Audrey Hepburn

From New World Encyclopedia

Audrey Hepburn
Hepburn as Regina "Reggie" Lampert in Charade
Birth name: Audrey Kathleen Ruston
Date of birth: May 4, 1929
Birth location: Brussels, Belgium
Date of death: January 20, 1993
Death location: Tolochenaz, Switzerland
Height: 5' 7" (1.70 m)
Other name(s): Edda Van Heemstra
Notable role(s): Princess Ann in
Roman Holiday
Holly Golightly in
Breakfast at Tiffany's
Eliza Doolittle in
My Fair Lady
Academy Awards: 1953 Academy Award for Best Actress
(Roman Holiday)
Spouse: Mel Ferrer
Andrea Dotti

Audrey Hepburn (May 4, 1929—January 20, 1993) was an Academy Award winning actress, a favorite leading lady during an era when the Golden Years of Hollywood were evolving into a New Hollywood genre, and a Humanitarian who traveled extensively to third world countries as Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF.

Raised under Nazi rule during World War II, she trained to be a prima ballerina; however, malnourishment as a child during the war years left her unable to cope with the rigors of dance so she chose a career in acting instead.

She personified grace, elegance, and charm as a leading lady during the 1950s and '60s, starring opposite such actors, as Cary Grant, Fred Astaire and Gregory Peck, in romantic comedies and musicals. She immortalized the role of "Eliza" in My Fair Lady and "Holly Go Lightly" in Breakfast at Tiffany's. Famed photographer, Cecil Beaton called her the "embodiment of the feminine ideal."

In the 1970s and 1980s, she starred in few films, concentrating instead on motherhood. In 1992, she was honored by President George H. W. Bush with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work with UNICEF.

Early life

Born Audrey Kathleen Ruston in Brussels, Belgium, she was the only child of Joseph Hepburn-Ruston, an Irish banker, and Baroness Ella van Heemstra, a Dutch aristocrat. She was a descendant of King Edward III of England.

Her father's job required the family to travel often between Brussels, England, and The Netherlands, subsequently young Audrey attended boarding schools in England as a child. In 1935, her parents divorced and her father left the family. She called her father's abandonment the single most traumatic event of her young life. Later, after she became a successful star, she located her father through the Red Cross and supported him financially until his death. In 1939, her mother moved her and her two half brothers, Alexander and Ian, to Arnhem, Netherlands. Their lives would be fraught with difficulty and challenge when War World II broke out in Europe.

Nazi Occupation

In 1940, the German Nazis invaded Arnhem. The Nazi occupation of the Netherlands would be the longest of any European country during the war. Audrey's mother had her take a pseudonym, "Edda" as the name "Audrey" was considered to be "too British" and might attract the attention of the Nazi regime. By 1944, young Audrey, on her way to becoming a proficient ballet dancer, secretly danced for groups in order to raise money for the underground resistance.

After the landing of the Allied Forces on D-Day, conditions grew worse under the German occupiers. During the Dutch famine over the winter of 1944, the Nazis confiscated the Dutch people's limited food and fuel supply for themselves. Without heat for their homes or food to eat, people in the Netherlands starved and froze to death in the streets. Arnhem was devastated during allied bombing raids that were part of Operation Market Garden. Hepburn's uncle and a cousin of her mother's were shot for being part of the Resistance. Hepburn's brother spent time in a German labor camp. Suffering from malnutrition, Hepburn developed acute anemia, respiratory problems, and edema.

In a 1991 interview she compared her life experience during the war to that of Anne Frank's:

I was exactly the same age as Anne Frank. We were both 10 when war broke out. ... I was given the book in Dutch, in galley form, in 1946 by a friend. I read it ... and it destroyed me ... I have memories. More than once I was at the station seeing trainloads of Jews being transported, seeing all these faces over the top of the wagon. ... We saw reprisals. We saw young men put against the wall and shot, and they'd close the street and then open it and you could pass by again. If you read the diary, I've marked one place where she says, 'Five hostages shot today.' That was the day my uncle was shot. And in this child's words I was reading about what was inside me and is still there. It was a catharsis for me. This child who was locked up in four walls had written a full report of everything I'd experienced and felt.[1]

Like Anne Frank, who coped with the war through her writing, Audrey found refuge in her artwork. Simple but lovely and colorful portraits of people and flowers can be seen in Hepburn's biography, written by son Sean. Eventually the United Nations forces entered with their tanks and Holland was liberated. Many years later, her "Wait Until Dark" director, Terrance Young, who had been a British Army tank commander during the Battle of Arnhem, would joke with Audrey about the possibility of shelling her while she hid with her family. Needless to say, the joy of being liberated overcame the trauma of being under Nazi domination and, in retrospect, Hepburn could find humor in what was once a tumultuous time in her life.


