"My Dear Noël": Ramón Novarro, Noël Sullivan, and the Negotiation of a Catholic/Mexican/Queer Identity

Ernesto Chávez, Associate Professor of History at the University of Texas, El Paso, and Visiting Researcher at the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, reads expressions of devout Catholicism and queer codes in the early- and mid-twentieth-century letters of silent screen actor, Ramón Novarro, and arts philanthropist Noël Sullivan. This free, public lecture takes place Tuesday, April 21, 2015, at 2:00pm in Humanities 1, Room 520.

March 10, 2015

By , Academic Program Coordinatory, History Department 

Ramón Novarro, the New Orpheus (1929).  Photo by George Hurrell.

In this presentation, Ernesto Chávez offers preliminary thoughts on materials pertaining to Ramón Novarro, the Mexican-born, gay, silent screen actor and devout Roman Catholic.  Novarro, the subject of Professor Chávez's current book project, was perhaps best known for playing the title role in the 1925 version of Ben-Hur, which propelled him to stardom.  The bulk of his career occurred at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and after his stardom waned, he continued to act in movies and television until his violent murder at the hands of a hustler in 1968.  The manner of his death ensured that he was outed posthumously.  Yet, if one reads interviews with him and letters that he wrote to friends, queer codes that deflected his homosexuality emerge.  Such is the case with the 102 letters that he wrote to Bay Area arts philanthropist Noël Sullivan.  The letters, which are housed at UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, are the basis of this talk.  In these missives, Novarro expressed his devout Catholicism to Sullivan, who was both gay and Catholic.  The letters provide insight into a platonic relationship between two gay men in the early to mid-twentieth century and allow us to glimpse an intimacy that was mitigated by religiosity, but that nonetheless had at its core a common homosexuality.

Ernesto Chávez HeadshotErnesto Chávez, Associate Professor of History at the University of Texas, El Paso, is currently a Visiting Researcher at the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center and Institute of American Cultures.  His work intersects Chicano/a, Latino/a, and Borderlands History and examines the history of the American Southwest, focusing on the matrix of race, class, and sexuality throughout the ethnic Mexican and Latino American past.  In 2014, he received the American Historical Association's Equity Award. 



The Chicano Latino Research Center is proud to cosponsor this free, public lecture with the Departments of History and Latin American and Latino Studies.