She had an extensive career in film, television, and on the stage from 1948 to 1993. She is ranked as the third greatest screen legend in America.
One Wild Oat
Young Wives’ Tale
Laughter in Paradise
The Lavender Hill Mob
Monte Carlo Baby
War and Peace
Love in the Afternoon
The Nun’s Story
Paris When It Sizzles
My Fair Lady
How to Steal a Million
Robin and Marian
They All Laughed
In 1993, she received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. The award, which was voted prior to her death, was presented posthumously. Her son Sean H. Ferrer accepted the award at the ceremony.
Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, it’s at the end of your arm. As you get older, remember you have another hand: the first is to help yourself, the second is to help others. ~ Audrey Hepburn
Audrey Hepburn was born Audrey Kathleen Ruston or Edda Kathleen Hepburn-Ruston on May 4,1929 in Ixelles, Brussels, Belgium. Her father, Joseph Victor Anthony Ruston (21 November 1889 – 16 October 1980), was a British subject born in Auschitz, Bohemia, Austria-Hungary. Hepburn’s mother, Baroness Ella van Heemstra (12 June 1900 – 26 August 1984), was a Dutch noblewoman.
Hepburn’s parents were married in Batavia in September 1926. At the time, Ruston worked for a trading company, but soon after the marriage, the couple relocated to Europe, where he began working for a loan company. After a year in London, they moved to Brussels, where he had been assigned to open a branch office. After three years spent traveling between Brussels, Arnhem, The Hague and London, the family settled in the suburban Brussels municipality of Linkebeek in 1932. Hepburn’s early childhood was sheltered and privileged. As a result of her multinational background and traveling with her family due to her father’s job, she learned five languages: Dutch and English from her parents, and later varying degrees of French, Spanish, and Italian.
In the mid-1930s, Hepburn’s parents recruited and collected donations for the British Union of Fascists. Joseph left the family abruptly in 1935 and moved to London, where he became more deeply involved in Fascist activity and never visited his daughter abroad. Hepburn later professed that her father’s departure was “the most traumatic event of my life”. That same year, her mother moved with Hepburn to her family’s estate in Arnhem. Sometime in 1937, Ella and Hepburn moved to Kent, England, where Hepburn was educated at a small independent school in Elham.
Hepburn’s parents officially divorced in 1938. In the 1960s, Hepburn renewed contact with her father after locating him in Dublin through the Red Cross; although he remained emotionally detached, Hepburn supported him financially until his death.
After Britain declared war on Germany in September 1939, Hepburn’s mother relocated her daughter back to Arnhem in the hope that, as during the First World War, the Netherlands would remain neutral and be spared a German attack. While there, Hepburn attended the Arnhem Conservatory from 1939 to 1945. She had begun taking ballet lessons during her last years at boarding school, and continued training in Arnhem under the tutelage of Winja Marova, becoming her “star pupil”.
After the war ended in 1945, Hepburn moved with her mother and siblings to Amsterdam, where she began ballet training under Sonia Gaskell, a leading figure in Dutch ballet, and Russian Olga Tarassova.
As the family’s fortunes had been lost during the war, Ella supported them by working as a cook and housekeeper for a wealthy family. Hepburn made her film debut in 1948, playing an air stewardess in Dutch in Seven Lessons, an educational travel film made by Charles van der Linden and Henry Josephson.
Later that year, Hepburn moved to London to take up a ballet scholarship with Ballet Rambert, which was then based in Notting Hill. She supported herself with part-time work as a model, and dropped “Ruston” from her surname. After she was told by Rambert that despite her talent, her height and weak constitution (the after-effect of wartime malnutrition) would make the status of prima ballerina unattainable, she decided to concentrate on acting.
While Ella worked in menial jobs to support them, Hepburn appeared as a chorus girl in the West End musical theatre revues High Button Shoes (1948) at the London Hippodrome, and Cecil Landeau’s Sauce Tartare (1949) and Sauce Piquante (1950) at the Cambridge Theatre. During her theatrical work, she took elocution lessons with actor Felix Aylmer to develop her voice. After being spotted by a casting director while performing in Sauce Piquante, Hepburn was registered as a freelance actress with the Associated British Picture Corporation. She appeared in the BBC Teleplay The Silent Village, as well as minor roles in the 1951 films One Wild Oat, Laughter in Paradise, Young Wives’ Tale and The Lavender Hill Mob, before being cast in her first major supporting role in Thorold Dickinson’s The Secret People (1952), in which she played a prodigious ballerina, performing all of her own dancing sequences.
