers.’ When it was finished it was found to be so loose that it was taken out !”

Ramon lifted his black brows and laughed until his molars showed. His naughty dancing appears very amusing to him now. Probably it did at the time it was in progress. Trust him to see any humor there is to be seen.

“In one of the early pictures that I worked in,” said he, placing a pillow on the arm of the divan and leaning against it, “I had to assume the character of a wild man and do a dance, very fast and difficult, and then pick up my partner, run off the stage on my toes and throw her down to a floor below. There were cushions for her to fall on, of course. We went through it, alter a few rehearsals, and I was so intense and thorough that I was about to collapse when it was over.

“The director wanted us to go through with it again but I said, ‘The wild man is fainting!’ and slumped down for a rest. Imagine a wild man fainting!” Ramon doubled with laughter at the memory of this incident.

On another occasion he and his partner were engaged to dance on a mirror-topped table. The reflection of their lithe painted bodies doubtless would have been very picturesque, but when Ramon sprang upon the mirror it split clear across.

Ramon, being plenty smart, has a lively respect for money. Experience has taught him that it is a very comforting commodity to have about. After several lean years he got a job dancing at a salary of twenty-five dollars a day.

“I had to make up my entire body twice a day,” he told me, “but for that much money I would have made up every five minutes.”

Ramon is fascinated with directing the French and Spanish versions of his pictures, though serving as both director and star is hard work, particularly in the French productions.

“I don’t speak French as well as I speak English and Spanish, and for days I spend from six to eight hours perfecting the dialogue for the French versions.

“When I am acting and directing a picture, the responsibility gives me insomnia. I often lie awake all night, tossing and turning.”

We got onto the subject of religion and idly I asked how he managed his work during the three hours of Good Friday when people of the Catholic faith are expected to keep silent.

“Why, I work,” he answered. “Before I left Mexico a priest gave me a memento inscribed with the words, ‘What is prayer but doing one’s best?’ And that is what I try always to do — my very best.”

Ramon is the soul of kindness and good will. People at the studio will tell you how he uses almost every holiday as an excuse to bring presents or remembrances to all those with whom his work brings him in contact. At Easter time he called at each of the offices and left a colored egg for the person working there. Kind words and deeds are instinctive with him, and no courtesy or kindness from others is ever lost on Ramon.

“When my brother died,” said he, his gayety all vanished, “and the funeral procession drove along the streets, some of the men took off their hats as we passed. I was so grateful to them. I wanted to tell them so. Those little things mean so much.

“Months before my brother died, the doctors told me he could not live, but I didn’t believe them. I kept thinking that something would save him. He died on Friday and on Sunday I went to church. When a member of the church dies, the priest always asks for prayers for the soul of the departed. I had never thought much about it before, just knelt and prayed with the rest of the congregation. But when prayers for my brother were asked from the pulpit that day, I just fell on my knees and prayed my heart out. We never realize what death is until it strikes in our own family.”

Ramon himself brought up the subject of fan loyalty, though not premeditatedly, I know, for our talk happened on the spur of the moment.

“It seems that a particularly unflattering letter was written about me by a Miss Perula in ‘What the Fans Think,’ ” said he, smiling. “I must have been in Europe at the time, for I didn’t see it. But for months afterward I read letters in Picture Play from other fans defending me. It was charming of them to be so concerned, and I certainly appreciate their good thoughts.

“At times I get discouraged, as we all do, and then I remember some one, perhaps some old lady over in London, who has written some nice thing about me, or to me, and it gives me new courage.” It is not surprising that Ramon’s fans are loyal and devoted. He is a grand person and a real artist.

by Madeline Glass
(Picture Play, September 1931)

Rudy Valentino’s Artistic Soul

Rudy Valentino, photograph James Abbe
Rudy Valentino, photograph James Abbe

Star Declares Productions Do Not Live Up to His Ambitions — It Is Rumored However That Salary Is Big Issue in Present Difficulties

NEW YORK, September 5. — Rodolph Valentino’s artistic soul has been jarred. The jolt, he declares, was delivered by the way “Blood and Sand” — one of the greatest box office attractions ever known on Broadway — was handled by Famous Players-Lasky Corporation.

