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

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Fans hold up a scarf at West Ham vs Liverpool
footballAfter Arsenal's clear victory, focus turns to West Ham vs Liverpool
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Qualified Primary Teaching Assistant

£64 - £73 per day + Competitive rates based on experience : Randstad Education...

Primary KS2 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam