A Touch Of Elegance “What is needed in order to really become a star is an extra element which God gives you or doesn’t give you. You’re born with it. You cannot learn it. God kissed Audrey Hepburn on the cheek and there she was” (Harris 11). Seen as an angel by all those who adored her, Audrey Hepburn portrayed the true image of a Hollywood star.
Her grace and elegance touched all those whom she met and her death brought sorrow to millions. Living her life as a princess, Audrey had everything she had ever dreamed of. But her journey to such an end was not easy. Living through the devastation of World War II was only one of the many struggles and triumphs Audrey had to face throughout her life. These events, which may have discouraged others, only added to the strength that emanated from her throughout her career.Born in Brussels, on May 4, 1929, to Baroness Ella van Heemstra Hepburn-Ruston and Joseph Victor Anthony Ruston, Audrey Kathleen van Heemstra Ruston encountered her first trial of life only twenty-one days after her birth (Paris 6).
After contracting whooping cough the disease became so serious that Audrey stopped breathing. If it had not have been for the quick thinking of her mother and a slight spanking to start her breathing, Audrey would not have survived (Paris 7). “There was no giving up on this baby,” said her son, Sean, in later years, “I think that had an effect on her whole life, [as if she’d been given] a second chance” (Paris 7).
As she grew older Audrey traveled constantly between London and Brussels, and Arnhem and The Hague (Paris 7). Her brothers, Alexander and Ian, lived mainly with Ella’s parents. Audrey’s family finally settled when she was two; Ella had grown tired of the situation and moved the entire family from Brussels to Castel Sainte-Cecile, a small estate near Linkebeek (Paris 7).At the age of five, Audrey’s mother sent her to a boarding school in England. As much as she disliked being away from her family, Audrey soon realized that it was a “good lesson in independence” (Paris 8). Although it may have been a good lesson, Audrey soon became shy and withdrawn. She failed to make any friends and could usually be found in the garden, hiding underneath a tree or bush (Harris 21).
To make matters worse, Audrey’s parents were in the process of getting a divorce.She once said of the incident, “The most traumatic event in my life was when my father left my mother” (Harris 19). In the middle of the court proceedings, Audrey’s mother moved to London to be close to her daughter. There was an immediate change in Audrey’s personality. She soon became more open and made many friends, and she even made the honor roll (Harris 22).
It was around this time that Audrey took up ballet, a passion that would consume her over up to the start of her film career. By the time Audrey was ten the tensions with Germany, Italy, and Japan in Eastern Europe, Africa, and Asia threatened to become worldwide if they were not stopped (Harris 22).Eventually, England and France declared war against Germany.
Fearing what would become of her daughter if she remained in England, Ella pulled Audrey out of her London school and moved to neutral Holland (Harris 22). It would be a decision they would both regret. Audrey suffered a mild case of culture shock due to the quick move from England to Holland. She had been speaking English for the better part of her life and the move to Holland meant learning the Dutch language at record speed.
“That first morning in school I sat at my little bench, completely baffled. For several days I went home weeping. But I knew I couldn’t just give up. I was forced to learn the language quickly. And I did”, said Audrey on the experience (Harris 25).Peace in Holland did not last long. Five days after Audrey’s eleventh birthing in 1940 the Germans invaded and captured Arnhem (Harris 27).
As the war raged on the Nazis began rounding up men between the ages of sixteen and forty for labor service in Germany. Ian was included in this group of men and Audrey and her mother were left to take care of each other. Ella became involved in the Resistance, a group of Dutchmen that were against the intentions of the Nazis.
Audrey also did her part to help the cause. Her mother would organize various fundraisers to raise money and Audrey would participate, using her ballet abilities to entertain the war-torn (Harris 37). As the seriousness of the war became more evident each day, Audrey and Ella dove into the world of the Resistance. Audrey became one of the children that helped deliver forged identity papers and counterfeit ration cards to “divers”, (Allied paratroopers on reconnaissance missions, pilots and crew members of downed Allied aircraft, and escapees from POW camps in Germany) (Harris 37-38). Food became scarcer as the German’s grip on Arnhem tightened. Audrey’s fifteenth birthday celebration consisted of leaves of endive for an appetizer, watered-down vegetable soup, and a quarter-loaf of bread made from dried pea flour.
Her mother, unable to find all the ingredients needed to bake a cake, compromised by using a bowl of wild strawberries with a candle stuck in the middle (Harris 39).Because of such scarce rations, Audrey became anemic, suffered from asthma, and had frequent chronic migraine headaches. She also missed school and ballet classes because she lacked the strength to go (Harris 39). Having avoided mishaps with the Germans since the war began, Audrey’s luck soon ran out. While running an errand for her mother she was ordered by a Nazi soldier to join a group of girls her age to be sent out for menial labor. Audrey, refusing to be a slave, waited until the captor was smoking a cigarette and then ran away and hid in the cellar of a bombed-out building (Harris 44-45). In the process of hiding out Audrey lost track of time and several days passed. She finally returned home, only to find an ecstatic, but very relieved, Ella who had thought Audrey dead or sent off to a work camp (Harris 45).
Audrey’s sixteenth birthday came on May 4, 1945, only three days after Hitler committed suicide (Harris 47). With the war in Arnhem ended, life was getting back to normal, and Audrey’s passion for ballet began anew. Her formal education ended and Audrey became absorbed in her dance classes (Harris 52). She studied under Sonia Gaskell, who had worked with the Russian ballerina Ljoebov Egorova and choreographed for the Ballets de Paris (Harris 51). Audrey once said of the experience, “I would train for two or three hours at a time, and even if I were purple in the face and covered with sweat, Sonia would shout: ‘Stand up, lieveling – don’t slouch!’ That gave me strength” (Harris 51).
Unfortunately, the effects of the war were still present and Sonia had to shut down her studio due to insufficient funds. This downfall gave Audrey the opportunity to study under the famed Marie Rambert. She soon found herself filling out an application for the London dance academy (Harris 54).
It was at this time that Audrey was discovered by two Dutch filmmakers. The two film makers were producer Hein Josephson and director C.H. van der Linden and the film was Nederlands in 7 Lessen, (a.
k.a.Dutch in 7 Easy Lessons) (Harris 55). They thought Audrey was perfect for a bit part in the movie but she had her doubts. During the audition she said to the director, “If you’re expecting an actress, Mr. Van der Linden, you’ll be disappointed” (Harris 55). Linden was so enthralled by Audrey’s innocence and honesty that he cast her in the film. The movie was not a success, but it got Audrey her start in acting.
On December 18, 1948 Audrey and her mother departed for England, where Audrey had been accepted to study under Marie Rambert (Harris 57). Marie later said about Audrey, “[She] had lovely long limbs and beautiful eyes, but her tragedy was being too tall. I tried to do whatever I could for her. She was a good worker, a wonderful learner. I always knew she would amount to something, but there was no future for her in my company of dancers” (Harris 59).
Audrey worked hard, but shortly before she turned twenty she realized that her dream of becoming a solo ballerina was next to impossible.Even to be able to dance in the chorus would have meant five more years of training. Preparing for the inevitable future, Audrey began going to auditions and casting calls for various plays and musicals (Harris 60). Audrey finally got a break when she auditioned for a part in the chorus of High Button Shoes, the London production of a current New York hit. Director Archie Thompson admired her energy and cast her for the part (Harris 61).
Audrey found herself happy and content with her being a part of the show.”I was finally earning money as a dancer. Maybe it wasn’t the kind of dancing I dreamed of, but I was out of the classroom and into the real world. I loved being in a musical show. I needed music in my life very badly.
I loved sharing a dressing room with other girls. That brought me back to normal.From a young age I was very aware of suffering and fear. For the first time, I felt the pure joy of living” (Harris 62).
During the performance of High Button Shoes, Cecil Landeau noticed Audrey in the chorus and marked her down as someone to consider for his next production (Harris 61). His next production came and Landeau, remembering Audrey, gave her a call. She was hired for a part in the chorus of Sauce Tartare.The show received good reviews and Audrey was assured a steady job (Harris 63). At a performance of Sauce Tartare, casting director Robert Lennard noticed Audrey in the chorus and recommended her to director Mario Zampi for a role in the upcoming movie, Laughter in Paradise.
Hesitating until the last moment the only role Audrey could get was that of a cigarette girl (Harris 67). Even though the role was small it got her noticed. Audrey auditioned for another movie and got a role in Monte Carlo Baby. During a scene shot at the Hotel de Paris, Audrey was spotted by Collete, creator of Gigi (Harris 72).Collete loved Audrey so much that she offered her the star role in her show (Harris 73).
Audrey was reluctant at first, because of the little acting experience she had, but finally accepted. It would be the role that would launch her film career. Audrey went on to make her American film debut in 1953 in Roman Holiday (Brophy 1). She also played parts in movies such as, Sabrina (1954), War and Peace (1956), Funny Face (1957), The Nun’s Story (1959), My Fair Lady (1964), and her 1976 comeback as Maid Marian in Sean Connery’s Robin Hood (Johnson 1-2). Audrey’s most famous role was as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Johnson 2).She always said that this was the role she identified with the most. In her later years, Audrey was a good-will ambassador for UNICEF. She traveled across Africa and Latin America and visited such places as Ethiopia and Somalia (Grophy 2).
When asked about her travels with UNICEF Audrey said, “Your soul is nourished by all your experiences” (Schindehette 1). Audrey Hepburn passed away at her home in Tolochenaz, Switzerland at the age of sixty-three from colon cancer (Schindehette 1). The tragedy of her death spread worldwide.
UNICEF executive director James Grant said, “She repeatedly put aside the comforts of home to visit some of the most deprived and often forgotten people on this planet” (Johnson 3). Audrey’s kindness touched and changed the lives of countless people. Her work is undoubtedly still continuing. On hearing of her death Elizabeth Taylor said, “God has a most beautiful new angel now that will know just what to do in heaven” (Johnson 3).