Audrey Hepburn

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Biography of Audrey Hepburn, a beautiful woman with a harmonious face and captivating gaze. She is considered one of the three greatest female legends in American cinema.

She was a model, dancer and actress. She had an innate elegance and grace as natural as her attractive beauty.

Audrey Hepburn’s main merits

She was born in Brussels, Belgium, in 1929 and was called Audrey Kathleen Ruston, but she is known by her stage name: Audrey Hepburn.

Brussels Audrey Hepburn
Flower carpet in the Main Square of Brussels. Credit: Wouter Hagens

The great film director William Wilder said of her: “She has all the things I am looking for: charm, innocence and talent. It is also very fun. She is absolutely charming. I do not hesitate to say that she is our girl ”.

This was in 1953, when he was looking for a co-star for Gregory Peck, for the movie “Roman Holiday“.

In her brief cinematographic life she was the main protagonist in successful films that left their mark on the history of cinema.

She will always be remembered in “Rome Holiday“, 1953, with Gregory Peck.

She was wonderful in “Sabrina” 1954, with Humphry Bogart and William Holden. Also unforgettable are “ Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “My fair lady“.

Many of the thousands of followers of the divine Greta Garbo found comfort in admiring the youthful grace of Audrey Hepburn.

From 1954, she began to dedicate a large part of her life to supporting the UNICEF organization.

Between 1988 and 1992, she collaborated with some of the most disadvantaged communities in 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.

In 2000, a statue of her was erected at UNICEF headquarters in New York.

Audrey Hepburn’s childhood and family

Audrey Ruston was born on May 4, 1929, in Brussels.

She was the only daughter of the English Joseph Ruston and his second wife, Ella Van Heemstra.

Audrey’s mother was an aristocrat, an opera singer, the daughter of the former Governor of Dutch Guiana and a descendant of King Edward III of England.

Audrey Hepburn
Audrey Hepburn captivated everyone with her sweetness and generosity. Credit: Bud Fraker

Because her father worked at a British insurance company, Audrey had the opportunity to travel frequently between Brussels, England, and the Netherlands.

In 1935, her parents divorced; between 1935 and 1938, from 6 to 9 years of age, Audrey studied at a private women’s academy in Kent, England.

Kent England
Landscape of the Kent area, England. Credit: Pixabay

Both parents were members of the “British Union of Fascists” and followers of Adolf Hitler.

Audrey remembered these days as the most traumatic of her life.

Much later, she managed to locate her father in Dublin, through the Red Cross.

Since then she remained in contact with him and supported him financially until his death.

Audrey Hepburn in the Netherlands

In 1939, believing the Netherlands to be a safe place to dodge the Nazi army, Ella Van Heemstra moved with Audrey and her two other children to the family home in the city of Arnhem.

Until 1945, Audrey combined her studies at school with those at the Arnhem Conservatory where she studied piano and classical ballet.

To prevent her English origins from being discovered, Audrey’s mother called her Edda Van Heemstra, like her, and encouraged her to speak Dutch.

Arnhem Audrey Hepburn
City of Arnhem in the Netherlands. Credit: José Manuel Vargas

In 1944, Hepburn was already a good dancer, and the money she raised she donated to the Dutch resistance.

She and her friends had to carry out their performances in secret, and the public should not applaud; so, at the end of their performances, not a single sound was heard.

Audrey later said that it was the best audience she had ever had.

Audrey Hepburn during World War II

The war put a sad end to her childhood, as one of her brothers was captured and taken to a concentration camp; the other disappeared, fighting in the resistance against the Nazi invasion.

One of her uncles and a cousin were shot for being members of the resistance.

Audrey Hepburn was able to see in her city how the Jews were being taken away.

She particularly remembered a boy with his parents, very pale, blond, with a coat that was too big for him, entering the train.

Audrey Hepburn was a girl who was watching a terrified boy; and those images stayed engraved in her memory.

