Nationality: American. Born: José Vicente Ferrer Otero y Cintron in Santurce, Puerto Rico, 8 January 1912. Education: Studied architecture at Princeton University, graduated 1934; postgraduate work in Romance languages, Columbia University, 1934–35. Family: Married 1) the actress Uta Hagen, 1938 (divorced 1948), daughter Leticia; 2) Phyllis Hill, 1948 (divorced 1953); 3) the singer Rosemary Clooney, 1953 (divorced 1967), five children; 4) Stella Magee. Career: Moved with family to U.S. at age 6; acted with Princeton Triangle Club, with James Stewart and Joshua Logan; 1935—assistant stage manager for Joshua Logan's stock company in Suffern, New York; Broadway debut in walk-on role in A Slight Case of Murder; 1940—engaged to direct summer stock at Westchester Playhouse, New York; played lead in successful Broadway revival of Charley's Aunt; 1943—with Hagen as Desdemona, played Iago to Paul Robeson's Othello in long-running Broadway production of Othello; 1946—on Broadway in title role of Cyrano de Bergerac; 1948—screen debut as Dauphin in Joan of Arc; 1955—screen directing debut with The Shrike; mid-1950s—made several successful recordings with third wife Rosemary Clooney; from mid-1960s—active in TV; 1983–85—artistic adviser, Coconut Grove Playhouse. Awards: Best Actor Academy Award for Cyrano de Bergerac, 1950. Died: In Miami, Florida, 26 January 1992.
Films as Actor:
Bolivia (short) (as narrator)
Joan of Arc (Fleming) (as Dauphin)
The Sydenham Plan (short) (as narrator); Whirlpool (Preminger)
Crisis (Brooks); Cyrano de Bergerac (Gordon) (title role)
Anything Can Happen (Seaton)
Moulin Rouge (Huston) (as Toulouse-Lautrec); Article Fifty-Five (Seltzer—short) (as narrator)
Miss Sadie Thompson (Bernhardt)
The Caine Mutiny (Dmytryk) (as Barney Greenwald); Deep in My Heart (Donen) (as Sigmund Romberg)
Forbid Them Not (Kimble) (as narrator)
Lawrence of Arabia (Lean); Nine Hours to Rama (Robson); Progress for Freedom (Seltzer—short) (as narrator)
Verspätung in Marienborn (Stop Train 349) (Haedrich); Cyrano et d'Artagnan (Gance)
The Greatest Story Ever Told (Stevens); Ship of Fools (Kramer)
Enter Laughing (Reiner)
Le Avventure e gli amori di Miguel Cervantes (The Young Rebel; Cervantes) (Sherman)
The Little Drummer Boy (short)
The Aquarians (McDougall—for TV)
Cross Current (The Cable Car Murders) (Thorpe—for TV); Banyon (Day—for TV)
El clan de los immorales (Order to Kill) (Maessa); The Marcus-Nelson Murders (Kojak and the Marcus-Nelson Murders) (Sargent—for TV)
E' Lollipop (Forever Young, Forever Free) (Lazarus); Paco (O'Neill); The Missing Are Deadly (McDougall—for TV); Medical Story (Nelson—for TV); The Art of Crime (Roman Grey) (Irving—for TV)
The Sentinel (Winner); The Big Bus (Frawley); Voyage of the Damned (Rosenberg)
Zoltan . . . Hound of Dracula (Dracula's Dog) (Band); Who Has Seen the Wind? (King) (as Ben); Crash (Band—for TV); Exo-Man (Irving—for TV)
The Swarm (Allen) (as Dr. Andrews); The Amazing Captain Nemo (March—for TV); Fedora (Wilder) (as Dr. Vando); The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover (Cohen) (as Lionel McCoy)
The Fifth Musketeer (Behind the Iron Mask) (Annakin) (as Athos); Natural Enemies (Kanew)
The Big Brawl (Clouse) (as Dominici); Pleasure Palace (Grauman—for TV); The Murder That Wouldn't Die (Satlof—for TV)
Evita Peron (Chomsky—for TV); Berlin Tunnel Twenty-One (Michaels—for TV)
A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy (Woody Allen) (as Leopold); Blood Tide (Jeffries)
The Evil That Men Do (Thompson); Dune (Lynch); George Washington (Kulik—for TV); Samson and Delilah (Philips—for TV)
Seduced (Freedman—for TV); Jacques Cousteau—The First 75 Years (for TV) (as narrator); Hitler's SS: Portrait in Evil (for TV)
Bloody Birthday (Hunt) (as Doctor); The Violins Came with the Americans (Conway)
Strange Interlude (Wise—for TV)
Hired to Kill (Mastovakis)
Old Explorers (Pohlad)
Film as Composer:
The Beautiful Stranger (Twist of Fate) (Miller) (music for song "Love Is a Beautiful Stranger")
Films as Director:
The Shrike (+ ro); Cockleshell Heroes (+ ro)
The Great Man (+ co-sc, ro)
I Accuse (+ ro as Dreyfus)
The High Cost of Loving (+ ro)
Return to Peyton Place
By FERRER: article—
"Cyrano and Others," in Films and Filming (London), July 1962.
