Audrey Hepburn

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File:Adieu Audrey Hepburn.jpg
Adieu Audrey, one of several tribute books published after the actress' death in 1993.

Audrey Hepburn (May 4, 1929January 20, 1993) was an Anglo-Dutch actress, fashion model, and humanitarian. Born Audrey Kathleen Ruston in Brussels, Belgium, she was the only child of Joseph Anthony Ruston, an Anglo-Irish banker, and Baroness Ella van Heemstra, a Dutch aristocrat descended from French and English kings. Her father later appended the name Hepburn to his surname, and Audrey became Audrey Hepburn-Ruston. She had two half-brothers, Alexander and Ian Quarles van Ufford, by her mother's first marriage to a Dutch nobleman.

Far from only being a beautiful woman, Audrey was known for being humble, kind, funny and charming, and she lived the philosophy of putting others before herself. She showed this side particularly towards the end of her life in her tireless work for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).


Life during World War Two

Hepburn attended private schools in England and the Netherlands. After the 1935 divorce of her parents, she was living with her mother at Arnhem, Netherlands when the German invasion and occupation of World War II occurred. At that time she adopted the pseudonym Edda Van Heemstra, modifying her mother's documents to do so, because an "English-sounding" name was considered dangerous. This was never her legal name.[1]

After the landing of the Allied Forces on D-Day, things grew worse under the German occupiers. During the Dutch famine over the winter of 1944, brutality increased and the Nazis confiscated the Dutch people's limited food and fuel supply for themselves. Without heat in their homes, or food to eat, people in the Netherlands starved and froze to death in the streets; particularly so in Arnhem, Netherlands, which was devastated during Operation Market Garden. Suffering from malnutrition, Hepburn developed several health problems. She would stay in bed and read to take her mind off the hunger, and she danced ballet for groups of people to collect money for the underground movement. Her father left the family when Audrey was young, at what she called the most traumatic moment of her life (years later she would locate her father and send him money). The impact of these times would shape her life and values.

Rise to Stardom

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Audrey Hepburn in her breakthrough film, Roman Holiday.

After the war, Hepburn and her mother moved to London, England where she studied ballet, worked as a model, and in 1951 began acting in films, mostly in minor or supporting roles as Audrey Hepburn; her first major performance was in the 1951 film The Secret People, in which she played a ballet dancer. Audrey had trained in ballet since childhood and won critical acclaim for her talent, which she showcased in the film. However, her teachers had deemed her "too tall" to be a professional ballet dancer, since at 5'7" she was taller than many of the male dancers. She was chosen to play the lead character in the Broadway play Gigi that opened on November 24, 1951. She won a Theatre World Award for her debut performance, and it had a successful six-month run in New York City.

She was then offered a starring role opposite Gregory Peck in the Hollywood motion picture, Roman Holiday. Peck saw the star quality in her and insisted that her name share top billing beside his. For her performance she won the 1953 Academy Award for Best Actress. Years later, when asked by Barbara Walters what her favorite film was, Hepburn answered without hesitation that it was Roman Holiday, because that was the one that made her a star.

After Roman Holiday she filmed Sabrina with Humphrey Bogart and William Holden, with whom she had a brief romance. Many believe that Holden considered Audrey to be the love of his life, and she would go on to appear with him again in the comedy Paris - When It Sizzles.

Hepburn's performance as "Holly Golightly" in 1961's Breakfast at Tiffany's resulted in the creation of one of the most iconic characters in 20th Century American cinema.

Having become one of Hollywood's most popular box-office attractions, Audrey Hepburn co-starred with other major actors such as Fred Astaire in Funny Face, Humphrey Bogart, Gary Cooper in Love in the Afternoon, Cary Grant in the critically acclaimed hit Charade, Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady, Peter O'Toole in How to Steal a Million, and Sean Connery in Robin and Marian. Many of these leading men became very close to her. Rex Harrison called Audrey his favorite leading lady, Cary Grant said that "all I want for Christmas is to make another movie with Audrey Hepburn," and Gregory Peck became a lifelong friend.

