Friday, 23 December 2011

Audrey Hepburn

The greatest actress of all time, in all her glory.

For my entry to Thomas Pollock's 100k Writer's Competition, I have decided to do it on my favourite actress: Audrey Hepburn. As cliche as it may be, there's no denying that she is my favourite actress. I love everything she did, onscreen and offscreen. But, before I go any further into that, here's some facts about Audrey Hepburn:

Audrey Kathleen Ruston was born an only child in a small town called Ixelles in Belgium on the 4th of May 1929, to parents Ella van Heemstra and Joseph Victor Anthony Ruston. As a young child, she spent a lot of time travelling between different areas of Belgium, England and The Netherlands, in an attempt to evade the Nazi onslaught. Her family survived the war, although her father became a Nazi sympathiser and left the family, but Hepburn remained in contact with him until his death. 

Hepburn was educated from 1935-39 at Miss Rigden's School, an independent girl's school in a small village called Elham in southeastern England. When the war started, her and her mother relocated to Arnhem in The Netherlands, where she attended Arnhem Conservatory throughout the time of the Second World War. Due to her English sounding name, she was forced to change it to a pseudonym, Edda van Heemstra, a derivative of her mother's name. 

During her time at the Conservatory, Hepburn trained in ballet, which eventually led to her raising money for the Dutch Resistance, performing in her then proficient ballerina skills. Shortly afterwards, Arnhem was devastated by enemy artillery fire, causing a famine. Hepburn and many others lived in terrible conditions until the end of the war, but the entirety of her family, consisting of her two half-brothers and mother, survived. It was these wartime experiences that ignited her devotion to UNICEF later in her career.

Hepburn moved to Amsterdam shortly after the war, and trained further in ballet, and it was there that she starred in her first role as an air stewardess in an educational travel film by the name of Dutch In Seven Lessons (1948). Shortly afterwards, she traveled to London with her mother, and in the same year as Dutch In Seven Lessons, she starred in a theatre revue called High Button Shoes and then in the following two years respectively, Cecil Landeau's Sauce Tartare and Sauce Piquante. During her theatrical experiences, it was noticed that her voice was not as strong as it could be, and needed developed. During her voice training, she obtained minor roles in four 1951 films: One Wild Oat, Laughter In Paradise, Young Wives' Tale and The Lavender Hill Mob

Audrey's first major film, The Secret People (1952).

Audrey received a major role in a Broadway play called Gigi, when she was noticed by French novelist Colette, who whispered "Voila. There's your Gigi.", pointing out Hepburn. The play ran for 219 performances. However, it was after her voice training and Gigi that she received her first major role, in Thorold Dickinson's The Secret People (1952), in which she played a prodigious ballerina, and performed all of her own moves. A year later, however, Audrey Hepburn received the role that would make her famous - the 1953 Italian-set romantic comedy, Roman Holiday - directed by William Wyler, in which she played a British princess by the name of Ann, who simply wants to live a normal life. She would star alongside Gregory Peck.

A collage of shots from Roman Holiday (1953).

Roman Holiday garnered acclaim from all angles, but what got the most attention was of course Hepburn. She lit up the screen with her sophisticated yet innocent persona, and it was with this role that she won herself her only Oscar in her first major role. Despite only winning one Oscar, she received many nominations and wins from other major award organisations:

Key: Win = Green. Nomination = Red.

Academy Awards
Academy Award for Best Actress (Roman Holiday 1953).
Academy Award for Best Actress (Sabrina 1954).
Academy Award for Best Actress (The Nun's Story 1959).
Academy Award for Best Actress (Breakfast At Tiffany's 1961).
Academy Award for Best Actress (Wait Until Dark 1967).
Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award (A special award for her dedication to helping children in poverty across the world throughout her life in 1993, shortly after her death).

BAFTA Award for Best Actress (Roman Holiday 1953).
BAFTA Award for Best Actress (Sabrina 1954).
BAFTA Award for Best Actress (War And Peace 1957).
BAFTA Award for Best Actress (The Nun's Story 1960).
BAFTA Award for Best Actress (Charade, 1965).
BAFTA Lifetime Achievement Award (1992).