Hepburn was then offered a small role in a film being shot in both English and French, Monte Carlo Baby (French: Nous Irons à Monte Carlo, 1952), which was filmed in Monte Carlo. Coincidentally, French novelist Colette was at the Hôtel de Paris in Monte Carlo during the filming, and decided to cast Hepburn in the title role in the Broadway play Gigi. Hepburn went into rehearsals having never spoken on stage and required private coaching. When Gigi opened at the Fulton Theatre on November 24, 1951, she received praise for her performance, despite criticism that the stage version was inferior to the French film adaptation. Life called her a “hit”, while The New York Times stated that “her quality is so winning and so right that she is the success of the evening”. She also received a Theatre World Award for the role. The play ran for 219 performances, closing on May 31, 1952, before going on tour which began October 13 1952 in Pittsburgh and visited Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Washington D.C. and Los Angeles before closing on May 16 , 1953 in San Francisco.
Hepburn had her first starring role in Roman Holiday (1953), playing Princess Ann, a European princess who, while escaping the reins of royalty, falls in love with an American newsman (Gregory Peck). Its producers initially wanted Elizabeth Taylor for the role, but director William Wyler was so impressed by Hepburn’s screen test that he cast her instead. Wyler later commented, “She had everything I was looking for: charm, innocence, and talent. She also was very funny. She was absolutely enchanting and we said, ‘That’s the girl!'” Originally, the film was to have had only Gregory Peck’s name above its title, with “Introducing Audrey Hepburn” beneath in smaller font. However, Peck suggested to Wyler that he elevate her to equal billing so that her name appeared before the title and in type as large as his: “You’ve got to change that because she’ll be a big star and I’ll look like a big jerk.”
The film was a box office success, and Hepburn gained critical acclaim for her portrayal, unexpectedly winning an Academy Award for Best Actress, a BAFTA Award for Best British Actress in a Leading Role, and a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama in 1953. In his review in The New York Times, A. H. Weiler wrote: “Although she is not precisely a newcomer to films Audrey Hepburn, the British actress who is being starred for the first time as Princess Anne, is a slender, elfin and wistful beauty, alternately regal and childlike in her profound appreciation of newly-found, simple pleasures and love. Although she bravely smiles her acknowledgement of the end of that affair, she remains a pitifully lonely figure facing a stuffy future.”
Hepburn was signed to a seven-picture contract with Paramount with 12 months in between films to allow her time for stage work. She was featured on September 7, 1953 cover of TIME magazine, and also became noted for her personal style. Following her success in Roman Holiday, Hepburn starred in Billy Wilder’s romantic Cinderella-story comedy Sabrina (1954), in which wealthy brothers (Humphrey Bogart and William Holden) compete for the affections of their chauffeur’s innocent daughter (Hepburn). For her performance, she was nominated for the 1954 Academy Award for Best Actress while winning the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role the same year. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times stated that she was “a young lady of extraordinary range of sensitive and moving expressions within such a frail and slender frame. She is even more luminous as the daughter and pet of the servants’ hall than she was as a princess last year, and no more than that can be said.”
Hepburn also returned to the stage in 1954, playing a water spirit who falls in love with a human in the fantasy play Ondine on Broadway. A The New York Times critic commented that “somehow Miss Hepburn is able to translate [its intangibles] into the language of the theatre without artfulness or precociousness. She gives a pulsing performance that is all grace and enchantment, disciplined by an instinct for the realities of the stage”. Her performance won her the 1954 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play the same year she won the Academy Award for Roman Holiday, making her one of three actresses to receive the Academy and Tony Awards for Best Actress in the same year (the other two are Shirley Booth and Ellen Burstyn). During the production, Hepburn and her co-star Mel Ferrer began a relationship, and were married on September 25, 1954 in Switzerland.
Although she appeared in no new film releases in 1955, Hepburn received the Golden Globe for World Film Favorite that year. Having become one of Hollywood’s most popular box-office attractions, she went on to star in a series of successful films during the remainder of the decade, including her BAFTA- and Golden Globe-nominated role as Natasha Rostova in War and Peace (1956), an adaptation of the Tolstoy novel set during the Napoleonic wars, starring Henry Fonda and her husband Mel Ferrer. In 1957, she exhibited her dancing abilities in her debut musical film, Funny Face (1957) wherein Fred Astaire, a fashion photographer, discovers a beatnik bookstore clerk (Hepburn) who, lured by a free trip to Paris, becomes a beautiful model. The same year Hepburn starred in another romantic comedy, Love in the Afternoon, alongside Gary Cooper and Maurice Chevalier.
