Friday, June 6, 2008

Mel Ferrer R.I.P.

Actor and director Mel Ferrer died June 2, 2008 at the age of 90. He was known for such films as Scaramouche, Lili, and Wait Until Dark.

Mel Ferrer was born Melchor Ferrer in Elberon, New Jersey on August 25, 1917. He attended the Boveé School in New York and Canterbury Prep School in Connecticut. He then attended Princeton University for two years, before he left school to pursue acting full time.

Ferrer began acting as a teenager, starting out in summer stock. After dropping out of Princeton to pursue acting full time, he also wrote the children's book Tito's Hats and was an editor for a newspaper in Vermont. Ferrer first appeared on the Broadway stage as a dancer in the chorus, but it would not be long before he occupied the stage. His first part of any significance on Broadway was in the revival of The Kind Lady in 1940. That same year he played a small role as a reporter in the play Cue for Passion. Ferrer's acting career was interrupted when he contracted polio. During this period he worked as a disc jockey for a small radio station and later wrote, directed, and produced radio shows for NBC.

It was in 1945 that Ferrer directed his first feature film, The Girl of the Limberlost. He also returned to the Broadway stage, in the play Strange Fruit. While his dream was to direct motion pictures, Ferrer found himself acting more than anything else. He appeared in the revival of Cyrano de Bergerac on Broadway from late 1946 to early 1947. In 1948 he made his film debut as an actor in the movie The Fugitive. In 1949 he was cast as the male lead in a film for the first time in Lost Boundaries. In 1950 he was able to direct two more films, Vendetta and The Secret Fury. The Fifties were a particularly fruitful time for Ferrer's acting career. He appeared in some of his best known films, among them Rancho Notorious, Scaramouche, Knights of the Round Table, Lili, War and Peace, and The Sun Also Rises. In 1959 he directed Green Mansions, and The World, the Flesh, and the Devil. During the Fifties, Ferrer appeared one last time in Broadway--in the play Ondine.

Mel Ferrer's career would falter in the Sixties, as he spent more and more time in Europe. He continued to appear in some notable films, including Et Mourir de Plaisir (Blood and Roses), Les Mains D'Orlac (also knowns The Hands of the Strangler and The Hands of Orlac), The Longest Day, and Sex and the Single Girl. He entered film production, producing the films Wait Until Dark, and The Night Visitor. The Seventies saw Ferrer appear in such films as A Time For Loving, W, and Brannigan. Increasingly, he was appearing in low budget, exploitation fare, such as Eaten Alive and Nightmare City (AKA City of the Walking Dead.

The remainder of Ferrer's career was spent largely in television. He had appeared in television in the Fifties on the special Christmas with the Stars in 1953, Producer's Showcase in 1957, and Zane Grey Theatre in 1959. Starting in the Seventies, he guest starred on such shows as Hawaii Five-O, Wonder Woman, The Return of the Saint, Dallas, and Murder She Wrote. He was a regular on the shows Black Beauty, Falcon Crest, and Wild Jack. He appeared in the mini-series Peter the Great and the telefilm Catherine the Great.

Mel Ferrer was certainly a talented actor who was also very versatile. He was as convincing in the lead role in Scaramouche, playing a young man who trains in the sword so he can duel the master swordsman who wronged him, as he was in the film Lili, the carnival's handicapped puppeteer. He could be a great leading man or a great villain. He could fit into a Hollywood swashbuckler as easily as he could a low budget horror movie. Few actors were quite as versatile.

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