Vogue magazine captured the essence of Adorable Audrey Hepburn in the words, “Audrey is today’s wonder girl…This slim little person with the winged eyebrows and Nefertiti head and throat is the world’s darling.“
Indeed, through the 1950’s and 60’s, Audrey Hepburn was the darling of Hollywood, a fresh-faced, elfin darling, unlike the other blonde bomb shells and overly glamorized divas. Audrey truly graced the screen. Like Grace Kelly, Audrey had real class and sophistication. Both were adored princesses of the screen whose films the public would watch over and over again, never tiring of their beauty.
But if you are not into Hollywood stars, don’t turn off yet as Audrey’s story is different. If you like a good story with positive vibes, an inspiring story, stay with me a little longer.
Audrey’s Past Shaped her Future
Audrey Hepburn was different from other screen legends because she had an intriguing past that shaped her adult self. Audrey, interestingly, also had pedigree and links to royalty. Though known as British, Audrey was actually born in Belgium in 1929.
Audrey’s mother, Baroness Ella van Heemstra was from a long line of Dutch nobility. She married young, had two sons then divorced before she married Audrey’s father who was British, though born in Auschwitz, Austria, before the town was known worldwide for its infamous concentration camp.
During the 1930’s, before the war, Audrey’s parents supported the British Union of Fascists. This parallels Coco Chanel‘s war time sympathies. Her father became increasingly entrenched in Fascist activities and left his wife and children permanently to live in London. The loss of her father severely impacted six-year-old Audrey. It was one of many traumatic childhood events that shaped Audrey, as the compassionate and selfless woman she was to become.
Horrors and Starvation
Audrey spent her childhood and teen years in The Netherlands, called Holland at the time. It was here that she would witness the horrors of wartime and experience starvation at a level that affected her health for the rest of her life.
Young Audrey looked on in despair as little children with their families were loaded into cattle wagons for the trip to the concentration camps. She daily witnessed the merciless cruelty of the inhuman Nazis. Quoting Audrey, “I knew the cold clutch of human terror all through my early teens; I saw it, felt it, heard it—and it never goes away.” The voice of memories remained vivid.
As a teen, she gave by necessity, secret, silent dancing lessons to distract herself and others from the incessant hunger. There was so little food that she ate tulip bulbs. Her mother must have regretted moving her children from Belgium to Holland. She had thought, like many, that the country would remain neutral as it had in World War One.
Reflecting on my own teen anorexia, I feel ashamed that my starvation was self-inflicted, while Audrey’s was due to a genuine lack of available food. Nevertheless, we both suffered metabolic and digestion issues for life, from this experience.
Audrey the Brave Teenage Warrior
During the war, Audrey secretly assisted the Dutch Resistance by ferrying food and messages to Allied troops in the woods, delivered an underground newspaper and even hid a paratrooper in her home. Throughout the war, she gave her silent dance lessons to boost the spirits of the young starving Dutch teens and children. Her older brother committed suicide and Audrey once commented that if she had known the five years of hell, the war was to be, that she would have shot herself early on.
Audrey emerged from the horrors of war in 1945 and as Holland limped forward to the 1950s, Audrey studied dance with the hope of a ballet career. But her height of 5 foot 7 inches put this idea to rest. She was too tall.
Acting was Not Audrey’s First Choice
Audrey instead focused on acting, once a dream of her aristocratic mother. With her elfin beauty and intelligence, Audrey studied acting through her twenties while she worked as a dancer and model. Her ability to speak five languages added to her impressive list of assets.
She was discovered by a French novelist, Colette for the role Gigi in the stage play on Broadway. This recognition led to her famous role as a princess in Roman Holiday, in 1953. Gregory Peck, her romantic lead co-star, anticipated Audrey’s star power and insisted on equal billing, despite Audrey being unknown to film at the time. He was right in his expectations. Audrey won an Academy Award, a Golden Globe and a BAFTA award for this single performance as an incognito princess wanting to have fun in Rome.
Audrey, the Film Star
Audrey’s career romped ahead after this. She took the role of Ondine in the film of that name, starring opposite Mel Ferrer who she later married. Then the same year, she became the much-loved Sabrina opposite Humphrey Bogart and William Holden. Then War and Peace in 1956, Funny Face in 1957, Nun’s Story in 1959 and the legendary Breakfast at Tiffany’s in 1961.
Other favorites were Charade in 1963 with Cary Grant and My Fair Lady in 1964 where she will forever be adored as Eliza Doolittle. She is the only actress to receive an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony award and rates number three in the American Film Institute’s great screen legends along with Katherine Hepburn as number One. The two stars are not related.
Audrey, the Humanitarian.
Personally, her life unraveled in 1968 and she divorced Mel Ferrer and married psychiatrist, Andrea Dotti. Audrey quit acting at the peak of her fame to become the Goodwill Ambassador to UNICEF. Inspired by her own difficult childhood, she wanted desperately to give back and help starving children around the world.
For the rest of her life, she travelled the world on missions to save the children of poor mostly African countries. Like Joanna Lumley, Audrey used her fame, talents and voice for good of others throughout her life and will be remembered for her iconic roles on screen and her tireless humanitarian work.
Joni Scott is an Australian author with two published novels: Whispers through Time and The last Hotel. She co-hosts a women’s blog; https://whisperingencouragement.com/ and has her own website; https://joniscottauthor.com.
Phot Source; Unsplash.
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