In 1948, after the war, Hepburn left Arnhem and eventually settled in London where she took dance lessons with the renowned Marie Rambert, teacher of Vaslav Nijinksy, one of the greatest male ballet dancers in history. Rambert discouraged her from pursuing dancing as a career due to her height (5' 7") which would make it difficult to find leading male dancers and also because of her lack of muscle tone, a result of her poor nutrition during the war years. Although from a patrician background, Audrey's mother was forced to work menial jobs to support her children so Audrey chose an acting career as the more likely path towards earning a living.

Audrey Hepburn's screen test for Roman Holiday

Hepburn had a number of minor roles in British films, but her first real break came when she was chosen to play the lead character in the Broadway play Gigi that opened in November, 1951, in New York. The writer, Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette exclaimed upon first seeing Hepburn playing a bit part in Monte Carlo Baby, "Voila! There's our Gigi!," and, as is often said of Hollywood legends, the rest is history. She won a Theatre World Award for her debut performance.

Hepburn's first starring role and first American film was opposite Gregory Peck in the Hollywood motion picture, Roman Holiday. William Wyler, the director was considering Elizabeth Taylor for the role but was impressed with Audrey Hepburn's screen test, which captured candid footage of her acting naturally while answering questions. Wyler said, "She had everything I was looking for: charm, innocence and talent." Hepburn called Roman Holiday one of her favorite films because it was the one that launched her on the path towards stardom.

Hollywood stardom

Photo of Audrey Hepburn by Bud Fraker, 1956

After Roman Holiday she filmed Billy Wilder's Sabrina with Humphrey Bogart and William Holden It was during the making of this movie that Audrey went to see Hubert de Givenchy, the famed fashion designer, about her wardrobe fitting. He was expecting to see Katharine Hepburn, confusing the names of the two stars, but had an immediate rapport with Audrey. Their collaboration over fashions and their friendship would span more than thirty years.

In 1954, Audrey went back to the stage to play the water sprite in Ondine performing opposite Mel Ferrer, whom she would wed that same year. It turned out to be a watershed year for the actress; she would go on to win the Academy Award for Roman Holiday and the Tony Award for Best Actress for Ondine, a dual honor that is not-oft repeated in the annals of Hollywood history.

By the mid 1950s, Hepburn was not only one of the biggest motion picture stars in Hollywood, but she also came to be regarded as a major style icon. Her gamine and elfin appearance and widely recognized sense of chic were both admired and imitated. The simple themes of her movies appealed to a wide audience. In 1955, she was awarded the Golden Globe for World Film Favorite—Female.

Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn in Charade

Having become one of Hollywood's most popular box-office attractions, Audrey Hepburn co-starred with other major actors such as Fred Astaire in Funny Face, Maurice Chevalier and Gary Cooper in Love in the Afternoon, George Peppard in Breakfast at Tiffany's, Cary Grant in the critically acclaimed hit Charade, Rex Harrison in My Fair Fair Lady, Peter O'Toole in How to Steal a Million, and Sean Connery in Robin and Marian. Many of these leading men developed close friendships with her. Gregory Peck, after her death, went on camera, and recited one of her favorite poems, Unending Love by Rabindranath Tagore. Hepburn was noted by her co-stars to be hard working, disciplined, and professional.

Funny Face in 1957, (see George Gershwin) was another one of Hepburn's favorite films because she had the opportunity to exhibit her dancing prowess opposite co-star Fred Astaire. The Nun's Story in 1959, was one of her most daring roles, and another favorite because it was socially relevant, and devoid of the glamorous trappings of her other films.

My Fair Lady and Breakfast at Tiffany's

Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's

Hepburn's performance as "Holly Golightly" in 1961's Breakfast at Tiffany's resulted in one of the most iconic characters in 20th Century American cinema. Hepburn called the role, "the jazziest of my career." Asked about the acting challenge of playing the dreamy and ditzy New Yorker, Holly Golightly, Hepburn said, "I'm an introvert. Playing the extroverted girl was the hardest thing I ever did." The character of Holly Golightly and the real-life Audrey Hepburn, could not have been more different. Henry Mancini, composer of many of Hepburn's film's soundtracks, said that the song, Moon River, which she sang undubbed in the movie, was written with her in mind. "It suited her sad, wistful nature." She was beguiling in designer dresses inspired by de Givenchy.

