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Short Biography of Audrey Hepburn

Audrey had the reputation of being a humble, kind and charming person, who lived the philosophy of putting others before herself.

Biography Introduction

Audrey Hepburn (4 May 1929 - 20 January 1993) was an iconic Academy Award-winning actress, fashion model and humanitarian.Born Audrey Kathleen Ruston in Brussels, Belgium, she was the only child of John Victor Hepburn-Ruston, an Anglo Irish banker, and Baroness Ella van Heemstra, a Dutch aristocrat descended from French and English kings. Her father later appended the name Hepburn to his surname, and Audrey's surname became Hepburn-Ruston. She had two half-brothers, Alexander and Ian Quarles van Ufford, by her mother's first marriage to a Dutch nobleman.

Audrey had the reputation of being a humble, kind and charming person, who lived the philosophy of putting others before herself. She showed this side particularly towards the end of her life in her work for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). New Woman magazine called Audrey the most beautiful woman of all time, in a 2006 poll. She was ranked as the third greatest female star of all time by the American Film Institute.

Life During World War II

Audrey attended private schools in England and the Netherlands. Her mother was very strict and her father left the family when Audrey was young. She later called his abandonment the most traumatic moment of her life (years later she located her father and sent him money and wrote him many letters). After the 1935 divorce of her parents, she was living with her mother at Arnhem, Netherlands when the German invasion and occupation of World War II occurred. At that time she adopted the pseudonym Edda Van Heemstra, modifying her mother's documents to do so, because an "English-sounding" name was considered dangerous. This was never her legal name and this lead to a lot of confusion regarding Audrey's name and many biographies incorrectly state her birth name as Edda.


A copy of Audrey's birth certificate, reproduced in 1968

After the landing of the Allied Forces on D-Day, things grew worse under the German occupiers. During the Dutch famine over the winter of 1944, brutality increased and the Nazis confiscated the Dutch people's limited food and fuel supply for themselves. Without heat in their homes, or food to eat, people in the Netherlands starved and froze to death in the streets, particularly so in Arnhem, which was devastated during allied bombing raids that were part of Operation Market Garden. Suffering from malnutrition, Audrey developed several health problems. She would stay in bed and read to take her mind off the hunger, and she danced ballet for groups of people to collect money for the underground movement. She resorted to digging up and eating tulip bulbs to survive the famine. The impact of these times would shape her life and values.

Rise to Stardom

After the war, Audrey and her mother moved to London, where she studied ballet, worked as a model, and in 1951, began acting in films, mostly in minor or supporting roles as Audrey Hepburn. She got into acting mainly to make money so that her mother would not have to work menial jobs to support them. Her first major performance was in the 1951 film The Secret People, in which she played a ballet dancer. Audrey had trained in ballet since childhood and won critical acclaim for her talent, which she showcased in the film. However, her ballet teachers had deemed her "too tall" to be a professional ballet dancer, since, at 5'7", she was taller than many of the male dancers. She was chosen to play the lead character in the Broadway play Gigi that opened on 24 November 1951. She won a Theatre World Award for her debut performance, and it had a successful six-month run in New York City.

Audrey was then offered a starring role opposite Gregory Peck in the Hollywood motion picture, Roman Holiday. Peck saw her star quality and insisted she share top billing. For her performance, she won the 1953 Academy Award for Best Actress. Years later, when asked by Barbara Walters what her favorite film was, Audrey answered without hesitation, Roman Holiday, because it was the one that made her a star.


Audrey's big break came in Roman Holiday with Gregory Peck

After Roman Holiday she filmed Sabrina with Humphrey Bogart and William Holden, with whom she had a brief romance. Many believe Holden considered Audrey to be the love of his life, and she would go on to appear with him again in the comedy Paris, When It Sizzles.

In 1954, Audrey went back to the stage playing the water sprite in Ondine in a performance with Mel Ferrer, whom she would wed later that year. For her performance in Ondine, Audrey was awarded the Tony Award for Best Actress (1954) which, coming only six weeks after her academy award for Roman Holiday, solidified her reputation as both a film and stage star.


