Born in: Brussels, Belgium
Died on: January 20, 1993
Audrey Hepburn was one of the most renowned actresses of the mid-20th century. Apart from being involved in films, she also worked for theatre and indulged in humanitarian activities. Her great acting skills won her Academy Award, Tony Award, Grammy Award, Golden Globe and even Emmy Award. Hepburn was also ranked as the ‘third greatest female star’ of all time, by the American Film Institute, in the year 1991. If that wasn’t enough, she was also honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, for her work as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.
Audrey Hepburn was born as ‘Audrey Kathleen van Heemstra Ruston’ on 4th May 1929, in Ixelles/Elsene municipality of Brussels, Belgium. She was the only child of Englishman Joseph Victor Anthony Ruston and his second wife, the former Baroness Ella van Heemstra, a Dutch aristocrat and a daughter of a former governor of Dutch Guiana. Joseph later prepended the surname of his maternal grandmother, Kathleen Hepburn, to the family's surname and Audrey became Audrey Hepburn-Ruston.
Hepburn had two half-brothers, Jonkheer Arnoud Robert Alexander "Alex" Quarles van Ufford and Jonkheer Ian Edgar Bruce Quarles van Ufford. Her brothers were from her mother's first marriage to a Dutch nobleman, Jonkheer Hendrik Gustaaf Adolf Quarles van Ufford. From her mother’s side, she was related to a number of notable distant cousins, like Humphrey Bogart and Prince Rainier III of Monaco. Since her father worked with a British insurance company, her family often traveled between Brussels, England and The Netherlands.
Hepburn’s parents got divorced in 1935, when she was hardly 6 years old. She attended a boarding school for girls in Kent, from 1935 to 1938. She was moved, along with her half-brothers, to her grandfather's home in Arnhem (Netherlands), by her mother. There, she attended Arnhem Conservatory, from 1939 to 1945, and also learnt ballet along with the standard school curriculum. In 1940, Netherlands was invaded by Germans and Hepburn started secretly dancing (ballet) for groups of people, to collect money for the Dutch resistance.
In the Operation Market Garden, German soldiers shot Hepburn's uncle, in front of her eyes. The shortage of food around this time made her suffer from malnutrition, resulting in acute anemia, respiratory problems and oedema. During this time, she became involved in drawing, as a medium of expression. Her ordeal, along with that of millions of other people, came to an end with liberation of the country. This experience left a deep impact on her personality and is one of the main reasons why she became involved with UNICEF later.
In the year 1945, Hepburn left for Amsterdam and there, she took ballet lessons with Sonia Gaskell. From there, she moved to London and underwent dancing lessons with Marie Rambert. Though she was a great performer, she knew that her relatively tall stature and the effects of malnutrition on her body would never let her become a prima ballerina. This is the time when he decided to pursue acting as a career. Her debut in movies came with the educational film ‘Dutch in Seven Lessons’.
The film was followed by her performances in musical theatre, in productions like ‘High Button Shoes’ and ‘Sauce Piquante’. Her first motion picture, though with a minor role, was the British film ‘One Wild Oat’. After that, she was seen in a number of small roles, in films like ‘Young Wives' Tale’, ‘Laughter in Paradise’, ‘The Lavender Hill Mob’ and ‘Monte Carlo Baby’. It was during the filming of the last movie that she was selected to perform in the Broadway play ‘Gigi’, for which she won the Theatre World Award.
The first major role for Hepburn came with the movie ‘Secret People’, in the year 1952. The following year, she was seen in her first starring role and first American film ‘Roman Holiday’, opposite Gregory Peck. The film won her an Academy Award, a BAFTA Award and a Golden Globe, apart from launching her as the ‘new star’. Following this, she signed a seven-picture contract with Paramount. However, she managed to get twelve months time, in between films, to remain involved with stage work too.
Success in Hollywood
In 1954, Hepburn did the movie ‘Sabrina’, winning Academy Award nomination: as well as BAFTA nomination. The same year, she performed in the play ‘Ondine’, with Mel Ferrer, for which she won the Tony Award for Best Actress. By the mid 20th century, Hepburn had gained the status of not only one of the biggest motion picture stars in Hollywood, but also a fashion icon. The following year (1955), she was awarded the Golden Globe for World Film Favorite - Female.