Harry Stradling, Sr. (cinematographer) and Audrey Hepburn on the set of My Fair Lady

Hepburn's next starring role and one with some controversy, was in My Fair Lady, said to be the most anticipated movie since Gone With the Wind (1964). Hepburn was cast as "Eliza Doolittle," the street peddler who is taken in under Professor Higgin's tutelage on a bet that he can transform her from street urchin to high society "lady." Julie Andrews had originated the role on Broadway and the press played up a rivalry between the two stars during the Academy Awards season later that year. Regardless of whether she deserved the part or not, Hepburn received excellent reviews for her work. Movie critic Gene Ringgold said of her performance, "Audrey Hepburn is magnificent. She is Eliza for the ages." Despite any supposed rivalry, the stars reportedly got along well. Julie Andrews proceeded to win "Best Actress" for Mary Poppins that year.

From 1967 onward, after fifteen highly successful years in film, Hepburn acted only occasionally. Two For The Road, directed by Stanley Donen and also starring Albert Finney was a non-linear and innovative movie about divorce. Wait Until Dark in 1967, co-starring Richard Crenna, was a difficult film to do. Produced by husband Mel Ferrer, he and Hepburn were on the verge of divorce throughout the production. The movie, an edgy thriller in which Hepburn played the part of a blind woman being stalked, was another one for which she received an Academy Award nomination. Hepburn's last starring role in a cinematic film was with Ben Gazzara in the comedy They All Laughed, directed by Peter Bogdanovich. Although a critical success, the film was overshadowed by the murder of one of its stars, Bogdanovich's girlfriend, Dorothy Stratten.

Marriages and Motherhood

Hepburn's marriage to Mel Ferrer lasted for fourteen years, ending in 1968. Motherhood did not come easily to her, most likely due to the poor nutrition she received as a child during the war. She suffered three miscarriages, the first in March of 1955, and one in 1959. Her son Sean was born in 1960. She suffered her final miscarriage in 1965. Her marriage to Ferrer soon ended with her son later commenting, "She stayed in the marriage too long."

Hepburn and her partner Robert Wolders at the White House in 1981

In 1969, Hepburn married Andrea Dotti, an Italian psychiatrist, after meeting him on a Greek cruise. In 1970, when she was pregnant with her second son, Luca, she was confined to bed rest and spent much of her time painting. The marriage lasted 13 years. Both of Hepburn's marriages were plagued by infidelities and were shadowed, also, by her own broken relationship with her father. Nevertheless, motherhood was a high priority to her; she seemed to regard it as a way to heal her own childhood.

At the time of her death, she was the companion of Robert Wolders, a former actor and the widower of actress, Merle Oberon. Although, they never married they were both dedicated co-workers and partners who planned many UNICEF trips together. Wolders was present at every speech given by Hepburn as UNICEF spokesperson, and sometimes shed tears as well.

Work for UNICEF

Hepburn receiving UNICEF's International Danny Kaye Award for Children in 1989

Soon after Hepburn's final film role, she was appointed a special ambassador to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). Due to the losses in her own childhood, she was very cognizant of how important a good childhood was to emotional fulfillment later. She observed in children that they were not just hungry physically, as they certainly were in countries plagued by famine, but they were hungry emotionally as well. She dedicated the rest of her life to helping the children of the world's poorest nations. Those close to her say that the thoughts of dying, helpless children consumed her for the rest of her life.

Hepburn's travels were made easier by her wide knowledge of languages. In addition to English, she spoke French, Italian, Dutch, and Spanish. Her first Field Mission was to Ethiopia in 1988. Next, she traveled to Turkey on a successful immunization campaign.

In October of that year, she toured the South American countries, Venezuela and Ecuador. She reported her findings to United States Congress:

"I saw tiny mountain communities, slums, and shantytowns receive water systems for the first time by some miracle—and the miracle is UNICEF."

Hepburn toured Central America in February, 1989, and met with chiefs in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. In April, Hepburn visited Sudan with Robert Wolders as part of a mission called "Operation Lifeline." Due to civil war, food from aid agencies had been cut off. The mission was to ferry food to southern Sudan. Hepburn reported her findings saying:

"I saw but one glaring truth: These are not natural disasters but man-made tragedies for which there is only one man-made solution—peace."

In October, Hepburn and Wolders went to Bangladesh. John Isaac, a UN photographer, said, "Often the kids would have flies all over them, but she would just go hug them33other people had a certain amount of hesitation, but she would just grab them. Children would just come up to hold her hand, touch her—she was like the Pied Piper."

