Mel Ferrer, once wed to Audrey Hepburn, dead at 90

Tue Jun 3, 2008 9:20pm EDT
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By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Actor-filmmaker Mel Ferrer, the onetime husband of Audrey Hepburn who co-starred with the screen icon in "War and Peace," directed her in "Green Mansions" and produced her film "Wait Until Dark," has died at age 90, a family spokesman said on Tuesday.

Ferrer, who also appeared with Hepburn on Broadway for her Tony Award-winning turn in "Ondine," died in his sleep on Monday surrounded by relatives and friends at his family's ranch in Carpenteria, California, near Santa Barbara, the spokesman, Mike Mena said.

The lanky, gaunt Ferrer first appeared on Broadway as a chorus dancer in 1938. After suffering a bout of polio, he worked behind the scenes in radio, TV and film before making his big-screen acting debut in the 1949 drama "Lost Boundaries" playing a fair-skinned black doctor passing as white.

Delving as it did into the sensitive subject of post-war American race relations, it was a risky role that "had a huge impact on him and his commitment to civil rights," Ferrer's son, Mark, recalled of his father.

But he is best remembered for his role as the lame puppeteer in the 1953 musical "Lili" with Leslie Caron, the same year Hepburn made her big-screen breakthrough opposite Ferrer's friend Gregory Peck in "Roman Holiday," which earned her a best actress Oscar.

Ferrer and Hepburn married in 1954 and appeared together that year in the Broadway production of "Ondine," for which she won a Tony as best actress for playing the water sprite just weeks after receiving her Academy Award.

They also co-starred in the 1956 movie adaptation of the Leo Tolstoy novel "War and Peace" -- she as Natasha Rostov and he as Prince Andrei Bolkonsky.

So intent was Hepburn on remaining near her husband that shooting of her Paris scenes in "Funny Face" were timed to coincide with Ferrer's filming of the French movie "Elena et les hommes," in which he co-starred with Ingrid Bergman.   Continued...

<p>Actor-filmmaker Mel Ferrer is seen in this undated publicity photograph. Ferrer, the onetime husband of screen icon Audrey Hepburn who co-starred with her in "War and Peace" and directed her in "Green Mansions," has died at age 90, a family spokesman said on June 3, 2008. REUTERS/Courtesy Hollywood Chamber of Commerce/Handout</p>