The Audrey Hepburn Story
"Life is a party," she once said. "Dress for it." Yet this movie star and style icon was anything but superficial. Here, to celebrate her birthday, are 35 things you should know about the ever elegant Audrey Hepburn.
She Was Discovered by a Famous French Writer
In 1951, the renowned French author Colette, whose novella "Gigi" was being turned into a musical, spotted a 22-year-old Audrey Hepburn the lobby of a hotel in Monte Carlo, where the fledgling actress had a bit part in a B-movie. "Voila, that's my Gigi!" Colette said. With no theatrical experience, Audrey was soon handed the title role in the Broadway show.
She Never Thought She Was Beautiful
Hepburn was her own toughest critic. "I'd like to be not so flat-chested," she said. "I'd like not to have such angular shoulders, such big feet"—she wore size 10 shoes—"and such a big nose."
Stardom Didn’t Change Her
"Success is like reaching an important birthday and finding you're exactly the same."
Audrey Hepburn Isn't the Name on Her Birth Certificate
Born in Brussels on May 4, 1929, she was christened Audrey Kathleen Ruston, but her father added "Hepburn" to the family name, believing that he was related to James Hepburn, a husband of Mary, Queen of Scots. (He wasn't.) As a child, Audrey lived in Belgium, England and the Netherlands. During the German occupation, she went by the name Edda van Heemstra because it sounded less English.
Her Mom Was a Baroness
Audrey's mother, Ella van Heemstra, was a Dutch aristocrat. In the 1930s, she and Audrey's father supported the British Union of Fascists, but while he was a Nazi sympathizer, Baroness van Heemstra was troubled by the rise of Hitler. In 1939, the couple divorced.
She Raised Money for the Dutch Resistance
During the German occupation of the Netherlands, Audrey occasionally served as a courier for the Resistance. Having studied ballet from the age of five, she also helped raise funds for the secret organization though silent dance performances. "The best audience I ever had made not a single sound at the end of my performances," Hepburn later recalled.
She Nearly Starved During the War
Audrey (pictured with her mother in 1946) suffered from malnutrition after supply routes were blocked during the final year of the German occupation. Eating nettles and tulip bulbs to survive, she turned 16 just before the war in Europe ended. At five foot six, she weighed just 88 pounds.
She Had an Amazingly Positive Outlook
Despite the hard times, Audrey remained a glass-half-full kind of girl. "I believe in pink," she said. "I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing, kissing a lot. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles."
She Knew Hollywood Before Hollywood Knew Her
"Everything I learned, I learned from the movies."
No One Had to Teach Her How to Be Chic
Here's Hepburn in 1952—the year before she made her screen debut in "Roman Holiday"—wearing a wearing a flowered silk taffeta ball gown designed by Adrian. "Clothes are positively a passion with me," she said. "I love them to the point where it is practically a vice."
She Aced Her First Screen Test
Elizabeth Taylor was considered for the starring role in "Roman Holiday," but when director William Wyler saw Audrey's screen test, he knew he'd found his Princess Ann. He even put the project on hold so that Hepburn could finish her Broadway run in "Gigi."
Gregory Peck Predicted Her Future
Although he was a major star and she a relative unknown, Gregory Peck insisted that Hepburn's name appear above the movie title. When his agent told him he couldn't do that, Peck said, "Oh, yes I can. And if I don't, I'm going to make a fool out of myself, because this girl is going to win the Oscar in her very first performance."
She Misplaced Her Oscar
When she won the Academy Award for "Roman Holiday," Hepburn was so overcome with emotion that she became distracted and left her Best Actress Oscar in the ladies' room. Fortunately, she retrieved the statuette in time to pose for photos like this one.
She Fell in Love for Real With William Holden
"Audrey was the love of my life," said Holden, who played her love interest in 1954's "Sabrina." But she ended their affair when he revealed that he'd had a vasectomy.
She Had Her Own Notion of Beauty
"The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries, or the way she combs her hair. The beauty of a woman is seen in her eyes, because that is the doorway to the heart, the place where love resides."
She Was a Polyglot
Hepburn spoke English, Dutch, French, Spanish and Italian, as evidenced in this video.
She Kept Her 1954 Wedding a Secret
Hepburn was thrilled to be marrying actor-director Mel Ferrer, but determined to keep their wedding day out of the press. Not everyone was so enamored of Ferrer, however. Audrey's mother referred to him as the "frog faced delinquent with the spindly legs."
