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Mel Ferrer

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Mel Ferrer
Ferrer in 1960
Melchor Gastón Ferrer

(1917-08-25)August 25, 1917
DiedJune 2, 2008(2008-06-02) (aged 90)
Alma materPrinceton University
  • Actor
  • filmmaker
Years active1937–1998
Frances Pilchard
(m. 1937; div. 1939)
(m. 1944; div. 1954)
Barbara C. Tripp
(m. 1940; div. 1944)
(m. 1954; div. 1968)
Elizabeth Soukhotine
(m. 1971)
Children6, including Sean
RelativesEmma Ferrer (granddaughter)

Melchor Gastón Ferrer[1][2] (August 25, 1917 – June 2, 2008) was an American actor and filmmaker. He achieved prominence on Broadway before scoring notable film hits with Scaramouche, Lili, and Knights of the Round Table. He starred opposite his wife, actress Audrey Hepburn, in War and Peace and produced her film Wait Until Dark. He also acted extensively in European films and appeared in several cult hits, including The Antichrist (1974), The Suspicious Death of a Minor (1975), The Black Corsair (1976) and Nightmare City (1980).

Early life[edit]

Ferrer was born in Elberon, New Jersey, of Spanish and Irish descent. His father, Dr. José María Ferrer (December 3, 1857 – February 23, 1920),[2] was born in Havana, Cuba, of Catalan ancestry.[3][4] José was an authority on pneumonia and served as chief of staff of St. Vincent's Hospital in New York City. He was 59 years old at the time of Mel's birth and died three years later.[5] Mel Ferrer's US-born mother, Mary Matilda Irene (née O'Donohue; January 28, 1878 – February 19, 1967),[6] 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 (as she was known) was named in 1934 as the New York State chairman of the Citizens Committee for Sane Liquor Laws.[7] Mel's parents married on October 17, 1910, in New York.[2]

His mother's family, the O'Donohues, were prominent Roman Catholics. Ferrer's aunt, Marie Louise O'Donohue, was named a papal countess,[8] and his mother's sister, Teresa Riley O'Donohue, a leading figure in American Roman Catholic charities and welfare organizations, was granted permission by Pope Pius XI to install a private chapel in her New York City apartment.[9]

Ferrer had three siblings. His elder sister, Dr. María Irené Ferrer (July 30, 1915 – November 12, 2004), was a cardiologist and educator who helped refine the cardiac catheter and electrocardiogram.[10] She died in 2004 in Manhattan at 89 of pneumonia and congestive heart failure.[10] Their brother, Dr. Jose M. Ferrer (November 23, 1912 – December 24, 1982),[2] was a surgeon; he died at 70 from complications of abdominal surgery. Their younger sister, Teresa Ferrer (March 30, 1919 – February 12, 2002), was the religion editor of The New York Herald Tribune and an education editor for Newsweek. She died at 82 from a thoracic aneurysm.[7][11]

Ferrer was privately educated at the Bovée School in New York (where one of his classmates was the future author Louis Auchincloss) and Canterbury Prep School in Connecticut. He attended Princeton University until his sophomore year, when he dropped out to devote more time to acting.[citation needed]

He worked as an editor of a small Vermont newspaper and wrote the children's book Tito's Hats (Garden City Publishing, 1940).[a]


Early theatre work[edit]

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 later the same year.[12] At 21, he was appearing on the Broadway stage as a chorus dancer, making his debut there as an actor two years later. He appeared as a chorus dancer in two unsuccessful musicals, Cole Porter's You Never Know and Everywhere I Roam. After a bout with polio, Ferrer worked as a disc jockey in Texas and Arkansas and moved to Mexico to work on the novel Tito's Hat (published 1940).[citation needed]

His first acting roles were in a revival of Kind Lady (1940) and Cue for Passion (1940).[13][14]

Columbia Pictures[edit]

Ferrer was contracted to Columbia Pictures as a director, along with several other "potentials" who began as dialogue directors: Fred Sears, William Castle, Henry Levin and Robert Gordon.[15]

Among the films he worked on were Louisiana Hayride (1944), They Live in Fear (1944), Sergeant Mike (1944), Together Again (1944), Meet Miss Bobby Socks (1944), Let's Go Steady (1944), Ten Cents a Dance (1945), and A Thousand and One Nights (1945). Some were "B" movies but others (Thousand and One Nights) were more prestigious. Ferrer directed The Girl of the Limberlost (1945), starring Ruth Nelson.


