José Vicente Ferrer de Otero y Cintrón, known as José Ferrer, was a Puerto Rican actor and theatre and film director. He was the first Puerto Rican-born actor, as well as the first Hispanic actor, to win an Academy Award.
In 1947, Ferrer won the Tony Award for his theatrical performance of Cyrano de Bergerac, and in 1952, he won the Distinguished Dramatic Actor Award for The Shrike, and also the Outstanding Director Award for directing the plays The Shrike, The Fourposter, and Stalag 17.
Ferrer's contributions to American theatre were recognized in 1981, when he was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame. In 1985, he received the National Medal of Arts from Ronald Reagan, becoming the first actor to receive that honor.
Early lifeFerrer was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the son of María Providencia Cintrón, who was from the small coastal town of Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, and Rafael Ferrer, an attorney and writer from San Juan. He was the grandson of Gabriel Ferrer Hernández, a doctor and advocate of Puerto Rican independence from Spain. He had two younger sisters, Elvira and Leticia.
The family moved to New York in 1914. Ferrer studied at the Swiss boarding school Institut Le Rosey.
In 1933, Ferrer began his university studies at the age of 16, and completed his bachelor's degree in architecture at Princeton University, where he wrote his senior thesis on "French Naturalism and Pardo Bazán". Ferrer was also a member of the Princeton Triangle Club and played piano in a band, "José Ferrer and His Pied Pipers". Ferrer then studied Romance languages at Columbia University for 1934–35.
TheatreFerrer's first professional appearance as an actor was at a "showboat" theater on Long Island in the summer of 1934.
In 1935 Ferrer was the stage manager at the Suffern Country Playhouse, operated by Joshua Logan who Ferrer had known at Princeton. Ruth Gordon and Helen Hayes recommended him to Jed Harris.
Ferrer made his Broadway debut in 1935 in A Slight Case of Murder which ran 69 performances.
He could also be seen in Stick-in-the-Mud and Spring Dance. Ferrer's first big success was in Brother Rat which ran for 577 performances. In Clover only ran for 3 performances. How to Get Tough About It also had a short run, as did Missouri Legend.
Mamba's Daughters ran for 163 performances. Ferrer followed it with Key Largo with Paul Muni and directed by Guthrie McClintic, which went for 105 shows and was later turned into a film.
Ferrer had a huge personal success in the title role of Charley's Aunt, partly in drag, under the direction of Joshua Logan. It went for 233 performances.
Ferrer then replaced Danny Kaye in the revue Let's Face It!.
Theatre director and CyranoFerrer made his debut on Broadway as director with Vickie in which he also starred. It only had a short run.
He played Iago in Margaret Webster's Broadway production of Othello, which starred Paul Robeson in the title role, Webster as Emilia, and Ferrer's wife, Uta Hagen, as Desdemona. That production still holds the record for longest-running repeat performance of a Shakespearean play presented in the United States, going for 296 performances.
Ferrer produced and directed, but did not appear in, Strange Fruit, starring Mel Ferrer.
Among other radio roles, Ferrer starred as detective Philo Vance in a 1945 series of the same name.
''Cyrano de Bergerac''Ferrer may be best remembered for his performance in the title role of Cyrano de Bergerac, which he first played on Broadway in 1946. Ferrer feared that the production would be a failure in rehearsals, due to the open dislike for the play by director Mel Ferrer, so he called in Joshua Logan to serve as "play doctor" for the production. Logan wrote that he simply had to eliminate pieces of business which director Ferrer had inserted in his staging; they presumably were intended to sabotage the more sentimental elements of the play that the director considered to be corny and in bad taste. The production became one of the hits of the 1946/47 Broadway season, winning Ferrer the first Best Actor Tony Award for his depiction of the long-nosed poet/swordsman.
Ferrer directed, but did not appear in, As We Forgive Our Debtors, which ran 5 performances. There was another short run for Volpone which Ferrer adapted and played the title role.
Early filmsFerrer made his film debut in the Technicolor epic Joan of Arc as the weak-willed Dauphin opposite Ingrid Bergman as Joan. Ferrer's performance earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
At the City Center, he acted in revivals of Angel Street and The Alchemist and directed S. S. Glencairn and The Insect Comedy .
Ferrer had another Broadway hit with The Silver Whistle which ran for 219 performances. He performed two shows for The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse on TV in 1949: Cyrano, playing the title role, and an adaptation of What Makes Sammy Run?, playing Sammy Glick.
Ferrer returned to Hollywood to appear in Otto Preminger's Whirlpool, supporting Gene Tierney, and Richard Brooks' Crisis, opposite Cary Grant.
Film stardomFerrer then played the title role in Cyrano de Bergerac, directed by Michael Gordon and produced by Stanley Kramer. Ferrer won the Best Actor Oscar. The film was widely seen although it lost money. Ferrer donated the Oscar to the University of Puerto Rico, and it was subsequently stolen in 2000.
Ferrer returned to Broadway for a revival of Twentieth Century which he directed and starred in, opposite Gloria Swanson; it went for 233 performances. Immediately following, he produced and directed, but did not appear in, Stalag 17, a big hit running for 472 performances. Even more popular was The Fourposter in which he directed Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy; it ran for 632 performances.
Ferrer returned to cinema screens in the comedy Anything Can Happen, directed by George Seaton, where Ferrer played an immigrant.
More popular was Moulin Rouge in which Ferrer played the role of Toulouse-Lautrec under John Huston's direction. Ferrer received 40% of the profits.
Back on Broadway, Ferrer directed and starred in The Shrike, which ran for 161 performances.
His next two shows were as director only: Horton Foote's The Chase only had a short run but My 3 Angels, went for 344 performances.
Ferrer had another cinema hit with Miss Sadie Thompson starring Rita Hayworth. Ferrer briefly revived some of his shows at the City Centre in 1953: Cyrano, The Shrike, Richard III, Charley's Aunt.
He returned to films with The Caine Mutiny for Kramer, co-starring with Humphrey Bogart and Van Johnson, playing defence lawyer Barney Greenwald; the film was a huge hit. Greenwald's Jewish faith, so prominent in the novel that it informed his judgments of the U.S.S. Caine's officers, was downplayed in the film, as Ferrer, being Puerto Rican, was nominally Roman Catholic.
Also popular was Deep in My Heart where Ferrer played Sigmund Romberg, and which made a profit of over $1 million.
Film directorFerrer made his debut as film director at Universal with an adaptation of The Shrike, in which he also starred opposite June Allyson.
Ferrer then performed Cyrano in an episode of Producer's Showcase on television, directed by Mel Ferrer and co-starring Claire Bloom.
He went to England to star in and direct a war film for Warwick Productions, The Cockleshell Heroes, alongside Trevor Howard; it was a success at the British box office.
Ferrer co-wrote, directed and starred in the film The Great Man, at Universal. He directed and starred in two films for MGM: I Accuse!, where he played Captain Alfred Dreyfus, and The High Cost of Loving a comedy with Gena Rowlands. Both flopped at the box office.
Back on Broadway, Ferrer co-wrote and directed the stage musical Oh, Captain! with Tony Randall, which only had a short run. He directed and starred in Edwin Booth, playing the title role; it was not a success.
In 1958, Ferrer narrated the children's album Tubby the Tuba, which was nominated for the Best Recording For Children at the 1st Annual Grammy Awards.
Ferrer took over the direction of the troubled musical Juno from Vincent J. Donehue, who had himself taken over from Tony Richardson. The show, which starred Shirley Booth, folded after 16 performances and mixed-to extremely negative critical reaction.
However, he followed it directing the original stage production of Saul Levitt's The Andersonville Trial, about the trial following the revelation of conditions at the infamous Civil War prison. It was a hit and featured George C. Scott, running for 179 performances.
Around this time Ferrer also appeared in television in episodes of General Electric Theater and The United States Steel Hour.
Ferrer had a key support role in the film Lawrence of Arabia which was a huge success. Although Ferrer's performance was only small he said it was his best on screen.
At Fox, he played an investigating police officer in Nine Hours to Rama. He also guest starred on The Greatest Show on Earth.
Ferrer returned to Broadway to star in Noël Coward's musical The Girl Who Came to Supper which ran for 112 performances.
He narrated the very first episode of the popular 1964 sitcom Bewitched, in mock documentary style.
Ferrer went to Germany to make Stop Train 349 with Sean Flynn. He appeared in the 1964 French film Cyrano et d'Artagnan directed by Abel Gance.
Back in Hollywood Ferrer played Herod Antipas in The Greatest Story Ever Told and was in Ship of Fools for Stanley Kramer.
A notable performance of his later stage career was as Miguel de Cervantes and his fictional creation Don Quixote in the hit musical Man of La Mancha. Ferrer took over the role from Richard Kiley in 1966 and subsequently went on tour with it in the first national company of the show. Tony Martinez continued in the role of Sancho Panza under Ferrer, as he had with Kiley.
Ferrer starred in Carl Reiner's Enter Laughing and did a production of Kismet on TV. He went to Europe to do Cervantes and appeared in A Case of Libel for US TV. He also provided the voice of the evil Ben Haramed in the 1968 Rankin/Bass Christmas TV special The Little Drummer Boy. In 1968 the IRS sent him a tax bill of $122,000 going back to 1962.
1970sFerrer appeared in the television films The Aquarians, Gideon and Crosscurrent and guest-starred on The Name of the Game and Banyon.
Ferrer directed The Web and the Rock on stage in New York and appeared in The Marcus-Nelson Murders, Orson Welles Great Mysteries, and Columbo.
Around 1973 he narrated A Touch of Royalty, a documentary on the life and death of Puerto Rico's baseball star Roberto Clemente. Ferrer voiced both versions, Spanish and English.
Ferrer voiced a highly truncated cartoon version of Cyrano for an episode of The ABC Afterschool Special in 1974.