Hepburn played Sister Luke in The Nun’s Story (1959), which focuses on the character’s struggle to succeed as a nun, alongside co-star Peter Finch. The role produced a third Academy Award nomination for Hepburn and earned her a second BAFTA Award. A review in Variety read, “Hepburn has her most demanding film role, and she gives her finest performance”, while Films in Review stated that her performance “will forever silence those who have thought her less an actress than a symbol of the sophisticated child/woman. Her portrayal of Sister Luke is one of the great performances of the screen.” Reportedly, she spent hours in convents and with members of the Church to bring truth to her portrayal, stating that she “gave more time, energy, and thought to this than to any of my previous screen performances”.
Following The Nun’s Story, Hepburn received a lukewarm reception for starring with Anthony Perkins in the romantic adventure Green Mansions (1959), in which she played Rima, a jungle girl who falls in love with a Venezuelan traveler, and The Unforgiven (1960), her only western film, in which she appeared opposite Burt Lancaster and Lillian Gish in a story of racism against a group of Native Americans.
Hepburn next starred as New York call girl Holly Golightly in Blake Edwards’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), a film loosely based on the Truman Capote novella of the same name. Capote disapproved of many changes that were made to sanitize the story for the film adaptation, and would have preferred Marilyn Monroe to have been cast in the role, although he also stated that Hepburn “did a terrific job”. The character is considered one of the best-known in American cinema, and a defining role for Hepburn. The dress she wears during the opening credits is considered an icon of the twentieth century and perhaps the most famous “little black dress” of all time. Hepburn stated that the role was “the jazziest of my career” yet admitted: “I’m an introvert. Playing the extroverted girl was the hardest thing I ever did.” She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance.
The same year, Hepburn also starred in William Wyler’s controversial drama The Children’s Hour (1961), in which she and Shirley MacLaine played teachers whose lives become troubled after a student accuses them of being lesbians. Due to the social mores of the time, the film and Hepburn’s performance went largely unmentioned, both critically and commercially. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times opined that the film “is not too well acted” with the exception of Hepburn who “gives the impression of being sensitive and pure” of its “muted theme”, while Variety magazine also complimented Hepburn’s “soft sensitivity, mar-velous [sic] projection and emotional understatement” adding that Hepburn and MacLaine “beautifully complement each other”.
Hepburn next appeared opposite Cary Grant in the comic thriller Charade (1963), playing a young widow pursued by several men who chase the fortune stolen by her murdered husband. The 59-year-old Grant, who had previously withdrawn from the starring male lead roles in Roman Holiday and Sabrina, was sensitive about his age difference with 34-year-old Hepburn, and was uncomfortable about the romantic interplay. To satisfy his concerns, the filmmakers agreed to change the screenplay so that Hepburn’s character romantically pursued his. The film turned out to be a positive experience for him, stating that, “All I want for Christmas is another picture with Audrey Hepburn.” The role earned Hepburn her third, and final, competitive BAFTA Award, and another Golden Globe nomination. Critic Bosley Crowther was less kind to her performance, stating that, “Hepburn is cheerfully committed to a mood of how-nuts-can-you-be in an obviously comforting assortment of expensive Givenchy costumes.”
Hepburn reteamed with her Sabrina co-star William Holden in Paris When It Sizzles (1964), a screwball comedy in which she played the young assistant of a Hollywood screenwriter, who aids his writer’s block by acting out his fantasies of possible plots. Its production was troubled by a number of problems. Holden unsuccessfully tried to rekindle a romance with the now-married Hepburn, and his alcoholism was beginning to affect his work. After principal photography began, she demanded the dismissal of cinematographer Claude Renoir after seeing what she felt were unflattering dailies. Superstitious, she also insisted on dressing room 55 because that was her lucky number and required that Givenchy, her long-time designer, be given a credit in the film for her perfume. Dubbed “marshmallow-weight hokum” by Variety upon its release in April] the film was “uniformly panned” but critics were kinder to Hepburn’s performance, describing her as “a refreshingly individual creature in an era of the exaggerated curve”.
