Not a single soul exists who wouldn’t have heard of the name of Audrey Hepburn, a more renowned actress, a famous fashionista and an equally hardworking and dedicated humanitarian. Born in Ixelles, Belgium to an English father and a Dutch mother, Audrey had a very multicultural background and upbringing. Although her childhood days were some of her unhappiest, even plagued with war, her spirit never died and she made a path for herself as one of the most successful women in film. Even after retiring from cinema, she focused her work on the goodwill of children in the most backward countries with UNICEF and died at the age of 63 with that effort to make a difference.
Audrey Hepburn was born to parents John Victor Ruston, an English banker and Dutch baroness Ella Van Heemstra on 4th May 1926, in a small town near Brussels, Belgium called Ixelles. Her earlier childhood was a sheltered one. Her constant traveling due to her father’s work and her multicultural background attributed to her being proficient in five languages – Dutch, English, Spanish, French and Italian.
However, her childhood did not remain as happy following her parent’s separation and subsequent divorce when she was six years old, which she has said to be the most traumatic event of her life for she felt dumped as a child needed of both her parents. After the separation, Hepburn moved to the Netherlands with her mother for a while but returned to England after a while because of her father’s wish for her to continue her education in England, where she studied in a small school in Elham.
More tragedy struck Audrey when she experienced what we know as the Second World War at a very young age. She was forced to move back to the Netherlands with her mother after Britain declared war on Germany in the hopes that the Netherlands would be spared the German wrath. However, things took a worse turn after the German invasion of the Netherlands. Audrey had to adopt the name Edda van Heemstra as a seemingly British name that could lead to dangers. During this time, Audrey had faced many traumatic experiences, like the execution of her uncle and the deporting of her half-brother to a labor camp. Her family also could not provide much food and had to resort to baking using tulip bulbs, Audrey suffered several diseases like anemia and other respiratory issues due to malnutrition. They also suffered heavily in terms of finance where their estate was also destroyed. All of this attributed to the rather tumultuous childhood that she had.
Solace in the Arts – Ballet and Earlier Acting
During the difficult times she had faced in her early life, Audrey Hepburn found solace the art form of ballet. During her time in residence in the Netherlands, she attended the Arnhem Conservatory where took ballet lessons under the mentorship of Winja Marova. After the end of the Second World War, she studied ballet in Amsterdam under Sonia Gaskell and Olga Tarasova and later accepted a scholarship in Notting Hill with Ballet Rambert. However, she had to give up her dreams of becoming a prima ballerina due to the health issues caused by her conditions during the war.
It is after letting go of her dancing that she shifted her focus on acting. While her mother supported the family by working small jobs. Audrey took on small acting roles in film and television. Her first film appearance was in the educational film Seven Hours. She also took in numerous roles in theatre and including the production Gigi, which was performed successfully for six months. The most notable appearance from her early acting days is her work in the movie The Secret People, where she played a ballerina.
Rise to Fame and Stardom
After years of hard work and struggle, Audrey Hepburn got her first main role in the film Roman Holiday in 1953, where her portrayal of Princess of Anne got critical acclaim and important film awards like the Academy Awards, the BAFTA and the Golden Globe Awards. After the massive success of her first film as a lead, she went on to sign a contract with Paramount and successively starred in the romantic comedy film Sabrina, the drama film Children’s Hour and the heist film How To Steal A Million. She also played the role of Natasha Rostova in War and Peace, an adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s book of the same name and was able to showcase of talent of dance in her first musical film, Funny Face.
Her most well-known work is the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s where she played the role of Holly Golighty, an eccentric socialite in New York. Holly Golighty’s character remains one of the most well-known characters in cinema and the film, Breakfast a Tiffany’s remains a timeless classic and a defining point for Audrey Hepburn’s career. The role was most challenging for Audrey due to her introverted nature in contrast to Holly’s extroverted one and she considered herself to be in luck to be able to do well in this role.
Audrey also worked in broadway and her fantasy play, Ondine was of one her most successful works where she played a water nymph who begins to harbour feelings for a human. She also played the role of Eliza Doolittle in the film adaptation of the musical My Fair Lady and the reception to her performance in the role originally played by acclaimed actress Julie Andrews was generally positive.
The last films she did before her slowly backing away from a busy career in the film industry are Two For The Road, a drama-comedy and Wait Until Dark, suspense and thriller which showed Audrey Hepburn’s skills for performing across a wide range of genres.
Last projects and retirement
Audrey Hepburn began dedicated less time to films and more time to her personal life in the 70s, leading to a steady decline in her career which many people called a semi-retirement. Her comeback as Maid Marian in Robin and Marian was only moderately successful but her other film, Bloodline turned out to be a commercial failure. Her last role as the main lead was in the comedy They All Laughed, however, Audrey’s performance and the film, in general, was overshadowed by the death of a co-actor. Her last minor appearances were in the films Love Among Thieves and Always.