Tuesday, September 27, 2011
GET PERSONAL: AUDREY HEPBURN
Audrey Hepburn is the undisputed icon known for her waif-like beauty, innocent demeanor, and general good-naturedness. Arguably the most famous film actress of all-time, the force of her impact came in a small, delicate, but fiercely beautiful package. She was born Audrey Kathleen Ruston in Brussels, Belgium to Baroness Ella Van Heemstra, a Dutch aristocrat, and Joseph Victor Anthony Ruston, an Irish/English banker.
Audrey spent her early childhood in Britain, where her father worked, but at the outset of WWII, Ruston (a Nazi sympathizer) abandoned his Jewish wife and child, leaving them to fend for themselves. Van Heemstra moved Audrey and her two older brothers to the Netherlands, where she hoped Germany would not gain foothold. She assigned each family member a pseudonym. While in the Netherlands, Hepburn began to secretly study ballet. She passed the time in ballet classes, often dancing to distract herself from any present hardship. Food and money were scarce, so she maintained optimism through her art. In an effort to support income, Hepburn gave secret performances to members of the Dutch resistance. One of Hepburn's two brothers was interned, for a time, at a German concentration camp. He escaped with his life, but was hugely malnourished and emotionally scarred. These and other events influenced Hepburn's involvement with humanitarian groups such as UNICEF later in life.
After the war, Hepburn moved to Amsterdam to further pursue a career in ballet. She supported herself by acting as a freelance photographers model. Her ballet teacher, Marie Rambert, suggested that, despite her talent, she would have a difficult career in dance due to her height (she was considered tall at 5'7'') and her malnutrition during the war. Rambert then advised Hepburn to consider studying acting instead.
Hepburn moved to London to pursue her theater studies. Working on the West End, she was spotted by a Paramount scout who helped her gain employment in various British films such as One Wild Oat, Laughter in Paradise, Young Wine's Tale, and The Lavendar Hill Mob. In addition to these films, Hepburn starred in the stage production of Gigi.
Hepburn did not get her first starring role until 1953, when she won the role of Princess Ann in Roman Holiday with Gregory Peck. The film, about a sheltered European princess who is discovered by and falls in love with a struggling undercover journalist, was an instant classic, garnering Hepburn an instantaneous celebrity that continued to gain momentum. It was for Roman Holiday that she earned her first Academy Award nomination. Following the success of her first major film, Hepburn was offered a Paramount contract with freedoms to perform in stage plays. She continued to produce wildly successful, eventually iconic films such as, but not limited to: Sabrina, Breakfast at Tiffanys, Funny Face, War and Peace, Love in the Afternoon, My Fair Lady, and Green Mansions. She stole the hearts of all her audience members and co-stars, often developing life-long friendships with co-workers such as Gregory Peck and Givenchy. She was as well-liked as she was talented and beautiful - a rare combination in Hollywood (then and now).
After 15 incredibly successful years in film, Hepburn decided to bow-out gracefully and dedicate herself to her family and philanthropic work. Although her father had abandoned her and was a Nazi-sympathizer, she supported him financially and kept in contact with him until his death.
Hepburn was engaged once in her youth, but decided against the idea after prioritizing her career. At a cocktail party hosted by Gregory Peck, Hepburn was introduced to actor Mel Ferrer, with whom she became enamored. The two were married and, after two miscarriages, celebrated the birth of their first child, Sean Hepburn Ferrer. After 14 years of marriage, the couple separated and divorced. Hepburn always hoped for more children and, after her divorce, met and fell in love with Italian psychiatrist Andrea Dotti. The two were married and had their first child, Luca Dotti. After Luca's birth, Hepburn suffered one additional miscarriage and decided to stop having children. She was a devoted mother to both sons and divorced Dotti only after her sons were fully grown. Hepburn was also mother to one fawn and a yorkshire terrier.
After her retirement from film, Hepburn made valiant efforts with UNICEF, using her celebrity platform to raise awareness in addition to first-hand fieldwork. Her devotion to human rights was as important a career as her time in film.
Audrey Hepburn died January 20, 1993 of appendiceal cancer at her home in Vaul, Switzerland. She died in her sleep surrounded by family. Her legacy is one that has made impact on every succeeding generation and will continue to do so for as long as movies are made.