Navarro was a Mexican-American actor born Jose Ramon Gil Samaniego in Durango, Mexico in 1899. Fleeing the Mexican Revolution in 1913, Navarro and his family settled in Los Angeles, California. Within four years, he started appearing in the films of Rex Ingram and his wife, Alice Terry, while also working as a singing waiter. His good looks and adequate skill as an actor made him an ideal competitor for Rudolph Valentino's dominance as a Latin lover. The Italian-American Valentino played the title character of The Sheik in 1921. Three years later, the Mexican-American Novarro played a similar role. But in 1925, Novarro gave his breakthrough performance as the title character in Ben-Hur. The film was a blockbuster hit, as would be its 1959 remake (but maybe not the 2016 re-interpretation).
Valentino's 1926 death left Novarro the title of Latin Lover Number One in Hollywood, and he enjoyed the status into the talking film era. It was only after his studio contract with MGM Studios was not renewed in 1935 that his celebrity faded. After that, he made sporadic appearances in film, then television, until his death in 1968. But that's another story. Navarro, Latin lover and sex symbol, was homosexual in a time when society had little understanding and no tolerance for anyone considered different. MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer asked him to take a woman as a bride, to participate in a "lavender marriage." Novarro refused, and maintained romantic relationships with men. Some accredit the stress of this unconventional lifestyle as triggering the alcoholism that would haunt him until October 30, 1968, the night when he was murdered by two brothers he invited into his home, who hoped to rob him blind, instead accidentally killing him. Tragic end to a fascinating character.