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. He was 90.
Ferrer died Monday at a Santa Barbara convalescent home, his son, Mark Ferrer, told the Associated Press. He had been in failing health for the last six months and had recently moved to the home from his nearby ranch in Carpinteria.
Ferrer’s most impressive film role came in 1953 in “Lili” as a puppeteer in a carnival with whom a French orphan (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. He starred opposite Hepburn in the 1956 film “War and Peace.”
Ferrer and Hepburn became engaged in 1954 when they appeared together in the New York play “Ondine” and married later that year in Burgenstock, Switzerland.
The couple costarred in a television version of “Mayerling” as well as “War and Peace,” and Ferrer directed his wife in the 1959 film “Green Mansions,” based on W.H. Hudson’s romantic fantasy.
He produced one of Hepburn’s greatest film triumphs, the 1967 film “Wait Until Dark,” a terrifying thriller in which she portrays a blind woman terrorized by drug dealers who break into her home. The couple divorced in 1968.
Born Melchor Gaston Ferrer on Aug. 25, 1917, in Elberon, N.J., Ferrer was the son of a doctor from Cuba and a socialite mother. He attended Princeton University for a year.
He 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.” In 1947 he co-founded the La Jolla Playhouse with Gregory Peck and Dorothy McGuire.
In New York, he starred in the 1945-46 play “Strange Fruit,” about a lynching in the South, and directed Jose Ferrer (no relation) in a 1946-47 production of “Cyrano de Bergerac.”
His first major film role was in the 1949 film “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. In the early 1980s he had a steady role on the CBS prime-time soap opera “Falcon Crest.”
Married five times, Ferrer is survived by his wife, Lisa, six children, nine grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.