Eventually, he returned to Broadway, where he starred in Strange Fruit (1945–46), a play based on the novel by Lillian Smith. It was directed by José Ferrer (no relation). He then directed José Ferrer in the 1946 stage production of Cyrano de Bergerac.[16] He worked as an assistant on The Fugitive (1947), directed by John Ford in Mexico. Along with Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire and Joseph Cotten, he founded the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego.

Screen actor[edit]

Ferrer made his screen acting debut with a starring role in Lost Boundaries (1949), playing a black person who passes for white. The film was controversial but much acclaimed.[17]

Howard Hughes's RKO Studios[edit]

Ferrer with Miroslava in The Brave Bulls (1951)

Ferrer had a supporting role in Born to Be Bad (1950) at RKO, directed by Nicholas Ray. At that studio, he directed Claudette Colbert in The Secret Fury (1950) and directed or co-directed Vendetta (1950), The Racket (1951), and Macao (1952). He starred as a bullfighter in The Brave Bulls (1951) for Robert Rossen at Columbia. Ferrer fought with Arthur Kennedy over Marlene Dietrich in Rancho Notorious (1952), directed by Fritz Lang at RKO.


Ferrer went to MGM, replacing Fernando Lamas as the villain in Scaramouche (1952). The film, particularly notable for a long, climactic sword fight between Ferrer and Stewart Granger, was a huge hit. The studio kept him on for Lili (1953) as the title character (played by Leslie Caron)'s love interest. It was another big success; Ferrer and Caron also got a hit single out of it, "Hi-Lili-Hi-Lo". Saadia (1953), which Ferrer made with Cornel Wilde, was a flop, but Knights of the Round Table (1954), in which Ferrer played King Arthur, was another hit. Ferrer met actress Audrey Hepburn at a party; she wanted to do a play together. They appeared in Ondine (1954) on Broadway and wed in 1954.[citation needed]


Ferrer went to Italy to make Proibito (1954) and to England for Oh... Rosalinda!! (1955), directed by Powell and Pressburger. Neither film was widely seen, but War and Peace (1956) was a big success; Ferrer played Prince Andrei, co-starring with then-wife Audrey Hepburn. In France, he co-starred with Ingrid Bergman in Elena and Her Men (1956), directed by Jean Renoir.

United States[edit]

Ferrer and Hepburn made Mayerling (1957) for American television; it was released theatrically in some countries. Ferrer returned to MGM to make The Vintage (1957) with Pier Angeli, which was a big flop. He made two films for 20th Century Fox: an all-star adaptation of The Sun Also Rises (1957) and Fräulein (1958), a war story with Dana Wynter. At MGM, he played one of the last three people on Earth in The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1959), another flop.[citation needed] Ferrer went to Italy to star in Roger Vadim's vampire movie Blood and Roses (1960). After an English horror film, The Hands of Orlac (1960), he starred in the Italian adventure film Charge of the Black Lancers (1962). He was one of several stars in The Devil and the Ten Commandments (1962) and The Longest Day (1962). He had a cameo in his wife's Paris When It Sizzles (1964) and was Marcus Aurelius Cleander in The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964).[citation needed]


Ferrer then turned to television, doing some directing for the series The Farmer's Daughter (1963–66) starring Inger Stevens, William Windom, and Cathleen Nesbitt. Ferrer had a supporting role in Sex and the Single Girl (1964). From 1981 to 1984, he appeared opposite Jane Wyman as Angela Channing's attorney (and briefly her husband), Phillip Erikson, on Falcon Crest (as well as directing several episodes). He played a blackmailing reporter in the Columbo episode "Requiem for a Fallen Star", starring Anne Baxter. He appeared opposite Cyd Charisse in an episode of the long-running Angela Lansbury series, Murder She Wrote, and appeared in two television miniseries, Peter the Great (1986) and Dream West (1986). Later credits include Eye of the Widow (1991) and Catherine the Great (1995).[citation needed]


Ferrer produced and starred in the biopic El Greco (1966), playing the famous painter. He also produced Wait Until Dark (1967), starring his wife, another big hit.

He and Hepburn divorced in 1968.[18]

Later acting career[edit]

Ferrer was mostly a jobbing actor in the 1970s, working much in Italy. Among his credits were A Time for Loving (1972); The Antichrist (1974) in Italy; Brannigan (1974), a crime drama set in London that starred John Wayne; Silent Action (1975) and The Suspicious Death of a Minor (1975), both for Sergio Martino; The Net (1975), shot in Germany; The Black Corsair (1976), an Italian swashbuckler; Gangbuster (1977) in Italy; The Pyjama Girl Case (1977); Seagulls Fly Low (1977).

