Fernando Fernán-Gómez: Much-loved star of Spanish film

Fernando Fernán-Gómez, actor, director and writer: born Lima 28 August 1921; married 1945 María Dolores Pradera (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1959), 2000 Emma Cohen; died Madrid 21 November 2007.

The greatly loved and respected actor Fernando Fernán-Gómez was laden with Spain's most distinguished awards during a career spanning 60 years; he appeared in 200 films, directed another 20 and wrote novels, plays and poetry. But he was an awkward, prickly man, often brusque to the point of rudeness, a bohemian with uncompromisingly anarchist political views.

Despite a booming voice and imposing manner, his timidity prompted stage fright so severe that eventually he abandoned live theatre to concentrate on films and directing. "The audience bothers me. I don't like people watching while I work," he complained.

Censored during the Franco years, Fernán-Gómez´s films were often commercial flops. But his face became one of the best known in Spanish cinema during the long dictatorship. As he entered old age he became a national treasure, winning widespread popularity and the admiration of a new generation of film-makers and filmgoers.

Fernando Fernán-Gómez was born into the theatrical world. His mother, the actress Carola Fernández Gómez, was touring Latin America when she gave birth in the Peruvian capital, Lima. She registered her baby in the Spanish consulate in Buenos Aires, and Fernan-Gómez kept his Argentine nationality until in 1970 he opted to become Spanish.

At three he returned to Spain, and at nine joined a school theatre group and made his stage début as a waiter. His adored mother and grandmother smothered him in love. "They made an effort to make me feel it was natural that I had no father, and I made sure they didn't realise that I knew that it wasn't normal," he recalled in his memoirs El tiempo amarillo ("The yellow time", 1990).

When war broke out in 1936, mother and grandmother pondered the future of their young teenager. "A clean job," opined the grandmother. "Certainly not a worker," echoed the mother. He joined amateur theatre groups, and grew so keen on theatre that he abandoned his literature and philosophy studies to devote himself to the stage.

He took classes in the Actors' School of the anarchist CNT trade union, and in 1938, aged 17, despite self-consciousness about being a clumsy redhead, he went professional. In his first speaking role in the Pavon theatre in Madrid, nerves made him fluff his lines. "I've always had a bad character," he said years later. "I was already horrible when I was young, to combat my shyness."

He appeared in romantic comedies throughout the Forties, before directing his first film, El Manicomio ("The madhouse"), in 1953, which flopped. His first success as director came in 1958 with La vida sigue adelante ("Life goes on").

Fernán-Gómez's first play to obtain major critical success was Las Bicicletas son para el Verano (Bicycles are for Summer) in 1977, about the tragedy of the Spanish Civil War, made into a successful film in 1984. He won international acclaim for his role in the 1992 film Belle Epoque as father to four pretty daughters, among them Penélope Cruz. The film won nine Goya awards – Spain's equivalent of the Oscars – and an Oscar for the Best Foreign Language Film.

Other triumphs included his dark El extraño viaje (Strange Journey) of 1964, censored by Franco; his role in Victor Erice's El espíritu de la colmena (The Spirit of the Beehive) in 1973; and his 1985 novel El viaje a ninguna parte ("Journey to nowhere"), which he directed as a film in 1986.

One of his most popular later roles was as the kindly liberal-minded village school teacher hounded on the outbreak of civil war in José Luis Cuerda's La Lengua de Las Mariposas (Butterfly) of 1999. He also played a cameo in Pedro Almodóvar's Todo sobre mi madre (All about my mother), as an elderly father who meets the daughter he no longer recognises.

Almodóvar professed his "absolute admiration" for "the artist who represents the history of Spanish cinema from its beginnings". He added: "Fernando's ferocity was a myth. He just couldn't bear stupidity and mediocrity, and didn't hide the fact."

In 1995 Fernán-Gómez was awarded Spain's highest arts prize, that of the Prince of Asturias, and in 1998 elected to the Real Academia Española, watchdog of the Spanish language. He received a record seven Goyas. But, despite belated endorsement by the establishment, he led a huge demonstration in 2003 against Spain's participation in the Iraq war.

The Berlin film festival awarded him an honorary Golden Bear in 2004 for his life's work. But at a news conference at the festival the following year, he roared at a journalist to sit down and not pester him with more questions.

Elizabeth Nash

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - A great new opportunity with real pot...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor - Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - An outstanding senior opportunity for...

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower