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Overview

Jos Vicente Ferrer de Otero y Cintrn (January 8, 1912 – January 26, 1992), known as Jos 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 1950 for Cyrano de Bergerac).

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. On April 26, 2012, the United States Postal Service issued a stamp in Ferrer’s honor in its Distinguished Americans series.

Early life

Ferrer was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the son of Mara Providencia Cintrn, 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 Hernndez, a doctor and advocate of Puerto Rican independence from Spain. He had two younger sisters, Elvira and Leticia. He studied at the Swiss boarding school Institut Le Rosey. In 1933, Ferrer completed his bachelor’s degree at Princeton University, where he wrote his senior thesis on “French Naturalism and Pardo Bazn“. Ferrer was also a member of the Princeton Triangle Club.

Career

Theatre

Paul Robeson (Othello) and Ferrer (Iago) in the 1943 Theatre Guild production of Othello

Ferrer made his Broadway debut in 1935. In 1940, he played his first starring role on Broadway, the title role in Charley’s Aunt, partly in drag. He played Iago in Margaret Webster‘s Broadway production of Othello (1943), 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. His Broadway directing credits include The Shrike, Stalag 17, The Fourposter, Twentieth Century, Carmelina, My Three Angels, and The Andersonville Trial.

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 (no relation), so he called in Joshua Logan (who had directed his star-making performance in Charley’s Aunt) 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.

He reprised the role of Cyrano onstage at the New York City Center under his own direction in 1953, as well as in two films: the 1950 film of Edmond Rostand’s play directed by Michael Gordon and the 1964 French film Cyrano et d’Artagnan directed by Abel Gance.

Ferrer would go on to voice a highly truncated cartoon version of the play for an episode of The ABC Afterschool Special in 1974, and made his farewell to the part by performing a short passage from the play for the 1986 Tony Awards telecast.

Early films

Ferrer made his film debut in the Technicolor epic Joan of Arc (1948) as the weak-willed Dauphin opposite Ingrid Bergman as Joan. Leading roles in the films Whirlpool (opposite Gene Tierney) (1949) and Crisis (opposite Cary Grant) (1950) followed, and culminated in the 1950 film Cyrano de Bergerac. He next played the role of Toulouse-Lautrec in John Huston‘s fictional 1952 biopic, Moulin Rouge.

Later stage career

Beginning circa 1950, Ferrer concentrated on film work, but would return to the stage occasionally. In 1959 Ferrer directed 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.

He 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. The show’s commercial failure (along with his earlier flop, Oh, Captain!), was a considerable setback to Ferrer’s directing career. Nor did the short-lived The Girl Who Came to Supper do much for his acting career. 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. 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 the Philharmonic Symphony of Westchester, Martin Rich, conductor.

Other film work

He portrayed the Rev. Davidson in 1953’s Miss Sadie Thompson (a remake of Rain) opposite Rita Hayworth; Barney Greenwald, the embittered defense attorney, in 1954’s The Caine Mutiny; and operetta composer Sigmund Romberg in the MGM musical biopic Deep in My Heart. In 1955 Ferrer directed himself in the film version of The Shrike, with June Allyson. The Cockleshell Heroes followed a year later, along with The Great Man, both of which he also directed. In 1958 Ferrer directed and appeared in I Accuse! (as Alfred Dreyfus) and The High Cost of Loving. Ferrer also directed, but did not appear in, Return to Peyton Place in 1961 and also the remake of State Fair in 1962.

Ferrer’s other notable film roles include the Turkish Bey in Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Herod Antipas in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), a budding Nazi in Ship of Fools, a pompous professor in Woody Allen‘s A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982), the treacherous Professor Siletski in the 1983 remake of To Be or Not to Be, and Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV in Dune in 1984. 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.

In 1980, he had a role as future Justice Abe Fortas in the made-for-television film version of Anthony LewisGideon’s Trumpet, opposite Henry Fonda in an Emmy-nominated performance as Clarence Earl Gideon.

Radio and television

Among other radio roles, Ferrer starred as detective Philo Vance in a 1945 series of the same name.

On May 8, 1958, Ferrer guest-starred on NBC‘s The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford.

Ferrer, not usually known for regular roles in TV series, had a recurring role as Julia Duffy‘s WASPy father in the long-running television series Newhart in the 1980s. He also had a recurring role as elegant and flamboyant attorney Reuben Marino in the soap opera Another World in the early 1980s. He narrated the very first episode of the popular 1964 sitcom Bewitched, in mock documentary style. He also provided the voice of the evil Ben Haramed in the 1968 Rankin/Bass Christmas TV special The Little Drummer Boy. Ferrer would don the nose and costume of Cyrano for the last time in a TV commercial in the 1970s. During those years he guest-starred in several television series, such as Quincy, M.E., in which he played a doctor suspected of unethical behavior. In the third season of Columbo, Ferrer starred in the episode Mind over Mayhem as the murderous head of a high-tech think tank. He was also in episode 8 of Magnum, P.I. with his son Miguel in 1981. In 1986 he appeared in the two-part episode The Don in the TV series Matlock.

Legacy

  • Ferrer was the first Hispanic actor to win an Academy Award.
  • In 2005, the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors (HOLA) renamed its Tespis Award to the HOLA Jos 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 (Letty Ferrer), 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.

Personal life

Ferrer was married five times:

  • Uta Hagen (1938-1948): Ferrer and Hagen had one child, their daughter Leticia (born October 15, 1940). 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 (1948-1953): 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 (1953-1961): 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 (February 7, 1955 – January 19, 2017), Maria (born August 9, 1956), Gabriel (born August 1, 1957), Monsita (born October 13, 1958) and Rafael (born March 23, 1960). They divorced for the first time in 1961.
  • Rosemary Clooney (1964-1967): 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 (1977-1992): Ferrer married Magee in 1977, and they remained together until his death in 1992.

Death

Ferrer died of colorectal cancer in Coral Gables, Florida, in 1992, shortly after his 80th birthday, and was interred in Santa Mara Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery in Old San Juan in his native Puerto Rico.