In October of 1990, Hepburn went to Vietnam in an effort to collaborate with the government for national UNICEF-supported immunization and clean water programs.

In September of 1992, four months before her passing, Hepburn's final tour of duty was to Somalia. Hepburn called it "apocalyptic" and said:

"I walked into a nightmare. Along the road,33near every camp—there are graves everywhere."

Though filled with rage and sorrow over what she witnessed in these countries, Hepburn kept hope until the end of her life. She believed that,

"Taking care of children has nothing to do with politics. I think perhaps with time, instead of there being a politicization of humanitarian aid, there will be a humanization of politics."

Final year

In the final months of her life Hepburn completed two entertainment-related projects: she hosted a television documentary series entitled Gardens of the World with Audrey Hepburn, which debuted on PBS the day of her death, and she also recorded an album, Audrey Hepburn's Enchanted Tales featuring readings of classic children's stories, which would win her a posthumous Grammy Award.

In late 1992, Hepburn began to feel pains in her abdomen, which turned out to be a rare form of cancer that originated in the appendix. Hepburn had surgery in a Los Angeles hospital, but the cancer continued to spread and doctors decided that another surgery would not help. (Hepburn had been a lifelong smoker. That addiction may have come to her at great cost; studies have found that women who smoke are forty percent more likely to die from colorectal cancer than women who never have smoked.[2]

Hepburn died of colorectal cancer on January 20, 1993, in Tolochenaz, Vaud, Switzerland, and was interred there. She was 63.


Audrey Hepburn to this day is a beauty and fashion icon. She has often been called one of the most beautiful women of all time.

Hepburn attributed much of her success to having good screen writers and directors. Upon receiving the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award in 1992, she stated, "I was born with something that appealed to an audience at that particular time33I acted instinctively. I've had one of the greatest schools of all—a whole row of great, great directors." Her son, Sean, in his biography of his mother said of her talent, "It's what came across between the lines,33the speech of her heart and the inflection of pure intentions."

Audrey Hepburn won the 1953 Academy Award for Best Actress for Roman Holiday. She was nominated for Best Actress four more times; for Sabrina, The Nun's Story, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and Wait Until Dark.

For her 1967 nomination, the Academy chose her performance in Wait Until Dark over her critically acclaimed performance in Two For The Road. She lost to Katharine Hepburn (in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner).

Audrey Hepburn was one of the few people who have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an ,and a Tony Award.

  • Academy Award: Best Actress for Roman Holiday (1954)
  • Tony Award: Best Actress for Ondine (1954) and Special Achievement award (1968).
  • Grammy Award: Best Spoken Word Album for Children (1993) for Audrey Hepburn's Enchanted Tales (posthumous).
  • Emmy Award: Outstanding Individual Achievement - Informational Programming (1993) for the "Flower Gardens" episode of her documentary series, Gardens of the World (posthumous).

In addition, Hepburn won the Henrietta Award in 1955, for the world's favorite actress and the Cecil B. DeMille Award in 1990. [3]

In 1960, she was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her work in motion pictures. Her star is at 1652 Vine Street.[4]

In December 1992, one month before her death, Hepburn received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work with UNICEF. This is the highest award a civilian can receive.

In 1993, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded her The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for her public service contributions. This was awarded posthumously, and her son accepted the award on her behalf.

In 2003, the United States Postal Service issued a stamp honoring her as a Hollywood legend and humanitarian. The commemorative stamp pictures a drawing of her based on a publicity photo from the movie Sabrina. Hepburn is one of the few non-Americans to be so honored.

In 2006, the Sustainable Style Foundation inaugurated the Style & Substance Award in Honor of Audrey Hepburn to recognize high profile individuals that work to improve the quality of life for children around the world. The first award was given to Ms. Hepburn posthumously and was received by the Audrey Hepburn Children's Fund.

