Mel Ferrer (August 25, 1917 – June 2, 2008) was an American actor, film director and film producer.
Ferrer was born Melchor Gastón Ferrer in the Elberon section of Long Branch, New Jersey, of Cuban and Irish descent. His father, Dr. José María Ferrer (1857–1920), was born in Cuba, of Spanish ancestry, and was an authority on pneumonia and served as chief of staff of St. Vincent's Hospitalin New York City. His American mother, the former Mary Matilda Irene O'Donohue (1878–1967), was a daughter of coffee broker Joseph J. O'Donohue, New York's City Commissioner of Parks, a founder of the Coffee Exchange, and a founder of the Brooklyn-New York Ferry. An ardent opponent of Prohibition, Irene Ferrer was named, in 1934, the New York State chairman of the Citizens Committee for Sane Liquor Laws.
Ferrer had three siblings. His elder sister was Dr. M. Irené Ferrer, a cardiologist and educator, who helped refine the cardiac catheter andelectrocardiogram. His brother, Dr. Jose M. Ferrer, was a surgeon. His other sister, Teresa (Terry) Ferrer, was the religion editor of The New York Herald Tribune and education editor of Newsweek. The family is not related to actors José or Miguel Ferrer.
His mother's family, the O'Donohues, were prominent Roman Catholics. Mel Ferrer's aunt, Marie Louise O'Donohue (Mrs. Joseph J. O'Donohue, Jr.) was named a papal countess, and his mother's sister, Teresa Riley O'Donohue, a leading figure in American Catholic charities and welfare organizations, was granted permission by Pope Pius XI to install a private chapel in her New York City apartment.
Ferrer was privately educated at the Bovée School in New York (one of his classmates was the future author Louis Auchincloss) and Canterbury Prep School in Connecticut before attending Princeton University until his sophomore year, at which time he dropped out to devote more time to acting. He also worked as an editor of a small Vermont newspaper and wrote a children's book, Tito's Hats (Garden City Publishing, 1940).
Audrey Hepburn and Mel Ferrer on the set ofWar and Peace
Ferrer began acting in summer stock as a teenager and in 1937 won the Theatre Intime award for best new play by a Princeton undergraduate; the play was called Awhile to Work and co-starred another college student, Frances Pilchard, who would become Ferrer's first wife that same year. At age twenty-one, he was appearing on the Broadway stage as a chorus dancer, making his debut there as an actor two years later. After a bout withpolio, Ferrer worked as a disc jockey in Texas and Arkansas and moved to Mexico to work on a novel. He then was contracted to Columbia Picturesas a director along with several other "potentials" who began as dialogue directors: Fred Sears, William Castle, Henry Levin and Robert Gordon.
Eventually, he returned to Broadway, where he directed the 1946 stage production of Cyrano de Bergerac, in which Jose Ferrer (no relation) first appeared in the role, then became involved in motion pictures, directing more than ten feature films and acting in more than eighty. As a producer, he had notable success with the well-regarded film Wait Until Dark (1967), starring Audrey Hepburn. In 1945, Ferrer made a modest directing debut with The Girl of the Limberlost, a low-budget black-and-white film for Columbia. He returned to Broadway to star in Strange Fruit, based on the novel by Lillian Smith. He made his screen acting debut in Lost Boundaries (1949), and as a film actor is best remembered for his roles as the injured puppeteer in the musical Lili (1953, starring Leslie Caron), as the villainous Marquis de Maynes in Scaramouche (1952) and as Prince Andrei in War and Peace (1956, co-starring with his then-wife, Audrey Hepburn).
Ferrer never achieved major stardom and later turned towards television, doing some directing for the series The Farmer's Daughter (1963–1966) starring Inger Stevens, but is best remembered in television work for his role opposite Jane Wyman as Angela Channing's attorney and briefly, her husband, Phillip Erikson, in Falcon Crest, as well as directing a few of the series episodes. He also played a blackmailing paparazzi reporter in theColumbo episode "Requiem for a Fallen Star" (starring Anne Baxter) and a few years later in 1979 Dr. Brogli in an episode of Return of the Saint.
For his contributions to the motion picture industry, Mel Ferrer has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6268 Hollywood Blvd.
Ferrer was married five times. His wives were:
- Frances Gunby Pilchard, an actress who became a sculptor; daughter of Sewell Norris Pilchard Jr, a physician, and his wife, the former Louise Collier Gunby. They married in 1937 and divorced in 1939.
- Barbara C. Tripp. They married in 1940 and later divorced. They had two children: a daughter, Mela Ferrer (born 1943) and a son, Christopher Ferrer (born 1944).
- Frances Ferrer (née Pilchard), who had been his first wife. This marriage, which took place in 1944, also ended in divorce. They had two children: Pepa Philippa Ferrer (born 1941) and Mark Young Ferrer (born 1944).
- Audrey Hepburn, the actress, to whom he was married from 1954 until 1968. They had one child, a son, Sean Hepburn Ferrer (born 1960).
- Elizabeth Soukhotine, whom he married in 1971.
Before his marriage to Elizabeth Soukhotine in 1971, Ferrer also had a relationship with 29-year-old interior designer Tessa Kennedy
A resident of Carpinteria, California, Ferrer died at a convalescent home in Santa Barbara on June 2, 2008. He died as a result of heart failure. He was 90 years old.