Archive for February 10th, 2010

Novarro and Hurrell

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

FILM HISTORY

Ramon Novarro and Hurrell

 

   

By Allan R. Ellenberger
February 10, 2020

 

In 1928, Ramon Novarro became friends with Florence “Pancho” Barnes, a woman flier who became famous for breaking speed records in her plane, Mystery Ship. Years later she founded the Happy Bottom Ranch in the Antelope Valley, which became an oasis in the desert for aviators depicted in the film, The Right Stuff (1983).

 

Pancho was introduced to Ramon at a party, and the two became an unusual couple cavorting around Hollywood in Ramon’s sports cars. Pancho was not the glamorous type and was known for her profanity, which she used liberally.

 

Pancho was a staunch supporter of George Hurrell, a struggling photographer who had taken many photos of her. Ramon had told Pancho that he was planning to make his concert debut in Vienna and needed new portraits. She suggested Hurrell, and Ramon asked her to set up an appointment. Pancho excitedly told Hurrell about Novarro’s request, to which he replied, “I’m flattered, but why doesn’t he use MGM’s photographer?”

 

 

Ramon Novarro and Pancho Barnes (Photo: Pancho Barnes Trust Estate)

 

 

She explained that Novarro was planning an upcoming concert tour and added, “He doesn’t want MGM to know about it right now. If he asked Ruth Harriet Louise to do it, the prints would be all over the studio.”

 

That evening Hurrell prepared his tiny studio at 672 Lafayette Park Place to greet the Ben-Hur of the screen. Soon Novarro’s sports roadster arrived, and he and Pancho made their way to Hurrell’s studio, where the two were introduced. Pancho, who was breathless and giddy, excused herself, explaining she had to meet some new pilots down at Mines Field. Hurrell sensed there was a budding romance between  her and Ramon, which was precisely what Pancho wanted people to think.

 

After Pancho left, Hurrell set up his equipment while Novarro changed. Within minutes, he turned around and saw the actor, standing quietly on the landing dressed as a Spanish grandee in a huge sombrero, with silver ornaments and a mustache glued to his upper lip.

 

 

The first photo of Ramon Novarro taken by George Hurrell

 

 

Hurrell found that Novarro, whom he nicknamed Pete, had photographically perfect features and was very relaxed. The photographer played classical music, which made Novarro more responsive. “He could face my camera with a blank expression,” Hurrell recalled. “Not at all like some of the men-about-town whom I had been photographing. I had to trick them into losing their solemn expression in order to get an interesting shot, but Ramon was relaxed.”

 

Two days later when the Latin saw the proofs, he told Hurrell, “You have caught my moods exactly. You have revealed what I am inside.” Hurrell photographed Novarro many times over the next few months. When Pancho saw a photo taken on her estate in San Marino (below) of a tunic-clad Novarro standing under a tree next to a white horse, the aviatrix noted, “My God George, even the horse looks glamorous!”

 

 

 

 

One day while visiting the set of The Hollywood Revue of 1929, Norma Shearer invited Novarro into her dressing room for a visit. She complained that she was very unhappy about the recent film roles she was receiving. During the conversation, Ramon spread out a stack of portraits he just received from Hurrell. Norma looked from one to the other with obvious interest. “Why Ramon, no one has ever photographed you like this before,” she said.

 

Ramon told her about Hurrell and his tiny Lafayette Park studio. Smiling, she said, “He may come in handy. I have an idea.” She explained that the studio was preparing a script she wanted called The Divorcee (1930). Her husband and mentor, Irving Thalberg, did not think she was beguiling enough for the part. She hoped that if Hurrell could photograph her like a “sex pot,” Irving would give her the role. So Ramon set up a meeting between the actress and Hurrell. The photographs were stunning and convinced Thalberg to give his wife the part. As a result, she won the Academy Award for best actress, and Hurrell was given a contract as a portrait photographer at MGM.

 

The preceeding exerpt is from Ramon Novarro: A Biography of the Silent Film Idol (1999) by Allan R. Ellenberger.

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