Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Life Of Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn

A Too-Short Biography on Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Kathleen Hepburn-Ruston was born on May 4, 1929 to parents Joseph Hepburn-Ruston and Baroness Ella van Heemstra Hepburn-Ruston. She had two half-brothers from the Baroness's first marriage, and was born in Ixelles, Brussels. Audrey had often said "If I were to write a biography, it would start like this: I was born in Brussels, Belgium, on May 4, 1929 . . . and I died six weeks later." A six week-old infant Audrey had contracted a case of whooping cough and her small heart had momentarily stopped beating. Her mother, with a quick prayer and a smart slap to the backside, saved her daughter's life. This is the extraordinary beginning of Audrey Hepburn.

When Audrey was just six years old, her life was shattered by the sudden abandonment by her father. She recalled seeing her mother walking around the house, sobbing hysterically. His departure would mark Audrey for the rest of her life, leaving her in constant fear of being abandoned again. Many rumours circulate as to why Joseph left: some biographies claim that he was caught in the act of cheating, and others claim that his pro-fascist mindset in an increasingly unstable political world led his own father-in-law to bribe him into leaving his family. Whatever the case, Joseph's departure was sudden and infinitely painful to his daughter. He left for England, and Audrey was sent to an English boarding school a short time later by the parent's mutual agreement. The divorce took a whopping 10 years to complete.
Audrey was shipped back to her mother's side of the family in Arnhem, Holland when England declared war on Germany in 1939. Holland was neutral (mainly because both England and Germany bought heavily from Holland), so the Baroness figured that she and her children would be safe there. Unfortunately, Holland was close to the German border and the Nazis were very keen on taking over Holland's great resources. Shortly thereafter Holland was invaded by the Nazis and the country was forced to surrender under the threat of being bombed entirely to rubble. Life was terribly harsh for Audrey and her mother. Her older brother, Alexander, was forced to go into hiding before he could be swept off to a forced labor camp (or worse). Her younger brother Ian hid with them for a while before being rounded up and shipped to Germany himself in a work camp. Joseph was placed in an interment camp for the duration of the war due to his fascist roots, and Audrey didn't hear from him for years, even after the war had ended and he had moved to Ireland.
Holland was liberated on Audrey's 16th birthday, May 4 1945. This date also became a national day of mourning for Holland, who suffered greatly during the war and was exposed to especially harsh treatment. The war ended not a moment too soon for Audrey. She was terribly ill with anemia, asthma, edema and colitis, besides being severely malnourished after months of living without real food. British and American troops were charmed by the English-speaking Dutch girl and showered her with chocolate bars and cigarettes, which became two life-long addictions for her. Audrey even said that she would always associate the smell of British cigarettes with freedom.

Life anywhere in Holland after the war was nearly impossible, with many cities unfit for living and food still practically nonexistent. Audrey heard through a friend that she might qualify for a ballet scholarship in England, so she and her mother spent the next year finding and mailing the correct paperwork for the move to England. Shortly before moving she appeared in a short travelogue film called Netherlands in Seven Lessons (or Dutch on the Double). It didn't do well and never was released internationally. Life in England wasn't any better than it had been in Holland, with severe housing shortages and strict food rations. Audrey received a partial scholarship to Marie Rambert's School of Ballet and her mother became a live-in manager of an apartment complex. By now Audrey realized that she had lost too much time and training during the war and would never be a prima ballerina, and would struggle to even be in the corps de ballet. Yet another dream shattered by the war. But she persevered and began landing jobs in the chorus line of dance shows. She wasn't terribly good at this type of dancing, but even then she possessed a magnetic charm that made people notice her (and forget her sub-par dancing). She began to be cast in slightly better revues and earn more money, and was soon being considered for parts in films. She was offered the female lead in Laughter in Paradise, but originally turned it down because she was planning to do a touring review with then-boyfriend Maurice LeBon. The revue fell through and the relationship shortly after, and Audrey prayed the part was still available. It wasn't, but she was given a bit part. Shortly afterwards she was signed to Associated British Pictures Corporation.