Audrey Judíos
Audrey Hepburn saw how the Nazis mistreated Jewish children. Credit: José, Abadía Digital

In 1947, one of her friends gave her the Anne Frank book. When she read it, Audrey was deeply affected.

Not only because of that child’s tragedy, but also because of the great similarities between the two.

Both had been born in 1929; Anne Frank was hidden in Amsterdam just 100 km from Arnhem.

Audrey Hepburn and Anne Frank witnessed executions of young men who were shot against the wall and shot.

Anne Frank noted in her book the day she saw five hostages shot; on that same day Audrey Hepburn’s uncle was shot.

Anne Frank
The girl Anne Frank. Credit: Anne Frank Stichting website

Audrey understood that this girl who had lived locked in a small hiding place in an old building, fleeing from the Nazis, had made a complete report of everything she had lived through.

The spirit of survival that children have, made her possible for those terrible experiences not to bring Audrey Hepburn down.

The way she had to distract herself was by drawing and practicing languages.

After these fateful years, Audrey spoke English, French, Dutch and Italian perfectly.

Also, a little German and Spanish.

When the country was liberated, the food provided by the allied institutions arrived.

Audrey Hepburn recounted that on the first day she drank so much condensed milk that she became ill from excess sugar.

These memories of starvation contributed to Audrey Hepburn always supporting UNICEF for the rest of her life.

First steps in your artistic profession

In 1945, at the end of the war, Hepburn left the Arnhem Conservatory.

She moved to Amsterdam and again took ballet classes with Sonia Gaskell.

In 1948, she went to London and continued studying ballet; this time with Marie Rambert, teacher of Vaslav Nijinsky, one of the great dancers in the history of dance.

Audrey Hepburn was relatively tall (1.67m), very elegant in stature.

But she had become excessively thin because of the malnutrition suffered during the war. In addition, she had begun to suffer from anorexia nervosa.

Adding all the factors together, the result convinced her teacher that Audrey Hepburn could not have a good future as “first dancer”.

Audrey decided to go to the theater and cinema.

She began her acting career in an educational film, with seven lessons in Dutch.

She then acted in various musical productions and in small roles in films of the time, such as “Monte Carlo Baby” (1951).

Back then, she was selected to star in the famous musical “Gigi” that was performing on Broadway, New York.

Another of her first important roles in the cinema was in the movie “Secret People” (1952).

Audrey Hepburn was playing the role of a prodigy dancer. Naturally, she did all the dance scenes.

Audrey Hepburn’s Triumphs Begin

In 1953, the film director William Wyler, was going to shoot the movie “Roman Holiday” and had the famous Gregory Peck as the protagonist.

The producers had expressed the wish that Gregory Peck’s partner was Elizabeth Taylor.

However, during the forced selection process, William Wyler was impressed by Audrey’s magnificent camera test.

In everything, she showed her enormous talent and Wyler did not hesitate to hire her.

Later, he said: “She has all the things I am looking for: charm, innocence and talent. It is also very fun. She is absolutely charming. We did not hesitate to say that she was our girl”.

When filming ended, Gregory Peck did not want Audrey to come in second. And he asked that in advertising they give the same importance to the two names.

Due to the extraordinary success of ” Roman Holiday“, Hepburn was the cover of Time magazine on September 7, 1953.

Audrey Hepburn
Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck through the streets of Rome on a Vespa. Credit: I recommend Culture in Cinema

Roman Holiday” was her most beloved movie, and the one that made her a star.

Film critics could find no more words to praise her.

One of them wrote: “Although she is not exactly a newcomer to the world of acting, Audrey Hepburn, the British actress who steps into the shoes of Princess Anne, is splendid, beautiful“.

For the glamor and beauty of “ Roman Holiday“, she received the Oscar for Best Actress, the only one she would receive in her entire career.

After this movie, the Vespa (with a handsome man in it) and the scarf around the neck became fashionable.