Ferrer appeared in The Missing Are Deadly, Forever Young, Forever Free, Order to Assassinate, Medical Story, The Art of Crime, Truman at Potsdam , The Big Bus, Paco., Voyage of the Damned, Crash!, The Sentinel, Zoltan, Hound of Dracula, Exo-Man, Who Has Seen the Wind, The Rhinemann Exchange, The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover, Fedora from Billy Wilder, The Amazing Captain Nemo , and The Swarm. He guest starred on Starsky and Hutch and Tales of the Unexpected.
During the Bicentennial, Ferrer narrated the world premiere of Michael Jeffrey Shapiro's A Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776 for narrator and orchestra with Martin Rich leading the Philharmonic Symphony of Westchester.
Ferrer was a replacement cast member in a production of David Mamet's A Life in the Theatre. He produced and starred in White Pelicans and directed Carmelina on stage but it only ran 17 performances.
He was in The Fifth Musketeer, The Concorde... Airport '79, Natural Enemies, The French Atlantic Affair, A Life of Sin, a 1979 film by Puerto Rican director Efraín López Neris which also starred Raul Julia, Míriam Colón and Henry Darrow, and Battles: The Murder That Wouldn't Die. He did The Merchant on stage in Canada.
1980sIn 1980, he had a role as future Justice Abe Fortas in the made-for-television film version of Anthony Lewis' Gideon's Trumpet, opposite Henry Fonda in an Emmy-nominated performance as Clarence Earl Gideon.
He was also in Battle Creek Brawl, Pleasure Palace, The Dream Merchants, Magnum, P.I., Evita Peron, Berlin Tunnel 21, Peter and Paul with Anthony Hopkins, Bloody Birthday, Woody Allen's A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy, Blood Tide, Blood Feud, This Girl for Hire, The Being and Mel Brooks's version of To Be or Not to Be.
From 1982 to 1985 he was artistic director of the Coconut Grove Theatre in Miami.
He guest-starred on Quincy, M.E., Another World, Fantasy Island, Hotel, The Love Boat, Bridges to Cross, and Murder, She Wrote.
Ferrer was in The Evil That Men Do, Samson and Delilah, and George Washington. He was the Emperor in Dune and was in , Seduced, Covenant, Blood & Orchids, Young Harry Houdini, and The Wind in the Willows.
Ferrer made his farewell to Cyrano by performing a short passage from the play for the 1986 Tony Awards telecast.
Ferrer had a recurring role as Julia Duffy's WASPy father in the long-running television series Newhart in the 1980s.
In an interview given in the 1980s, he bemoaned the lack of good character parts for aging stars, and admitted that he now took on roles mostly for the money, such as his roles in the horror potboilers The Swarm, in which he played a doctor, and Dracula's Dog, in which he played a police inspector.
Ferrer's final performances include The Sun and the Moon, American Playhouse, Mother's Day, Matlock, Hired to Kill, Old Explorers and The Perfect Tribute.
He was cast in a Broadway play Conversations with My Father but withdrew due to poor health.
- Ferrer was the first Hispanic actor to win an Academy Award.
- In 2005, the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors renamed its Tespis Award to the HOLA José Ferrer Tespis Award.
- Ferrer was honored for his theatrical and cinematic works with an induction into the American Theatre Hall of Fame and a National Medal of Arts, becoming the first actor and Hispanic to be presented with the prestigious award.
- Ferrer's sons Rafael Ferrer and Miguel Ferrer, his daughter, and his granddaughter Tessa Ferrer also became actors and actresses.
- Ferrer donated his Academy Award to the University of Puerto Rico. The award was stolen after being misplaced during the remodeling of the university's theater.
- On April 26, 2012, the United States Postal Service issued a stamp in Ferrer's honor in its Distinguished Americans series.
- Uta Hagen : Ferrer and Hagen had one child, their daughter Leticia. They divorced in 1948, partly due to Hagen's long-concealed affair with Paul Robeson, with whom Hagen and Ferrer had co-starred in the Broadway production of Othello.
- Phyllis Hill : Ferrer and Hill wed on May 27, 1948, and they moved to Burlington, Vermont in 1950, where they subsequently found it difficult to keep their marriage together. Ferrer returned to Puerto Rico because his mother died. They divorced on January 12, 1953.
- Rosemary Clooney : Ferrer first married Clooney on June 1, 1953, in Durant, Oklahoma. They moved to Santa Monica, California, in 1954, and then to Los Angeles in 1958. Ferrer and Clooney had five children in quick succession: Miguel, Maria, Gabriel, Monsita and Rafael. They divorced for the first time in 1961.
- Rosemary Clooney : Ferrer and Clooney remarried on November 22, 1964, in Los Angeles; however, the marriage again crumbled because Ferrer was carrying on an affair with the woman who would become his last wife, Stella Magee. Clooney found out about the affair, and she and Ferrer divorced again in 1967.
- Stella Magee : Ferrer married Magee in 1977, and they remained together until his death in 1992.