Audrey's most famous role - Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's

Having become one of Hollywood's most popular box-office attractions, Audrey co-starred with other major actors such as Fred Astaire in Funny Face, Humphrey Bogart and Gary Cooper in Love in the Afternoon, George Peppard in Breakfast at Tiffany's, Cary Grant in the critically acclaimed hit Charade, Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady, Peter O'Toole in How to Steal a Million, and Sean Connery in Robin and Marian.

Many of these leading men became very close to her. Rex Harrison called Audrey his favorite leading lady; Cary Grant loved to humor her and once said, "all I want for Christmas is to make another movie with Audrey Hepburn;" and Gregory Peck became a lifelong friend. After her death, Peck went on camera and tearfully recited her favorite poem, "Unending Love." Some believe Bogart and Audrey did not get along, but this is untrue.


Audrey on the set of Sabrina with Humphrey Bogart

Audrey's performance as "Holly Golightly" in 1961's Breakfast at Tiffany's resulted in one of the most iconic characters in 20th Century American cinema. Her performance as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady is perhaps equally as iconic. Audrey was at the center of a controversy in 1964 with the filming of My Fair Lady, due to her casting as Eliza Doolittle instead of then-unknown Julie Andrews, who had originated the role on Broadway.


Poster for My Fair Lady featuring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison

The decision not to cast Andrews as Eliza Dolittle was made before Audrey was cast for the role. Audrey initially refused the role and asked Jack Warner to give it to Andrews, but when they informed her that it would either be her or Elizabeth Taylor, who was vying for the role, she decided to take the part. Julie Andrews had yet to make Mary Poppins, which was released within the same year as My Fair Lady. Audrey recorded singing vocals for the role, but subsequently discovered a professional "singing double" Marni Nixon had overdubbed all of her songs. She is said to have walked off the set after being told of the dubbing, returning the next day apologizing for her behavior. Footage of several songs with Audrey's original vocals still exist and have been included in documentaries and the DVD release of the film, though to date, only Nixon's renditions have been released on LP and CD. Some of her original vocals remained in the film, such as "Just You Wait" and snippets from "I Could Have Danced All Night". Many fans believe that her vocals should have been kept in the film, at least during the first half when she still has a Cockney accent and her voice is not as refined. The controversy over Audrey's casting reached its height at the 1964-65 Academy Awards season, when Audrey was not nominated for best actress while Andrews was nominated for Mary Poppins. The media tried to play up the rivalry between the two actresses as the ceremony approached, even though both women denied such bad feelings existed and got along well. Julie Andrews won "Best Actress" at the ceremony. Andrews, however, later revealed she thought her Oscar win was just Hollywood politics.


Audrey with second husband, Andrea Dotti

From 1967 onward, after fifteen highly successful years in film, Audrey acted only occasionally. After her divorce from first husband Mel Ferrer, she remarried Italian psychiatrist Dr. Andrea Dotti and had a second son, after a difficult pregnancy that required near-total bed rest. After her separation from Dotti, she attempted a comeback, co-starring with Sean Connery in the period piece Robin and Marian in 1976, which was moderately successful. Surprisingly, she turned down the seemingly made-to-order role of a former ballet dancer in The Turning Point. (Shirley MacLaine got the part, and the successful film invigorated her career.)

Audrey made another comeback in 1979, starring in Sidney Sheldon's Bloodline. Sheldon's books were so popular his name was included in the film's title, no doubt leading Audrey to think she had picked a winner. Unfortunately, the movie was a failure.

Audrey's last starring role in a film was with Ben Gazzara in the modern comedy They All Laughed, a small, hip and breezy picture directed by Peter Bogdanovich. A critical success, the film was overshadowed by the brutal murder of one of its stars, Bogdanovich's girlfriend, Dorothy Stratten; the film was released after Stratten's murder at age 20 and was not a major hit. In 1987, she co-starred with Robert Wagner in a tongue-in-cheek made-for-television caper film, Love Among Thieves which borrowed elements from several of Audrey's films, most notably Charade and How to Steal a Million. The TV-film was only a moderate success, with Audrey being quoted that she appeared in it just for fun.