Hepburn was featured in clothing retailer GAP's commercial which ran from September 7, 2006, to October 5 2006. The commercial featured clips of her dancing from Funny Face, set to AC/DC's Back in Black song, with the tagline "It's Back—The Skinny Black Pant." To celebrate its "Keep it Simple" campaign, GAP made a sizable donation to the Audrey Hepburn Children's Fund.[5]


Year Title Role 'Other notes
1952 The Secret People Nora Brentano
Monte Carlo Baby Linda Farrell Discovered by French novelist Colette during filming and cast as Gigi for the Broadway play
Nous irons a Monte Carlo Melissa Walter French version of Monte Carlo Baby (with different cast).
1953 Roman Holiday Princess Ann Academy Award Winner; Golden Globe Winner; BAFTA Award Winner; New York Film Critics Circle Award Winner
1954 Sabrina Sabrina Fairchild Academy Award Nomination; BAFTA Award Nomination
1956 War and Peace Natasha Rostov Golden Globe Nomination; BAFTA Award Nomination
1957 Funny Face Jo
Love in the Afternoon Ariane Chavasse/Thin Girl Golden Globe Nomination; Golden Laurel Winner
1959 Green Mansions Rima Directed by Mel Ferrer
The Nun's Story Sister Luke (Gabrielle van der Mal) Academy Award Nomination; Golden Globe Nomination; BAFTA Award Winner; New York Film Critics Circle Winner; Zulueta Prize Winner
1960 The Unforgiven Rachel Zachary
1961 Breakfast at Tiffany's Holly Golightly Academy Award Nomination
The Children's Hour Karen Wright
1963 Charade Regina Lampert Golden Globe Nomination; BAFTA Award Winner
1964 Paris, When It Sizzles Gabrielle Simpson
My Fair Lady Eliza Doolittle Golden Globe Nomination
1966 How to Steal a Million Nicole Bonnet
1967 Two For The Road Joanna Wallace Golden Globe Nomination
Wait Until Dark Susy Hendrix Academy Award Nomination; Golden Globe Nomination
1976 Robin and Marian Lady Marian
1979 Bloodline Elizabeth Roffe
1981 They All Laughed Angela Niotes
1989 Always Hap

Television and Theater

Year Title Role Other notes
1949 High Button Shoes Chorus Girl Musical Theatre
Sauce Tartare Chorus Girl Musical Theatre
1950 Sauce Piquante Featured Player Musical Theatre
1951 Gigi Gigi Opened on Broadway at the Fulton Theatre, November 24, 1951
1952 CBS Television Workshop Episode entitled "Rainy Day at Paradise Junction"
1954 Ondine Water Nymph Opened on Broadway, February 18 - June 26. Tony Award Winner - Best Actress. Costarring Mel Ferrer
1957 Mayerling Maria Vetsera Producers' Showcase live production. Costarring Mel Ferrer as Prince Rudolf. Released theatrically in Europe.
1987 Love Among Thieves Baroness Caroline DuLac Television movie.
1993 Gardens of the World with Audrey Hepburn Herself PBS miniseries; Emmy Award Winner - Outstanding Individual Achievement - Informational Programming


  1. Scott Harris, From the Archives: Audrey Hepburn, Actress and Humanitarian, Dies Sun Sentinel, January 21, 1993 . Retrieved July 27, 2022.
  2. Inger T. Gram et al., Smoking-Related Risks of Colorectal Cancer by Anatomical Subsite and Sex Am J Epidemiol. 189(6) (June 2020): 543–553. Retrieved July 27, 2022.
  3. Audrey Hepburn: Awards Internet Movie Database. Retrieved July 27, 2022.
  4. Audrey Hepburn Hollywood Walk of Fame. Retrieved July 27, 2022.
  5. Bill Desowitz, Audrey Hepburn Helps ‘Keep it Simple’ in Gap Spots Animation World Network, September 6, 2006. Retrieved July 27, 2022.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Hepburn, Sean Ferrer. Audrey Hepburn, An Elegant Spirit: A Son Remembers. New York: Atria, 2003, ISBN 0283073853
  • Paris, Barry. Audrey Hepburn. New York: Putnam, 1996. ISBN 0425182126
  • Maychick, Diana. Audrey Hepburn: An Intimate Portrait. Citadel Press, 1996. ISBN 0806580003
  • Spoto, Donald. Enchantment: The Life of Audrey Hepburn. Harmony, 2006. ISBN 0307237583

External links

All links retrieved August 21, 2023.


New World Encyclopedia writers and editors rewrote and completed the Wikipedia article in accordance with New World Encyclopedia standards. This article abides by terms of the Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License (CC-by-sa), which may be used and disseminated with proper attribution. Credit is due under the terms of this license that can reference both the New World Encyclopedia contributors and the selfless volunteer contributors of the Wikimedia Foundation. To cite this article click here for a list of acceptable citing formats.The history of earlier contributions by wikipedians is accessible to researchers here:

The history of this article since it was imported to New World Encyclopedia:

Note: Some restrictions may apply to use of individual images which are separately licensed.