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Remembering Mel Ferrer

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Melferrer_l

Melferrer_lThese days, Mel Ferrer is mostly remembered, if at all, for being married to Audrey Hepburn. (Younger viewers — that is, younger than 50 — probably remember him only for his long stint as Philip Erikson in the early years of ’80s primetime soap Falcon Crest.) But Ferrer, who died Monday at age 90, was an actor of grace and intelligence and class. He worked opposite Hepburn several times, most notably when they co-starred in a surprisingly good condensation of War and Peace (1956). Later, when he became a producer (a job he preferred over acting), he made Hepburn’s 1967 hit thriller Wait Until Dark. (He also directed her in the 1959 romance Green Mansions and acted alongside her in Broadway’s Ondine — for which she won a Tony in 1954 — and in a 1957 TV staging of Mayerling.)

Ferrer’s best-known role was probably that of the lame puppeteer, opposite Leslie Caron, in 1953’s Lili, but it’s worth seeking out some of his lesser-known films to see how much thought and refinement the Princeton dropout could bring to a role. In 1953’s Knights of the Round Table, he’s a King Arthur who seems much too good for both his Guinevere (Ava Gardner) and Lancelot (Robert Taylor). In 1952’s Rancho Notorious, a bitter, noirish Western by Fritz Lang, Ferrer and Arthur Kennedy forge such a strong and unlikely bond that their friendship almost seems a precursor to Brokeback Mountain. (Seriously, you’ll gasp at the end of this Western, made in the love-that-dare-not-speak-its-name 1950s, when the two cowpokes ride off into the sunset together.) Roles like these hint at a fascinating career that might have been, had Hollywood been able to see past his Latin good looks. “I don’t think he ever really wanted to be an actor,” his son Mark Ferrer told the Associated Press yesterday. “He had kind of a stunning face and it got him typecast.”

addCredit(“Mel Ferrer: Everett Collection”)