Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
December 19
October 30, 1968
Ramon Navarro murdered

Ramon Navarro came to LA in 1913 with hopes of making a new life for himself. While working at the Alexandria Hotel, he was spotted by director Rex Ingram who cast him first as an extra, and then as the lead of Prisoner of Zenda in 1923. The beautiful young man was deemed the worthy successor to Rudolph Valentino’s Latin lover role. Reportedly he shared more than a legacy with Valentino as the two were close friends and supposedly lovers at one point. Despite his success with films like Ben-Hur and The Student Prince, Navarro never really transitioned to sound. His next big headline would have nothing to do with cinema. On Halloween, 1968, the police found the naked, dead body of the famed silent film star. Following phone records, detectives found Paul and Tom Ferguson, two brothers who’d visited Navarro on October 30. Towards the end of his life, Navarro was an avid consumer of male hustlers. But the brothers were there because they falsely believed that Navarro had $5,000 buried under his floorboards. As Tom was on the phone with his girlfriend in Chicago––the call the police used to catch the brothers––Paul beat Navarro to an inch of his life to get him to tell him where the money was. In defeat, the brothers attempted to make the scene look like a rape/robbery. After stripping the star down and tying him up, they scrawled "Us girls are better than those fagits" on the bathroom mirror. Navarro soon choked to death on his own blood. During the trial, the defense attorney Richard Walton blamed Navarro’s sexuality, exclaiming "Back in the days of Valentino, this man who set female hearts aflutter, was nothing but a queer. There’s no way of calculating how many felonies this man committed over the years, for all his piety." Both brothers were sentenced to life, but paroled after only seven years. Paul was again arrested and convicted for rape.


More Flashbacks
December 19, 1977
Jacques Tourneur dies

On this day in 1977, the film world lost of the most creative directors of the Golden Age of Hollywood, when Jacques Tourneur passed away in Bergerac, a town in the south west of France.

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December 19, 1979
Being There, Sellers' Last Chance

According to director Hal Ashby, the editing of Being There was only finally finished at around 4 a.m. on the first day of its limited Oscar qualifying run, 29 years ago today, and Ashby himself delivered the film to the theatre by hand. The painstaking approach Ashby took with the film, however, translated into rapturous reviews and turned Being There into a financial as well as critical success. The movie was a long-gestating project that Ashby and the film’s star, Peter Sellers, had been planning since 1973 when the Pink Panther star had first shared with Ashby his love of Jerzy Kosinski’s novel about a idiot savant gardener who unintentionally becomes a political heavyweight. Sellers, who was initially seen as too broad a comic actor to play this subtle a role, excelled as Chauncey Gardiner (aka Chance the gardener), the childlike man whose simplistic comments are misinterpreted as ingenious political rhetoric, and garnered the very best reviews of his career and a Best Actor Oscar nod in the process. The film proved the most fitting of swan songs as Sellers died of a heart attack just six months after the film’s release. Being There has since become a classic, not least because of its incisive and gently scornful satire of the American political establishment: during the 1980 election, candidates Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter both tried to paint their opponent as being “like Chauncey Gardiner,” and over the course of the presidency of George W. Bush, numerous comparisons were made between the intelligence of commander in chief and Sellers’ simple-minded comic hero.

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