On FERRER: articles—
London, Julie, "The Two Faces of Ferrer," in Films and Filming (London), June 1958.
Ciné Revue (Paris), 6 August 1981.
Buckley, Michael, "Jose Ferrer," in Films in Review (New York), February and March 1987.
Obituary, in Variety (New York), 3 February 1992.
Obituary, in Film-Dienst (Cologne), 4 February 1992.
Obituary, in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), March 1992.
* * *
It may be said of José Ferrer's career in films that his prestige outweighs his success. While considered a major actor, and associated with many important films, some of them innovative milestones, others "message" films, Ferrer never enjoyed a consistently satisfying or secure career.
Far from denying the decline in his film work since his heyday in the early 1950s, Ferrer later commented, "My entire film career has been dominated by Cyrano de Bergerac and Moulin Rouge. I have learned to live with the situation, but I regret the form my career has taken." In both films the character actor portrayed sensitive souls who had physical deformities. Cyrano was a complex interpretation of a hapless, ugly, unrequited lover who was also a brave iconoclast and sensitive poet. As Toulouse Lautrec, the brilliant Parisian painter who was a dwarf, Ferrer literally went on his knees. Cyrano earned Ferrer an Academy Award, yet some years later he mused that the honor was no assurance of success. He stated bluntly in 1961, "For three years there has been no call for my services as a film actor."
Ferrer always preferred to have a strong hand in any production with which he was involved, and naturally turned to directing. He cast himself as the lead in films which he also directed, such as I Accuse, in which he played the persecuted French Jewish Officer, Dreyfus, and The Shrike, starring as the victimized husband. He was always attracted to films with a social message, and objected to the soft-pedaling of the Jewish issue in The Caine Mutiny, in which he was cast as naval lawyer Barney Greenwald. In Ship of Fools he portrayed the Nazi antagonist.
Ferrer's quality on film has been perceived as serious, even dour, and he was usually typecast as a "heavy." In the 1970s and into the 1980s Ferrer made several TV films. What others might term supporting roles, or at least "cameos," Ferrer sarcastically called "bit parts, to earn a fast buck . . . the roles where I play the villain or I go up in flames in the end."
Ferrer remained active in the theater, acting on and off Broadway and on the road in a broad range of roles; he also did musicals. He directed in New York, in stock and regional theaters, and even returned to work in his native Puerto Rico. Yet, in a 1983 interview he complained that he was reduced to doing TV voice-overs. Ironically, Ferrer's voice and diction were so distinctive and so well known as to render anonymity an impossibility.
(b. 8 January 1912 in Santurce, Puerto Rico; d. 26 January 1992 in Coral Gables, Florida), stage, screen, and television actor, and film director who won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Cyrano de Bergerac in the 1950 film of the same name.
The son of Spanish-born naturalized U.S. citizens, Rafael (a well-to-do attorney) and Maria Providencia Cintron, Ferrer had two sisters and a half brother. He spent his early childhood years in Puerto Rico—except for a stay on the U.S. mainland when he was only seven months old for successful treatment of a cleft palate. In 1918 his family moved permanently to the mainland, and the young Ferrer attended New York City public and private schools. A precocious achiever, at age fourteen he deferred entrance to Princeton at that university’s recommendation and spent a year at a Swiss boarding school. In 1933 he graduated from Princeton with a B.A. degree, having studied architecture and participated in college theater. To accommodate his parents he then “endured” study (1933-1934) in Romance languages at Columbia University.
Ferrer’s professional theatrical career began during the summers of 1934 and 1935. In September 1935 he made his Broadway debut with a one-line part. Subsequently, he gained experience on Broadway, in summer stock, and touring—both as a performer and backstage. In 1940 he played the lead in a well-received Broadway revival of Charlie’s Aunt. After further stints at acting, directing, and stage managing, on Broadway and touring, Ferrer scored as lago in a much-touted 1943 production of Othello on Broadway. He continued to act and direct in New York City and on tour. His performance in a splendid 1946 Broadway revival of Edmond-Eugéne—Alexis Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac won him a Tony Award for best dramatic actor.
His theatrical peak came in the early 1950s: Ferrer directed and costarred in a hit revival (1950) of Twentieth Century; he produced, directed, and played a lead in the Pulitzer Prize—winning drama The Shrike a performance that won him a Tony in 1952; that year he won another Tony for his direction of The Shrike and also directed Stalag 17 and The Fourposter; and in 1953 he directed the comedy hit We’re No Angels.
