Audrey Hepburn's Biography.
She thought she was just a skinny broad' with size 8
feet and a flat chest but the world loved her style.
She invented a look that revolutionised Hollywood's conventional ideas of beauty and influenced generations of women. But behind the great star was a traumatic upbringing she could never quite forget. Geraldine Bedell discovers a new biography that tells the fascinating story of Audrey Hepburn's rise from wartime waif to celebrated actress and style icon.
It is now more than 40 years since the world first caught sight of Audrey Hepburn. In her ballet pumps, turtleneck, cinched shirts, capri pants and gamine haircut, she erupted into the Hollywood of the Fifties, with its sweater girls with
big hair and big bras, overturning conventional ideas of
Pamela Clarke Keogh, author of Audrey Style, a new book about
Hepburn, believes she influenced not just her own generation
of women but those that followed. "She seemed to me the woman
who had the most enduring style this century, the most
relevant to today. And then when I started talking to people
who knew her, it became obvious that the style wasn't merely
superficial. It was a reflection of her character. Unlike a
lot of stylish people, she had depth."
Certainly, in 1990, when Hepburn was already in her 60s People
magazine listed her as one of the 50 most beautiful people in
the world. In 1996, three years after her death, Harpers & Queen conducted
a poll to find the most fascinating women of our time, and she was voted number
Born Edda Kathleen van Heemstra Hepburn Ruston in Brussels on
May 4, 1929, Audrey was the daughter of a Dutch baroness and
an Anglo-Irish businessman. Six years later, her father, a
Nazi sympathiser, walked out on his wife and daughter - an
event Audrey later called the most traumatic of her life. "You
look into your mother's face and it's covered with tears, and
you're terrified. You say to yourself, 'What's going to happen
to me?' The ground has gone out from under you...He really
left. He just went out and never came back."
Audrey and her mother moved to Arnhem, where they spent the
war years under Nazi occupation. The family was rumoured to be
of part-Jewish ancestry and an uncle and a cousin were
executed; the family's ancestral home was confiscated and its
bank accounts sequestered.
In the winter of 1945, when Audrey was 15, thousands died in
Holland from starvation and tuberculosis. Later, she spoke of
eating tulip bulbs and of trying to make bread from grass, of
having only water to drink, and of going to bed in the
afternoons to conserve her strength. Holland was finally
liberated on May 4, 1945 - her 16th birthday. Audrey was then
5ft 6in and weighed six and a half stone; she was suffering
from anaemia, jaundice, and asthma. It was never entirely
clear whether the slightness of her adult frame was a
consequence of the malnutrition she suffered during the war.
She implied it was; but it seems at least as likely that she
learned to be disciplined about food in those years, and that
discipline remained with her. (She did become what she called
chubby in London shortly after the war, weighing as much as
nine stone five, but it seems that she then simply decided on
her ideal weight - just under eight stone - and made sure she
Her mother, an undemonstrative woman, channelled her affection
into ambition for her daughter; a few months after the
liberation, she took Audrey to London, sensing that the
opportunities would be better there. The idea was that Audrey
- who had had ballet lessons throughout the war, dancing at
the end in shoes that were worn to shreds - should become a
ballerina. Her mother gave manicures, worked in a flower shop
and became a landlady of Mayfair lodgings to pay for lessons.
In 1948, Audrey was awarded a modest grant to attend Marie
Rambert's ballet school. There she started calling herself
Audrey Hepburn. After months of training, Marie Rambert took
her aside and told her that although she had great technique
and could always teach, she didn't have what it takes to
become a prima ballerina. Years later, Audrey told her son
Sean that she went home that day and wanted to vanish.