In the U.S., he was in Hi-Riders (1978), The Norseman (1978), Guyana: Crime of the Century (1979), and The Fifth Floor (1979). In 1979, he portrayed Dr. Brogli in an episode of Return of the Saint. In Europe, he was in The Visitor (1979), Island of the Fishmen (1980), Nightmare City (1980), The Great Alligator River (1980) and Eaten Alive! (1980). He went to Germany for Lili Marleen (1981). He worked in two of Spanish actress Marisol's film vehicles: Cabriola and La chica del molino rojo, being the director of the first and acting in the second.

For his contributions to the motion picture industry, Mel Ferrer has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6268 Hollywood Blvd.

Personal life[edit]

Ferrer married five times, to four women, with whom he had six children. His wives were:

  1. Frances Gunby Pilchard, his first and third wife, an actress who became a sculptor.[19] They married in 1937, and divorced in 1939 after having one child together, who died before their divorce.[20][21]
  2. Barbara C. Tripp, whom Ferrer married in 1940 and later divorced. They had two children: daughter Mela Ferrer (born 1943) and son Christopher Ferrer (born 1944).
  3. Frances Gunby Pilchard, for the 2nd time; they remarried in 1944, and divorced in 1953, after having two more children together: Pepa Philippa Ferrer (born 1941, conceived during his marriage with Tripp) and Mark Young Ferrer (born 1944).
  4. Audrey Hepburn, to whom he was married from 1954 until 1968. They had one son, Sean Hepburn Ferrer (born 1960).
  5. Elizabeth Soukhotine [ru], from Belgium, to whom he was married from 1971 to his death in 2008.[20]

Before his marriage to Elizabeth Soukhotine in 1971, Ferrer had a relationship with 29-year-old interior designer Tessa Kennedy.[22][23]

Besides English, Ferrer was also fluent in Spanish and French.


A resident of Carpinteria, California,[11] Ferrer died of heart failure at a convalescent home in Santa Barbara, California on June 2, 2008, at age 90.[16]



Ferrer with Audrey Hepburn in War and Peace (1955)


Year Title Role Notes
1947 The Fugitive Father Serra Uncredited
1949 Lost Boundaries Scott Mason Carter
1950 Born to Be Bad Gobby
1951 The Brave Bulls Luis Bello
1952 Rancho Notorious Frenchy Fairmont
1952 Scaramouche Noel, Marquis de Maynes
1953 Lili Paul Berthalet
1953 Knights of the Round Table King Arthur
1953 Saadia Henrik
1954 Proibito Don Paolo Salinas
1955 Oh... Rosalinda!! Capt. Alfred Westerman
1956 War and Peace Prince Andrei Bolkonsky
1956 Elena and Her Men Le comte Henri de Chevincourt
1957 The Vintage Giancarlo Barandero
1957 The Sun Also Rises Robert Cohn
1958 Fräulein Maj. Foster MacLain
1959 The World, the Flesh and the Devil Benson Thacker
1960 Blood and Roses Leopoldo De Karnstein
1960 L'Homme à femmes Georges Gauthier
1960 The Hands of Orlac Stephen Orlac
1961 Love, Freedom and Treachery [it] Mirko
1962 Charge of the Black Lancers Andrea Di Tula
1962 The Devil and the Ten Commandments Philip Allan (segment "Luxurieux point ne seras")
1962 The Longest Day Maj. General Robert Haines Ferrer was originally signed to play the role General James M. Gavin, but he withdrew from the role due to a scheduling conflict.[24]
1962 Marco Polo Unfinished film
1963 Charade Man Smoking Cigarette in Nightclub Uncredited
1964 Paris When It Sizzles Costume Party Jekyll & Hyde Uncredited
1964 The Fall of the Roman Empire Cleander
1964 Sex and the Single Girl Rudy
1964 Who Are My Own [es] Juan Bautista de La Salle a.k.a. El señor de La Salle
1966 El Greco El Greco (Domenico Teotocopulo)
1967 Wait Until Dark French-Canadian Radio Speaker (voice) Uncredited
1972 A Time for Loving Dr. Harrison
1973 The Girl from the Red Cabaret [es] Dalton Harvey
1974 The Antichrist Massimo Oderisi
1975 Brannigan Fields
1975 Silent Action District Attorney Mannino
1975 The Suspicious Death of a Minor Police superintendent
1975 The Net Aurelio Morelli
1976 Eaten Alive Harvey Wood
1976 The Black Corsair Van Gould
1977 Gangbuster Peseti, the Boss
1978 Seagulls Fly Low Roberto Micheli
1978 The Pyjama Girl Case Professor Henry Douglas
1978 Hi-Riders Sheriff
1978 The Norseman King Eurich
1978 Yesterday's Tomorrow [de] Colonel Stone
1978 The Fifth Floor Dr. Sidney Coleman
1978 L'immoralità [it] Vera's husband a.k.a. Cock Crows at Eleven
1979 Screamers Radcliffe (US version) a.k.a. Island of the Fishmen
1979 The Visitor Dr. Walker
1979 Guyana: Crime of the Century Uncredited
1979 The Great Alligator River Joshua
1980 Eaten Alive! Professor Carter a.k.a. Doomed to Die
1980 Nightmare City General Murchison
1981 Lili Marleen David Mendelsson
1981 Vultures on the City [fr] Sheriff
1982 A Thousand Billion Dollars Cornelius A. Woeagen
1982 Deadly Game [it] Stephan Mathiesen
1984 A Soft Sunset Franz Bollenstein
1991 Eye of the Widow Frankenheimer the CIA chief


