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Audrey Hepburn's Mom Loathed Daughter's Husband Who Had 'No Warmth' & Ruled Her 'with an Iron Fist'

Esther NJeri
Jun 03, 2022
05:30 A.M.
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Actress Audrey Hepburn had a stellar career, but her marriages were nothing to write home about. Her mother hated her first husband, who reportedly felt threatened by her fame.


Audrey Hepburn carried the title of the third-greatest female screen legend, recognized for her prowess in film and fashion and later for her humanitarian work.

Despite her dedication to acting, she put her acting career on hold when she met her first husband, Mel Ferrer. Born of a Cuban surgeon and a Manhattan socialite, Ferrer grew up in the industry, starring in films such as "Lili," "Scaramouche," and "The Brave Bulls."

Actress Audrey Hepburn and her actor husband, Mel Ferrer, after their secret wedding in 1954 | Source: Getty Images


The pair met at a film party in London after being introduced by Gregory Peck in 1953. Hepburn remembers their first meeting to have been very formal.

They had seen each other's work, and Hepburn had been interested in meeting him. She would say of their first time getting acquainted, as Express reports:

"The thing I remember most about that first meeting was that I thought he was so serious. He didn't smile. I liked him… but that was all."

American actor Mel Ferrer (1917 - 2008) buttons up his coat around his wife, actress Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993), on a country road outside Paris, 1956. | Source: Getty Images



After meeting, the pair did what most actors and actresses do — they planned on doing a film together. They agreed to reach out to each other whenever they found a film that would suit them both.

Ferrer did not waste any time and soon after sent her a French play, "Ondine." The "My Fair Lady" actress liked the play, and in January 1954, they started the rehearsals.

It was during this period that their mutual attraction came home to roost. Ferrer proposed, and Hepburn signaled her acceptance by sending him a platinum watch with the inscription "Mad About The Boy" from the song of the same name by Noel Coward.


Audrey Hepburn, 25, and Mel Ferrer, 37, leave the chapel after their wedding at Burgenstock Mountain | Source: Getty Images

They married that September in Switzerland and had their honeymoon in a farmhouse 50 miles from Rome. Later on, it became known that Hepburn had gone to great lengths to keep her marriage to Ferrer a "dark" secret to prevent the media from attending their wedding.


Soon after, Hepburn determined that she would prioritize her marriage over her career. However, her domestic obligations had already taken precedence long before the two tied the knot.

During an Oscar ceremony in March 1954, where the actress won Best Actress for "Roman Holiday," her husband-to-be would be the one to speak on her behalf when cameramen began asking questions.

Actress Audrey Hepburn poses for a publicity still circa 1957. | Source: Getty Images


After their marriage, she went down from making at least two films a year to only making one. Her focus was on starting a family. However, that was not to be, as she suffered two miscarriages.

The silver lining came in January 1960 when she delivered her first baby Sean. But her new duties did not deter her from landing more roles, and soon her husband began feeling overshadowed by her fame and became overprotective.

The word was out that Ferrer felt threatened by Hepburn's fame by then. It also became common knowledge that he kept her phone number a secret from backstage managers and her press agent.

Film actress Audrey Hepburn and her husband, actor Mel Ferrer, proudly show off their baby son, Sean, here July 19th. The nine pound youngster was born July 17th. He is the actress' first child. | Source: Getty Images


Ferrer denied the claims saying that he was not trying to compete with her, and Hepburn seconded the allegations saying he did not exercise too much power over her and was her protector. Director Alfred Lunt observed that:

"Ferrer used Audrey's crush on him to rule her with an iron fist."

Some, such as King Vidor, defended Ferrer, saying he felt Hepburn needed someone to make her decisions because she did not understand the business as Ferrer did. Ferrer reportedly did what he did because, as a director, he knew how much money Hepburn should make.

American Actress Audrey Hepburn, in 1968 | Source: Getty Images


However, others were not as generous with their comments about Ferrer, and as one film director Michael Powell would say:

"He has no warmth, nothing to give. Clever, yes – kind, no."


Ferrer and Hepburn were married for 14 years, but in the entirety of their marriage, Hepburn's mother never took to him. In Hepburn's letter to her acting coach and lifelong friend Aylmer, the "Breakfast At Tifanny's" actress said her mother referred to Ferrer as a "frog faced delinquent with the spindly legs."

Actress Audrey Hepburn shares spotlight with her mother, Mrs. Ella Hepburn, just in from London on the New Amsterdam in 1951. | Source: Getty Images


Hepburn's mother, Ella van Heemstra believed the marriage took a toll on her daughter and thought Hepburn was sick of the director. She would say, as People reports:

"I believe that Audrey is getting rather sick of the neurotic side of him!"


Unfortunately, after 14 years of marriage, Hepburn and Ferrer's marriage ended. Their marital troubles began in 1966 after Hepburn's much-publicized romance with Albert Finney, her costar in "Two For The Road."

American actor Mel Ferrer with his wife, British actress Audrey Hepburn, on the set of War and Peace, based on the novel by Leo Tolstoy, and directed by King Vidor. | Source: Getty Images


The pair separated a year down the line, and the actress would confess that she felt disillusioned. "When my marriage broke up, it was terrible," she shared, adding:

"More than that, it was a keen disappointment. I thought a marriage between two good, loving people had to last until one of them died."

"I knew how difficult it had to be to be married to a world celebrity, recognized everywhere, second-billed on the screen and in real life, how Mel suffered. But believe me, I put my career second." Hepburn confessed.

Belgian-born actress Audrey Hepburn (1929 - 1993) with her second husband, Italian psychiatrist Andrea Dotti (1938 - 2007), after their wedding in Morges, Switzerland, 18th January 1969. | Source: Getty Images


Following their failed union, Hepburn only spoke to Ferrer twice in her life, even as she endured another unhappy marriage to the Italian psychiatrist Count Andrea Dotti in 1969.

She relocated to Rome and delivered her second son, Luca. However, her second marriage was nothing to write home about, and Dotti would reportedly cheat on the actress with 200 women.

Actress Audrey Hepburn's escort is someone she is very fond of. It's her son, Sean, in 1979 | Source: Getty Images


British film-maker Helena Coan, who interviewed several friends of Hepburn and Dotti, said the actress suffered at her husband's hands. In 1980, the marriage finally ended, with Hepburn saying:

"Doctors are great with their parents, but they never want to take care of their families."

Heartbroken, Hepburn lagged in Italy so that Dotti could see his son and stepson, but when he failed to step up, the actress moved to Switzerland and found love with fellow Dutch actor Robert Wolders.