David Di Donatello Awards
David Di Donatello Award for Best Foreign Actress (The Nun's Story 1960).
David Di Donatello Award for Best Foreign Actress (Breakfast At Tiffany's 1961).
David Di Donatello Award for Best Foreign Actress (My Fair Lady 1965).

Emmy Awards
Outstanding Individual Achievement - Informational Programming (1993).

Golden Globe Awards
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress (Roman Holiday 1953).
Golden Globe Award for World Film Favourite -- Female (1955).
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress (War and Peace 1957).
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress (Love In The Afternoon 1958).
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress (The Nun's Story 1960).
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress (Breakfast At Tiffany's 1962).
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress (Charade 1964).
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress (My Fair Lady 1965).
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress (Two for the Road 1968).
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress (Wait Until Dark 1968).
Cecil B. Demille Award -- Audrey Hepburn (1990).

Audrey also managed to accrue many other awards for various reasons. She won awards from the Grammy Awards, the New York Film Critics Circle Awards, Screen Actors Guild Awards, Theatre World Awards, Tony Awards, and countless awards for her humanitarian efforts. 

Post-Roman Holiday 
After the huge success of Roman Holiday, Audrey Hepburn became far more prevalent within the film world. Her next success came with Sabrina (1954) a romantic comedy directed by Billy Wilder, in which two wealthy brothers (played by Humphrey Bogart and William Holden) battle for the love of Hepburn's character, who carries the name of the titular character. Sabrina, like most Hepburn works, received critical acclaim.

An iconic image from Sabrina (1954).

By the mid 50s, Hepburn was becoming one of the most loved Hollywood icons around. She was adored by fans worldwide for her bravura performances and her stylish charm. Hepburn, who was garnering fame by the minute, went on to star in many more successful films which attracted box office attention. First up, there was War And Peace (1956), a film set during the Napoleonic war starring Henry Fonda and then husband Mel Ferrer. Next up was Funny Face (1957), a musical starring Fred Astaire, followed up by a similar film called Love In The Afternoon. She then start in The Nun's Story (1959), a film starring her and Peter Finch in which she plays a nun struggling to succeed as one. These films were all successful to some degree, and skyrocketed Hepburn's success in the late 50s. A poster for War and Peace:

War and Peace (1956), starring her then husband Mel Ferrer.

And for Funny Face;

Funny Face (1957), perhaps one of Hepburn's more well-known ventures.

And to conclude, The Nun's Story:

A less known endeavour of Hepburn's but still successuful.

Breakfast At Tiffany's
In 1961, Hepburn partook in a film which would produce (arguably) her most iconic character, Holly Golightly. This film was Breakfast At Tiffany's, a quaint, hilarious, legendary film starring George Peppard and Hepburn and directed by Blake Edwards. To this day, few films can compare to Tiffany's irresistible charm and iconic scenes, including Hepburn's rendition of Moon River, (which won an Academy Award for Best Song), and the hunt for the cat. Audrey Hepburn managed to idolise the character and the film in many ways - her clothes (particularly the little black dress she wore), her mannerisms, and her sublime delivery of lines.

The legendary poster for Breakfast At Tiffany's (1961).

Hepburn went on to star in more successful films, including Charade (1963) and and Wait Until Dark (1967). But perhaps her final extremely famous role came with My Fair Lady (1964), an iconic comedy in which she played Eliza Doolittle, which also starred Rex Harrison. My Fair Lady was branded as "the most exciting thing to come out in the film industry since Gone With The Wind", and it did indeed accrue success. Audrey Hepburn had many acting credits that were perhaps less known. Here is a full list of her credited performances during her illustrious 41-year career, and any relevant facts:

Dutch In Seven Lessons (1948)
Monte Carlo Baby (1951)
Laughter In Paradise (1951)
One Wild Oat (1951)
The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)
Young Wives' Tale (1951)
The Secret People (1952) -- first major role.
We Will Go To Monte Carlo (1952) -- French remake of Monte Carlo Baby.
Roman Holiday (1953) -- won her the only Oscar she won.
Sabrina (1954) 
War And Peace (1956)
Love In The Afternoon (1957)
Funny Face (1957) -- her first musical.
Green Mansions (1959)
The Nun's Story (1959)
The Unforgiven (1960) -- her only Western.
Breakfast At Tiffany's (1961)
The Children's Hour (1961)
Charade (1963)
Paris When It Sizzles (1964)
My Fair Lady (1964)
How To Steal A Million (1966)
Two For The Road (1967)
Wait Until Dark (1967)
Robin And Marian (1976)
Bloodline (1979) -- her only R-rated film.
They All Laughed (1981)
Always (1989) -- cameo.

