A difficult family history
Audrey Hepburn-Ruston had a complicated family history. In the 1930’s, as the world was on the brink of World War Two, her parents worked for the British Union of Fascists. Her mother was present at Nuremberg Rallies, and her father was actually arrested for being an enemy of the state. You might imagine that she would have a difficult childhood, but actually, she became very educated and was a happy child.
An educated upbringing
Her family had plenty of money as her mother was a Baroness. Her father had many jobs, so they travelled around Europe from place to place, which contributed to Audrey learning five languages! Her parents spoke Dutch and English at home, and then she learned French at her private school. Through her travels, as well as her later marriage to Andrea Dotti, she learned to speak Italian, as well as Spanish.
A new start
In 1939, as War broke out, the Hepburn’s were living in London. They left, and moved to the Netherlands, which was known to be a safe space during World War One. Unfortunately, this time the Netherlands would not be quite as lucky. Audrey changed her name to Edda van Heemstra, to hide from her English roots. She tried to live an ordinary life, including taking lessons in Ballet, something which she shone at immediately.
Despite her parents being Nazi sympathizers, and actually part of the British Union of Facists, Audrey herself did not share their political leanings. She joined many more people in the Netherlands in working with the resistance, and against the Nazi party. As part of her ballet troupe, she remembers putting on shows to audiences, who were too frightened of the Nazi’s to even applaud the show. Audrey also worked as a courier, delivering papers or funding between various resistance groups.
But the Netherlands was not going to be spared from heartbreak during this World War. A huge famine hit, and there was hardly enough food or fuel to go around. The Dutch railway went on strike, and the Germans got their own back by cutting off the supply routes for any supplies which were so badly needed by the people who lived there. Audrey remembers making flour out of tulips, and drinking water when they were hungry.
Because of this lack of food and warmth, as there was little fuel to go around either, Audrey would develop some health problems which would last until her death. These included jaundice and anaemia, problems which would never go away. They were lifelong reminders of how awful the time during the war was, where her whole family were starving and they weren’t sure if they would make it through until the war ended.
Did you know that Audrey Hepburn turned down the chance to play Anne Frank, as she felt the role was a bit too close to home? Both were girls during the war, both living in the same country, and struggling to survive. While Anne Frank never made it out, Hepburn went on to live a long and happy life. Hepburn says that during the war itself, “The difference is that she remained inside, I could be outside.” She did meet Anne’s father, many years later.
Once the war was over, Hepburn had her whole life to rebuild. Her mother’s family had lost almost everything thanks for damage from the war. The family moved to Amsterdam, and her mother took work as a cook and a housekeeper, which as a Baroness must have been incredible strange for her. Hepburn had her eye on the future though, and began taking ballet lessons with a well-known teacher, Sonia Gaskell.
The relationship that Audrey had with her father is pretty heart-breaking. As a Nazi sympathizer, it must have been tough to have him as a dad. When Audrey was just six years old, he left the family, abandoning them in what Audrey would later call “the most traumatic event of my life.” Later on, when many decades had passed, Audrey looked her father up again and found him living in Dublin. She financially supported him for the rest of his life, despite his emotional detachment.
Audrey’s first acting role was a small role in the film Dutch in Seven Lessons. She had been noticed by a film producer from some modelling work, and was chosen for the part. Her mother helped her make the decision between becoming a ballerina, and focusing on acting, and luckily for the film world, she chose the latter! She took small roles in London and on screen, before she was cast in Roman Holiday, widely known as her big break.
In 1954, Audrey was introduced to Mel Ferrer by a mutual friend, Gregory Peck. They got married in Switzerland only eight months later, a whirlwind romance. Unfortunately, there was soon a tragedy, and Audrey lost their first child only six months after the wedding. This wasn’t the last miscarriage she would suffer, having four more between 1955 and 1967. Despite all this loss, their son Sean was born in 1960. But Mel wasn’t Audrey’s greatest love, and they divorced in 1968.
Oscar winning actress
It was her Oscar for her role in Roman Holiday which really launched her career. And the award ceremony was host to two of her most endearing stories. Firstly, when she won the award, she was so overcome and excited that she kissed Jean Hersholt, academy president on the lips! Secondly, when the victory photo shoot was happening, she realised she had lost her Oscar, having to run to the bathroom to retrieve it!