Audrey had small parts in a couple of other films, then landed a fairly big part in The Secret People, an art house film that would show off her ballet training. During filming she met shipping magnate James Hanson, and the two began dating. Following that came Monte Carlo Baby (or We Go to Monte Carlo), which took advantage of her knowledge of French and involved a trip to the Riviera. It was during this film that Audrey met the legendary author Colette, who cast Audrey instantly as her Gigi. Colette and playwright Anita Loos had been working on a stage adaptation of Gigi for years, and were especially stuck on who to cast as the courtesan-in-training. Audrey insisted that Colette was making a big mistake because she couldn't act, but Colette wouldn't hear of it. Audrey was cast, her fate sealed. She was shipped to New York in style on the Queen Mary, arriving 10 lbs. heavier after gorging on the gourmet food and chocolates. After much struggling and being fired at least 10 times by the director, Gigi opened at the Fulton Theatre on November 24, 1951. Monday's papers declared Audrey a star, nearly unanimously. From this time onward her life became a whirlwind. Hanson proposed one night at the El Morocco Club, and she accepted. She wanted to quit her career and have lots of babies . . . but not just yet. Next came Roman Holiday. After being secretly filmed during the screen test, director William Wyler decided then and there that she was indeed a princess. Audrey and James planned to be married after Roman Holiday had wrapped filming, but since Gigi was such a hit, it was scheduled for a tour directly after filming. Finally, the couple mutually and amicably agreed that things just wouldn't work. But Roman Holiday co-star Gregory Peck had introduced Audrey to an old friend of his, actor/director/writer Mel Ferrer. They were instantly enamored of each other, but nothing romantic sparked right away. Audrey was too busy and still recovering from her broken engagement. But she had seemed interested in doing a play with Mel, who was also a cofounder of the La Jolla Playhouse, and Mel found what he thought would be a suitable vehicle for the two of them in Ondine. She loved it, and fell in love with Mel, too. Before long they were married in Switzerland, but not before Audrey won both an Oscar and a Tony award in the same year, a rare feat which had only been done once before.
But Audrey still wasn't ready to completely quit for the family life. She and Mel tried desperately to work together, or if that couldn't be done, work close together. While preparations were underway for War and Peace, Audrey suffered her first miscarriage. She was heartbroken and threw herself into her work. Her star kept rising and she had an impressive roster of distinguished co-stars and directors already under her belt. She earned another Oscar nomination for Sabrina and The Nun's Story, but she still wanted children more than anything. Shortly before starting work on The Unforgiven, Audrey learned that she was pregnant again and cursed her luck. She would have to ride a horse bareback in this film, something she definitely didn't want to do when pregnant, especially since she had been afraid of horses ever since falling off a pony as a child. Director John Huston said the film was cursed, and Audrey's spill off of her horse seemed to prove it was so. The horse was startled while she was on him and he bucked, throwing her over his head and flat onto her back with an audible snap. She had the wherewithal to quip, "Well, I had to do something to get out of this hellhole" before fainting. It turned out to be several broken vertebrae, some torn muscles and ligaments and a sprained ankle. The baby seemed to be fine, but she would be flat on her back for 6 weeks. Filming continued and the movie was finally finished. But Audrey suffered another miscarriage and sunk into a deep depression.

Before too long she was pregnant again, and this time she vowed that absolutely nothing would happen to this baby. She stayed at home and limited herself to very little physical strain or even exercise, and it worked. On July 17, 1960, Sean Hepburn Ferrer was born. Audrey gasped, "Let me see my baby, let me see it at once. Is it all right? Is it really all right?" When she saw her healthy son for herself, she collapsed, exhausted.
But work was still calling her. Her next film took some persuading, especially after its original star, Marilyn Monroe, refused to be labeled as "a woman of the evening." Audrey saw Holly Golightly in a different light, and an instant classic was made. Women rushed out in droves to copy Holly's little black dresses, "pineapple" hairdos, and animal shelters couldn't supply enough orange-striped tabbies.

Her work continued steadily, and with powerful agent Kurt Frings behind her, she became one of the highest paid actors in her day. For My Fair Lady she was paid the then unheard of $1 million (paid out over 10 years, for a bit of a tax break). But her continuing success in the face of her husband's seeming decline was placing a strain on their marriage. (While Audrey was filming My Fair Lady, Mel was involved in Sex and the Single Girl starring Natalie Wood, and was paid a paltry $35,000.) People started noticing the strain, and finally in 1967, Mel and Audrey separated and filed for divorce. Audrey was devastated and feared that Sean would take it badly, but he came to console her over the breakup.
During divorce proceedings Audrey met and eventually fell for an Italian psychiatrist, Andrea Dotti. They were both vacationing with Princess Olympia Torlonia aboard her yacht and began seeing each other. Shortly after her divorce was finalized, Audrey and Andrea were married. She was determined to give him children, since he had come from a large family and wanted a large family of his own, and became content to just settle down and become an Italian housewife. Her phone number was even listed in the phone book! When she became pregnant, Audrey flew back to her home in Switzerland and restricted herself to bed rest to ensure that nothing happened to this baby, either. But while she was resting, tabloid reports reached her on a nearly daily basis about Andrea's late night club hopping with various young beauties. Audrey tried to shrug it off but was heartbroken. Their only child together, Luca Dotti, was born on February 8, 1970. His birth put a temporary patch on things, and Audrey was pleased to see how well the now 10 year old Sean took to his new brother. Unfortunately the pleasantries did not last and her marriage to Andrea too crumbled

