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Audrey Hepburn

Italian postcard by Bromofoto, Milano (Milan).


Elegant, talented and funny Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993) was a Belgian-born, British-Dutch actress and humanitarian. After a start in the European cinema she became one of the most successful Hollywood stars of the 1950’s and 1960’s.


Audrey Hepburn was born as Audrey Kathleen Ruston in Ixelles/Elsene, a municipality in Brussels, Belgium, in 1929. She was the only child of Joseph Victor Anthony Ruston, a Briton, and his second wife, the former Baroness Ella van Heemstra, a Dutch aristocrat, who was a daughter of a former governor of Dutch Guiana. Her father later prepended the surname of his maternal grandmother, Kathleen Hepburn, to the family's and her surname became Hepburn-Ruston. Hepburn's father's job with a British insurance company meant the family travelled often between Brussels, England, and The Netherlands. In 1935, her parents divorced and her father, a Nazi sympathizer, left the family. In 1939, her mother moved her and her two half-brothers to their grandfather's home in Arnhem in the Netherlands, believing the Netherlands would be safe from German attack. Hepburn attended the Arnhem Conservatory from 1939 to 1945, where she trained in ballet along with the standard school curriculum. In 1940, the Germans invaded the Netherlands. During the German occupation, Hepburn adopted the pseudonym Edda van Heemstra, modifying her mother's documents because an 'English sounding' name was considered dangerous. By 1944, Hepburn had become a proficient ballerina. She secretly danced for groups of people to collect money for the Dutch resistance. During the Dutch famine that followed, over the winter of 1944, the Germans blocked the resupply routes of Dutch people's already limited food and fuel supplies as retaliation for railway strikes that were held to hinder the German occupation. People starved and froze to death in the streets. Hepburn and many others resorted to making flour out of tulip bulbs to bake cakes and biscuits. Hepburn's wartime experiences later led her to become involved with UNICEF. In 1945, after the war, Hepburn left the Arnhem Conservatory and moved to Amsterdam, where she took ballet lessons with Sonia Gaskell. Hepburn made her first film appearance as a stewardess in Nederlands in zeven lessen/Dutch in Seven Lessons (1948), a short film for KLM. She then travelled with her mother to London. Gaskell provided an introduction to Marie Rambert, and Hepburn studied ballet at the Ballet Rambert, supporting herself with part time work as a model. Rambert warned her that she could not become a prima ballerina, because was relatively tall (1.7m). Audrey decided to pursue acting an acting career.


Audrey Hepburn played in musical theatre in productions such as High Button Shoes and Sauce Piquante. Her theatre work revealed that her voice was not strong and needed to be developed, and during this time she took elocution lessons with the actor Felix Aylmer. Part time modelling work was not always available and Hepburn registered with the casting officers of Britain's film studios in the hope of getting work as an extra. Hepburn's first role in a feature film was in the British farce One Wild Oat (1951, Charles Saunders) in which she played a hotel receptionist. She played several more small roles in Young Wives' Tale (1951, Henry Cass), Laughter in Paradise (1951, Mario Zampi), the classic crime comedy The Lavender Hill Mob (1951, Charles Crichton), and the comedy Monte Carlo Baby (1951, Jean Boyer, Lester Fuller). Monte Carlo Baby was shot at the same time as the French-language version, Nous irons à Monte Carlo (1952, Jean Boyer). During the filming Hepburn met the famous author Colette, who recommended herfor the lead character of a stage version of her novel Gigi on Broadway. Colette reportedly said when she first saw Hepburn "Voilà! There's our Gigi!" The play opened on 24 November, 1951, at the Fulton Theatre and ran for 219 performances. Audrey won a Theatre World Award for her performance. Hepburn's first significant film performance was in the British crime drama Secret People (1952, Thorold Dickinson), starring Valentina Cortese.Audrey played a prodigious ballerina, and did all of her own dancing scenes.


