Actor-director Mel Ferrer dies at 90

Produced, directed films with wife Audrey Hepburn

Mel Ferrer, whose career as a performer, director, producer and writer spanned six decades, has died at age 90.

Ferrer died Monday at his ranch near Santa Barbara, family spokesman Mike Mena said.

"It's a sad occasion, but he did live a long and productive life," Mena said Tuesday.

He appeared in more than 100 films and made-for-television movies, directed nine films and produced nine more.

Ferrer's most impressive film role came in 1953 in "Lili." He played a disabled carnival puppeteer with whom a French orphan (played by Leslie Caron) falls in love.

On the big screen, Ferrer was most recognizable for his performance as Prince Andrei in "War and Peace" in 1956 with Audrey Hepburn and Henry Fonda. He was paid the then princely sum of $100,000. He appeared in "The Sun Also Rises" alongside Ava Gardner, Tyrone Power and Errol Flynn.

Ferrer was often cast in big pictures during the late '50s and early '60s: "The World, the Flesh and the Devil" with Harry Belafonte and Inger Stevens; "Sex and the Single Girl" with Natalie Wood and Tony Curtis; "Paris Does Strange Things" with Ingrid Bergman; and "The Longest Day" with an all-star male cast.

Despite his aristocratic looks and versatility, Ferrer never hit stardom as a leading man. Later in his career, he starred primarily in TV movies and, living in Europe since 1954, he performed in a number of obscure European productions as well as intermittent U.S. exploitation fodder like "Eaten Alive" (1977).

Active in all forms of performance, Ferrer (with Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire and Joseph Cotton), founded the La Jolla Playhouse in 1947.

In film, Ferrer produced "Wait Until Dark," with Hepburn, his then-wife, as the female lead. Previously, he directed Hepburn, whom he met while they starred together in "Ondine" on Broadway, in "Green Mansions." Among his other noteworthy film accomplishments, Ferrer directed Claudette Colbert in the film "The Secret Fury" in 1950 and produced "El Greco" in 1966.

His foray into movie acting was notable. In his first film, Ferrer played the lead in "Lost Boundaries," starring as a light-skinned black doctor forced to pretend he's white so as not to lose his New England practice. Ferrer also distinguished himself in Nicholas Ray's "Born to Be Bad," which starred Joan Fontaine and Robert Ryan.

He wrote the book for the musical "Pickwick" in addition to producing and directing it.

Melchoir Gaston Ferrer was born Aug. 25, 1917, in Elberon, N.J. He spent his childhood in New York City and studied at Princeton, where he won the Playwright's Award. After graduating from Princeton, Ferrer went to Mexico to write, completing a book of children's stories titled "Tito's Hats," which was published to wide acclaim.

During the period, Ferrer spent summers at the Cape Cod Playhouse in Massachusetts where he attained leading-man roles. After local success, he headed for Broadway; his first two appearances were as a dancer in the Cole Porter musical "You'll Never Know" and Marc Connelly's "Everywhere I Roam." He made his debut as a dramatic actor in "Cue for Passion" for Otto Preminger and followed up with "Kind Lady" with Gladys George.

At the same time, he took a fling in radio, serving an apprenticeship in small Texas and Arkansas towns. NBC took notice and signed his as a radio producer-director. He guided such programs as "The Hit Parade," "The Jimmy Durante Comedy Show," "Dr. I.Q." and numerous soap operas.

In 1945, Ferrer signed a director's contract with Columbia, spending two years in Hollywood. He made his directing debut with an adaptation of the Gene Stratton Porter novel "The Girl of the Limberlost."

He soon returned to Broadway, where he starred in a play staged by Jose Ferrer, "Strange Fruit." The following year, the two Ferrers, who were not related, switched roles and it was Mel Ferrer who directed Jose Ferrer in a Broadway version of "Cyrano de Bergerac."

Characteristically, Ferrer had wanderlust and went to Mexico in 1947 as John Ford's assistant on "The Fugitive," starring Henry Fonda. While there, he staged two plays with Eddie Albert.

After his sojourn in Mexico, Ferrer gravitated back to New York, where he directed Irene Selznick's "Heart Song" and then was loaned to Howard Hughes to direct "Vendetta" at RKO.

Ferrer's other notable movie acting credits include "Saadia," "Knights of the Roundtable" and "The Brave Bulls," in which his performance as the matador attracted the attention of MGM and he was cast in the starring role in "Scaramouche."

Ferrer made his home in Europe since 1954, primarily in Lausanne, Switzerland, where he lived with his wife, Lisa. He first moved to Switzerland with Hepburn because of her asthma. In 1962, he was a member of the Festival de Cannes jury.

In Europe he produced films in locales including Scandinavia ("The Night Visitor") and Lebanon ("Embassy").

While living in Europe, he continued with sporadic U.S. TV appearances in such series as "Falcon Crest," "Fantasy Island" and, more recently, "Murder, She Wrote."

Ferrer was married and divorced three times before he married Hepburn in 1955: to Frances Pilchard (one daughter); to Barbara Tripp (a daughter and son); and a remarriage to Pilchard.

Survivors include his wife, children and several grandchildren.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.