Consider poor Mary Matilda Irene Donohue Ferrer, mother of Mel.

She was a woman way ahead of her time. Born into the wealthy and socially prominent New York family, Mary Donohue scorned many offers of marriage until the right man came along.  The right man was Cuban born Dr. Jose Maria Ferrer, chief of staff at New York’s St. Vincent Hospital.

Mary had four children, and although she was widowed at an early age (when all the children were under 10) she made sure the Ferrer children were educated and prepared to contribute to society. Her youngest son, Mel, however, was a rebel.

Mary’s older son, Jose Maria Ferrer Jr. became a surgeon and his fame exceeded that of his famous father’s. Her older daughter also became a doctor and was instrumental in developing the electrocardiogram. Irene Ferrer won a Nobel Prize in Medicine. Mary’s youngest child, Theresa Ferrer, was the religion editor of The New York Herald Tribune and later the education editor at Newsweek.

The rebellious Mel, however, went off to do summer stock when he was 20, dropped out of Princeton, and eloped.

Mel’s relationship with his mother was strained for years. She might have been upset by the fact he’d divorced his first wife, Frances Pritchard, married his second wife, Barbara Tripp, had two children with her while simultaneously having two more children with Pritchard. Then he divorced Tripp and married Pritchard again.

Supposedly Mel and Mama didn’t speak for years.

Mel Ferrer was married five times in all but his most famous marriage, of course, was to Audrey Hepburn (pictured with him above). During that marriage — her first of two, which lasted 14 years until 1968 — Audrey was able to forge a reconciliation between Mel and his mother.

Ferrer was never a major Hollywood star but he is in several notable films: 1953’s Lili opposite Leslie Caron, 1952’s Rancho Notorious costarring Marlene Dietrich, and 1956’s The Sun Also Rises. He also starred opposite then wife Hepburn in 1956’s War and Peace and directed her in 1959’s Green Mansions.

He was a theater director as well, having scored on Broadway in 1946 with Cyrano de Bergerac starring Jose Ferrer (no relation.)

Though they were cordial to each other during Mel’s marriage to Hepburn the relation- ship between Mary Donohue Ferrer and her son Mel was never close or warm. She considered she had failed in his upbringing.  But at least her other three children were great successes. She had every right to be proud of the job she’d done raising them.

Yet Mary Donohue Ferrer’s obit was headlined — Mother of Actor Mel Ferrer Dies.

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