Audrey Hepburn´s first starring role was with Gregory Peck in the Italian-set Roman Holiday (1952, William Wyler). Producers initially wanted Elizabeth Taylor for the role of Princess Ann, but director Wyler was so impressed by Hepburn's screen test (the camera was left on and candid footage of Hepburn relaxing and answering questions, unaware that she was still being filmed, displayed her talents), that he cast her in the lead. For her enchanting role in Roman Holiday she would win an Academy Award, a Golden Globe and a BAFTA. Paramount signed her to a seven-picture contract with twelve months in between films to allow her time for stage work. After Roman Holiday, she filmed Sabrina (1954, Billy Wilder) with Humphrey Bogart and William Holden. Hepburn was sent to a then young and upcoming fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy to decide on her wardrobe. Givenchy and Hepburn developed a lasting friendship, and she was often a muse for many of his designs. In 1954, she returned to the stage to play the water sprite in Ondine in a performance with Mel Ferrer, who she would marry later in the year. She also won a Tony Award for her performance in Ondine (1954).


Audrey Hepburn is one of only three actresses to receive a Best Actress Oscar and Best Actress Tony in the same year (the others were Shirley Booth and Ellen Burstyn).

Audrey Hepburn was now one of the most successful film actresses in the world, but also a major fashion influence. Her gamine and elfin appearance and widely recognized sense of chic were both admired and imitated. She co/sterred with such notable leading men as Henry Fonda in War and Peace (1956, King Vidor), Fred Astaire in Funny Face (1957, Stanley Donen), Maurice Chevalier and Gary Cooper in Love in the Afternoon (1957, Billy Wilder), Anthony Perkins in Green Mansions (1959, Mel Ferrer), Burt Lancaster in The Unforgiven (1960, John Huston), George Peppard in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961, Blake Edwards), Cary Grant in Charade (1963, Stanley Donen), Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady (1964, George Cukor), Peter O'Toole in How to Steal a Million (1966, William Wyler) and Albert Finney for Two for the Road (1967, Stanley Donen). Opposite Shirley MacLaine she starred in The Children's Hour (1961, William Wyler). She received Academy Award nominations for Sabrina (1954), The Nun's Story (1959, Fred Zinnemann), Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) and Wait Until Dark (1967, Terence Young), and won BAFTA Awards for her performances in The Nun's Story (1959) and Charade (1963). When she starred as Eliza Doolittle in the film version of My Fair Lady (1964), she became only the third actor to receive $1,000,000 for a film role. After 15 years of continuous success, she took a break from film-making from 1968 to 1975, mostly to spend more time with her two sons.


In 1976 Audrey Hepburn returned to the screen with Sean Connery in the period piece Robin and Marian (1976, Richard Lester), which was moderately successful. Three years later she took the leading role of in the international production Bloodline (1979, Terence Young) based on a novel by Sidney Sheldon. The film, an international intrigue amid the jet-set, was a critical and box office failure. Another commercial failure was the mad cap private-eye caper They All Laughed (1981, Peter Bogdanovich). In 1989 she made her last film appearance as an angel in the romantic comedy Always (1989, Steven Spielberg) starring Richard Dreifuss. Her war-time experiences inspired her passion for humanitarian work, and although she had worked for United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) since the 1950s, during her later life, she dedicated much of her time and energy to the organization. From 1988 until 1992, she worked in some of the most profoundly disadvantaged communities of Africa, South America and Asia. In 1992, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of her work as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. After her divorce from American actor Mel Ferrer, she married Italian psychiatrist Dr. Andrea Dotti. She had a son with each – Sean (1960) by Ferrer, and Luca (1970) by Dotti. From 1980 until her death, she lived with the Dutch actor Robert Wolders. In 1993, Audrey Hepburn died of appendiceal cancer at her home in Tolochenaz, Switzerland at the age of 63. She was posthumously awarded the The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for her humanitarian work. She received a posthumous Grammy Award for her spoken word recording, Audrey Hepburn's Enchanted Tales in 1994, and in the same year, won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement for Gardens of the World with Audrey Hepburn, thereby becoming one of a few people to receive an Academy, Emmy, Grammy and Tony award. In 1999, she was ranked as the third greatest female star of all time by the American Film Institute.


Sources: Wikipedia and IMDb.


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Taken on September 8, 2009