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Beyond Paradise: The Life of Ramon Novarro (Hollywood Legends Series)
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39 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on December 11, 2002
This biography is written in the best style of biography. One learns not only about the subject but also about the era in which he lived. Andre Soares has uncovered and debunked many of the myths and legends that surrounded Ramon Novarro's life, career and eventual murder (being Valentino's lover and an art deco sex toy as a murder weapon among them).
Novarro is revealed in a very sympathetic light. The author writes eloquently and shows he has taken the time not only to research facts and present them here in plenty,like Novarro's movies (Ben Hur etc) and co-stars (Garbo, Crawford, Loy, Shearer) but also to understand Novarro himself. As well as is now possible after the passage of the years, he examines and reveals the stresses and pressures of being an international super-star who is also a homosexual in 1920's America.
The book is a fascinating story and a very good read.
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40 of 42 people found the following review helpful
Between 1925 and 1932 he reigned as one of the greatest stars of the screen, with enormous followings first in the United States and then in Europe and in Latin America. Then, as if on the release of a long-held breath, he suddenly fell--and few have fallen quite so far or landed quite so hard.
Arriving in Los Angeles as a refugee from Mexican civil war, Ramon Novarro had the burning ambition, remarkable good looks, and undeniable talent to create a great career, and for a time he succeeded. But he was a conflicted man, torn between his ambitions as an actor and his ambitions as a musician, and struggling between a deep-rooted Catholic faith and a sexual identity that his faith condemned. Perhaps out of uncertainty, perhaps out of fear, and sometimes out of desperation, even at the peak of his power he would be easily influenced, and in the process make one bad choice after another, ultimately precipitating his rapid slide into oblivion.
In the end, Ramon Novarro would make one bad choice too many--and it led to his brutal death and a court case that effectively splashed the very thing he had worked hardest to conceal from the public across the headlines of the world. And for all his great films and great performances, for all his stardom and talents, he is today best remembered by the public as the gay has-been-star who was tortured to death by two male prostitutes he invited into his home for sex.
Given Navorro's determined privacy, much about the man remains mysterious--but Andre Soares' BEYOND PARADISE seems to capture an essence of the man that far exceeds any other account offered thus far, giving us not the stuff of supermarket tabloids but the complexity of a human being who is by turns likable and unlikable, both an incredible success and a dismal failure. In the process of examining Novarro's life, Soares also creates a memorable portrait of the world in which he moved, the great stars of the era, and the great failures of the studio system in handling Novarro himself. It is a remarkable accomplishment.
This is a very dark, very bitter look at both fame and its consequences, and at the inability of an incredibly talented man to ride the crest of fame's wave to a safe shore. A remarkable accomplishment, and one that should do much to return the luster to a once famous but now obscure name. Strongly recommended.
GFT, Amazon reviewer
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on December 15, 2002
Proving a thorough background of the times, cultures, and lifestyles, the author creates a vivid and three-dimensional narrative of the life of silent/early talkie star Novarro. Rather than accept heresay--especially about the movie star's drinking, horrendous death--Soares delves into the reality of the situations. An excellent book and a wonderful addition to cinema history.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on August 12, 2003
I would give this wonderful biography ten stars if that star rating was available. Being about a topic very dear to my own heart; the life and career of Ramon Novarro the first prominent Mexican star of movies in Hollywood, I was prepared to love this biography anyway however upon reading it I found so much more to appreciate, enjoy and learn from.
"Beyond Paradise", goes beyond just the story of one man's rise to stardom and his life in general, it provides a vivid snapshot of an early period of both Hollywood and American history, its mores, attitudes and views on life. Ramon Novarro's life was indeed one of contrasts, tremendous highs and very deep lows and filled along the way with tremendous film successes,huge adulation, fascinating costars right through to brushes with the law and a lifetime of trying to shield his homosexuality from the adoring public. Andre Soares has brought all of this vividly to life in a scholarly, informative, well researched and entertaining biography that deals objectively with all aspects of this complex and fascinating man. Many film star biographies can easily fall into the "hero worship" category, in particular if the subject is one dear to the author's heart however Andre Soares has managed an objective balance detailing the huge popularity of Ramon Novarro on audiences in the 1920's and early 30's with an honest look at how the passing of stardom and good looks and prevailing attitudes towards homosexuality affected such a performer later in life. The circumstances of Ramon Novarro's tragic death, long a popular subject for the scandal sheets is also handled in an honest, intelligent and non sensational manner.
Beautifully bound and filled with many rare and previously unpublished photos, "Beyond Paradise", is a wonderful reading experience for anyone who loves film and is interested in the early period of Hollywood film making. It cannot help but become a treasured part of anyone's personal library of books. I have a huge personal interest in the work and life of Ramon Novarro and am delighted with the publication of this splendid biography. I sincerly hope "Beyond Paradise",will inspire new generations of film lovers to find out more about the early years of Hollywood film making and in the film work of this gifted actor. Thanks to Andre Soares we are now provided for the first time with a comprehensive study of this unique performer. Highly recommended reading.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on September 14, 2005
This is an incredibly riveting compelling read, and beyond being entertaining and informative, it's also a balanced thoughtful sensitive portrait of a fascinating human being and actor. Some celebrity biographies seem to have been written by people who can't stand their subject and some are written by people who are too in love with the subject to think clearly, but this one gives a nicely balanced account. We see here a man who was a very fine gifted talented actor, but who eventually became a has-been, for various reasons, who didn't always give his all to selecting the best projects because of his conflicting desire to have a career as an opera singer, and who was deeply torn over his genuine deep committment to his family, his Mexican roots, and his Catholic faith, and how he was also a gay man in a time and a society where that subject was strictly taboo. Even at the time of his murder by two young hustlers, gayness was still considered a psychiatric disorder. Because Ramon kept so much of his life private, this biography can't tell us everything about his personal life, but it is made clear he was:

A very talented actor (he was allowed more range and depth of roles than some of his other romantic leading man counterparts), a man who played to perfection a number of dream roles, most notably that of Judah Ben-Hur in the 1925 version of the screen adaptation of the General Lew Wallace novel, as well as starring with a number of great leading ladies;

A talented singer (even though his acting and singing careers conflicted multiple times and mutually hindered one another);

A devoted family man, deeply religious (he seriously wanted to enter a religious order at several points in his life), becoming the head of the household after his family immigrated to America, as the oldest surviving son in a family of originally twelve children, stepping into the shoes of his father, who had once been a successful dentist but became too ill to support his family during much of his life;

A good human being in spite of natural human flaws (such as his problems with drinking in his later years and several car accidents caused by his heavy drinking);

Someone who sometimes wasn't always the most agreeable person, as evidenced by when he was touring a play in England in the Thirties and getting catcalled by the audience who couldn't hear him, since Ramon had never learnt how to project his voice, being a screen and not stage actor, and actually stepped out of the play to catcall back, "Now, *I* can't hear *you*!"

Even though he is most remembered today for playing the title role in 'Ben-Hur' and for being murdered in his home on Halloween Eve 1968 by two young hustlers, which finally exposed to the public that which he had worked so hard to keep hidden and private (i.e., the fact that he was gay), he was so much more than either of those things, a deeply talented and flawed man. This biography truly does his life and character justice.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on July 1, 2003
Beyond Paradise is an interesting and thoroughly researched biography that will help to re-establish Ramon Novarro's reputation as Hollywood's greatest Mexican-born actor. This is a wonderful portrait of a man whose ambitions - personal, professional and artistic - more often than not went unfulfilled. But what Novarro did achieve was remarkable, and Soares' book is, in its own way, just as remarkable. Through interviews, studio archives, Novarro's personal correspondence and other sources, Soares creates a work that gives the reader as clear a picture as we'll probably ever get of Novarro.

Novarro was a multi-talented performer whose career survived the transition from silent films to talking pictures, although Soares does describe the various factors that contributed to the decline in Novarro's film career as the 1930's progressed.
Soares also describes the relationships between Ramon and his relatives (his earnings and investments financed his parents and siblings for decades) as well as his personal relationships. I don't want to give away too many details, but I was surprised that Soares was able to provide such a clear picture of Novarro's life, considering the actor was gay at a time when such information would have destroyed his career and labeled him as a deviant in the eyes of society.
Novarro's life and brutal murder (Soares interviews both of Novarro's killers) make for compelling reading, so this biography will be of great interest to film buffs in general as well as anyone looking for an interesting biography to read.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on August 24, 2003
Beyond Paradise is a poignant and powerful story of a classically gifted yet conflicted man who, as a gay, Latino movie star whose career encompassed silent films, talkies and television, never received the credit that author Andre Soares demonstrates is due.