Hepburn was at the center of a controversy in 1964 with the release of My Fair Lady due to the fact that she had been cast for role of Eliza Doolittle instead of then-unknown Julie Andrews who had originated the role. Elizabeth Taylor actually lobbied for the part as well, but Hepburn was awarded it by studio heads as she was felt to have more box office appeal than Andrews (who had yet to make Mary Poppins). Audrey recorded vocals for the role, but found out afterwards that professional "singing double" Marni Nixon had overdubbed all of her songs. She is said to have walked off the set after being told of the dubbing, returning the next day apologizing for her behavior. Footage of several songs with Hepburn's original vocals still exist and have been included in documentaries and the DVD release of the film, though to date only Nixon's renditions have been released on LP and CD. Some of her original vocals remained in the film, such as "Just You Wait" and snippets from "I Could Have Danced All Night".

The controversy over Hepburn's casting reached its height at the 1964-65 Academy Awards when Hepburn was not nominated for best actress while Andrews was nominated for Mary Poppins. The media tried to play up the rivalry between the two actresses as the ceremony approached, even though both women denied such bad feelings existed and got along well. Andrews later revealed that she thought her Oscar win was just politics.

Work for UNICEF

File:Audrey Hepburn for UNICEF.jpg
Hepburn during a UNICEF mission

From 1967 onward, after fifteen highly successful years in film, Hepburn acted only occasionally. She attempted a comeback co-starring with Sean Connery in the period piece Robin and Marian in 1976, which was moderately successful, but not up to the usual standards of a Hepburn hit film. Surprisingly, she turned down the seemingly made-to-order role of a former ballet dancer in The Turning Point. Shirley MacLaine got the part, and the successful film invigorated her career. Hepburn made another comeback try in 1979, starring in Sidney Sheldon's Bloodline. Pulp author Sheldon's books were so popular that his name was included in the film's title, no doubt leading Hepburn to think she had picked a winner. She hadn't. Among the reviewers, even Hepburn's admirers -- and there were still many -- could not recommend the film due to its tainted material. In one last attempt, she co-starred with her new flame Ben Gazzara in the modern comedy They All Laughed. It was small, hip and breezy-- a real departure for Hepburn -- and was directed by Peter Bogdonovich. It was a critical success, but much of the attention was focused on the promising talent of Bogdonovich's girlfriend, the beautiful and tragic Dorothy Stratten. The film was released after Stratten's brutal murder at age 20.

Hepburn's last role, really a guest appearance, was that of an angel in Steven Spielberg's Always, filmed in 1988. A rare Spielberg fizzle, few got to enjoy Hepburn looking, indeed, angelic, before the film was pulled from theaters. Soon afterward, Hepburn was appointed a special ambassador to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). Grateful for her own good fortune after being a victim of the Nazi occupation as a child, she dedicated the remainder of her life to helping impoverished children in the world's poorest nations. Those close to her say that the thoughts of dying, helpless children consumed her for the rest of her life. Visiting countries in Africa and South Asia, Audrey witnessed the horrors of the third world. She dedicated herself to spreading awareness of the conditions of these nations and doing what she could to help directly. In one interview, she mentions buying camels and solar boxes so that medicines could be delivered to a village in the middle of a desert. She worked tirelessly for UNICEF and various causes in Africa and other South Asian countries even in the last months of her life.

In 1992, President George Bush presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of her work with UNICEF. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded her The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for her contribution to humanity. This was awarded posthumously, and her son accepted the award on her behalf.

She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1652 Vine Street.

Marriages and Death

In the early 1950s she was engaged to a wealthy man named James Hanson. She called it "love at first sight." However, after having the wedding dress fitted and the wedding date set, she decided that since they rarely saw each other (he spent most of his time in England), the marriage would not work. She had the wedding dress given to a poor Italian couple who still have it today.