Year Title Role Notes
1953–1954 Omnibus Chairman of the Board / Jeff Talbot 2 episodes
1957 Producers' Showcase Crown Prince Rudolph Episode: "Mayerling"
1957 ITV Play of the Week Episode: "Lost Boundaries"
1959 Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theatre Marshal Monty Elstrode Episode: "The Ghost"
1959 Rendezvous Episode: "London in the Spring"
1963 Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre Peter Carrington Episode: "The Fifth Passenger"
1973 Columbo Jerry Parks Episode: "Requiem for a Falling Star"
1973 Carola Gen. Franz von Clodius Television film
1973 Tenafly Charlie Rush Episode: "Pilot"
1973 Search John Rickman Episode: "Suffer My Child"
1974 Police Story Dr. Ross Episode: "Wyatt Earp Syndrome"
1974 Marcus Welby, M.D. Carlo Episode: "Designs"
1976 Ellery Queen Brandon Childs Episode: "The Adventure of the Disappearing Dagger"
1976 Origins of the Mafia Armando Della Morra Episode: "La legge"
1977 Hawaii Five-O Emil Radick / Father Neill 2 episodes
1977 Baretta Alex Kramer Episode: "Everybody Pays the Fare"
1977 The Fantastic Journey Appolonius Episode: "Funhouse"
1977 Lanigan's Rabbi Mike Rushmore Episode: "In Hot Weather, the Crime Rate Soars"
1977 The New Adventures of Wonder Woman Fritz Gerlich Episode: "Anschluss '77"
1977 Logan's Run Analog Episode: "Man Out of Time"
1977 Sharon: Portrait of a Mistress David Television film
1978 Black Beauty Nicholas Skinner Television miniseries
1978 How the West Was Won Hale Burton 3 episodes
1978 The Return of Captain Nemo Dr. Robert Cook Television film
1979 Return of the Saint Dr. Paolo Brogli Episode: "Vicious Circle"
1979 Eischied Episode: "Who Is the Missing Woman?"
1979–1980 Dallas Harrison Page 2 episodes
1980 Top of the Hill Andreas Heggener Television film
1980 Hagen Poole Episode: "The Straw Man"
1980 The Memory of Eva Ryker Dr. Sanford Television film
1980 Fugitive Family Anthony Durano Television film
1981 Behind the Screen Evan Hammer Episode: "Pilot"
1981–1984 Falcon Crest Phillip Erikson 54 episodes
1982 Fantasy Island Moriarity / Lord Collingwood Episode: "The Case Against Mr. Roarke/Save Sherlock Holmes"
1982 One Shoe Makes It Murder Carl Charnock Television film
1984 Finder of Lost Loves George Matthews Episode: "Forgotten Melodies"
1985 Seduced Arthur Orloff Television film
1985 Hotel Garrett Hardy / Anthony Palandrini 2 episodes
1985 The Love Boat Jack Powers 2 episodes
1985 Glitter Episode: "Nightfall"
1985–1989 Murder, She Wrote Miles Austin / Eric Brahm 2 episodes
1986 Peter the Great Frederick Television miniseries
1986 Outrage! Judge Michael Lengel Television film
1986 Dream West Judge Elkins Television miniseries
1989 Wild Jack Television miniseries
1989–1990 Christine Cromwell Doctor 4 episodes
1995 Catherine the Great Patriarch Television film
1998 Stories from My Childhood Geppetto (voice) Episode: "Pinocchio and the Golden Key"


