Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Jose Ferrer, an Academy Award Winner, Tony Award Winner, National Medal of Arts Winner, and Emmy Nominee, Got His Start on the Periwinkle Showboat Out of Pelham

Few people know that in the midst of the Great Recession, Pelham residents created a Showboat named "Periwinkle" that moored in the Hutchinson River and plied the waters of Long Island Sound.  It traveled to yacht clubs and provided melodramas as entertainment.  One of the first members of the "Periwinkle Players" was Jose Ferrer who became one of the nation's most notable actors, eventually winning an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Cyrano de Bergerac in 1950.  He also won a Tony Award for his portrayal of Cyrano de Bergerac in a Broadway revival of the play in 1946.  (He also won a Tony for directing three plays in the same season in 1952 and won another Tony for his performance in The Shrike.  He also received the National Medal of Arts in 1985 before his death in 1992.

The article below from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle mentions his stage debut on the Showboat S.S. Periwinkle.

"He Might Be, but --
Jose Ferrer Went to Princeton, Stayed an Extra Year, Got job on Periwinkle and Now He's in 'Mamba's Daughters'

Jose Ferrer might now be an architect, might now be brooding over blueprints and fiddling with compasses and rulers instead of supporting Ethel Waters in 'Mamba's Daughters' if he hadn't flunked a course or two in his last year at Princeton.

A non sequitur?  Definitely not -- for while Ferrer was at Nassau he had ever intention of becoming an architect.  His academic derelictions, however, forced him to spend an extra year at college, and during that time he fell into the habit of whiling away his idle hours at the celebrated Triangle Club.  At first he only joined it to paint scenery, but after being pressed into service in a mob scene he began playing small roles, and by the time he received his belated diploma Ferrer had become the Club's leading man.

His architectural ambitions a thing of the past, Ferrer began hunting around for a theatrical job, and managed to land a position on the S.S. Periwinkle, a showboat that was breasting the waters of Long Island Sound.  The pay was $5 a week, and for that sum Ferrer spliced hawsers, polished brass, sold soft drinks during the intermissions, and played leading roles in the showboat's productions, all of which were hoot-and-hiss melodramas.

Ferrer's Broadway debut?  He made it the following Fall, in the Howard Lindsey-Damon farce, 'A Slight Case of Murder.'  From that he went into something called 'Stick in the Mud' -- smile bitterly when you say that, stranger -- and then went out to Chicago to lick his wounds and spend 26 weeks in a road company of 'Boy Meets Girl.'

Upon his return to New York he played a cynical son of Eli in Philip Barry's 'Spring Dance,' the baseball catcher in George Abbott's 'Brother Rat,' a befuddled striker in Guthrie McClintic's 'How To Get Tough About It,' and an important role in the Krimsky's 'In Clover.'

Came the beginning of this season, and Ferrer had three offers of jobs hurled at him.  Max Gordon wanted him for 'Sing Out the News,' the Playwright's Company wanted him for 'Knickerbocker Holiday,' and Guthrie McClintic had an idea that he'd like to see him playing Billy Gashade in 'Missouri Legend.'  Ferrer weighed the possibilities of each venture, then decided to go into 'Missiour Legend' -- an ill-advised move, as it later turned out, for although the play received good notices it closed after a six-week engagement.

Ferrer is married, incidentally, to Uta Hagen, the young actress who gave such a glowing performance a month or so ago in the short-lived 'The Happiest Days.'  Some day -- as soon as possible -- they would like to do a play together."

Source:  He Might Be, But -- Jose Ferrer Went to Princeton, Stayed an Extra Year, Got Job on Periwinkle and Now He's in 'Mamba's Daughters', The Brooklyn Eagle, May 7, 1939, Trend Section, p. 8, col. 7.

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