At a time when Hollywood screenwriter Elinor Glyn helped to make a star of actress Clara Bow, for whom she coined the label “the It girl” in 1928, little is remembered of her co-star, Antonio Moreno who appeared with Bow in the film It in 1927. It was Clara Bow’s first starring role; Moreno had already appeared in dozens of films, beginning in 1912, the year of his arrival in Los Angeles during which he appeared in seven films.
Moreno grew up in Gibraltar, a handsome lad of impressive charm, enough to attract the attention (in more ways than one) of two important tourists: Benjamin Curtis, son of US Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Robbins Curtis, and Enrique de Cruzat Zanetti (also known as Sheikh Birbal), a leader in the Sufi branch of Islam. Curtis and Zanetti invited the teenager to accompany them on the remainder of their travels with Moreno serving as interpreter to the ailing Curtis. Arriving in New York in 1902, Moreno wasted no time in attracting more patrons, including Charlotte Morgan, a wealthy widow who invited him to live her at her home in Northampton, Massachusetts.
In Northampton, Antonio caught the acting bug after playing in a summer production of the resident stock company, after which he moved with the company to New York City. Charming his way into the company, he made his Broadway debut in 1910, and by 1912 was doing Shakespeare with the touring Southern and Marlow Company. When English director Walter Edwin suggested he might do well in motion pictures, he moved to Hollywood in 1912 and appeared in seven films during the year of his arrival.
In all, Moreno appeared in 140 films, rising to fame as an exotic romantic hero, benefitting from the “Latin Lover” craze begun by Rudolph Valentino. He appeared alongside every dramatic star of the silent era including Mary Pickford, Lillian and Dorothy Gish, Norma Talmadge, Greta Garbo, Pola Negri, Gloria Swanson and the aforementioned Clara Bow.
In 1923 Antonio married oil heiress Daisy Canfield, daughter of Charles Canfield, who with Edward Doheny discovered Los Angeles’ black gold in the 1890s. The marriage was one of convenience, given alleged same-sex inclinations on the part of both. A perception of normalcy in sexual relations would have been especially important for a macho-playing movie star, who like Valentino, had to constantly fend off rumors about his sexuality.
With unlimited funds acquired through the divorce from her first husband, oilman J. M. Danzinger, Daisy hired noted architect Robert Farquhar to design a Mediterranean style villa on the crest of the highest hill in Silver Lake. Christened the Crestmont, the estate would become famous for its lavish parties attended by celebrities, socialites and prominent members of Los Angeles’ Spanish and Mexican era land grant families.
For more on the life of Antonio Moreno, the book, Silver Lake Chronicles: Exploring an Urban Oasis in Los Angeles makes for excellent reading.