José Vicente Ferrer de Otero y Cintrón known as José Ferrer, was an American 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).
José Vicente Ferrer Otero y Cintran was born on January 8, 1912, in Santurce, Puerto Rico. He belonged to a notable and affluent Puerto Rican family known for its involvement in the island's cultural and literary landscape. His father, Rafael Ferrer, was a well-known lawyer. His mother was Providencia Cintrón. Ferrer attended elementary school at the San Agustin College in Río Piedras.
When he was a young boy, his family moved to New York in search of help for Ferrer, who had been born with a cleft palate (Meier 1997). On their arrival in New York, his father continued working as an attorney and Ferrer attended La Salle College, where he graduated from high school at the age of 14.
Although Ferrer gained immediate admission to Princeton University, he went first to Switzerland, where he attended a boarding school. In Switzerland, Ferrer received advanced musical training and excelled as a pianist. He used his musical talents throughout his career. On his return to the United States, Ferrer enrolled in Princeton, where he studied architecture and graduated in 1933. While at Princeton, he formed a band called José Ferrer and His Pied Pipers.
Assisted by his fellow Princetonian Jimmy Stewart, the 14-member band was a hit on campus and toured Europe during the summer of 1930 with considerable success. He had multiple roles as the band's director, singer, piano player, saxophonist, and clarinetist. In addition to his musical interests, he participated in school theatrical productions at the Triangle Club. His first incursion into theater was as a director of the musical Fol-de-Rol.
After his graduation from Princeton in 1933, Ferrer tried his luck as a musical performer on a Long Island showboat, where he debuted in the melodrama The Periwinkle. However, he moved on to Columbia University, where he did graduate work in literature and romance languages. In 1935, after a year at Columbia, Ferrer decided to try acting again and joined a Broadway production company where Joshua Logan, a member of his former band, worked. He was
given a job as a stagehand and worked sporadically in several walk on parts. One of his fellow actors spotted the the actor's potential talent and persuaded the producers to give him a oneline role as a policeman in the production of A Slight Case of Murder (1935). Tire next year he landed a more important role as one of a trio of Virginia Military Institute cadets in the comedy Brother Rat. In 1936 he played the leading role in Phillip Barry's Spring Dance at the Empire Theater. He continued reading for several different parts and asking for more prominent and demanding acting opportunities.
Ferrer's first notable theatrical role was Iago in Shakespeare's Othello in 1943. The critically acclaimed play was groundbreaking in many ways: it was an adaptation done by Paul Robeson, an African-American, and the producers cast the first Puerto Rican in the lead role on Broadway. One of the most important roles of his lifetime was as Cyrano dc Bergerac, which he played on Broadway in 1946. This performance won him a Tony in 1947.
In 1948, while still working in theater, Ferrer began a film career. His first movie was Joan of Arc (1948) alongside Ingrid Bergman. Although he was nominated for an Oscar, it was a mediocre film. His Broadway success Cyrano de Bergerac was adapted for film in 1950 and his role won him an Oscar as best actor the same year, making Ferrer the first Puerto Rican to win both a Tony and an Oscar. Fellow Puerto Rican Rita Moreno later replicated this achievement.
In the early 1950s he was caught up in the general hysteria of the McCarthy era but was not blacklisted thanks in part to a successful public relations campaign launched under the advice of former Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas. His сurrent wife, actress Uta Hagen, was blacklisted and had considerable problems finding acting jobs for the rest of her career.
During the 1950s, which were considered by many critics as the height of his career, Ferrer appeared in many films such as Whirlpool (1950), Moulin Rouge (1952), The Caine Mutiny (1954), The Great Man (1956), and I Accuse! (1958), the last two of which he also directed. The final important period of Ferrer's career in Hollywood was in the 1960s, when he appeared in Lawrence of Arabia (1962), The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), and Ship of Fools (1965). He appeared in more than 40 movies from the 1970s to the 1990s and entertainment critics consider him one of the best character actors of the twentieth century.
A constant element in Ferrer's life was Iris love for his native Puerto Rico. In 1970, when he was playing in Man of La Mancha on Broadway, he took the production of the island so that his fellow Puerto Ricans would have the chance to see the musical. In a newspaper column published by Puerto Rican newspaper El Nuevo Dia, notable Puerto Rican scholar José Ferrer Canales recalled how Ferrer identified with the Puerto Ricans who moved to New York during the first wave of migration from the island in the 1940s; Ferrer never hesitated to greet Puerto Rican servers at restaurants, telling them that he was also Puerto Rican. He always looked forward to the time when Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans would stop being provincial and open themselves to the world to showcase their natural talents and abilities.
Ferrer died in Coral Gables, Florida, on January 26,1992, after a brief illness. His ashes were taken to his beloved Puerto Rico shortly after his death.
Member Players Club (president 1983), Academy Arts and Sciences Puerto Rico.
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.