But be it known to all and sundry, declares the young man whose pulchritudinous charms bring sighs of admiration from the lowermost depths of the hearts of feminine screen fans, box office values mean nothing to him. Money is nothing. Artistry is the thing. So there.

Not Interested in Box Office Value Says Star

Says Valentino in the only interview he has deigned to relieve himself of: “I have been dissatisfied with the photography, management and direction — the handling of all my films. They do not live up to my artistic ambitions. I am not interested in their box office value, but only from the artistic viewpoint.”

So there again. It is rumored in motion picture vehicles that the realization that his artistic temperament had been bumped came to Rodolph while he was studying arithmetic on a small slip of paper bearing the Famous Player-Lasky signature and representing his weekly emolument. With a star of lesser magnitude that little slip would be called the pay check.

The Trouble Starts

It is also rumored that the wallop to the artistic sense would have been greatly assuaged had the star been able to study higher mathematics on the emolument certificate. So taking it by and large Rodolph decided it was high time for him to trek East and start trouble. So he came and started it, and already a whole flock of attorneys are trying to unscramble what “Rudy” started.

The first flirt of the scramble was the filing of a notice by Valentino through his attorney upon Famous Players that he was dissatisfied and desired to be loosed from his contract. In other words he didn’t like the way his job was being handled and proposed to close the act.

Elek John Ludvigh, general counselor and treasurer of Famous Players, after a couple of conferences with Valentino’s attorney, in an effort to effect an amicable settlement, decided to at once bring suit against the lover of the screen to compel him to fulfill his contract. The papers being prepared in the case also seek to enjoin Valentino from working for anyone else during the period of his contract with Famous Players.

The law firm of Guggenheimer, Untermeyer and Marshall have been engaged by Mr. Ludvigh to institute the suit which will be commenced within a few days. The matter was brought to the attention of Will H. Hays by a letter from the law firm. Valentino’s attorney has also sought the intervention of Mr. Hays. The latter, however, holds that the matter is not within his province and has only taken cognizance of the affair by acknowledging the letters and forwarding them as requested.

Sends Letter to Hays

Following is the letter sent to Mr. Hays by Guggenheimer, Untermeyer and Marshall, copies of which were mailed from the Hays office to all members of the Motion Picture Producers & Distributors Association:

« We address you as president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, Inc. We have been retained by Famous Players-Lasky Corporation to bring suit against one Rodolph Valentino, a motion picture actor, to restrain him from violating his agreement to perform exclusively in motion pictures for the Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, for a period which, including renewal options, has about two and one-half years to run. We are ready to disclose to you the terms of the contract should you desire further information regarding it.

Pending the hearing of an application which we are preparing for an injunction pendente lite, it is important that no producer shall enter into a contract with Valentino, in ignorance of the rights and claims of our client.

In order that the facts may be brought to the attention of the industry, will you be good enough to communicate promptly with all producers and distributors who are members of your organization, acquainting them with our client’s claims in the premises? You will thereby render a distinct public service by preventing others from becoming involved in this litigation and at the same time will accord proper protection to ‘our client, who is a member of your organization, against the consequences of what we regard as a threatened breach of contract ».

Valentino Makes Appeal

The following letter was received at the Hays office from Arthur Butler Graham, attorney for Valentino:

« My attention has been called to a letter sent you today by Messrs. Guggenheimer, Untermyer and Marshall, who state that they have been retained by Famous Players-Lasky Corporation to bring suit against one Rodolph Valentino, a motion picture actor, to restrain him from violating his agreement to perform exclusively in motion pictures for Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, and requesting that you communicate promptly with all producers and distributors who are members of your organization, acquainting them with the claims of their client in the premises. You are assured by them that you will thereby render a distinct service by preventing others from becoming involved in the litigation and at the same time will afford proper protection to Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, who is a member of your organization, of the consequences of what the writers regard as a threatened breach of the contract.

Notwithstanding that you are president of the Motion Picture Producers and Disributors of America, Inc., and perhaps do not ostensibly represent the stars, directors and others who are an important part of the production of pictures, I have followed with interest and admiration your sincere efforts for the good of the motion picture industry as a whole and your growing conception of its mission and of its importance as a contribution to our times.