No one could deny that Audrey Hepburn was always a huge style icon. But she had some help to get there! Her original stylist was Count Hubert de Givenchy, who did a lot of the background work on getting her the hottest fashion choices. They met when she was preparing for her next role, Sabrina. He thought he would be working with Katherine Hepburn! The confusion sorted out, they started a long relationship, he was both her stylist and her friend.
To the world, Audrey Hepburn is one of the most beautiful women in history. If only we could see ourselves the way the world sees us, eh? For herself, she looked far from beautiful. Her son Luca once told People magazine about some of her insecurities. “She thought she had a big nose and big feet, and she was too skinny and not enough (chest). She would look in the mirror and say, ‘I don’t understand why people see me as beautiful.’”
A strange pet
We’ve seen plenty of celebrities walking around the shops with tiny dogs in their purses, and a celebrity pet has become the ultimate fashion accessory. But the animal which followed Audrey everywhere she went was somewhat stranger than a chihuahua! After starring in Green Mansions, the animal trainers from the film agreed that Audrey could take home the baby deer, Pippin. She was often seen out with Pippin, which apparently upset her other pet, a Yorkshire terrier named Mr Famous!
Undoubtedly Audrey Hepburn’s biggest role, did you know that the creator of Breakfast at Tiffany’s actually didn’t want Audrey to get the part of Holly Golightly? Truman Capote created Holly’s character with Marylin Monroe in mind, and couldn’t imagine it being anyone else. When Monroe was advised that playing that part might damage her career, Hepburn was happy to accept the part. Capote was quoted as saying “Paramount double-crossed me in every way and cast Audrey.”
Every woman can look like me!
Audrey was known for being humble about her appearance and style, even saying that “appearance is accessible to everyone.” She did not think of herself as a style icon, or even as an enviable celebrity. “With hair tied in a bun, big glasses and a black dress, every woman can look like me” she told the press. Her style revolutionized fashion for women, starting a trend for simple, elegant style which included flat shoes, and pixie cuts.
During the war, when food and supplies were scarce, there was one organization that risked their own safety to get help to the people who needed it the most. Since life had been so kind to her since the war, Audrey wanted to give back to UNICEF. She contributed heavily, becoming a Goodwill Ambassador to the organization in 1989. She donated her final film salary to the organization, and went to countries on missions such as Somalia, Vietnam, and Ethiopia.
My Fair Lady
Even the nicest stars can be guilty of the odd diva tantrum from time to time. When Audrey was playing the title part of My Fair Lady, an adaptation created by George Cukor, the film stole the academy awards that year with 8 wins. Unfortunately for Hepburn, she didn’t even receive a nomination. This clearly hit her pretty hard, as she threw a strop and marched off set when she heard the news! Don’t worry, she came back and apologized pretty soon.
The Sleeping Beauty
Did you know that Princess Aurora was modelled after our own Audrey Hepburn? Despite the princess sporting long blonde locks, the shape and the overall style of the princess was pure Hepburn. Disney wanted a princess who oozed fashion and effortless beauty, and so they looked to the closest real-life comparison! At the time Sleeping Beauty hit the screens, Audrey was at the height of her fame on her third Oscar nomination.
Have you heard of an EGOT? That means that the recipient has one at least one of four of the most coveted awards for celebrities, an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony. Only a select number of celebs have ever made this exclusive list, twelve in total. Hepburn herself made the list after her death. Her Emmy was for Gardens of the World, her Grammy for Audrey Hepburn’s Enchanted Tales, her Tony for Ondine and her Oscar for Roman Holiday.
The Pastry problem
Remember the first scene of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, where Hepburn is walking down the street, doing some window shopping with her pastry and her cup of coffee? This looks like a simple scene to film, but not if your leading lady hates Danish pastries! Audrey says she had to force herself to get through the pastry without wincing or making a face, as she dislikes them so much. Such a pro, Audrey still managed to get the scene done in one take.
Hepburn’s famous feet
While Hepburn always loved ballet, it’s possible that her feet might have stopped her from making a successful career as a ballerina, even if the call to acting hadn’t been so strong. She had a size 10 shoe size, which is bigger than the national average by two sizes. She actually wore a size 10 and a half, so that her feet didn’t look squashed, a sensible fashion choice which made them look smaller, rather than forcing them into a smaller sized shoe.