PAMELA Clarke Keogh believes Audrey's ballet training was
crucial to her success as an actress and her emergence as an
icon of style. It taught her discipline, and the paramount
importance of silhouette. In her look and movements, she
sought simplicity and grace but she knew that achieving such
effortless-looking perfection took supreme concentration and
Audrey acquired a theatrical agent and began a fledgling
career as a chorus girl in slight West End musicals, such as
High Button Shoes (1948), Sauce Tartare (1949) and Sauce
Piquante (1950). In 1951, she was given one line in a British
film, Laughter In Paradise. She must have displayed phenomenal
screen presence - on the strength of it she was offered a
seven-year contract. She declined to sign - sensibly, as it
turned out, because, while making her next British movie in
Monte Carlo, she was spotted by the French writer Colette, who
decided she would be perfect for the leading role in the
Broadway version of her novel, Gigi.
Meanwhile, the London office of Paramount called her agent,
asking her to test for the part of an innocent European
princess who escapes her minders for a night and meets an
American newspaperman, Gregory Peck. Both the director,
William Wyler (who was to become a lifelong friend), and the
executives at Paramount loved the test. The executives cabled
their production chief in London: "Exercise the option on this
lady. This test is certainly one of the best ever made in
Hollywood, New York, or London."
The film was Roman Holiday, which won her an Oscar for Best
Actress. She also played Gigi on Broadway and never again had
to struggle for work. At that time her influence on the way
other women looked also began. "Thanks to their first glimpse
of Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday," wrote the New York Times,
"half a generation of young females stopped stuffing their
bras and teetering on stiletto heels." Hepburn (she was asked
to change her name to avoid confusion with Katharine Hepburn,
but refused) was utterly different from other successful
actresses of the time. Less blatantly sexy than blowsy blondes
like Marilyn Monroe or Jayne Mansfield, she was more
mysterious and European than some of the breezy Californian
girls or the statuesque stars like Lana Turner or Ava Gardner.
After Roman Holiday, she made, in quick succession, Sabrina
with Humphrey Bogart and William Holden, Funny Face with Fred
Astaire, and Love In The Afternoon with Gary Cooper. Hubert de
Givenchy designed her wardrobe for all these films. She became
his muse, and he sealed her reputation as a wearer of simple,
elegant, but perfect clothes.
Offscreen, in her leggings, black turtlenecks, white shirts
tied at the waist, and with her cropped hair and boyish
figure, she was clearly an individual. Billy Wilder, who
directed her in Sabrina, said: "This girl, single-handedly,
may make bosoms a thing of the past." She herself considered
she was "just a skinny broad" with a too-prominent collarbone,
uneven teeth, size 10 feet and a flat chest.
Keogh believes Audrey's stylishness was largely innate. "She
was born with an eye - she was a kind of artist but she also
worked with the greatest photographers, make-up artists and
hair stylists of her age, so she had great teachers. I think a
lot of it was about her background: putting her best face
forwards, even though her father had left and she had two
really very challenging marriages. Beauty is almost easy;
you're either born with it or not. What's really striking
about her is that people warmed to her, whether they knew her
for 20 years or met her for 10 minutes on a film set. She was
very natural and unaffected. What she most enjoyed was to hang
out in her garden with her dogs."
AT THE London premiere of Roman Holiday, in July 1953, Audrey
met Mel Ferrer. A Princeton-educated producer, actor and
director, Ferrer was tall, confident and charismatic. He was
also twice divorced, had four children, was 12 years her
senior and had a reputation for being stroppy. They appeared
together on Broadway the following spring, and married in
Ferrer was not easy to live with. Keogh, who suggests Audrey
may subconsciously have been looking for a father-figure,
thinks "she may eventually have moved beyond his opinionated
manner, or grown tired of trying to placate him". The success
of her career in comparison with his probably didn't help
either. They had a son, Sean, in 1960 and had hoped to have
more (Audrey had four miscarriages). But after 13 years of
marriage and a decade of rumours that they were on the point
of separation, they divorced in 1967.
But Audrey undoubtedly produced her best work in the years of
her marriage to Ferrer. She had an extraordinary run of
successes: Breakfast At Tiffany's and The Children's Hour
(both 1961) Charade (1963), Paris When It Sizzles and My Fair
Lady (1964), How To Steal A Million (1966), Wait Until Dark
(1967) and Two For The Road (1967). She was 38 when she
divorced, and deeply upset by the failure of her marriage. She
responded by making a (slightly) raunchier film than usual,
Two For The Road with Albert Finney, in which she wore Mary
Quant rather than Givenchy - and by striking up an intense
relationship with Finney.
