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" Final Resting Place of Audrey Hepburn"
4th May 1929 - 20th January 1993
Tolochanaz, Vaud, Switzerland.
Audrey Hepburn was an iconic Academy Award-winning actress, fashion model and humanitarian.
Hepburn 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). She has often been called the most beautiful woman of all time, most recently in a 2006 poll for New Woman magazine. She was ranked as the third greatest female star of all time by the American Film Institute (AFI's 100 Years... 100 Stars.)
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 her 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. She was a descendent of King Edward III of England.
Hepburn attended private schools in England and the Netherlands. Her mother was very strict and her father was more easy-going which led her to prefer him. He 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 in Dublin through the Red Cross and supported him financially until his death. He was never able to reciprocate her love. 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. The name Edda was a modified version of Hepburn's mother's name, Ella.
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. Arnhem was devastated during allied bombing raids that were part of Operation Market Garden. Hepburn's uncle and a cousin of her mother's were shot for being part of the Resistance. Hepburn's brother spent time in a German labor camp. Suffering from malnutrition, Hepburn developed several health problems. She would stay in bed and read to take her mind off the hunger. She danced ballet for groups of people to collect money for the underground movement. These times weren't all bad and she was able to enjoy some of her childhood. Hepburn said in a 1992 interview, "As long as he has the minimum, a child is perfectly cheerful. I remember also having lots of fun. We didn't just sit on the floor for five years and cry. Of course, there was always a cloud of fear and repression, and terrible things were going on." The stories of her and her family eating tulip bulbs to survive have been exaggerated. The tulip bulbs were used to make a fine green flour for making cakes and cookies.
When the tanks came in and Holland was liberated, relief-agency trucks followed. Hepburn once reminisced that she ate an entire can of condensed milk and then got sick from one of her first relief meals because she put too much sugar in her oatmeal.. As UNICEF saved her early in life, she would later give back to UNICEF starting in 1954 with radio presentations.
After the war, Hepburn and her mother moved to London, where she studied ballet, danced in nightclub acts and revues, 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 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. The writer Colette upon first seeing Hepburn reportedly said, "Voilà! There's our Gigi!". She won a Theatre World Award for her debut performance, and it had a successful six-month run in New York City. She was then offered a starring role opposite Gregory Peck in the Hollywood motion picture, Roman Holiday. The billing was to have Gregory Peck's name above the title in large font with "introducing Audrey Hepburn" beneath. Peck called his agent and had Hepburn's name equally billed with his because he had predicted that she would win the Oscar. For her performance, she won the 1953 Academy Award for Best Actress. There were rumors that she and Peck were romantically involved, but they both vehemently denied such claims. Hepburn, however, added, "actually, you have to be a little bit in love with your leading man and vice versa. If you're going to portray love, you have to feel it. You can't do it any other way. But you don't carry it beyond the set."
After Roman Holiday she filmed Sabrina with Humphrey Bogart and William Holden, with whom she had a romance. Hepburn hoped to marry him and have children. She broke off the relationship when Holden revealed that he had a vasectomy.
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, Hepburn 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. By the mid 1950s Hepburn also came to be regarded as a major style icon, her gamine appearance and widely recognized sense of chic being both admired and imitated.
Having become one of Hollywood's most popular box-office attractions, Audrey Hepburn 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 Hepburn did not get along, but this is untrue. Bogart got along better with Hepburn than anyone else on set. Hepburn later said, "Sometimes it's the so-called 'tough guys' that are the most tender hearted, as Bogey was with me."
Hepburn'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. Hepburn called the role, "the jazziest of my career." Asked about the acting challenge of the role, Hepburn said, "I'm an introvert. Playing the extroverted girl was the hardest thing I ever did." She wore trendy clothing designed by her and Givenchy and added blonde streaks to her brown hair, a look that she would keep off-screen as well.
Hepburn starred in 1964's My Fair Lady which was said to be the most anticipated movie since Gone With The Wind. Hepburn was cast as Eliza Doolittle instead of then-unknown Julie Andrews, who had originated the role on Broadway. The decision not to cast Andrews was made before Hepburn was cast for the role. Hepburn 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. According to an article in Soundstage magazine, "everyone agreed that if Julie Andrews was not to be in the film, Audrey Hepburn was the perfect choice." 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 and to have returned the next day apologizing for her behavior. Footage of several songs with Hepburn'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". When asked about the dubbing of an actress with such distinctive vocal tones, Hepburn frowned and said, "you could tell, couldn't you? And there was Rex, recording all his songs as he acted...next time-" She then bit her lip to keep from saying any more. Aside from the dubbing, many critics agreed that Hepburn's performance was excellent. Gene Ringgold said, "Audrey Hepburn is magnificent. She is Eliza for the ages."
The controversy over Hepburn's casting reached its height at the 1964-65 Academy Awards season, when Hepburn 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.
From 1967 onward, after fifteen highly successful years in film, Hepburn 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 eventual 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, but not up to the usual standards of a Hepburn hit film. 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.) She later said that turning down the part was the biggest regret of her career. Hepburn made another comeback try in 1979, starring in Sidney Sheldon's Bloodline: Pulp author Sheldon's books were so popular his name was included in the film's title, no doubt leading Hepburn to think she had picked a winner. She hadn't. Among the reviewers, even Hepburn's admirers-- and there were still many-- could not recommend the film due to its hackneyed material.
Hepburn's last starring role in a film was with her new flame Ben Gazzara in the modern comedy They All Laughed, a small, hip and breezy picture-- a real departure for Hepburn-- 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 Hepburn's films, most notably Charade and How to Steal a Million. The TV-film was only a moderate success, with Hepburn being quoted that she appeared in it just for fun.
Hepburn'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 Hepburn looking, indeed, angelic, before the film was pulled from theaters.
Work for UNICEF
Soon after Hepburn'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.
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.
She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Marriages and death
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.
Hepburn 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.
Hepburn 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 Hepburn, but in William Holden's words, "I think Audrey allows Mel to think he influences her."
She married him on 25 September 1954. The marriage lasted 14 years until 5 December 1968; their son was quoted as saying Hepburn stayed in the marriage too long. In the later years of the marriage, Ferrer was rumored to have had a girlfriend on the side, while Hepburn had an affair with her handsome Two for the Road co-star, Albert Finney. After the marriage fell apart, Hepburn 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 Hepburn 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 Hepburn'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. Hepburn replied that they were married, just not formally. Hepburn and Wolders planned the UNICEF trips together. At every one of her moving speeches, Wolders would watch and sometimes shed tears.
In late 1992, Hepburn began to feel pains in her stomach, which turned out to be a rare form of cancer that originated in the appendix. Hepburn had surgery in a Los Angeles hospital, but the cancer continued to spread, and when she went in for surgery, doctors discovered it was too far gone to attempt surgery or chemotherapy. Hepburn died of colorectal cancer on 20 January 1993, in Tolochenaz, Vaud, Switzerland at the age of 63, and was interred there.