However, Hepburn did marry, twice: to the American actor Mel Ferrer and to an Italian doctor, Andrea Dotti, and had a son to each husband - Sean by Ferrer, and Luca by Dotti.

Audrey met Mel Ferrer at a party hosted by Gregory Peck, and quickly fell in love with him. After Sabrina, Audrey went back to the stage, this time with Ferrer in a play called Ondine in which she played a water sprite. Ferrer was rumored to be perhaps too controlling of Audrey, but in William Holden's words, "I think Audrey allows Mel to think he influences her."

She married him on September 25, 1954. The marriage lasted 14 years; their son was quoted as saying that Hepburn stayed in the marriage too long. In the later years of the marriage, Ferrer was rumored to have had a girlfriend on the side, while Audrey had an affair with her handsome "Two For the Road" co-star Albert Finney. After the marriage fell apart, Audrey met Italian psychologist Andrea Dotti on a cruise and fell in love with him on a trip to Greek ruins. She believed that she would have many children and possibly stop working. It didn't turn out as well. Although Dotti loved Audrey and was well-liked by Sean who called him "fun", Dotti had affairs with younger women and the marriage ended after Luca and Sean were old enough to handle it.

At the time of her death she was the companion of Robert Wolders, a handsome Dutch actor who was the widower of film star Merle Oberon. She met Wolders through a friend, in the later stage of her marriage to Dotti. Six months later, they met again for a drink, which turned into dinner. They fell in love and after Hepburn's divorce from Dotti was final, she and Wolders started their lives together, although they never married. In 1989, after nine years with him, she called them the happiest years of her life. "Took me long enough," she said in an interview with Barbara Walters. Walters also asked why she never married Wolders. Hepburn replied that they were married, just not formally. Hepburn and Wolders planned the UNICEF trips together. At every one of her moving speeches, Wolders would watch and sometimes shed tears.

Audrey began to feel pains in her stomach which she thought might be due to a virus she caught in Africa. It was later found out to be cancer. According to her son Sean Ferrer, Hepburn's cancer was very rare and originated in the appendix. Audrey had surgery in a Los Angeles hospital but the cancer continued to spread. She was disappointed that the doctors could not do other surgery, and she apparently refused chemotherapy. Though she would die only a few months after being diagnosed with cancer, her last months were peaceful and Christmas of 1992 was one of the happiest times of her life. [Ferrer has written a book about his mother: Audrey Hepburn: An Elegant Spirit.]

Hepburn died of colorectal cancer on January 20, 1993, in Tolochenaz, Vaud, Switzerland at the age of 63, and was interred there.


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In addition to the above, Hepburn hosted the 1993 television series, Gardens of the World with Audrey Hepburn for PBS, a nine-episode documentary series which premiered on the day of her death. She also appeared in an April 1952 episode of CBS Television Workshop entitled "Rainy Day at Paradise Junction" which predates her "official" American debut in Roman Holiday. According to some biographies, Hepburn claimed to have made "several" American and British TV appearances before Roman Holiday, and a poster for a 1951 British public appearance listed her as a TV actress, but so far "Rainy Day" is the only example of this early work to have surfaced; a copy of this production exists in the Museum of Radio and Television archives in Beverly Hills, California and New York City, New York.

Some sources (including the Internet Movie Database) erroneously state that Hepburn had a cameo appearance in the 1963 Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward film, A New Kind of Love, but this was debunked by several reviewers when the film was released to DVD in 2005.


She won the 1953 Academy Award for Best Actress for Roman Holiday. She was nominated for Best Actress four more times; for Sabrina (1954 awards), The Nun's Story (1959 awards), Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961 awards), and Wait Until Dark (1967 awards).

There was Oscar controversy in 1964 when Audrey was not even nominated for her "loverly" performance as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, possibly her best and most beloved performance. This may be due to the fact that her singing was mostly dubbed by Marni Nixon.