He recalls: "With a woman as sexy as Audrey, you sometimes get
to the edge where make-believe and reality are blurred - all
that staring into each other's eyes. I won't discuss it more
because of the degree of intimacy involved. The time I spent
with Audrey was one of the closest I've ever had."
In June 1968, Audrey was invited to cruise the Greek islands
with a French family. On board, she met Dr Andrea Dotti, a
30-year-old psychiatrist and professor at the University of
Rome. Her friends thought the relationship was a mistake, but
in January, six months after they met and six weeks after her
divorce from Ferrer was finalised, they married.
Conscious of the part her career had played in the breakdown
of her first marriage, Audrey applied herself to being a
doctor's wife in Rome. And, for a while, she was happy -
especially when, four months into the marriage, she became
pregnant. Determined not to lose this baby, Audrey took
herself off to her 18th century farmhouse in Switzerland to
rest out the remainder of her term. Andrea visited at
weekends, but he continued to go out during the week in Rome,
and was invariably photographed with some actress or countess
on his arm.
Their son Luca was born in 1970 and, for a time, Andrea calmed
down. But he never really adjusted to not being a bachelor.
While Audrey might have been prepared - unhappily - to
overlook his infidelities, she found it impossible to do so when they were splashed
all over the newspapers. She put up
with it for 11 years, for the sake of her sons, but she was
In 1980, at the home of mutual friends in Beverly Hills, she
met Robert Wolders, the man she would come to call "my
soulmate", with whom she shared the last, happy, 13 years of
her life. Wolders, who was Dutch and had spent the war years
less than 10 miles from Arnhem, was then recovering from the
death of his wife, Merle Oberon, and Audrey had recently
started divorce proceedings.
Together, they spent the next decade mostly at Audrey's
farmhouse, La Paisible, in Tolchenaz, high above Lake Geneva.
She had bought the house in 1965 and it was beautiful -
decorated, as one of her friends said, "as she dressed:
low-fat" - with an extensive orchard and gardens.
Audrey made a brief appearance as an angel in Steven
Spielberg's Always, and presented a television series, Gardens
Of The World, for American television. After 1988, however,
her main role was as a special ambassador for Unicef. The
position meant a lot to her, not least because she had been a
recipient of United Nations Relief herself after the war.
With Wolders, she made 50 humanitarian trips in five years,
although she never stayed away from La Paisible for more than
two weeks, because she couldn't bear to leave her dogs. Sean
and Luca visited regularly, and always came for Christmas.
IN NOVEMBER 1992, back from a harrowing trip to Somalia, she
felt exhausted and, thinking she might be suffering from a
virulent amoebic infection, went to Cedars-Sinai Medical
Center in Los Angeles for a full check-up. She had cancer. An
operation removed it from her appendix and colon, but in a few
days, it had spread to her stomach. She refused chemotherapy.
Audrey Hepburn spent her last month at La Paisible with
Wolders, Sean and Luca, and died at 7pm on January 20, 1993.
She was 63.
She would have been 72 this May; and although it is almost
50 years since the world first saw her in capri pants and
ballet flats, she still affects fashion. American sportswear
owes an enormous amount to her; while Manolo Blahnik, who
recently recreated the Sabrina heel in honour of her, says: "Like it or not,
she will be the most important look of the
While puting the biography here I used:
"Audrey Style" by Pamela Clarke Keogh is published by Aurum
Press on July 15, price 20. To order "Audrey Style" at the
special price of 17 plus 99p UK p&p send a cheque/PO for
17.99 to the Express Bookshop, 250 Western Avenue, London W3
6EE or call 0870 901 9101.
© Express Newspapers Ltd
"Audrey Hepburn's Biography" by Alexander Walker and "Audrey Hepburn's Biography" by Diana Maychick have also been used.
For more on Audrey Hepburn go to "Audrey Hepburn Official Page".