Mel Ferrer Biography

Mel Ferrer, an American actor, director, and producer, is best known as the first husband of Audrey Hepburn. He showcased his talent alongside Hepburn in the 1956 film adaptation of ‘War and Peace’. Ferrer’s progressive mindset led him to explore various avenues in his career. He began by working as a repertoire at the Cape Cod Playhouse in Massachusetts and even took on the role of editor for a small newspaper in Vermont. In 1940, he authored a children’s book titled ‘Tito’s Hat’. Seeking further opportunities, Ferrer relocated to New York City where he demonstrated his acting prowess in two plays, ‘King Lady’ and ‘Cue for Passion’, both directed by Otto Preminger. Despite facing a setback due to Polio, Ferrer persevered and found success in radio before eventually becoming a producer and director for the NBC television network. Notably, he directed Hepburn in the film ‘Green Mansions’ and produced one of her most acclaimed works, ‘Wait Until Dark’. Ferrer’s talent and versatility extended to television as well, with recurring appearances in the CBS drama ‘Falcon Crest’.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Melchor Gastón Ferrer
  • Died At Age: 90
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Frances Pilchard (m. 1937; div. 1939) Barbara C. Tripp
    • Father: Dr. José María Ferrer (1857–1920)
    • Children: Christopher Ferrer, Mark Young Ferrer, Mela Ferrer, Pepa Phillippa Ferrer, Sean Hepburn Ferrer
  • Height: 6’3″ (190 cm), 6’3″ Males
  • Died on: June 2, 2008
  • Place of death: Santa Barbara, California, United States
  • Ancestry: Cuban American, Irish American, Spanish American
  • Cause of Death: Heart Failure
  • City: Long Branch, New Jersey
  • U.S. State: New Jersey
  • More Facts
  • Education: Princeton University

Childhood & Early Life

Melchor Gaston Ferrer was born on 25th August, 1917 in the Elberon community, which is a part of Long Branch in Monmouth County, New Jersey, USA to Cuban father and American mother. His father, late Dr. Jose Maria Ferrer, was a pneumonia specialist and was the chief of staff of St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City. His mother, Mary Matilda Irene, was the daughter of a coffee broker and she was against all kinds of Prohibition and was named in 1934 in the New York City’s state chairman of the Citizen’s Committee for Sane Liquor Laws.

He went to Bovee School in New York and Canterbury Prep School in Connecticut. Later, he went to Princeton University but left it after his sophomore years to give more time to his acting. Mel had three siblings. His brother, Dr. Jose M. Ferrer, was a surgeon and his elder sister, Dr. M. Irene Ferrer, was a cardiologist and an educator and his other sister, Teresa (Terry) Ferrer, was a religion editor of the New York Herald Tribune and an education editor of Newsweek.

Acting Career

Ferrer started working in summer stock when he was in his teens and went on to win the ‘Theatre Intime’ award for the play titled ‘Awhile to Work’. He then appeared on Broadway stage in 1938 as a chorus dancer in two musicals Cole Porter’s ‘You Never Know’ and the historical pageant ‘Everywhere I Roam’ and made his debut there as an actor two years later.

While suffering from polio, he started to work as a disc jockey in Arkansas and Texas. Later he moved to Mexico to work on a novel and he started to produce and direct for NBC. Eventually, he returned to Broadway where he directed the 1946 stage production of ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ and then got involved in motion pictures and directed more than 10 feature films and acted in more than eighty. He was later hired by Columbia Pictures as a dialogue coach and then got a chance to direct a melodramatic movie ‘The Girl of the Limberlost’ in 1945. He played a leading role in ‘Strange Fruit’.

He directed a highly successful revival play of ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’. The critics praised Mel’s direction, and colorful production with vivid swordplay and the gorgeous staging of the movie final scene. As a producer he was very successful with the film titled ‘Wait Until Dark’ in 1967 starring Audrey Hepburn.

After spending time in Mexico he decided to form the La Jolla Playhouse with Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire and Joseph Cotten and they would bring theatre on a summer season basis. Then he directed the Howard Hughes fiasco ‘Vendetta’ before making his most successful movie ‘The Secret Fury’ in 1950.

Ferrer made his debut on screen as an actor in ‘Lost Boundaries’ in 1949. He played an artist in Nichola’s Ray’s ‘Born to Be Bad’ who was observing the behaviour of Joan Fontaine’s vamp. He very well enacted the complexity of a not so confident matador in the film ‘The Brave Bulls’ of 1951.

As a film actor he shall be best remembered for ‘Rancho Notorious’ where he played the outlaw sweetheart of actress Marlene Dietrich and next as the injured puppeteer in the musical ‘Lili’ in 1953 starring Leslie Caron. Later he played King Arthur in 1953 in ‘Knights of the Round Table’. His finest performance was as the villainous Marquis de Maynes in the French Revolution film ‘Scaramouche’ of 1952. He even acted opposite his wife Audrey Hepburn as Prince Andrei in ‘War and Peace’ of 1956.

Mel was highly praised for his intense performance in ‘Marquis de Maynes’ which had both a villainous side and also a convincing lover to Marie Antoinette.

Ferrer’s acting as the bitter, crippled puppeteer of Charles Walter’s ‘Lilly’ of 1953 who is able to woo a homeless child only through the voice and persona of a wooden doll was highly appreciated by critics and audiences.

Personal Life & Legacy

Mel was introduced to Audrey Hepburn in London at a party thrown by Gregory Peck, while Mel was making ‘Knights of the Round Table’ movie. She showed keen interest to work in one of his plays.

After their marriage, the couple was seen together in many films. In1956 Ferrer played the role of Prince Andrew in Raoul Walsh’s movie ‘War and Peace’ opposite Hepburn and Henry Fonda. He then directed Audrey in blockbuster movie like ‘Green Mansions’ (1959) which was based on W.H. Hudson’s novel set in the Amazonian jungle and telling the story of ‘Rima the Bird Girl’ and her sanctuary.

Ferrer again returned to acting in 1964 where he played a cameo role in the film ‘Paris When It Sizzles’ starring Audrey Hepburn. In 1967, he produced a movie version of the stage hit ‘Wait Until Dark’ again starring Hepburn who plays the role of a blind girl who defeats a gang of smugglers. This movie turned out as Hepburn’s major final success.


Ferrer turned to television by initially directing the television series ‘The Farmer’s Daughter’ from 1963 to 1966 starring Inger Stevens.

Mel went into wedlock 5 times. His first and third wife was Frances Gunby Pilchard who was an actress and sculptor. With her, he had two children, Pepa Philippa Ferer, and Mark Young Ferrer. His second wife was Barbara C. Tripp and they had two children; Mella Ferrer and Christopher Ferrer. Next, he married Audrey Hepburn (1954-1968) and they have a son named Sean Hepburn Ferrer. Before his fifth marriage to Elizabeth, he had a brief relationship with a 29 year old interior designer, Tessa Kennedy. Finally he married Elizabeth Soukhotine, with whom he stayed from 1971 till his death in 2008.

For his contributions to the film industry he was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6268 Hollywood Boulevard.

Ferrer died of heart attack at on 2nd June, 2008 at the age of 90 in a recuperating home in Santa Barbara.

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