For her 1967 nomination, the Academy chose her performance as a terrorized blind woman in Wait Until Dark, over her critically acclaimed performance in Two For The Road. However she lost to Katharine Hepburn (in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner").

Audrey Hepburn was one of the few people who have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony Award, although this distinction was arrived at posthumously.

Biographical film

To date only one biographical film based upon Audrey Hepburn's life has been attempted. The 2000 American made-for-television film, The Audrey Hepburn Story starred Jennifer Love Hewitt as the actress. Hewitt also co-produced the film. The film received poor reviews due to numerous factual errors and for Hewitt's performance. The film concludes with footage of the real Audrey Hepburn, shot during one of her final missions for UNICEF. Several versions of the film exist; it was aired as a mini-series in some countries, and in a truncated version on America's ABC television network, which is also the version released on DVD in North America.

Potential 'Audrey Hepburns'

A handful of current actresses have been noted for their physical similarities to Audrey Hepburn, with some writers suggesting they might make good choices for a future bio-pic. Among the names often mentioned are Israeli-American actress Natalie Portman, British actress Keira Knightley, French actress Audrey Tautou, and American teen actress Emmy Rossum. Portman once dressed as Hepburn for a modelling photo shoot, while Tautou more closely resembles Hepburn physically, a fact noted by reviewers of her film, Amélie. Rossum played Hepburn as a child in the Hewitt film.


  • Had a 20-inch waist. According to her son, Sean Ferrer, she ate more than he did, but because of her experiences during the war, her ballet training, and her regular exercise regimen, she never gained weight. Ferrer went into detail about how she cooked, with the idea that colours in a dish are not only aesthetically pleasing, but also inherently nutritious.
  • Often credited for being an example for women that being healthy and thin are not mutually exclusive, it was later revealed that Audrey may have suffered an eating disorder. Friends described her as losing weight under extreme stress and being "strange" about food. Publicist Pat Kingsley is quoted as saying "If they even knew the word anorexia back then, I'm sure they would have used it to describe Audrey." Although possible, it is entirely speculative, and any weight loss or stress was probably induced by her miscarriages. It also contradicts what her son and others close to her say about her healthy eating habits. Hepburn herself said that she never overate because it was as if her throat closed up once she was full.
  • According to Sean Ferrer, Audrey's favorite movies of her own were The Nun's Story and Funny Face, which she had fun filming.
  • After Audrey told Sean that she would be divorcing Mel Ferrer, she took him to see The Jungle Book. He felt much better afterwards.
  • Audrey spoke French, Italian, English, Dutch/Flemish, and Spanish. Spanish was previously unconfirmed, but there is UNICEF footage of her in Mexico speaking fluent Spanish to locals.
  • Suffered several miscarriages in her lifetime which led to some depression. While filming The Unforgiven, Audrey broke her back while riding a horse and spent weeks in the hospital. She later had a miscarriage that was probably induced by the physical and mental stress.
  • Audrey loved the Peter Weir film Witness. According to Robert Wolders, before her death Audrey said she had dreams of Amish people building houses and constructing farms.
  • Opera diva Maria Callas reportedly loved Hepburn's look so much that she adopted it for herself in the 1950s.
  • It is sometimes claimed that Audrey Hepburn and Katharine Hepburn were sisters. The truth is they were only very distantly related, and certainly had never met before Audrey's rise to prominence. The closest relationship that has been identified for them is 19th cousin once removed. It has also been claimed that Audrey chose the last name Hepburn in honor of Katharine when she became an actress, however the record shows that it was part of her family name for some time before she entered show business.
  • Hepburn is considered by many in Japan as a model for feminine beauty, a theme explored in Alan Brown's novel Audrey Hepburn's Neck (ISBN 0671526723).
  • Audrey only flew coach in airplanes. She never desired to live glamorously. Her houses were comfortably large with extensive gardens, but without being extravagant.

External links

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