In 1957, Hepburn was seen in ‘Funny Face’, which she later described as one of her favorite, as she got to dance with Fred Astaire. Though she had become an established actor by now, it was ‘The Nun's Story’ that won Hepburn critical acclaim. Next, she did ‘Breakfast at Tiffany's’ in 1961 and described it as the ‘jazziest film’ of her career. In 1963, Hepburn starred in Charade, her first and only film with Cary Grant. This was followed by the movie ‘My Fair Lady’, the next year, for which she was again critically applauded.
The year 1967 saw her doing ‘Two for the Road’, a non-linear and novel film about divorce, apart from ‘Wait Until Dark’. From the next year onwards, Hepburn stopped appearing in films on a regular basis and was seen occasionally on-screen. Her comeback film ‘Robin and Marian’ (1976) was moderately successful. Thereafter, she was seen in ‘Bloodline’ (1979), a critical and box office failure. Her last starring role in a cinematic film was in the comedy ‘They All Laughed’. She did a television film ‘Love Among Thieves’ in 1987 and bid adieu to film acting in 1988, after a cameo appearance in ‘Always’.
Hepburn got engaged to James Hanson in 1952, but called off the marriage due to her career demands. She Mel Ferrer at a party hosted by Gregory Peck and in 1954, the couple got married. They had a son ‘Sean’, in 1960, whose godfather is the novelist A.J. Cronin. The couple got divorced in December 1968. She met Andrea Dotti, an Italian psychiatrist, on a cruise and fell in love with him. The couple got married in January 1969 and had a son, ‘Luca’, the following year. The matrimony came to an end in 1982. From 1980, till her death, Hepburn was involved with Robert Wolders.
In the year 1992, Hepburn started having severe abdominal pains. The laparoscopy performed by doctors diagnosed the problem as abdominal cancer that had spread from her appendix. After performing surgery, the doctors put her through chemotherapy. Hepburn suffered from an obstruction some days later and underwent another surgery. However, the cancer had spread too far and could not be removed. Audrey Hepburn died of the cancer on 20th January 1993, in Tolochenaz (Vaud, Switzerland) and was interred there.
1953 - Academy Award, BAFTA Award, Golden Globe and NYFCC Award, for ‘Roman Holiday’
1954 - Tony Award - Best Actress in a Play, for ‘Ondine’
1959 - BAFTA Award and NYFCC Award, for ‘The Nun's Story’
1964 - BAFTA Award, for ‘Charade ‘
1968 - Special Tony Award (Lifetime Achievement)
1990 - Cecil B. DeMille Award (Lifetime Achievement)
1992 - Screen Actors Guild Award (Life Achievement)
1993 - Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for Outstanding Contributions to Humanitarian Causes, Emmy Awards – ‘Outstanding Individual Achievement - Informational Programming’ (for Gardens of the World with Audrey Hepburn)
1994 - Grammy Award - ‘Best Spoken Word Album for Children’, ‘for Audrey Hepburn's Enchanted Tales’
1948 - Nederlands in 7 lessen (documentary)
1951 - One Wild Oat Hotel, Laughter in Paradise, Young Wives' Tale, The Lavender Hill
1952 - The Secret People, Monte Carlo Baby, Nous irons à Monte Carlo
1953 - Roman Holiday
1954 - Sabrina
1956 - War and Peace
1957 - Funny Face, Love in the Afternoon
1959 - Green Mansions, The Nun's Story
1960 - The Unforgiven
1961 - Breakfast at Tiffany's, The Children's Hour
1963 - Charade
1964 - Paris, When It Sizzles, My Fair Lady
1966 - How to Steal a Million
1967 - Two for the Road, Wait Until Dark
1976 - Robin and Marian
1979 - Bloodline
1981 - They All Laughed
1989 - Always
Television and Theatre
1949 - High Button Shoes, Sauce Tartare
1950 - Sauce Piquante
1951 - Gigi
1952 - CBS Television Workshop
1954 - Ondine
1957 - Mayerling
1987 - Love Among Thieves
1993 - Gardens of the World with Audrey Hepburn