Listen to me on TV CONFIDENTIAL:
As always, the further we go back in Hollywood history, the more that fact and legend become intertwined. It's hard to say where the truth really lies.
January 8, 1912
José Ferrer is born José Vicente Ferrer de Otero y Cintrón. Puerto Rican actor, as well as a theater and film director. He was the first Hispanic actor to win an Academy Award.
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 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.
Ferrer may be best-remembered for his performance in the title role of Cyrano de Bergerac, which he first played on Broadway in 1946. 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.
Ferrer made his film debut in 1948 in the Technicolor epic Joan of Arc as the weak-willed Dauphin opposite Ingrid Bergman. 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.
In 1980, he had a memorable role as future Justice Abe Fortas, to whom he bore a strong resemblance, 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.
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 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. Ferrer would don the nose and costume of Cyrano for a last time in a TV commercial in the 1970s. In the third season of Columbo Ferrer appears in the episode "Mind over Mayhem", in the main role of a ruthless military computer professor.
Ferrer 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: Miguel Jose (born February 7, 1955); Maria P (born August 9, 1956); Gabriel V (born August 1, 1957), Monsita T (born October 13, 1958) and Rafael F (born March 23, 1960). Ferrer and Clooney married in 1953, divorced in 1961 and remarried in 1964, only to divorce again three years later. Their son, Gabriel Ferrer, is married to singer Debby Boone, daughter of Pat and Shirley Boone.
At the time of his death, he was married to Stella Magee, whom he had met in the late sixties. Ferrer died following a brief battle with colon cancer in Coral Gables, Florida in 1992 and was interred in Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery in Old San Juan in his native Puerto Rico.