I found myself swept into this superbly paced book. Soares spins out the events of Novarro's life in a measured way, backing up occasionally to provide helpful information about important characters, places and events that contributed to the actor's story (including family background clear back to Spain and the origins of his stage name. Rather than sensationalizing Novarro's life and preserving the demeaning mystique of his death at the hands of male hustlers, Soares humanizes his subject. To do so, he traveled to Mexico to ground his subject's ancestry and childhood, tracked down letters and newspaper reviews, viewed extant films, and interviewed Novarro's convicted killers in prison. The result is a wonderful portrait of a figure who has not been adequately appreciated, either by himself or posterity.
Soare's balanced reflection of Novarro's weaknesses and strengths achieves an overall effect first of credibility and then of compassion that, at the end, brought me to tears over the sadness, more so than the violence, of Novarro's sordid death. Beyond Paradise is a redeeming treatment of a remarkable human being. One wishes that Novarro himself could have read it.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 3, 2007
If silent movie star Ramon Novarro is remembered at all today, it is for two things: his starring role in the original film version of BEN-HUR and his brutal murder in 1968 by two alleged male hustlers. Andre Soares' biography of Novarro, BEYOND PARADISE, is intelligently written and sympathetic towards its subject. Novarro seems to have been a nice Mexican boy who was devoted to his family and his religion. He was also homosexual, which caused him a great deal of spiritual torment in a time when such things were not even mentioned among nice people. He had a rapid rise to stardom in the embryonic motion picture industry and was one of the few silent screen stars to survive the transition to talking pictures (despite his Spanish accent), when he played opposite Greta Garbo in the sound feature MATA HARI. But miscasting combined with a conflicting desire to become an opera singer brought about a slow decline and ultimate obscurity. He also became an alcoholic and, perhaps because of his homosexuality, a virtual recluse. This is a sad story.

There are some factual errors early in the book that made me doubt the accuracy of the other points in the book. For example, he says that Franklin, Texas is slightly north of El Paso when it is actually 300 miles to the East. However, he does set the record straight about the means of Novarro's death. In the 1975 book HOLLYWOOD BABYLON, Kenneth Anger states that Novarro choked to death when his art deco styled artificial phallus was stuffed into his mouth by his assailants. Soares gives the lie to this myth when he quotes official evidence that Novarro not only died from being bludgeoned to death, but that no such object was found among Novarro's possessions, nor did it ever exist.

The trouble I had with the book is that actor biographies are all fairly similar. After reading dozens of them over the years, I don't find most of them very interesting. The best parts of the book for me were the final chapters dealing with the murder and its aftermath. But for those who already have a keen interest in the silent movie era of Hollywood and are already familiar with the actors and directors of the period, BEYOND PARADISE could be compelling reading.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
After 30+ years in his grave, it is truly nice to see Ramon Novarro remembered as the great actor that he was and not just someone who met an unfortunate and untimely death at the hands of two male hustlers.
Soares has done an excellent job of researching his subject and has painted a picture of a truly talented person who also happened to also be a very decent human being. The author has managed to dump the lurid stories and produce a balanced portrait of this man.
This is a very interesting and detailed biography. It will leave you with the impression that you really have a good idea who Novarro was and will provide you with a greater appreciation for his work.
Thumbs up to Mr. Soares for his work as a researcher/biographer. He did a wonderful job and didn't take any shortcuts.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on July 1, 2003
Until now, the best-known element of film star Ramon Novarro's life was his gruesome death at the hands of two Hollywood hustlers. However, Andres Soares'meticulously researched new biography resurrects Mr. Novarro from casualty to icon. A matinee idol of the ephermeral silent screen, Mr. Novarro's career is given a persuasive critical appraisal by Mr. Soares who also cracks the socio-political climate of the early days of motion pictures and how the industry came into being. Definitely not a beach-read for those preferring a surface biography of their favorite stars (i.e., "The Brad Pitt Story") this is a must for serious cinema buffs.
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