Hepburn’s second film of 1964 was George Cukor’s film adaptation of the stage musical My Fair Lady, released in November. Soundstage wrote that “not since Gone with the Wind has a motion picture created such universal excitement as My Fair Lady”, yet Hepburn’s casting in the role of Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle sparked controversy. Julie Andrews, who had originated the role in the stage show, had not been offered the part because producer Jack L. Warner thought Hepburn or Elizabeth Taylor were more “bankable” propositions. Hepburn initially asked Warner to give the role to Andrews but was eventually cast. Further friction was created when, although non-singer Hepburn had sung in Funny Face and had lengthy vocal preparation for the role in My Fair Lady, her vocals were dubbed by Marni Nixon as the songs were not written for her vocal range. Hepburn was initially upset and walked off the set when informed.
The press further played up the fabricated rivalry between Hepburn and Andrews, when the latter won an Academy Award for Mary Poppins at the 37th Academy Awards (1964) but Hepburn was not even nominated, despite My Fair Lady’s accumulation of eight out of a possible twelve awards. Regardless, critics greatly applauded Hepburn’s “exquisite” performance. Crowther wrote that, “The happiest thing about [My Fair Lady] is that Audrey Hepburn superbly justifies the decision of Jack Warner to get her to play the title role.” Gene Ringgold of Soundstage also commented that, “Audrey Hepburn is magnificent. She is Eliza for the ages”, while adding, “Everyone agreed that if Julie Andrews was not to be in the film, Audrey Hepburn was the perfect choice.”
As the decade carried on, Hepburn appeared in an assortment of genres including the heist comedy How to Steal a Million (1966) where she played the daughter of a famous art collector, whose collection consists entirely of forgeries. Fearing her father’s exposure, she sets out to steal one of his priceless statues with the help of a man played by Peter O’Toole. It was followed by two films in 1967. The first was Two for the Road, a non-linear and innovative British dramedy that traces the course of a couple’s troubled marriage. Director Stanley Donen said that Hepburn was more free and happy than he had ever seen her, and he credited that to co-star Albert Finney. The second, Wait Until Dark, is a suspense thriller in which Hepburn demonstrated her acting range by playing the part of a terrorized blind woman. Filmed on the brink of her divorce, it was a difficult film for her, as husband Mel Ferrer was its producer. She lost fifteen pounds under the stress, but she found solace in co-star Richard Crenna and director Terence Young. Hepburn earned her fifth and final competitive Academy Award nomination for Best Actress; Bosley Crowther affirmed, “Hepburn plays the poignant role, the quickness with which she changes and the skill with which she manifests terror attract sympathy and anxiety to her and give her genuine solidity in the final scenes.”
After 1967, Hepburn chose to devote more time to her family and acted only occasionally in the following decades. She attempted a comeback in 1976, playing Maid Marian in the period piece Robin and Marian with Sean Connery co-starring as Robin Hood, which was moderately successful. In 1979, Hepburn reunited with director Terence Young in the production of Bloodline, sharing top-billing with Ben Gazzara, James Mason and Romy Schneider. The film, an international intrigue amid the jet-set, was a critical and box-office failure. Hepburn’s last starring role in a feature film was opposite Gazzara in the comedy They All Laughed (1981), directed by Peter Bogdanovich. The film was overshadowed by the murder of one of its stars, Dorothy Stratten, and received only a limited release. Six years later, Hepburn co-starred with Robert Wagner in a made-for-television caper film, Love Among Thieves (1987).
After finishing her last motion picture role in 1988—a cameo appearance as an angel in Steven Spielberg’s Always—Hepburn completed only two more entertainment-related projects, both critically acclaimed. Gardens of the World with Audrey Hepburn was a PBS documentary series, which was filmed on location in seven countries in the spring and summer of 1990. A one-hour special preceded it in March 1991, and the series itself began airing the day after her death, January 21, 1993. For the debut episode, Hepburn was posthumously awarded the 1993 Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement – Informational Programming. The other project was a spoken word album, Audrey Hepburn’s Enchanted Tales, which features readings of classic children’s stories and was recorded in 1992. It earned her a posthumous Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for Children.
In the 1950s, Hepburn narrated two radio programmes for UNICEF, re-telling children’s stories of war. In 1989, Hepburn was appointed a Goodwill Ambassador of UNICEF. On her appointment, she stated that she was grateful for receiving international aid after enduring the German occupation as a child, and wanted to show her gratitude to the organization
In 1952, Hepburn became engaged to James Hanson, whom she had known since her early days in London. She called it “love at first sight”, but after having her wedding dress fitted and the date set, she decided the marriage would not work because the demands of their careers would keep them apart most of the time. She issued a public statement about her decision, saying “When I get married, I want to be really married”. In the early 1950s, she also dated future Hair producer Michael Butler.
