Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
December 04
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.


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December 4, 1987
Rouben Mamoulian Dies

21 years ago today, Hollywood lost one of its great pioneers and stylists, Rouben Mamoulian, though the director had been an almost forgotten figure for nearly 30 years prior to his death. In many ways, Mamoulian was emblematic of old Hollywood: a European immigrant, he came to America as an unknown, enjoyed huge success as a director and saw his career come to an end as the structure of the studio system collapsed in the late 50s. Born in Tbilisi (now the capital of Georgia, but then part of Russia), Mamoulian started out as a musical theatre director after relocating to England. From there, he transitioned to Broadway, arriving in 1927 and getting his first cinematic assignment only two years later on the backstage musical Applause. Though he returned to musicals on the big screen and the stage, Mamoulian refused to be pigeonholed and is now remembered for the cinematic ambition and inventiveness he displayed: in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), he opened the film from the perspective of the protagonist (something which initially baffled audiences), he was a major proponent of moving the camera (at a time when it was difficult and noisy to do so), and used innovative sound design, such as in Love Me Tonight, where the film begins with a jazzy, rhythmic blend of street sounds and snoring. Mamoulian was also the first director to ever use three-strip Technicolor, in his adaptation of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, Becky Sharp (1935), a film on which his dedication to his vision of a rich cinematic aesthetic was clearer than ever. Sadly, Mamoulian never quite had that one hugely successful picture that would have cemented his reputation and had a fair amount of bad luck, such as being fired from the noir classic, Laura (1944), on which he was replaced by Otto Preminger. After making the Fred Astaire musical Silk Stockings in 1957, Mamoulian never completed a film again, as he was fired from his last two directing assignments, Porgy and Bess (1959) and Cleopatra (1963). He received the DGA’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1982 and five years later died of old age, at the age of 90.

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