Marriages, Miscarriages and Children
Hepburn was involved in two marriages. Her first was with Mel Ferrer, which lasted from 1954 to 1968. She met Ferrer at a cocktail party hosted by Gregory Peck, and starred with him in one of her films, War and Peace. She had one child with Ferrer - Sean Hepburn Ferrer. 

Hepburn and Ferrer on the set of War And Peace (1956).

Her second marriage was to Andrea Dotti, lasting from 1969 to 1982. She also had one child with Dotti, by the name of Luca Dotti. She and Andrea Dotti met on a cruise, where she fell in love with him and eventually married him. Hepburn unfortunately suffered two miscarriages, in 1955 and 1959. 

In late 1992, Hepburn discovered that she was suffering from abdominal cancer, which has metastasised, covering her small intestine. Unfortunately, the surgeons operating on her decided that it was too late to remove the cancer. After coming to terms with the seriousness of her illness, her family decided to spend one last Christmas with her in her home in Tolochenaz, Vaud, Switzerland. On the 20th of January, 1993, Hepburn succumbed to her illness and died in her sleep in her home. Shortly after her death, Gregory Peck weeped as he recited Hepburn's favourite poem, "Unending Love" by Rabindranath Tagore. Funeral services were held at the church in Tolochenaz, and Hepburn was buried on a small hill overlooking the village.

Why I Love Audrey
Now, after that huge abundance of facts (that I'm sure you all found inherently interesting), I'm sure you're bursting with anxiety to find out why I actually love her. Well, thanks to Thomas' endlessly general word limit of FOUR THOUSAND, I have the space and lenience to tell you. Just to get it out of the way first, Audrey Hepburn is one of the most unique and beautiful people I've ever seen - there is no denying that she has an ethereal beauty that is unmatched - but this is more about her acting talent and personality rather than what she looks like - so I thought I'd just clarify that before I go any further.

A perennially iconic shot from Roman Holiday (1953), in which Hepburn and Peck drive a moped manically through the streets of Rome.

One of the most special (and often delectable) things about Hepburn, is that every seemingly ordinary character that she tackles turns into something unparalleled and unique. Take Sabrina Fairchild from Sabrina, simply a chauffeur's daughter and a maid to a rich family. Hepburn transforms her into a deep, fascinating and enchanting character, by manipulating her role and putting passionate profundity into it. The result of Hepburn's (likely arduous) efforts is always something to be astounded at, a character to love and to care for - which is perhaps why many women apotheosize many of Hepburn's characters - and also why her characters will always have a high class within the vast landscape that is cinema. Hepburn never fails to give you a warm, fuzzy feeling every time she pops up on the screen, which is exactly where she belongs - delighting people, young and old.

Hepburn performing her rendition of "Moon River" in Breakfast At Tiffany's (1961). The song won an Oscar.

Audrey Hepburn has a vast range of character traits that only add to her magnificent splendour. She always manages to balance out her characteristics - be it innocent, charming, strong-willed, strong, weak - or be it her social class - upper, middle, lower, rich, poor - she always manages to deliver and capitalise on whatever qualities or traits she possesses, which is wholly admirable. In every role, she exudes emotion and intricate personality. She always manages to connect exceedingly with her audience and delivers beautifully on every single line and scene that she performs in, which is perhaps why many people rank her among the greatest.

Hepburn gazing upon her hometown in Belgium.