In subsequent years, such consistent success eluded Ferrer. He did direct a well-received drama, The Andersonville Trial, in 1959, but otherwise his theater career went into what Ferrer described as a “free fall.” Three Broadway musicals flopped (1958, 1959, 1963). Although occasionally appearing off-Broadway into the 1970s, he worked mostly— both as a performer and director—in American and English regional theater. Ferrer’s last Broadway appearance was replacing the lead in Man of La Mancha (1966–1967); he later undertook this function with various touring companies. His last stage appearances were in 1990—in the United States at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey, in the musical Fanny, and in England at the Chichester Festival, in a musical version of Eugene lonesco’s Rhinoceros.
Like his theater career, Ferrer’s film career began well— as Time magazine said, he was “a rare bird: a character actor who became a bona fide movie star.” Initially he fit movies in between his intense theatrical activity, making his film debut in Joan of Arc (1948) as the Dauphin. He earned an Oscar nomination (best supporting actor) for his role, as he later did for his portrayal of the dwarfish Toulouse-Lautrec in the film Moulin Rouge (1952). He won an Oscar for best actor for his performance as Cyrano in the 1950 film version of the play. Ferrer had several other acclaimed roles in the 1950s, including the sharp defense counsel in The Caine Mutiny (1953), for which he received a British Academy Award nomination.
Between 1955 and 1962 the ambitious, energetic Ferrer also directed seven films. The Great Man (1956), a compelling view of the television industry, was cowritten by Ferrer, who also played a major role. However, overall his films from these years fared poorly commercially and critically; for all their “technical correctness” they were described as snail-paced and deemed to lack warmth, even when Ferrer cast himself (for example, in the 1955 World War II action drama Cockleshell Heroes or as the martyred Captain Dreyfus in the 1958 I Accuse). His last directorial film effort was the unsatisfactory 1962 remake of State Fair.
In the early 1960s his film career lost momentum. Ferrer took parts indiscriminately, both in the movies and on television, to (as he put it) “pay the bills.” From 1962 until his death Ferrer appeared in more than fifty movies. Some, such as Ship of Fools (1965), a superior filming of the novel, and Old Explorers (1990), a unusual comic treatment of old age, had substance. Most did not, being generally low-budget action or thriller productions, such as Stop Train 349 (1964), Dracula’s Dog (1978), The Evil That Men Do (1985), and Hired to Kill (1991).
Such movies made little demand on Ferrer’s talent, as did his television work, which included commercial voice-overs, made-for-television movies such as Samson and Delilah (1984), miniseries including The French Atlantic Affair (1979), and guest appearances on shows such as Magnum, P.I. (1981) and Murder, She Wrote (1984). He usually played a “heavy” of one sort or another, describing his parts as “roles where I play the villain or ... go up in flames in the end.”
Possessed of versatile, sophisticated intelligence and extraordinary energy, Ferrer could in turn be charming and cold. An acknowledged womanizer, he enjoyed a hedonistic, expensive lifestyle. Ferrer was married four times and had six children: His first wife was the actress Uta Hagen, to whom he was married from 1937 to 1948; they had one child. From 1948 to 1953 he was married to the actress Phyllis Hill. In 1953 he married the popular Irish American singer Rosemary Clooney; before their divorce in 1961, Clooney and Ferrer had five children, including a son, Miguel, who became an actor. (The actor George Clooney is Ferrer’s nephew.) Ferrer was briefly remarried to Rosemary Clooney from 1966 to 1967. He married Stella Magee at the end of his life; the couple never revealed their marriage date. He died in Doctors Hospital in Coral Gables, Florida, after a short cancer-based illness. He is buried in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The five-foot, eleven-inch-tall Ferrer viewed himself as “a regular looking guy” with “short legs and a big head.” Although (as one critic said) he was “without leading-man looks,” Ferrer’s voice was resonant and strong, a distinctive, somewhat gruff baritone that he used to good purpose. A bravura, vigorous, multifaceted talent, he cut a wide swath, especially in the theater, during the 1940s and early 1950s. He was the first actor ever to receive the National Medal of Arts (1985); he also received honorary degrees from Princeton University and the University of Puerto Rico. In 1981 he was named to the Theater Hall of Fame. Ferrer’s film and television career never equaled the early success of his career in the theater. He verged on becoming a star and a major force, but his later career was undistinguished.
There is a collection of clippings on Ferrer at the Billy Rose Theatre Collection of the New York Public Library of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. A detailed overview is Michael Buckley, “Jose Ferrer,” Films in Review (Feb. 1987): 67–76; (Mar. 1987): 131–145. Also see articles on Ferrer in Gerald Bordman, ed., The Oxford Companion to the American Theatre (1984), and Amy Unterburger, ed., International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, vol. 3, Actors and Actresses (3d ed., 1997). He is prominent in Rosemary Clooney’s autobiography, This for Remembrance (1977). Obituaries are in the Los Angeles Times and New York Times (both 27 Jan. 1992), London Independent and London Daily Telegraph (both 28 Jan. 1992), and Time (10 Feb. 1992).
Daniel J. Leab