Audrey had been away from films for nearly 10 years by now. She had vowed to be a better mother to Luca, feeling guilt over putting Sean in boarding schools and having nannies care for him, and wanted to be around more for her younger son. But now he was getting older and more independent, and the boys were even encouraging her to go back to work. When Sean Connery as Robin Hood came calling, the boys were thrilled. So, after a too-long absence from the screen, Audrey came back as Maid Marian in Robin and Marian. A lot had changed in the industry in ten years, and Audrey wasn't sure that she liked it. But the world went crazy over her comeback, and she was deeply moved to realize that no one had forgotten her, and that they had in fact missed her terribly. She never got as deeply into acting as she had in her early days, and the choice of good parts were much more limited to her now that she was in middle age. But she had other things to occupy her now.
In her last starring film, They All Laughed, Audrey became involved with co-star Ben Gazzara. Just how involved they were is unclear, but both were recovering from brutal divorces and were really too damaged to be of much good to the other. This damage may also have temporarily blinded her to Robert Wolders, a quiet gentleman she had met at a friend's house. They found mutual ground together talking about their war experiences (Robert had been born in Holland and they had lived just 30 miles apart during the war) and exchanged phone numbers. Slowly they began to see each other and the relationship evolved into a comfortable companionship. Robert and Audrey eventually moved in together, but Audrey always refused to get married again. "If it ain't broke, why fix it?" she would say. Still, those years with Robert seemed to be the happiest of her life. She came out of her unofficial retirement to play an angel in Steven Spielberg's Always, a most appropriate final role.

But the most important role was yet to come. Audrey had been chummy with fellow actor Danny Kaye, helping him at fundraisers as part of his job as Goodwill Ambassador to UNICEF. When Danny passed away in 1987, Audrey felt an obligation to do something. UNICEF's forerunner, UNRRA, had saved her life at the end of World War II. Besides, she had been taught to put others before herself. So in 1988, Audrey became the new Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF. She began to travel the world to see firsthand the damage done by drought, famine, and the cruelty of humanity. She was also credited with bringing the world's attention to the tragedy of Somalia, and she added a new dimension to the role of Goodwill Ambassador.
Unfortunately, it couldn't last. During one of her trips, she began to complain of stomach pains. She had figured it was just a bug, something she had picked up from bad water, and shrugged it off. But when she and Robert, who traveled with her, came home to Switzerland, the pain didn't stop. Friends and family finally persuaded her to fly to Los Angeles and undergo some tests. Everyone was devastated to learn it was colon cancer. She quickly underwent surgery, but the cancer spread nonetheless. She stayed with friends in L.A., where they crowded into Audrey's bedroom to watch Fawlty Towers, a favourite TV show of hers. When she felt strong enough, she was flown specially back home to Tolechenaz, Switzerland, to finish her life.

While she still had strength she walked around her garden with her loyal gardener, telling him where to plant the new flowers when spring came. He insisted that she would be there to plant them herself, but she knew that time was short. Her last Christmas was spent quietly at home with Robert and her two children, where she read them Time-Tested Beauty Tips and enjoyed a quiet holiday on one of her last trips down the stairs. On January 20, 1993, Audrey passed peacefully in her sleep. She was buried in the town's local cemetery. The funeral service was overflowing with mourners, and flowers were piled around the casket and outside the chapel's doors. Her grave was swamped in a thick pile of beautiful flowers. It is safe to say that the whole world mourned her death. Even Tiffany & Co. felt the need to say goodbye. They took out an entire page in the New York Times with a beautifully simple.
Audrey Hepburn1929-1993
Our huckleberry friend

Iformation from Audrey Hepburn Biography website, photo’s from many different websites and rearranged by Tony Gostling August 2008.

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