AUDREY HEPBURN

The legendary muse

Her eternal smile. Her large, almond-shaped eyes. Her slim figure.
Her charming personality Her charming personality.
Everything about Audrey Hepburn exuded elegance and glamour,
although paradoxically, rather than physical, the actress’s most attractive trait was her inner beauty.

On May 4th 1929, Audrey Kathleen Ruston, who the whole world would come to know as Audrey Hepburn, was born in Brussels, Belgium. Her father, Joseph Victor Anthony Ruston, worked in an insurance company, while her mother, Ella van Heemstra, was a baroness of Dutch origin and a descendant of King Edward III of England. However, having aristocratic blood did not spare little Audrey from living the horrors of World War II.

At the age of ten, the future actress moved with her mother and brothers to her grandfather’s house, in Arnhem (Netherlands). At the conservatory there she started studying piano and classical ballet, a discipline in which she soon began to excel. However, the war got in the way, and the poor nutrition of the war-torn Europe took its toll on her delicate constitution. She developed anemia and respiratory problems due to dietary deficiencies. Years later, the actress said: “We subsisted on a slice of bread made of whatever type of cereal, and a dish of watery soup, made with just one potato.”

Even so, the girl’s headstrong nature drove her to keep trying to achieve her dream of becoming a ballerina. In 1945, once the war was over, Audrey left behind Arnhem’s conservatory and set off for London to continue studying ballet, with the help of Marie Rambert, a renowned ballet teacher. But she soon realised that she could not succeed as a professional ballerina. Her height (1.67 m), her skinniness, due to malnutrition during the German occupation, and the economic difficulties that her family was facing would prove too much of a burden for Audrey to see her dreams fulfilled. It was during that time of arduous inner struggle when she decided to try her luck as an actress, a better-paid profession than that of ballerina.

On May 4th 1929, Audrey Kathleen Ruston, who the whole world would come to know as Audrey Hepburn, was born in Brussels, Belgium. Her father, Joseph Victor Anthony Ruston, worked in an insurance company, while her mother, Ella van Heemstra, was a baroness of Dutch origin and a descendant of King Edward III of England. However, having aristocratic blood did not spare little Audrey from living the horrors of World War II.

At the age of ten, the future actress moved with her mother and brothers to her grandfather’s house, in Arnhem (Netherlands). At the conservatory there she started studying piano and classical ballet, a discipline in which she soon began to excel. However, the war got in the way, and the poor nutrition of the war-torn Europe took its toll on her delicate constitution. She developed anemia and respiratory problems due to dietary deficiencies. Years later, the actress said: “We subsisted on a slice of bread made of whatever type of cereal, and a dish of watery soup, made with just one potato.”

Even so, the girl’s headstrong nature drove her to keep trying to achieve her dream of becoming a ballerina. In 1945, once the war was over, Audrey left behind Arnhem’s conservatory and set off for London to continue studying ballet, with the help of Marie Rambert, a renowned ballet teacher. But she soon realised that she could not succeed as a professional ballerina. Her height (1.67 m), her skinniness, due to malnutrition during the German occupation, and the economic difficulties that her family was facing would prove too much of a burden for Audrey to see her dreams fulfilled. It was during that time of arduous inner struggle when she decided to try her luck as an actress, a better-paid profession than that of ballerina.

Most successful films

Her first role was in the film “One Wild Oat”, in which she played a hotel receptionist. Thereafter came other small parts of little significance, until Audrey Hepburn landed the role of a lifetime that would catapult her to fame: “Roman Holiday”, a film by William Wyler, in which she would star with the already acclaimed Gregory Peck.

Initially, the producers had thought of Elizabeth Taylor for the leading role, but the director was captivated by Audrey as soon as he saw her. Her combination of charm, innocence and talent were perfect for the film. When the filming was over, her co-star predicted that she would get an Oscar for her role, and he was not mistaken. Film critics, audiences and all of Hollywood were won over by the naturalness of the actress, who became an instant star.

In the following years there would be more successful films, such as the iconic “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, “My Fair Lady”, “The Nun’s Story”, or “Sabrina”. It was in this last feature film that Audrey Hepburn first met the designer, Hubert de Givenchy, responsible for the costumes of the film, and established a friendship that would last a lifetime. When one thinks of Audrey Hepburn nowadays, the image would undoubtedly be of her wearing one of his beautiful dresses.

Three awards

In 1954, Hepburn played one of the leading roles in “Ondine” alongside the man she would later marry, Mel Ferrer, and with whom the actress had her first child, Sean. That same year she was awarded the Golden Globe for Best Actress, the Oscar for “Roman Holiday”, and six weeks later, the Tony Award, again for “Ondine”, thus becoming one of the few actresses holding the three most important awards of the film world.

If “Roman Holiday” launched Audrey Hepburn to stardom, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” made her a film icon. Despite this, the actress was still a very shy person. “I’m an introvert. Playing the extroverted girl was the hardest thing I ever did,” she told the press. The elegant costumes of this film were also designed by Givenchy. Her magnificent performance earned her another Oscar nomination, which, on that occasion, was awarded to Sophia Loren.

Apart from being shy, Audrey Hepburn, now a Hollywood star, was also a frugal person. While the other actors and actresses of her magnitude lived in large, luxurious mansions, she preferred to live in a very conventional house, cultivating her own vegetable garden. A glamourous actress who, nonetheless, never stopped helping the needy, in remembrance of the particularly hard childhood she had to live.

After the failure of her first marriage due to the emotional impact of five miscarriages, Hepburn married Andrea Dotti, an Italian psychiatrist with whom she had her second son, Luca. However, his constant infidelities ended up leading Hepburn to an inevitable divorce.

Devoted to others

Dedicated in her role as a mother, and after fifteen years of ongoing successes, the actress decided to gradually withdraw from the world of cinema, taking refuge in a beautiful country house in the Swiss town of Tolochenaz, with just 500 inhabitants. In spite of everything, Audrey Hepburn never lost contact with the film sets. She played her last role in 1989, in the film “Always”, by Steven Spielberg. And it was also on set that she met the Dutch actor, Robert Wolders, about whom she stated: “He made me live again, and realise that everything was not over for me.”

In the last years of her life, Audrey was very much involved in helping others. In 1998 she was appointed UNICEF ambassador. She made repeated trips to Sudan, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Vietnam to partake in the fight against issues such as AIDS or child malnutrition. She made her last trip in 1992, while terminally ill with colon cancer, which had undermined her strength, in an act of generosity that contributed to further magnify her work. UNICEF expressed their gratitude publicly to her by erecting a statue of the actress at the New York headquarters, which was unveiled in 2000.

Three awards

Audrey Hepburn died in Switzerland on January 20, 1993, at the age of 63. The world of Hollywood agreed that: “God would be pleased to have an angel like Audrey with him.”

On the day of her funeral, her children, Luca and Sean, who later set up the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund, were present. Also there were her two ex-husbands and her latest companion, who commented to the journalists gathered: “If in heaven there are angels, I’m convinced they must have the eyes, hands, face and voice of Audrey Hepburn“. Tiffany & Co., which the actress popularised with the film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, put her photograph in the windows of their stores around the world with the phrase “Our Huckleberry Friend” from the song, Moon River. The whole world mourned her passing, and with each tear the legend began to take shape.

The passage of time has not been able to erase the eternal smile, the slim figure or the magnetism of the actress, capable of reaching beyond the screen and captivating the audience. Audrey Hepburn is now a mythical figure that outlives fashions, an icon among Hollywood icons. The film muse who hid an interior that was even more outstanding than her indisputable exterior beauty.

By: Eva Del Amo

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