Gay History Halloween Edition – October 31: Happy Birthday Baby Jane and Actor Ramon Novarro Murdered With A Lead Jeweled Dildo
1962: Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, opens in theaters. Happy Birthday Blanche and Jane!
Produced and directed by Robert Aldrich, starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, about an aging actress who holds her paraplegic sister captive in an old Hollywood mansion. The screenplay by Lukas Heller is based on the 1960 novel of the same name by Henry Farrell. Upon the film’s release, it was met with widespread critical and box office acclaim and was later nominated for five Academy Awards, winning one for Best Costume Design, Black and White.
The intensely bitter Hollywood fued and rivalry between the film’s two stars, Davis and Crawford, made the filming of the movie a living hell but was heavily important to the film’s initial success. This in part led to the revitalization of the then-waning careers of the two stars. In the years after release, critics continued to acclaim the film for its psychologically driven black comedy, camp, and creation of the psycho-biddy subgenre.
Bette looked down on Crawford as a shallow “mannequin” with eyebrows like “African caterpillars” whilst she was a serious, theatre-trained performer. She also called into question Joan’s reputation with the opposite sex, or as she put it “She slept with every male star at MGM, except Lassie.”
Crawford was no kinder “Poor Bette,” she tutted “she looks like she’s never had a happy day, or night, in her life.”
Their claws continued to be out for one another for the remainder of their days, until Joan was the first to pass away from a heart attack. The tragedy did nothing to diminish Davis’ acid tongue; “You should never say bad things about the dead, only good…Joan Crawford is dead..Good.”
1968 : Silent film star Ramon Novarro’s body was found after being brutally murdered. A bathroom mirror has the words “US GIRLS ARE BETTER THAN FAGGITS” upon it.
Novarro a Mexican film, stage and television actor began his career in silent films era in 1917 and eventually became a leading man and one of the top box office attractions of the 1920’s and early 1930’s. He was promoted by MGM as a “Latin lover” and became known as a sex symbol after the death of his friend (and possible fuck buddy) Rudolph Valentino.
Novarro was troubled all his life by his conflicted feelings toward his Roman Catholic religion and his homosexuality. His life-long struggle with alcoholism is often traced to these issues. Once MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer reportedly tried to coerce Novarro into a “lavender marriage”, which he refused. Navarro was romantically involved with journalist Herbert Howe, who was also his publicist in the late 1920’s.
Novarro was murdered in the late evening of October 30, 1968, by brothers Paul and Tom Ferguson, aged 22 and 17, two hustlers whom he had hired from an agency to come to his Laurel Canyon home for sex. According to the prosecution in the murder case, the two young men believed that a large sum of money was hidden in Novarro’s house. The brothers of tortured Novarro for several hours trying to force him to reveal where the non-existent money was hidden. They left the house with $20 they took from his bathrobe pocket. Novarro died as a result of asphyxiation—having choked to death on his own blood caused “allegedly” by a jeweled lead dildo that was given him by Rudolph Valentino being shoved down his throat.
The two perpetrators were caught and sentenced to long prison terms, but released on probation in the mid-1970s. Both were later re-arrested for unrelated crimes for which they served longer prison terms than for the murder of Novarro. During the trial, Novarro’s sexual orientation was called into question with more vigor than the guilt or innocence of the defendants.
In a 1998 interview, Paul Ferguson finally assumed the blame for Novarro’s death. He emphasized that he and Tom had not gone to the home to rob the elderly film star, although they trashed his home as a ruse, to make police believe robbery had been the motive. They knew nothing of a supposed five thousand dollars that Novarro kept stashed behind a portrait in his home. Paul Ferguson blamed internal homophobia for the rage that led him to pummel Novarro into bloody insensibility. “When he [Novarro] kissed me, I reacted like a Catholic, what they call homosexual panic… It had nothing to do with Novarro, nothing to do with his being homosexual. It all had to do with how I saw myself. And the fact that my brother was there. And that he could see me in that homosexual act”
Tom Ferguson committed suicide on March 6, 2005 by slitting his throat in a Motel 6.
He left no suicide note.
1969: TIME magazine runs the cover story on “The Homosexual in America” that included a report on the Stonewall Riots. It was protested by the Gay Liberation Front because the writer said homosexuals are mentally ill and immoral.
1977: Halloween brings thousands of queer-bashers to Toronto’s Yonge Street looking for the annual drag parade. Gay representatives meet with police beforehand to try to prevent crowd from gathering. Operation Jack-o’-Lantern, a gay street patrol is organized to monitor situation but police do little to control crowd.
1979: Fire Island Pines’ beloved disco, The Sandpiper, closes its doors after its last Halloween party.
1987: The Associated Press reported that several nursing homes in King County Washington were under investigation for refusing to accept AIDS patients or those suspected of being likely to have been exposed to HIV.
1992: The Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights held a march in London.