Audrey's last film role, a cameo appearance, was of an angel in Steven Spielberg's Always, filmed in 1988. A rare Spielberg fizzle, few got to enjoy Audrey looking, indeed, angelic, before the film was pulled from theaters.

Romance and Marriages

In the early 1950s she was engaged to the young James Hanson. She called it "love at first sight;" however, after having her wedding dress fitted and date set, she decided the marriage would not work, due to the demands of his career that would require him to be gone on business most of the time. She had the wedding dress given to a poor Italian couple, who still have it today.

Audrey did marry, twice: to American actor Mel Ferrer and to an Italian doctor, Andrea Dotti, and had a son to each husband. Sean in 1960 by Ferrer, and Luca in 1970 by Dotti.

Audrey met Mel Ferrer at a party hosted by Gregory Peck, and quickly fell in love with him. After Sabrina, Audrey went back to the stage, this time with Ferrer in a play called Ondine, in which she played a water sprite. Ferrer was rumored to be perhaps too controlling of Audrey, but in William Holden's words, "I think Audrey allows Mel to think he influences her."


Audrey with first husband, Mel Ferrer

She married Mel Ferrer on 25 September 1954. The marriage lasted 14 years until 5 December 1968. In the later years of the marriage, Ferrer was rumored to have had a girlfriend on the side, while Audrey had an affair with her handsome Two for the Road co-star, Albert Finney. After the marriage fell apart, Audrey met Italian psychologist, Andrea Dotti on a cruise and fell in love with him on a trip to Greek ruins. She believed she would have many children, and possibly stop working. She married him on 18 January 1969. Although Dotti loved Audrey and was well-liked by Sean, who called him "fun," Dotti had affairs with younger women. The marriage lasted 13 years and ended in 1982 after Luca and Sean were old enough to handle life with a single mother.

At the time of her death, she was the companion of Robert Wolders, a handsome Dutch actor who was the widower of film star Merle Oberon. She met Wolders through a friend, in the later stage of her marriage to Dotti. Six months later, they met again for a drink, which turned into dinner. They fell in love, and after Audrey's divorce from Dotti was final, she and Wolders started their lives together, although they never married. In 1989, after nine years with him, she called them the happiest years of her life. "Took me long enough," she said in an interview with Barbara Walters. Walters also asked why she never married Wolders. Audrey replied that they were married, just not formally. Audrey and Wolders planned the UNICEF trips together. At every one of her moving speeches, Wolders would watch and sometimes shed tears.

Work for UNICEF

Soon after Audrey's final film role, she was appointed a special ambassador to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). Grateful for her own good fortune after being a victim of the Nazi occupation as a child, she dedicated the remainder of her life to helping impoverished children in the world's poorest nations.

Though she had done work for UNICEF in the 50's, this was a much higher dedication. Those close to her say that the thoughts of dying, helpless children consumed her for the rest of her life. She visited countries in Africa and South Asia as part of UNICEF programs. She dedicated herself to spreading awareness of the conditions of these nations and doing what she could to help directly. In one interview, she mentioned buying camels and solar boxes so medicines could be delivered to a village in the middle of a desert. She worked tirelessly for UNICEF and various causes in Africa and other South Asian countries, even in the last months of her life.


Audrey on a UNICEF mission.

In 1992, President George Bush presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of her work with UNICEF, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded her The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for her contribution to humanity. This was awarded posthumously, and her son accepted the award on her behalf.

Audrey's Passing

In late 1992, Audrey began to feel pains in her stomach, which turned out to be a rare form of cancer that originated in the appendix. Audrey had surgery in a Los Angeles hospital, but the cancer continued to spread, and she apparently refused chemotherapy. Audrey died of colorectal cancer on 20 January 1993, in Tolochenaz, Vaud, Switzerland at the age of 63, and was interred there.

Next Page: Audrey Hepburn Timeline 1929 - 1949

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