She Turned Down "Gigi" to Dance With Fred Astaire
Although playing the Colette character on Broadway had jump-started her career, Hepburn declined the starring role in the 1958 movie version of "Gigi" for the chance to co-star with Fred Astaire in "Funny Face." If she had a favorite movie, her son later recalled, that was it.
She Was an Introvert
"I have to be alone very often. I'd be quite happy if I spent from Saturday night until Monday morning alone in my apartment. That's how I refuel."
She Had a Pet Deer
An animal trainer working on the 1959 romantic adventure film "Green Mansions" suggested that Hepburn take home a baby deer to be featured in the movie so it would bond with her. Hepburn ended up adopting Pippin ("Ip" for short)—much to the dismay of her jealous Yorkshire Terrier, Mr. Famous.
She Was a Controversial Choice for "Breakfast at Tiffany's"
"It was the most miscast film I've ever seen," said author Truman Capote, who wrote the novella on which the movie is based. He had lobbied for Marilyn Monroe, but her acting coach opposed the idea, insisting that Capote's preferred blonde "will not play a lady of the evening." Hepburn wasn't sure about the casting either, though she said, "I should be a stylish Holly Golightly, even if that's all I can contribute."
Her Givenchy Black Dress Was Sold in 2006 for $807,000
Only two other movie costumes ever fetched more at auction: Steve McQueen's driving suit from 1971's "Le Mans" ($984,000) and Marilyn Monroe's white dress from "The Seven Year Itch" ($4.6 million).
Henry Mancini Wrote "Moon River" Specifically for Her
It won an Oscar, became Andy Williams' signature song and has been covered by everyone from Eartha Kitt to R.E.M. But Mancini said he liked Hepburn's version the best.
She Was a Chain Smoker
Audrey started smoking as a teenager and later burned through as many as three packs of Kents a day.
She Gave Good Advice
"Pick the day. Enjoy it—to the hilt."
She Had the Sexiest Movie Line
That's according to a 2013 poll, which ranked something she says to a standoffish Cary Grant in 1963's "Charade" the sexiest movie line of all time: "I don't bite, you know ... unless it's called for." (Second place went to Lauren Bacall in "To Have and Have Not": "You don't have to say anything, and you don't have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle...")
That Isn't Her Singing in "My Fair Lady"
Hepburn was extremely upset to be told that, despite rigorous preparation, her voice would be dubbed by Marnie Nixon, a ghost singer who'd previously worked on "The King and I" and "West Side Story." Uncharacteristically, Audrey stormed off the set, but she was back the next day, gracefully apologizing and asking forgiveness for her "wicked behavior."
There Are Two Kinds of Flowers Named After Her
One is a rose, the other a breed of tulip. In accepting the honor of having a white tulip hybrid named after her, Hepburn said it was the most romantic thing that had ever happened to her.
She Didn't Diet
Although she stayed slim throughout her life, Hepburn was "crazy about pasta"—especially simple spaghetti with tomato sauce—according to her son Luca Dotti. Her regimen also included chocolate after dinner and, at the end of the evening, a glass of scotch.
She Didn't Fret About Aging
She didn't have to. After all, as she once put it, "Elegance is the only beauty that never fades."
She Saw Her Work for UNICEF as a Way of Paying Back
Hepburn, who narrated radio broadcasts for the United Nations Children's Fund in the 1950s, became a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 1989. "I can testify to what UNICEF means to children," she said, "because I was among those who received food and medical relief right after World War II. I have a long-lasting gratitude and trust for what UNICEF does."
The UNICEF Gig Gave Her Something Essential in Return
"Giving is living. If you stop wanting to give, there's nothing more to live for."
She Delivered an Important Message
"The 'Third World' is a term I don't like very much, because we're all one world. I want people to know that the largest part of humanity is suffering."
She Has EGOT Status
It's a small club. Hepburn is one of just a dozen people to win the entertainment industry's four major awards—an Emmy (for a show called "Gardens of the World With Audrey Hepburn"), a Grammy (posthumously awarded for "Audrey Hepburn's Enchanted Tales"), an Oscar (for "Roman Holiday") and a Tony (for "Ondine").
She Believed in Miracles
That's not to say she was naive. As Hepburn saw it, "Anyone who does not believe in miracles is not a realist."
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