At a cocktail party hosted by mutual friend Gregory Peck, Hepburn met American actor Mel Ferrer, and suggested that they star together in a play. The meeting led them to collaborate in Ondine, during which they began a relationship. Eight months later, on September 25, 1954, they were married in Bürgenstock, Switzerland, while preparing to star together in the film War and Peace (1955).
Hepburn had two miscarriages, one in March 1955, and another in 1959, after she fell from a horse during the filming of The Unforgiven (1960). When she became pregnant for the third time, she took a year off work to prevent miscarriage; their son, Sean Hepburn Ferrer, was born on July 17, 1960. She had two more miscarriages in 1965 and 1967.
Despite the insistence from gossip columns that their marriage would not last, Hepburn claimed that she and Ferrer were inseparable and happy together, though she admitted that he had a bad temper. Ferrer was rumored to be too controlling, and had been referred to by others as being her “Svengali” – an accusation that Hepburn laughed off. William Holden was quoted as saying, “I think Audrey allows Mel to think he influences her.” After a 14-year marriage, the couple divorced in 1968.
Hepburn met her second husband, Italian psychiatrist Andrea Dotti, on a Mediterranean cruise with friends in June 1968. She believed she would have more children and possibly stop working. They married on January 18, 1969; their son, Luca Dotti, was born on February 8, 1970. While pregnant with Luca in 1969, Hepburn was more careful, resting for months before delivering the baby via caesarean section. She wanted to have a third child, but had another miscarriage in 1974. Dotti was unfaithful and she had a romantic relationship with actor Ben Gazzara during the filming of the 1979 movie Bloodline. The Dotti-Hepburn marriage lasted thirteen years and was dissolved in 1982.
From 1980 until her death, Hepburn was in a relationship with Dutch actor Robert Wolders, the widower of actress Merle Oberon. She had met Wolders through a friend during the later years of her second marriage. In 1989, she called the nine years she had spent with him the happiest years of her life, and stated that she considered them married, just not officially.
Upon returning from Somalia to Switzerland in late September 1992, Hepburn began suffering from abdominal pain. While initial medical tests in Switzerland had inconclusive results, a laparoscopy performed at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles in early November revealed a rare form of abdominal cancer belonging to a group of cancers known as pseudomyxoma peritonei. Having grown slowly over several years, the cancer had metastasized as a thin coating over her small intestine. After surgery, Hepburn began chemotherapy.
Hepburn and her family returned home to Switzerland to celebrate her last Christmas. As she was still recovering from surgery, she was unable to fly on commercial aircraft. Her longtime friend, fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy, arranged for socialite Rachel Lambert “Bunny” Mellon to send her private Gulfstream jet, filled with flowers, to take Hepburn from Los Angeles to Geneva. She spent her last days in hospice care at her home in Tolochenaz, Vaud and was occasionally well enough to take walks in her garden, but gradually became more confined to bedrest.
On the evening of January 20 ,1993, Hepburn died in her sleep at home. After her death, Gregory Peck went on camera and tearfully recited her favorite poem, “Unending Love” by Rabindranath Tagore. Funeral services were held at the village church of Tolochenaz on January 24, 1993. Maurice Eindiguer, the same pastor who wed Hepburn and Mel Ferrer and baptized her son Sean in 1960, presided over her funeral, while Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan of UNICEF delivered a eulogy. Many family members and friends attended the funeral, including her sons, partner Robert Wolders, half-brother Ian Quarles van Ufford, ex-husbands Andrea Dotti and Mel Ferrer, Hubert de Givenchy, executives of UNICEF, and fellow actors Alain Delon and Roger Moore. Flower arrangements were sent to the funeral by Gregory Peck, Elizabeth Taylor, and the Dutch royal family. Later on the same day, Hepburn was interred at the Tolochenaz Cemetery.
In her will, she appointed her two sons as co-equal heirs to her estate, subject to various bequests of her most precious jewels to her closest family and friends. To Robert Wolders, her long-time companion, she left two silver candlesticks which were worth about 500 CHF (Swiss Francs) at the time (1993). Hubert de Givenchy was named executor of her estate, along with her two Swiss attorneys.