Before joining the filming of “ Roman Holiday”, Audrey was acting in the musical “Gigí” in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

After four months of filming “ Roman Holiday” she traveled to New York to continue with the functions of the musical.

This was possible since the contract she had with Paramount allowed her to have twelve months free between film and film, to dedicate herself to the theater.

Post-Holiday Triumphs in Rome

It is difficult to choose which is the best of the great films that she starred in the following years:

  • “Sabrina”, 1954, with Humphrey Bogart and William Holden; she was dressed by Givenchy and had an Oscar nomination, but Grace Kelly took it.
  • “Angel Face”, 1957, with Fred Astaire, a photographer looking for a model and who finds a shy shop assistant.
  • “The Nun’s Story “, 1959, with Peter Finch; Audrey in the role of Sister Lucas, Belgian like her and who had also suffered the war.
  • “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, 1961, with George Peppard; based on the Truman Capote novel.
  • “War and Peace”, 1961, with Henry Fonda, Mel Ferrer, Vittorio Gassman; Audrey in the role of Natasha.
  • “My fair lady”, 1964, with Rex Harrison; Audrey in the role of the naive florist Eliza Doolittle.
  • “How to Steal a Million”, 1966, with Peter O’Toole.
  • “Two on the road”, 1967, with Albert Finney.

It is considered that the best role of her career is that she starred in the famous musical “My Fair Lady“.

Audrey Hepburn
Audrey in a suit designed by Givenchy for the movie My Fair Lady. Credit: Pierre Tourigny

In 1954, Hepburn returned to the stage to star in the play “Ondine“, based on the novel written in 1938 by Jean Giraudoux.

She acted alongside Mel Ferrer, who was later her husband. She continued to star in the play for the rest of the year.

Awards obtained by Audrey Hepburn

That same year, Audrey Hepburn received the Golden Globe for Best Actress and the Oscar for her role in “Roman Holiday“.

Six weeks after receiving the Oscar, Hepburn received the Tony Award for her performance in “Ondine“.

She was one of only three actresses to win the Oscar and Tony the same year.

Audrey Hepburn
Audrey in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Credit: Trailer Screenshot

In all this time, Audrey Hepburn was one of the highest grossing actresses in Hollywood.

She always made a great friendship with many of her castmates: Humphrey Bogard, Fred Astaire, Maurice Chevalier and many others.

Audrey Hepburn
Audrey Hepburn with Humphrey Bogart and William Holden. Credit: Dennis Amith

George Cukor’s “My Fair Lady” was the most anticipated film since “Gone with the Wind” (1939).

Audrey was chosen as the protagonist, ahead of Julie Andrews who was still unknown.

Elisabeth Taylor was also among the candidates to be the Eliza of the film.

Actor Rex Harrison was very upset when he found out about Audrey’s choice over Julie Andrews.

Later Harrison regretted saying: “Eliza Doolittle was supposed to be uncomfortable at European dances. The damn Audrey has never been out of European dances in her life”.

After many years had passed, in an interview, Rex Harrison was asked who had been his best companion during his career. Without thinking he said, “Audrey Hepburn”.

Indeed, the Eliza that will always be remembered will be Audrey Hepburn who was magnificent in this role.

The film was shot in Covent Garden. To this day, tourists crowd the place where Professor Higgins found Eliza Doolittle.

Audrey Hepburn was a four-time candidate for the Hollywood Oscar.

Audrey Hepburn
Audrey with her husband Mel Ferrer in the movie Guerra y Paz. Credit: Max Pixel

Simple and supportive life of Audrey Hepburn

Despite her immense popularity, Audrey led a much more reserved and modest life than most Hollywood stars.

She lived not in luxurious mansions but in houses where she could grow her own garden.

She never stopped collaborating intensively with Unicef and made multiple trips to help children in Africa.

She married Mel Ferrer (1917 – 2008) in 1954. With him she had a son named Sean Hepburn Ferrer.

