Few Golden Age Hollywood starlets retain the respect and admiration of the public quite like Audrey Hepburn. The Belgian actress burst onto the scene with the Broadway adaptation of the novel Gigi after having been personally selected by the author of the novel to play it’s main character. Audrey then went on to star in a number of monumental Hollywood productions that solidified her place as an icon. Join Facts Verse as we take an intimate look at Audrey Hepburn’s life and career.
Audrey Hepburn was born in Brussels on May 4, 1929. Her mother was a Dutch Baroness by the name of Ella Van Heemstra. During World War II, Audrey’s mother changed her name in order to distract from the fact that she had British ancestry. Her father was similarly of British lineage, though he had left the family when Audrey was only 6.
As a child, Audrey went on to attend boarding school in England. However, she spent the years of World War II in Holland, which was occupied by Nazi forces. Audrey’s mother was initially a Nazi sympathizer, though she inevitably changed her views when Audrey’s uncle was imprisoned and killed by the Third Reich. After this incident, Audrey and her mother went to seek refuge in a town that was nearby, and Audrey’s mother gradually began to sympathize more and more with the resistance.
As Audrey gradually became more capable, she was able to help out more and more in the resistance. Despite the fact that her family was starving to the point of having to eat tulip bulbs during the darkest days of the war, she still found it in herself to volunteer as a nurse at a hospital that had been set up to treat Allied soldiers wounded during battle. Audrey had been an avid student of ballet throughout her childhood, and also put on dance recitals during World War II, the proceeds from which went to benefit the Dutch Underground. The Dutch Underground was part of the resistance movement against the Nazi occupation of the area, and Audrey also worked with them as a courier during the war.
After World War II came to an end, Audrey furthered her study of ballet and also became a model. She worked as a model and studied ballet throughout Amsterdam and England before debuting on the London stage in 1948. Her debut came in the form of a musical named High Button Shoes. Though Audrey was a mere chorus girl, bigger and better things were soon to come for the fledgling star.
After her debut as a chorus girl in the musical High Button Shoes, Audrey made her film debut with an appearance in a 1951 movie by the name of One Wild Oat. Though the appearance was uncredited, it marked Audrey’s entrance into the film industry. She subsequently performed in The Lavender Hill Mob that same year, alongside Alec Guinness. Around this time period, Audrey met a French author by the name of Colette, who just so happened to be the author of a novel that was about to be adapted into a hit Broadway play. That novel was Gigi, and Colette thought Audrey would be the absolute perfect choice to play the titular role.
Audrey was only 22 years old when she premiered in the Broadway hit Gigi, which had been adapted from the aforementioned novel by French author Colette. The year was 1951, and Audrey became an instant sensation. Two years later, she won an Academy Award as a result of her performance in the 1953 feature Roman Holiday. Audrey starred in the film alongside Gregory Peck, and she played a character by the name of Princess Ann.
Although Audrey had made her breakout turn on Broadway, she didn’t stick around on the stage for very long after breaking out into film. Her last Broadway performance was in the 1954 production Ondine, which netted the actress a Tony Award. One of her costars in the play was an actor by the name of Mel Ferrer, who later became Audrey’s husband.
The 1954 film Sabrina granted Audrey another memorable turn on the big screen, with the actress featuring alongside male stars Humphrey Bogart and William Holden. While filming the feature, Audrey and William became entangled in an affair that ended up destroying William’s marriage. Audrey and William were all set to wed before Audrey found out that William had undergone a vasectomy procedure years previously. Audrey was a firm believer in having children and refused to marry a man that couldn’t give her any. If you’re enjoying this video so far, be sure to hit the like button to show your support! While you’re at it, subscribe to the channel if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!
In 1957, another memorable starring turn came Audrey Hepburn’s way when she was granted the opportunity to dance alongside fellow legend Fred Astaire in the film Funny Face. The film included an appearance by Audrey’s mother, and also her Yorkshire terrier. Audrey then appeared alongside husband Mel Ferrer in a filmed version of the novel War and Peace. In 1959, she received acclaim for her dramatic performance in the film The Nun’s Story.
