Monday, March 28, 2011

HOLA Legends: José Ferrer

José Ferrer, born José Vicente Ferrer de Otero y Cintrón on January 8, 1912 in Santurce, San Juan, Puerto Rico, was an actor and theater and film director. He was the first Latino/Hispanic actor to win an Academy Award.

He was the son of María Providencia Cintrón and Rafael Ferrer, the latter an attorney and writer. He studied in the Swiss boarding school Institut Le Rosey and graduated from Princeton University. He made his Broadway debut in 1935. He played Iago in Margaret Webster's 1943 Broadway production of Othello, starring Paul Robeson in the title role, Webster as Emilia, and Ferrer's wife at the time, Uta Hagen, as Desdemona. It became the longest-running production of a Shakespeare play staged in the U.S., a record it still holds. His Broadway directing credits include The Shrike, Stalag 17, The Fourposter, Twentieth Century, Carmelina, My Three Angels and The Andersonville Trial.

He may be best remembered for his performance in the title role of Edmond Rostand's play Cyrano de Bergerac, which he first played on Broadway in 1946. The production became one of the hits of the 1946-47 Broadway season, earning him the first Best Actor Tony Award for his depiction of the long-nosed poet/swordsman (tied with Fredric March for Ruth Gordon's play Years Ago.

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 American film based on the Broadway play (directed by Michael Gordon) and the 1964 French film Cyrano et d'Artagnan (directed by Abel Gance). He also played Cyrano in two different productions for television, each of which earned him an Emmy Award nomination.

He made his film debut in 1948 in the Technicolor epic Joan of Arc as the weak-willed Dauphin opposite Ingrid Bergman, for which he earned his first Academy Award nomination. He won the Academy Award for Cyrano de Bergerac two years later.

Some of his notable film roles include Toulouse-Lautrec in John Huston's fictional 1952 biopic Moulin Rouge, (for which he received another Academy Award nomination), 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) and Shaddam Corrino IV in Dune in 1984.

On stage, he played Miguel de Cervantes and his fictional creation Don Quixote in the hit musical Man of La Mancha, having taken over the role from Richard Kiley in 1967, and hesubsequently went on tour with it in the first national company of the show. In addition, in 1952, he won a Tony Award for directing three plays (The Shrike, Stalag 17, The Fourposter), in the same season, and earned another for his performance in The Shrike.

While not usually known for regular roles in TV series, had a recurring role as Julia Duffy's WASPy father on the long-running television series, "Newhart" in the 1980s. He also had a recurring role as elegant and flamboyant attorney Reuben Marino on 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 on the 1968 Rankin/Bass Christmas TV special "The Little Drummer Boy."

He had a decade-long first marriage to famed actress and acting teacher Uta Hagen (1938–1948), with whom he had a daughter, Leticia ("Lettie") Ferrer. His second wife was dancer/actress Phyllis Hill (1948–1953). His third marriage was to the singer Rosemary Clooney, actor George Clooney's aunt. The couple had five children: actor Miguel José (born 1955); María Providencia (born 1956); Gabriel (born 1957), Monsita (born 1958) and actor Rafael (born 1960). He and Clooney married in 1953, divorced in 1961, and remarried in 1964, only to divorce again three years later. His last marriage was to Stella Magee, whom he had met in the late sixties.

He was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 1981. In 1985, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts. He passed away on January 26, 1992 in Coral Gables, Florida, U.S., a few weeks after his 80th birthday, following a brief battle with colon cancer. He was interred in Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery in Old San Juan in his native Puerto Rico.

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In the film Cyrano de Bergerac

Appearing on the television program "What's My Line?"

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