Audrey Hepburn’s life had more turmoil, sadness, disappointment and some very hard years than her calm demeanor would suggest. She’s thought of as a movie star of the highest order, a style icon and a classic beauty, and she was all of those things, but she was also a wife (a couple times) a mother (also a couple times) and a humanitarian who was compelled to repay kindnesses she had experienced.
Mostly, she had much more depth than any movie screen or fashion magazine could ever convey…we’re going to need two episodes to tell this inspiring story.
Born Audrey Kathleen Ruston on May 4, 1929, in Brussels, Belgium, she was the only child of Ella Van Heemstra and Joseph Ruston. Mama was a Dutch Baroness…Papa liked that Mama was a Baroness, and Audrey had two older half-brothers from her mother’s first marriage. Joseph, looking for aristocracy of his own, dug deep and squinted into his ancestry and found a (weak) connection James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, and third husband to Mary Queen of Scots. Joseph hyphenated it into his name, so his child, Audrey, had it hyphenated in her own. Both of Audrey’s parents had pre-WWII ties to fascist organizations, but (and we lay out the theories as to why in the episode) Joseph bailed on his family when she was only six.
(Most of the media recommendations will be on part 2, but here is a link to A Night at the Garden, Nazi’s weren’t only in Europe.)
Audrey was a quiet child who loved to play outside, but really, really…really loved to ballet dance. She wanted to be a ballerina and took as many classes as possible until War broke out. Ella thought her family would be safest in Arnhem, a town south of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. She was wrong. Germany invaded and Audrey lived in a war zone for most of her childhood. During the war, she danced to raise money and acted as a courier to help the Dutch resistance. Mostly she survived which is more than could be said for a lot of people in the Netherlands including a girl who was exactly her age, living through exactly the same terrifying war down the road in Amsterdam- Anne Frank.
When the war finally ended and she attempted to resume her ballet training Audrey had to face the facts: Malnutrition during the war had hurt her body, the years she had missed training put her put her too far behind. And, at 5’7″, she was at the high end of height for a ballet dancer, but she was a perfect to model, do theater work, and film acting. She was 18 when she appeared in her very first film, Dutch in Seven Lessons.
She was able to dance in her second film, Secret People:
Five movies, and several theatrical productions later, Audrey was filming in Monaco for another movie you’ve probably never heard of, Monte Carlo Baby, when the eccentric author, Colette, spotted her. Audrey was the embodiment of Gigi, a character from a novel she wrote. Collette wanted Audrey to Gigi in the just-being-cast Broadway play.
Audrey’s life took a huge turn with two productions that you probably have heard of. First to New York to begin rehearsing (and learning how to stage act) for Gigi, and then auditioning for a Hollywood movie, Roman Holiday. She was also planning her wedding to a very wealthy man with a very big, little black book, James Hanson.
The play was a success, the movie was a success, the marriage was called off, and Audrey’s star was sent into the celebrity stratosphere when she won an Academy Award for Best Actress in Roman Holiday, AND a Tony for her performance in Gigi.
All media recommendations will be on the shownotes for part two.
It didn’t seem right to put this video in the middle of talking about WWII…so here is the hyphenated-name egg-roll piece that we promised you: