British film star Audrey Hepburn married American actor and film director Mel Ferrer on Saturday, September 25, 1954, in an intimate gathering for close friends and family that they were keen to keep from the press.
Personal letters from the actress to her longtime friend and acting coach Sir Felix Aylmer were auctioned off by his family in the summer of 2016. In one, Hepburn wrote, “How dearly we would love you to be with us on our wedding day. We will have the car take you up to our mountain peak, Friday, for a gathering in our chalet of our nearest and dearest!… Saturday will be the wedding… We want to keep it a dark secret in order to have it without the ‘press.’”
The high profile couple were first introduced in London by Hepburn’s Roman Holiday costar, Gregory Peck, in December 1963. Almost ten months later, they had married. Friends and family witnessed the nuptials at the couple’s wooden chalet, Villa Bethania, in Burgenstock, Switzerland. A priest presided over traditional vows inside a chapel on the estate.
The couple’s desire to keep the press away was unsuccessful, with throngs of photographers capturing the couple’s foot procession from the chapel to the villa for the reception. The bride wore a tea-length flared dress with a satin sash, ballgown sleeves and a high neck by French designer Pierre Balmain (of the eponymous fashion house). She accessorized with elbow-length gloves and a floral crown.
The newlyweds honeymooned in a farmhouse 50 miles outside Rome, but the fairytale did not last forever. Less than a year into their marriage, Hepburn won the Oscar for Best Actress in Roman Holiday, and her career quickly eclipsed his. He would grow to hate being known as “Mr. Hepburn,” and develop a reputation in the press for controlling his wife’s career. In the same collection of letters to Aylmer, Hepburn’s mother, Emma van Heemstra, called Ferrer “the frog faced delinquent with the spindly legs,” which was indicative of the mutual loathing between mother- and son-in-law, and further drove a wedge between the pair.
They welcomed a son, Sean, following two devastating miscarriages, in January 1960, but finalized their divorce in 1968, following Hepburn’s much-publicized 1966 romance with Albert Finney, who played her husband in the comedy film Two For the Road. Hepburn would later welcome a second son, Luca, with her second husand Andrea Dotti, passing away from cancer in 1993. She was Ferrer’s third wife; he would go on to marry twice more, passing away at his home in California in June 2008, aged 90.