Mel Ferrer, the tall, darkly handsome star of such classic films as “Lili,” “War and Peace” and “The Sun Also Rises,” as well as producer and director of movies starring his then-wife, Audrey Hepburn, has died at age 90.
Ferrer died Monday at a Santa Barbara convalescent home, his son Mark Ferrer told The Associated Press on Tuesday. He had been in failing health for the past six months and had recently moved to the home from his nearby ranch in Carpinteria, his son said.
Ferrer’s most impressive film role came in 1953 in “Lili.” He played a crippled carnival puppeteer with whom a French orphan (played by Leslie Caron) falls in love.
He also won critical acclaim as Luis Bello in Robert Rossen’s 1951 depiction of the public and private life of a bullfighter in “The Brave Bulls,” based on a Tom Lea book, and starred opposite Hepburn in 1956’s “War and Peace.”
Stepping behind the camera
In later years, he turned more to directing and producing for movies and TV.
“Acting, at times, depresses Mel,” Hepburn once said. “Directing lifts him. He’s so relaxed at it that I just know it is the job he loves.”
He and Hepburn became engaged in 1954 when they appeared together in the New York play “Ondine.” They married later that year in Burgenstock, Switzerland.
The pair divorced in 1968 and Ferrer married his fourth wife, Elizabeth Soukhotine, in 1971. She survives him.
Ferrer and Hepburn costarred in a television version of “Mayerling,” and Ferrer directed Hepburn in the 1959 film “Green Mansions.”
He also produced one of Hepburn’s greatest film triumphs, 1967’s “Wait Until Dark,” a terrifying thriller in which she portrays a blind woman terrorized by drug dealers who break into her home.
‘A stunning face’
Born Melchor Gaston Ferrer on Aug. 25, 1917, in Elberon, N.J., Ferrer was the son of a Cuban-born doctor and a socialite mother. He grew up in comfortable surroundings, attending private schools and Princeton University.
He originally planned to be a writer.
“I don’t think he ever really wanted to be an actor,” his son said Tuesday. “He had kind of a stunning face and it got him typecast.”
After winning a playwright’s award in his sophomore year, Ferrer left Princeton to write a novel in Mexico. Instead he wrote a children’s book, “Tito’s Hats,” which was published by Doubleday.
He spent a year as a book editor in New York, then began his acting career as a dancer in Broadway musicals. He acted in plays and on radio and directed a Hollywood movie, “Girl of the Limberlost.”
Back in New York, he starred in the play “Strange Fruit,” about a lynching in the South, and directed Jose Ferrer (no relation) in “Cyrano de Bergerac.” His first major film role was in 1949’s “Lost Boundaries,” playing a light-skinned African-American doctor who passed for white in a New Hampshire town.
Ferrer’s commanding presence and well-modulated voice made him ideal for characters of certitude and decision. His films included “Rancho Notorious,” “Scaramouche,” “Knights of the Round Table” (as King Arthur), “Born to Be Bad,” “The Longest Day,” “The Fall of the Roman Empire,” “The Sun Also Rises,” and “El Greco,” which was made in Spain with Ferrer as co-producer and actor in the title role.
In all, he appeared in more than 100 films and made-for-television movies, directed nine films and produced nine more.
Ferrer was married and divorced three times before Hepburn: to Frances Pilchard (one daughter); to Barbara Tripp (a daughter and son); and a remarriage to Pilchard.
He is survived by his wife; his sons, Mark, Peter, Sean and Christopher; daughters Pepa and Mela; and several grandchildren.