by Paula Bosse
The other day I was thinking about a bit of weirdness that I had encountered in 2009, back when IMDb (the Internet Movie Database) still had its (much-missed) forums where movie fans could discuss actors, movies, TV shows, etc. I am an enthusiastic consumer of classic movies, and I utilize the inexhaustible database of IMDb all the time. Here’s what I wrote in 2009 about this strange incident.
A few months ago I discovered character actress Una Merkel and loved her. I set my DVR to record anything that comes on that she’s in (just as I’ve recently done with Marie Prevost). I watched one of those movies yesterday, The Huddle, from 1932. Una was hardly in it, but the star was an actor I’d heard about but had never actually seen: Ramon Novarro. The movie wasn’t very good, but I decided to read up a little on Novarro. He was born in Mexico in 1899, and his family fled to the United States during the Mexican Revolution. He started out doing some work as an extra in Hollywood and eventually moved his way up the show-business ladder to become a star in silent films. Not just a star, but a huge star. He is often compared to Rudolph Valentino in swoonworthiness and has been called “Hollywood’s first Latin-American sperstar.”
Unlike a lot of silent film stars, Novarro was successful in the transition to talkies. He was, by all accounts, a great guy who was loved by friends, fans, and those in the Hollywood community. By the time of the movie I saw, his popularity was starting to wane. Today he is virtually forgotten, except by die-hard film fans. …And readers of Hollywood Babylon.
Novarro was gay, and, unlike many other gay actors in Hollywood at the time, he never succumbed to the pressure of marrying a woman for the sake of appearance. I mention this only because, if he is known today, it is primarily because of the circumstances of his death, and, specifically, the salacious (and maliciously exaggerated) version of the crime as recounted by Kenneth Anger in his book Hollywood Babylon (in which he also created details about Marie Prevost’s death which have now entered the realm of “this-is-so-crazy-it-must-be-true” urban folklore).
The story of the crime, briefly, is that on October 30, 1968, two young male hustlers showed up at Novarro’s house. The 69-year old Novarro frequently hired male prostitutes, and this meeting had been set up by one of those prostitutes (who also happened to be the brother-in-law of one of the two men). He invited the two in. They were brothers — one 22, the other 17. It was claimed that they had heard a rumor that Novarro had thousands of dollars in cash hidden in the house (a rumor which was apparently untrue). It was reported that the brothers spent several hours torturing Novarro to tell them where the cash was, until he eventually died from his injuries.
The two men were caught and tried for murder, in separate trials which were held simultaneously. Both were found guilty and received life sentences, but they served only six years in prison (San Quentin). After he was paroled for Novarro’s murder, the older brother (Paul Ferguson) was in and out of prison and served at least two sentences for rape. The younger brother (Tommy Ferguson) also served additional prison time. In a review of a Novarro biography, John Rechy mentioned that Paul Ferguson was in prison when the book was published in 2002, so it seems likely he’s still in the Big House [Ferguson had been serving a 60-year sentence in Missouri since 1989].
The reason I mention all this is because whilst perusing the Ramon Novarro message boards on IMDb, it appears that Paul Ferguson is posting there – from prison. When I realized that Novarro’s killer was the person commenting, it sent a chill through me. Imagine if Charles Manson were posting to a Sharon Tate message board somewhere, discussing her murder. I realize that this is the internet and anyone can purport to be anyone they want, but I’m pretty sure this is the actual murderer of Ramon Novarro, posting as himself, on IMDb.
Here are some of Paul Ferguson’s verbatim, typo-ridden comments as they appear on IMDb. Even more chilling than the fact that this is written by Paul Ferguson, the man who killed Ramon Novarro, is that the date of this first comment is Oct. 30, 2007 — the 39th anniversary of the murder:
Belive this; I know beyond all doubt neither of the two involved confessed to MURDER! They did admit what happened was a horrible and was a homicide but NOT a murder. YES ONE WAS A CHILD OF 17 and the actor – while a resonable talent – was indeed a 69 year old alcholic troll who preyed on underprivledge youth who were desperate for cash. In the trial there were over 100 checks written to various kids for sex. While I do feel badly for what happened that cold overcast night, I believe Assistant District Attorney James Ideman was the real criminal in that court room. His homophobic comments against Novarro are a matter of public record. As a result of this conviction – which occurred when Ronald Wilson Reagan was then governor of California – [Ideman] was appointed by President Ronald Wilson Reagan to a Federal Judgeship! Oh my, preppy [the poster to whom this comment is directed]. How nice it must be to live in the universe in which you do – where only those who are truly guilty are convicted (let alone charged) and that the legal system is perfect. Are you aware over 1500 person who have been executed by “We the people,” have been proven to have been innocent of the crimes they were charged and convicted of? do hope you will get your fact together and in a row before slamming (falsely) someone who knows all the details of what happened thus perpetrating the homophobia which ran roughshod over the entire case!
In another comment on the IMDb message forum – written on the same day, Oct. 30, 2007 – he says, in reference to the Novarro biography reviewed by John Rechy (Beyond Paradise by Andre Soares): “Also, if you did truly read the biography, I’m quite surprised you have not yet recognized….” (Those ellipses really creep me out.) To drive home his identity, he then ends, “Respectfully submitted, Pau1Fer9uson.”
In a comment a year earlier he wrote: “It was a simple homicide, not a murder, and those involved in this death served their time.”
Here is the “Pau1Fer9uson” user-profile of himself which he posted on IMDb (I’m not sure how much of this is true):
Born 1946 in Selma Alabama, Paul Ferguson taught himself to read by matching words on shopping lists with the items they represented. From then on his admiration for writing and writers was immense. By age five, he was writing and illustrating stories for his younger siblings. In 5th grade his story, The Forgiveness, concerning the life of Judas after hanging himself, left no dry eye in the house, including Sister Theresa’s after his first public reading. The story has been rewritten over the years, and was last read publicly in 1964, for a group of Wyoming convicts, to the same tearful results.
Beginning in 1963, with screenwriter Jack Marlowe, Mr. Ferguson worked and studied with writers from Los Angeles to New York, many of whom are now long since dead. 1966 saw his first professional assignment as Native American Civil Rights reporter for American Native Weekly, in Chicago. The following year “Night of the Fatal Trap,” an episode of The Wild, Wild West, he co-wrote with Jack Marlowe was originally aired 24 December 1965. ABC bought an option for his original half-hour/hour comedy-drama, Sweet Dream in 1968, but a prison sentence nixed the deal, and the network let the option expire.
Mr. Ferguson began writing articles for the award winning San Quentin News and quickly achieved the position of editor, then soon was hired to write, produce, direct, and announce a nightly half-hour radio news program aired 7 nights a week, from 1972 until his release in 1975 from San Quentin. 1973 saw him finally working for ABC, and Truman Capote for a 90 minute documentary on death row. He won his first P.E.N. Award in the 1974 best short fiction category for Dream No Dreams, and was named PEOPLE magazine’s Writer To Watch. The story has been published in 29 languages and in at least 50 countries. He developed and taught college level creative writing courses at San Quentin and studied under Gordon Lish, future editor of ESQUIRE magazine, among others. Upon release, Mr. Ferguson was commissioned by the Shaw Coal Company in Home, PA, to compile reports on the effects of strip mining on the environment and what could be done about it. He then was hired as an administrative assistant, where he stayed until the company was forced to shut down due to EPA violations his report had uncovered. Writing article on subjects based on what the market was demanding, he worked his way back to Alabama from California. His last newspaper appearance was in 1983 with Shipwrecked for The Selma Times Journal. He continued writing short stories and two filmographies on B Westerns. He also self-published “The Adventures of Bar-D,” a 180 page novella which sold 9,500 copies by word of mouth alone. Since 1989, Mr. Ferguson has written everyday, completing dozens of short stories, essays, plays, screenplays, articles, a nonfiction book The Rape of the Red Ryder on corruption within the Missouri Judicial System., and a novel, Contrary to Belief. He has won the P.E.N. Award four times: 1974 for fiction, Dream No Dreams 2000; for the essay, “The Horror,” 2004 for “The Dog,” a poem and 2002 best drama, Everything That’s Cool. Currently Mr. Ferguson is working on his sophomore novel, All Creatures Tremble, and served as an adviser for a week long Channel Four (UK) news special on US prison abuse worldwide and domestically, being produced by John Kelly. The above mentioned news special was aired on 2 March in Britain. [This is almost exactly the same bio that shows up on Amazon — read it here.]
(Interestingly, in that bio he mentions his stint at San Quentin, but neglects to say what sent him there.)
As I write this [in Feb. 2009], I see that he has posted on IMDb as recently as a month ago.
I realize that Ramon Novarro’s IMDb page is probably not getting a ton of hits in the 21st century, but I would have expected that someone other than me and only one other person would have realized just who the IMDb poster “Pau1Fer9uson” is.
This is really creepy.
Since writing that back in 2009, I’ve discovered that Tom Ferguson, the younger brother, committed suicide in 2005. Paul Ferguson appears to have died in prison, on Sept. 9, 2018, at the age of 72.
Sources & Notes
Top photo is from Ancestry.com, as is the information that Paul Ferguson died in Missouri in 2018, presumably still serving his 60-year sentence.
Whether or not Paul Ferguson co-wrote an episode of”The Wild, Wild West” and had a sitcom (!) under option in Hollywood, he did receive praise as a writer. He even won a P.EN. Award for fiction while still in San Quentin.
Read a really interesting interview with Ferguson (with photo) and a lengthy and detailed account of Novarro’s murder in the 2012 Out magazine article “The Hustlers and the Movie Star” by William Van Meter here. Van Meter met with Ferguson at the Jefferson City Correctional Center in Missouri where he was serving a 60-year prison sentence for rape. If that was Ferguson commenting on IMDb in 2009, he would have been in year 20 of this sentence.
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