Year Title Notes
1945 The Girl of the Limberlost
1947 The Fugitive Directorial assistant
1950 The Secret Fury
1950 Vendetta Uncredited
1951 The Racket Uncredited
1952 Macao Uncredited
1959 Green Mansions
1965 Cabriola

Dialogue coach[edit]

Year Title Notes
1944 Louisiana Hayride
1944 They Live in Fear
1944 Sergeant Mike
1944 Together Again
1944 Meet Miss Bobby Socks
1945 Let's Go Steady
1945 Ten Cents a Dance
1945 Boston Blackie's Rendezvous
1945 A Thousand and One Nights


Year Program Episode/source
1952 Family Theater Hound of Heaven[25]
1953 Radio Theater Undercurrent[26]


  1. ^ The book's illustrations are by Jean Charlot.


  1. ^ Some sources spell his first name as MELCHIOR but this is incorrect based on Ferrer's records at Princeton University. Also he was named for his paternal grandfather, Melchor Ferrer. And the name MELCHOR G. FERRER was used on the cover of Tito's Hats, a children's book that Ferrer wrote in 1940.
  2. ^ a b c d Ancestry Library Edition[verification needed]
  3. ^ "MEL FERRER, TV actor, Producer and Film director". thecubanhistory.com. January 12, 2017.
  4. ^ "Biography of Mel Ferrer (1917-2008)". TheBiography.us. 2018. Archived from the original on July 21, 2020. Retrieved July 20, 2020.
  5. ^ "Dr. José M. Ferrer". The New York Times. Obituaries. February 24, 1920.
  6. ^ "Weddings: Ferrer-O'Donohue", The New York Times, October 19, 1910.
  7. ^ a b "Mrs. J.M. Ferrer, Civic Leader, 89". The New York Times. February 21, 1967.
  8. ^ "Joseph O'Donohue, Real Estate Man, Dead". The New York Times. October 31, 1937.
  9. ^ "Teresa O'Donohue, Charities Worker". The New York Times. August 18, 1937.
  10. ^ a b "Changing the Face of Medicine | M. Irené Ferrer". cfmedicine.nlm.nih.gov. US: National Institutes of Health.
  11. ^ a b "Terry Ferrer, 82, Education Editor". The New York Times. April 1, 2002. Retrieved September 16, 2020.
  12. ^ "M.G. Ferrer Wins Prize Play Award", The New York Times, March 3, 1937, p. 27
  13. ^ "Kind Lady". Internet Broadway Database. Archived from the original on April 16, 2018. Retrieved November 16, 2017.
  14. ^ "Cue for Passion". Internet Broadway Database. Archived from the original on July 8, 2019. Retrieved November 16, 2017.
  15. ^ Tom Weaver (April 29, 2008). "Katz-mania". Films of the Golden Age.
  16. ^ a b Thomas, Bob (June 3, 2008). "Mel Ferrer, actor-director, husband of Audrey Hepburn, dies". Yahoo! News. Associated Press. Archived from the original on June 6, 2008. Retrieved September 16, 2020.
  17. ^ Margaret Lilliard (July 25, 1989). "Landmark '49 Film About Family Passing for White Recalled". Los Angeles Times.
  18. ^ Miller, Julie (June 14, 2016). "Audrey Hepburn Reveals Heartbreak and Discusses Secret Wedding in Never-Before-Seen Letters". Vanity Fair. Retrieved May 15, 2020.
  19. ^ "Catharsis", Time, February 10, 1941
  20. ^ a b Bergan, Ronald (June 5, 2008). "Obituary: Mel Ferrer". The Guardian. Retrieved February 3, 2018.
  21. ^ Paris, Barry (September 2001). Audrey Hepburn - Barry Paris (Book). Penguin. ISBN 9781101127780.
  22. ^ Paris, Barry (2001). Audrey Hepburn. Penguin Publishing. pp. 247–248. ISBN 0-425-18212-6.
  23. ^ Cawthorne, Nigel (2004). Sex Lives of the Hollywood Goddesses Part 2. Prion. p. 271. ISBN 1-85375-514-1.
  24. ^ "Notre jour le plus long" [Our longest day] (in French). La Presse de la Manche. 2012.
  25. ^ Kirby, Walter (April 20, 1952). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. The Decatur Daily Review. p. 46. Retrieved May 9, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. Open access icon
  26. ^ Kirby, Walter (November 29, 1953). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. The Decatur Daily Review. p. 50. Retrieved July 14, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. Open access icon

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