Another stupefying ability that Hepburn holds is her aptitude and capacity to maintain a strong chemistry with anyone accompanying her in a lead role (usually a male). In Roman Holiday, Hepburn and Peck are the perfect duo; a stunning contrast between people of differing social class, perhaps my favourite onscreen couple of all-time. Her relationship with George Peppard's character in Breakfast At Tiffany's is oddball but nonetheless bewildering, enjoyable, bright and pleasant. Hepburn is (and will always be) the most recongised and acclaimed film about Breakfast At Tiffany's, but a lot of the atmosphere and quality within that film is down to her connection with Peppard. In Sabrina, Hepburn had the task of trying to bind two strong relationships with two separate actors - William Holden and Humphrey Bogart - in a film which radiated the message that when it comes to love, age doesn't matter. Therefore, Hepburn had to adapt her personality to suit the older character and the younger character, and succeeded admirably, solidifying Sabrina as one of my favourite love stories of all-time.

Hepburn with shorter hair, a style she used for many of her characters.

Hepburn makes roles that could be easily interpreted as difficult look effortless, even with here divine sense of potency that is embroidered into each individual persona she takes on. Just by doing one certain thing in a scene, Hepburn can create many interpretations and sentiments. For example, when she takes a tantrum within the character of Princess Anne in Roman Holiday, you are immediately given an insight as to some of the possibilities as to the problem that her character is facing - perhaps she is a princess who despises the life she leads and wishes she could live the life of a normal person, or contingently she may have trouble with someone that she knows within the royal family, or potentially she is just breaking under the stress of her aristocratic duties. Whichever it may be, Hepburn encloses us into her role and keeps us gripped, because in an instant, we care about the character.

Audrey Hepburn modelling for fashion.

As much as I love Hepburn as an actress, I also have a love for the person she was. She was genuine, seemingly intelligent and endlessly charitable. As I previously mentioned, she aided and worked with UNICEF for the most part of her adult life. I am aware that plenty of celebrities are involved with charities, but rather than just giving money to charity, Hepburn went to various sterile and destitute countries across the world, in various different continents, which is something I (and most other people) can respect. Hepburn never appeared to be too indulged with herself and appertained to helping others more than herself. Her efforts are among the most noticed in terms of charity by countless charities, despite her main reputation deriving from her efforts with UNICEF, evidence of her kindheartedness as a human being.

An older Hepburn carrying a child, whilst aiding a poverty-stricken Chad.

I have little no doubt that I will one day have seen all of Audrey Hepburn's films, and that I will always admire her, as an actress and as a person. She astounds me with her sheer beauty, outside and inside. I can't help but fall in love with every single character she plays and every feature that she performs in. Little can compare to her majestic and magical charm and her godlike capacity to make a character that is in one word: unforgettable. She lights up the screen as soon as she comes onscreen and continues to do so until her final frame. She is acting in its finest form. I do truly believe that Audrey Hepburn is up there with the best actresses, such as Meryl Streep, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Ingrid Bergman and Bette Davis. There isn't a single thing that I dislike about Audrey Hepburn, and I look so much forward to experiencing all that she has to offer.

Audrey Hepburn.. well, grinning.

This may not be a masterpiece essay on the life of Audrey Hepburn - well, maybe it is, who knows - but all I can say is that what you read here is pure honesty. It is a detailed description of her productive and fruitful life and an equally detailed description of my eternal love for her. Without trying to repeat myself too much, Hepburn is the most colourful, genuine, honest, charming, delightful, wondrous, enjoyable and remarkable actress or actor that I have ever come across, and to sum up in a few words the previous few paragraphs I have written, that is exactly why I love her. She epitomises a great actress and is the quintessential innocent, sweet yet solid and strong character for just about any film. So, as much as it saddens me that she met a rather untimely death, I am comforted by the knowledge that she will be regarded irrevocably as a sublime actress, who will be forever remembered for her beyond amazing films and for being such a largely amiable person. 


  1. Wonderful overview of one of cinema's kindest, and most loved female celebrities. I have only seen her in Breakfast at Tiffany's and she definitely has charm. Very well written post that shows great effort. Factual, evoking, interesting and Roman Holiday is now on my watch list.

  2. Love Audrey Hepburn! Own a boxed set of 5 of her films. She was charming, graceful and elegant! I wish I could be her!

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