Not everyone knew that Audrey Hepburn was frightened of larger bodies of water, and her hydrophobia was bad enough that during filming for Two for the Road, she did not want to be thrown into the pool, despite it being part of the script. To help her relax, crew members were just off camera in the pool with her, on hand in case anything went wrong. But you can see her hand tightly gripping the side.
Even celebrities like to fangirl sometimes! One of Hepburn’s biggest idols in the industry had always been Steven Spielberg, after taking her son to see the film, E.T. She had always made it one of her bucket list items that she would work with the director. Just four years before she died, she got the opportunity, and came out of retirement to film the movie Always, playing the role of Hap. A dream come true.
Audrey almost didn’t marry Mel Ferrer, as she nearly married someone else! She was engaged to James Hanson just two years before she met Mel, and she was far enough along the route to her wedding day that she already had a dress picked out! She called the relationship love at first sight, but clearly had a change of heart, saying that their career paths were too different. Good thing for Mel Ferrer, eh?
This gorgeous snap of mother and son show the special bond that these two shared. Luca described their connection as being most powerful through scent. He said “there are certain scents, you know, a certain cake, or a flower, things like that. It’s not so physical, but it’s powerful. And every spring…you have this smell of orange blossom in the air. Spring is coming, and it was her favorite season. It makes me think of her.”
Sharing the screen
If you think about the actors who Audrey Hepburn was paired up with over the years, you’ll notice a strange trend. Directors and Producers seemed to team her up as the love interest to much older actors. This was heightened by how youthful the gorgeous Hepburn looked, right up until she retired. She played opposite Humphrey Bogart and Fred Astaire, both of whom were 29 years older than her. Gary Cooper was 27 years older, and Cary Grant, 25.
A love of nature
Gardening was one of Audrey Hepburn’s great loves, as well as her work in acting and her great charity work, too. She once was famously quoted as saying “to grow a Garden is to believe in tomorrow.” This idea, that we plant something, and we might never see it come to full growth is a beautiful sentiment which shows how strongly Audrey believed in nature. She even won an Emmy for hosting Gardens of the World.
Dating the President
Not one of Hepburn’s most famous relationships, Audrey actually dated none other than John F Kennedy! This was back when he was a senator and before he met Jackie Bouvier, of course. She sang him her own private version of Happy Birthday, so it wasn’t just Marylin Monroe who managed to achieve that feat! Imagine how different history might look if Hepburn and Kennedy had lasted the test of time.
Perhaps one of Audrey’s most traumatic situations was a horse riding accident which she suffered when she was filming the movie, The Unforgiven. She fell from her horse, broke her back, and suffered a miscarriage from the fall. It took months for her to recover, and the movie production was halted while she got better. She never rode a horse again after the accident, but didn’t blame anyone for what had happened.
The Tiffany Diamond
Only two people have ever worn the Tiffany Diamond, bought by Charles Tiffany in 1877, and the largest of that kind of diamond in the world. Mary Whitehouse wore the gem during the 1957 Tiffany Ball, and of course, Audrey Hepburn wore the diamond for publicity shots for Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The movie is what Audrey is best remembered for, for her iconic role as none other than Holly Golightly herself.
The scandalous affair between William Holden and Audrey Hepburn started on the set of Sabrina in 1954. Holden was married to Brenda Marshall, and had two children. Audrey was ready to start her life again with Holden, and he called Hepburn the love of his life. But they couldn’t agree on children. Audrey desperately wanted to be a mother, while William had already had a vasectomy. Heart-broken, the pair split.
Audrey Hepburn was naturally petite her whole life. Perhaps after the horrors of the war, and struggling to find food and supplies, she knew that she should always enjoy food now it was in plenty. Her son said that she enjoyed pasta and grains, not a lot of meat, but a bit of everything. She was around 110lbs her whole adult life, clearly naturally having a small frame. She used to walk for many miles, enjoying exercise.
The last relationship in Audrey’s life was Robert Wolders, who was with her from 1980-1993. He spilled the beans on her eating habits, saying she liked to eat when and what she wanted. A refreshing dietary choice after some of the fad celeb diets we see today. Wolden said that two of her favorites were chocolate, and scotch! She used to have baking chocolate after dinner, and a finger of Scotch at night.