Sean’s godfather of baptism was the celebrated Scottish writer and physician Cronin, author of the magnificent novel “The Keys of the Kingdom“.

Despite their unconditional love for Mel Ferrer, after 14 years of marriage they decided to separate, in 1968.

The writer Archibald Joseph Cronin. Credit: Bassano

In June 1968, on a trip to Greece, she met the Italian psychiatrist Andrea Dotti (1938 – 2008) whom she married in January 1969.

In 1970 Audrey gave birth to Luca Andrea, her second child.

It was not a happy marriage for Audrey Hepburn. But she waited for her son to get older, to separate from Dr. Dotti, in 1983.

Last years of Audrey Hepburn

Starting in 1967, after fifteen years of great success, she retired from the cinema for a few years to take care of her two children.

She only participated in very few film productions, despite the fact that there were always producers who offered her a good role. In addition to a pretty face, she was a good actress.

She knew how to grow old, and nothing clouded the beauty or elegance that she wore as naturally as in her youth.

These were those last jewels that she gave us:

  • “Alone in the dark”, 1967; in which she plays the role of a blind young woman harassed by a criminal.
  • “Robin and Marian”, 1976; with Sean Connery in the role of Robin Hood; film shot in Zamora.
  • “Blood ties”, 1979; with Omar Sharif, Irene Papas, Romy Schneider and Ben Gazzara.
  • “Always”, 1988; Steven Spielberg’s film, in which she plays a small role as an angel.

This was her last movie. For some years she retired from the cinema to take care of her two children.

She needed to find her place in the world and believed she found it by taking refuge in a country house, far from the noise of the city.

She bought a property in Tolochenaz, a Swiss commune of half a thousand inhabitants, on the shores of Lake Lehman.

Lake Lehman
Lake Lehman in Switzerland

Although she had decided to move away from the cinema, she still frequented film sets.

And in one of them, in 1980, she met her last love, the Dutch actor Bob Wolders, born in 1936.

Bob Wolders made her live again and faithfully accompanied her to death.

In 1992, three months before her death and already evicted, Hepburn made her last trip to Somalia.

On January 24, 1993, her two sons Sean and Luca, along with her ex-husbands and her last partner, Bob Wolders, were accompanying her funeral in that town in Switzerland where she had decided to live.

Her five men were together in the cemetery on that cold, gray day.

Audrey Hepburn Ronald Reagan
Audrey Hepburn raising funds for UNICEF

In memory of her generous collaboration, a statue of hers was inaugurated at UNICEF headquarters in New York in 2000.

Audrey never flaunted jewelry and refused to be the image of the Tiffany brand.

However, Tiffany jewelry, which she had popularized in ” Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, dedicated a showcase to her. Tourists swirled daily in the window.

In 2007, one of the costumes worn by the actress in the movie ” Breakfast at Tiffany’s” was auctioned.

The amount of about 700,000 euros, went to a project by the writer Dominique Lapierre, for two schools in Bengal.

Audrey Hepburn was seen by many as a fashion icon. However, she always ran away from labels and false prizes.

She always remained faithful to Givenchy, the designer who dressed her as Sabrina, at the beginning of her acting career, in 1954.

The artist and his muse gave us some of the most unforgettable dresses in film history.

One of the extra attractions of the cinema of those years were music and clothes.

Givenchy store
Exhibition of dresses designed by Givenchy for Audrey Hepburn. Credit: Hans Splinter

Throughout her life, Audrey Hepburn was characterized by an incredible sense of humor, by her naturalness and elegance.

Although she had fame, money and beauty, she never gave herself the air of a diva. Neither inside nor outside the shooting sets.

In short, Audrey Hepburn was an extraordinary woman, a remarkable woman.

Audrey Hepburn tomb
Tomb of Audrey Hepburn. Credit: Alexandra Spürk

Click here if you want to see this biography in Spanish translation.

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