1960 saw Audrey appear in the Western film Unforgiven, which was helmed by legendary director John Huston. Although Audrey received a great deal of attention and acclaim for her part in the film, she went on to describe it as her least favorite production that she had ever worked on. A big part of Audrey’s distasteful memories of her time filming John Huston’s Unforgiven stem from an accident that she had on the set of the film while riding a horse.
During the film of Unforgiven, Audrey got into an accident while riding a horse that not only saw the actress break her back, but also caused her to have a miscarriage. Audrey had given birth to first son Sean shortly before filming of the feature began and was pregnant with her second child during the production. Audrey was six months pregnant when she had a miscarriage, and it devastated her. It would be several more years before Audrey would end up giving birth to a second child, with that being Luca in 1970.
In 1961, Audrey Hepburn was given one of the most iconic roles of her career. This was in the feature film Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which was an adaptation of the Truman Capote novel of the same name. Whereas Audrey had been personally selected by the author of the novel Gigi to portray the titular character in it’s Broadway adaptation, Truman Capote expressed public distaste for the fact that Audrey had been cast in the role of his character Holly Golightly. Apparently, Truman had wanted Marilyn Monroe for the part.
Although Truman Capote believed that Audrey Hepburn wasn’t appropriate to play the protagonist of his novel Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the actress ended up making the part her own. Audrey remains arguably best known for her performance as Holly Golightly in the film, and it’s hard to imagine that Marilyn Monroe would’ve had quite the same impact on the audience. One of Audrey’s iconic scenes during the film sees her performing the song “Moon River”, which was written for her by composer Henry Mancini.
If the role of Holly Golightly weren’t Audrey’s most iconic, then that honor would instead have to go to her performance in the 1964 film My Fair Lady. Audrey was cast in the part of Eliza Doolittle after Julie Andrews had performed the part to great acclaim on Broadway. This served as an inversion to what had happened previously to Audrey when Gigi was adapted into a Hollywood production, and the titular role ended up going to another actress. Despite the fact that many were saddened by Julie Andrews’ absence, Audrey received great acclaim for her performance in the film. To Audrey’s chagrin, her singing in the Hollywood adaptation of My Fair Lady was dubbed over by a more professional singer. According to Audrey, she wouldn’t have taken the part if she had known that this was going to be the case.
The cinematic pair of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and My Fair Lady during the early years of the 1960s certainly represented the peak of Audrey Hepburn’s success, but the latter film by no means marked the end of her entertainment career. She subsequently earned her fifth Academy Award nomination acting as a blind woman in the unique thriller Wait Until Dark. The film followed Audrey’s blind character being stalked throughout her apartment by multiple silent assailants, with one of them being played by character actor Alan Arkin.
Audrey ended up divorcing Mel Ferrer in 1968, and remarried the next year to a man by the name of Andrea Dotti. They remained married from 1969 to 1982. In 1980, before divorcing Andrea, Audrey became romantically involved with Dutch actor Robert Wolders. The two remained romantic partners until Audrey’s death many years later.
During Audrey’s later years, she revitalized the humanistic spark that she had shown during World War II by working with UNICEF. Starting in 1989, Audrey made several important trips while working as a Goodwill Ambassador for the organization. Some of these trips even put the legendary actress into some dangerous situations in foreign countries, though she felt the humanitarian effort was worth it. Her last mission with UNICEF saw her going to Somalia in 1992, and she began complaining about stomach pains during the trip.
When Audrey returned from Somalia, she went to the doctors and was diagnosed with cancer. She subsequently died in early 1993. Before her death, Audrey was granted a Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George Bush, though the actress was too ill to attend the celebration. She passed away on January 20, at the age of 63.
Though Audrey Hepburn might not have lived to be quite as old as most of her Golden Age contemporaries, she shined brighter than the majority of them during her time in the Hollywood spotlight. Comment down below to share what your favorite role from the timeless starlet’s career is, or if you were touched to learn about her numerous humanitarian efforts throughout her lifetime. As always, like this video to show your support, and subscribe and hit the notification bell if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!