Falcon Crest's Mean Mom Shows An Altar Ego with a May Wedding to Mel Ferrer

UPDATED 05/07/1984 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 05/07/1984 at 01:00 AM EDT

The marriage made in ratings heaven was turning into a nightmare. When Angela Channing, the domineering matriarch of Falcon Crest, arrived at the California church to marry Phillip Erikson, her lawyer, something bad had to happen. And it did. Just as bride Jane Wyman and groom Mel Ferrer prepared to say "I do" at Mount St. Mary's hilltop chapel above Bel Air, fire fighters ordered the cast and crew to beat it. Hot dry winds threatened to set the nearby hills ablaze. The cast, which was together for the first time this season, took refuge in St. Brendan's, 15 miles away in Los Angeles. St. Brendan's posed its own problems: The church was free only until 5 p.m., when a funeral was scheduled, and there weren't enough extras to fill the pews of the larger space. Even there, the wedding guests were not safe from natural disasters: Instead of rice, ashes from a fire in the hills above fell upon the gathering.

If these were bad omens, the love couple was not alarmed. Throughout the ceremony, which airs May 4, Wyman, 70, and Ferrer, 66, remained chipper. Even though in real life the couple has been married a total of nine times (five for Mel, four for Jane), both were caught up in the sanctity of the Catholic-style ritual. The priest hired for the performance, Father Bob Curtis, is a friend of Wyman's. He is ordained and a 25-year Screen Actors Guild veteran. The intrigues of Falcon Crest have kept Curtis on call: Last year he presided over the funeral of Angela's sister-in-law, played by Lana Turner.

Off-camera, Wyman and Ferrer also sound like the marrying kind. "He's my buddy," says Jane of her prime-time partner. "The chemistry between us is right." The reserved Ferrer found the ceremony "very moving" and his mate a changed lady. "Jane became so womanly and gentle," he says. "It's the first time she's brought another dimension to the role. The character is so stern, remote. Now she's human."

Like Wyman, whose second husband was Ronald Reagan, Ferrer has a famous ex: Audrey Hepburn. When they wed in 1954, the Belgian-born actress was 25; Mel was 37 and the father of four. He took Hepburn to Switzerland to find rest, privacy and a better environment for her asthma. At the time he was often portrayed as her Svengali. "We lived in a fairyland on top of a mountain," recalls Ferrer. "We stayed for 10 years." The union produced a son, Sean, 23, a TV and film producer in Los Angeles. It also led to a much-publicized divorce in 1968. "I don't hear from her," says Ferrer. "And I respect that. Audrey asked for the divorce. She got married just weeks later."

In 1971 Ferrer married another Belgian, Lisa Soukotine, an editor of children's books whom he met in London. Five years ago Mel and Lisa, now 47, moved to California from Europe because, he says, "I wanted to return to the land of the living. I wasn't ready to retire."

On the day of his prime-time nuptials, the New Jersey-born Ferrer was augmenting his reputation as a Continental gent. During the waits between shots, he bestowed flowers on the ladies in the production company. "He treats women with elegance, the invisible hand on your elbow, that quiet authority," says cast member Susan Sullivan. Lifelong friend Anne Baxter adds, "He brings elegance to whatever he does. There are no flies on Mel."

How long does Wyman think her marriage to Mel will last? "I haven't the foggiest idea," she says. And Earl Hamner, who created the series, isn't saying either. However, word is that on the season's last episode, Angela and Phillip will find themselves in a plane crash, along with most of the Channing clan. Till death do them part could come sooner than these newlyweds expected.

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