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Film Festival Celebrates Latino Actor Jose Ferrer

| September 19, 2012

From left: Monsita Ferrer Botwick, Dr. Carlos Campo, Rafael Ferrer, Gabriel Ferrer

"In their day, they were the 'Brad and Angelina' of Hollywood," declared Charles Ramirez-Berg, University Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Texas at Austin and guest speaker at Regent University's José Ferrer Film Festival, held Sept. 14-15. Ramirez-Berg was referring to the late José Ferrer, the first Puerto Rican and the first Latino to win an Academy Award®, and Ferrer's wife, popular singer Rosemary Clooney.

On the second night of the festival, which served to kick off Regent's celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, three of Ferrer and Clooney's children joined their cousin, Regent University president, Dr. Carlos Campo, for an informal and candid conversation about growing up with their famous parents in Beverly Hills during the 1950s and '60s.

"We lived in what had once been Ira Gershwin's house," said Gabriel, an Episcopal priest, successful painter and husband of singer and actress Debby Boone. "We had something of a charmed life, but we didn't know it," added Gabri, as he is affectionately called by his siblings. "We thought all of our friends' parents were on TV—or eventually would be."

Ferrer, perhaps best known for portraying Cyrano de Bergerac in the film by the same name and the role for which he won the Academy Award®, was a graduate of Princeton University. He spoke a number of languages fluently, including several dialects of French. Proud of being born in Puerto Rico, he was also very proud of being an American. "It was important to us that he was Puerto Rican," said his daughter Monsita Ferrer Botwick, a Los Angeles-based writer. "I'm sure he experienced prejudice along the way, but he never passed it on to us."

Ferrer took his children to see as many plays and films as possible. Son Rafael, an actor and voice-over talent well known for providing the voice of Darth Malak in the popular videogame "Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic," recalled his father's thirst for knowledge. "His desire to see and try everything was one of his trademarks," Rafael said. "He even took up oil painting while preparing to play the French painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in 'Moulin Rouge' and it became one of his lifelong passions." Gabri noted that "Daddy actually did some of the paintings that were in the film. There wasn't much he couldn't do."

"Well, he never mastered singing or golf," Rafael chimed in. "And even though his voice often cracked, he sang around the house like he was opera singer Lawrence Melchior."

"And didn't tour buses stop in front of your house?" Campo asked.

"Yes," Gabri answered with a broad grin, "and we sold them lemonade!" Botwick told the audience that they had a lemon tree in their backyard, so the lemonade was fresh. "We charged five cents for each glass but then one of us remembered we had a bunch of 8 x 10s of Mama [Rosemary] in the house, so we started selling those for ten cents. Of course, they had cost Mama fifteen cents, so she lost a nickel on every sale!"

The three shared many other stories about their famous father on this special night. One of the stories was best introduced with a question: If you had lived during that era, can you imagine turning down an invitation to have dinner at the Ferrer home?

"Well, it happened," explained Gabri. "Daddy played composer Sigmund Romberg in the movie 'Deep in My Heart' and his character was trying to raise money for his latest venture called 'Jazza-Dada-Doo.'"

Gabri continued. "In the movie, Dad performs this impressive 12-minute monologue as Romberg—part of which he sang—that he decided he would also perform when he and Mama invited guests to our home for dinner. Well, people got so tired of hearing Daddy do that monologue that they stopped accepting his dinner invitations."

That was then. Today, Ferrer's place in history—as the consummate actor, loving father, beloved uncle and proud Latino-American—is secure. He has left a legacy not only to actors, producers and directors, but to Latinos everywhere who can proudly say, as Ramirez-Berg did during his remarks on opening night, "He was one of us."


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