For the foregoing reason I feel sure that while you would be willing to heed the request of counsel for Famous Players-Lasky Corporation to afford proper protection to their client, you will also stand firmly for a proper protection for any artist sincerely devoted to his work, against violation of contract, oppression of himself or suppression of his talents.

I realize that not even the great power and far-reaching influence of Famous Players-Lasky Corporation will affect your judgment or your action, and I am writing you for the sole purpose of conveying to you Mr Valentino’s assurance of the justice of his cause and to ask you to withhold any action until the court has rendered its decision ».

(Exhibitors Herald, September 16 1922)

How First Vitaphone Film Was Photographed

Don Juan (1926)
Don Juan (1926)

A. S. C. Member Has Soundproof Booth Built to Prevent Recording Studio Noises.

Du Par adapts Camera for Vocal Reproduction Work; Storage Batteries Used for Lights.

An interesting insight into the cinematographic difficulties which had to be conquered before the new celebrated Vitaphone process, used by Warner Bros, in conjunction with Don Juan, was reduced to the plane of commercial acceptability is shown in an account of the invention by E. B. Du Par. the A. S. C. member who surmounted its photographic barriers and thus made possible the actual application of the device.

Noise Cut Out

“First of all,” Du Par reports, “the noise incident to the taking of a motion picture made it necessary to shut the camera in a special soundproof booth. With the camera, I was locked in the booth. I shot through a small aperture, and looked out through a small peek hole. However, the construction of the booth does not permit of the booth’s occupant to hear anything from without. It is necessary to depend entirely on light signals for starts and fades.


“The camera is run by a motor which is synchronized with the recording machine motor. Instead of running at the regular speed of 16 pictures per second, we exposed at the rate of 24 per second! The recording machine is so located that it is in another part of the building, far enough away so that no sound can get to the actual place of photographing. The apparatus in the recording room is in charge of a recording expert. Another expert is stationed at the ‘mixing panel,’ as we call it, his duties being to listen to what is being recorded and also to watch a very sensitive dial that indicates every little variation of sound. When the dial starts to jump up to a certain mark, he has to vary the amplification on the microphone so as not to cut over certain high notes; high frequencies are apt to make the cutting point on the recorder break through the delicate walls of wax and spoil the record.

Far Removed

“The master recorder,” Du Par continues, “was stationed on the sixth floor above us. He is surrounded by dials whereby he can tell just what the vocal actions of the artists are. He is also attended by a large horn, about five feet square, in which he listens for any foreign noises. The microphones are so sensitive that he can detect if anybody on the set makes the least noise, such as walking, whispering or even the flickering of a light. If such are recorded, then the record is ruined. A flicker of a light sounds out like a pistol shot. This makes for a severe test on the lights. A number runs about ten minutes, or between 900 and 1000 feet. On some sets I have to use big storage batteries, weighing about 400 pounds each; seven of them are required to run a G. E. light of 150 amps. I use batteries to avoid generator noise. On the same lights, we had the gears changed from metal to fiber in order to eliminate gear noise on the automatic feed light.

Adapted Camera

“Since ! beginning this work,” Du Par states, “I have almost remodelled my camera. I use 1000-foot magazines, high-speed shutter, leather belt, special clutches on the take-up spool, and a light signal built right in the camera.

“There is somewhat of a difference in photographing motion picture and then grand opera stars. In the past several weeks I have filmed Mischa Elman, violinist; Efrem Zimbalist, violinist; Harold Bauer, pianist; Giovanni Martinelli, tenor; Marion Talley, and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra of 100 pieces.

“A strange incident occurred when we were taking ‘Swaunee River.’ Everything was still, and I had just received the signal to start; I flashed back the signal that I was fading in and everything was going nicely when I noticed frantic signals to stop. Looking out the peek-hole, I saw that every one was exceedingly excited. The cause, I learned, had been the screams of a colored janitress who claimed that she had seen the late Oscar Hammerstein walking across the balcony. It was eleven
o’clock in the morning, and it is said that it was his old custom to walk across the balcony at that time in the old Manhattan Opera House which we were using to work in. This was the third time that the janitor’s force had claimed seeing Mr. Hammerstein, and of course the commotion ruined that shot.”

(American Cinematographer, September 1926)