Biographies & Memoirs



“Audrey [had] grace and manners—things you cannot take a course in. She could say something risque, but the way she did it had an elegance that you could not, under any circumstances, mistake for Madonna reading the line. What is needed to really become a star is an extra element that God gives or doesn’t give you. You cannot learn it. She just was blessed. God kissed her on her cheek, and there she was.”


AUDREY HEPBURN, AT SIXTY-THREE, WAS RUNNING OUT OF GAS. In Los Angeles, Sean and Rob immediately checked her into Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where three days later, on November 2, 1992, she underwent surgery. A malignant tumor required the partial removal of her colon and a hysterectomy. The cancer had begun in her appendix—ex—tremely unusual—and then formed a vise around the colon. The situation was quite serious, but her physicians were initially optimistic. “There is a strong feeling,” said a hospital spokesman, “that surgeons removed all of the malignancy and that none of her organs were compromised.”

The tabloids sensationally claimed otherwise. The National Enquirer said her cancer could not be treated and that she only had three months to live.

“I spoke with her after the operation,” said Hubert de Givenchy. “She was dumbfounded that she had cancer. She had been convinced that she had contracted a virulent amoebic infection during her work in [Somalia]. She was so totally loved that I never stopped hearing from friends—and strangers—who knew of such and such a doctor who could save her. ‘Go see him,’ they would say. ‘We’re all going to fight this together.’”

Luca flew from Rome to Los Angeles. He and Sean and Rob felt the same, to the point of denial: They would all somehow find a way to lick it.

Audrey’s own reaction was colorful and controversial, under the circumstances. According to a family member, when told she had cancer, she just said stoically, “Oh, shit.” Mel Ferrer denies that and says Sean does too. Wolders says, “I remember more than anything, not what she said, but her trying to make it easier for us by trying to make light of it.”1 Later, she once broke down and asked Sean, “Where am I going to get the courage?”2 But most of the time she was tremendously brave.

Among those rallying to her cause was Leonard Gershe, who thought humor might be the best medicine:

“When she was in the hospital, I spoke to Rob and he said, ‘If they’d only stop sending flowers, each one vying with the next for the bigger arrangement. There’s no room. She barely knows who sent what.’ I wanted, if I could, to make her laugh, so I sent her Madonna’s Sex book with a card saying, ‘Flowers fade away, but great works of art live forever.’ Later, she called me: ‘Lenny, you made me the most popular patient in the hospital. Doctors I never heard of were stopping in. Luca will not get off my bed.’ Sending it to Lana Turner wouldn’t have been funny. But for Audrey, it was funny—like sending it to Queen Elizabeth.”3

But her condition deteriorated with shocking speed. Just a day or so after the initial surgery, it was learned that the cancer had spread to her stomach. A medical team at that point implanted a Hickman catheter in her chest to administer chemotherapy and painkillers. She had a strong desire to leave the hospital and try to recuperate at Connie Wald’s, which, toward the end of November, she was allowed to do.

“I couldn’t believe she was so ill,” says R. J. Wagner, who initialized their conversations in more ways than one. “To the very last, I’d call her up and say, ‘A?’ She’d say, ‘R? Are you okay?’ I’d say, ‘Fine. I love you so much.’ She’d say, ‘I love you too. Goodbye, R.’ I’d say, ‘Goodbye, A.’ ”4

Rob and Sean asked the doctors not to tell Audrey the extent of the disease—certainly not that it was terminal. In fact, they themselves were not aware of the full truth. “The National Enquirer bribed someone in the operating room,” says Rob, “and they had a more detailed report in that damned magazine than we were given! Sean, Luca and I made a statement saying Audrey was going to be all right, and the public tended to believe us rather than the Enquirer. But it was one occasion where they were speaking the truth and we were telling the lie. We made up the lie to give ourselves strength.”

UNICEF, for its part, was in full denial and refused to acknowledge she was gravely ill until the last possible moment.

In early December 1992, as if she hadn’t enough to worry about, it was time for the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Audrey had been selected for the honor much earlier, but the White House was only now getting around to the arrangements. Just a few days after Audrey’s release from the hospital, Rob got a call at Connie’s house from Laurie Firestone, George Bush’s personal secretary, asking if Audrey could speak to the President.

“I said, ‘It’s difficult,’” Wolders relates. “‘In her room, there is no phone.’ ” Bush then asked to speak with Wolders, who explained and asked if he could hold on. “‘By all means, take all the time you need,’ he said. I went to Audrey’s room and she did come and take the call. But it didn’t sink in with Bush just how ill she was. His last words to her were, ‘I’ll be seeing you in two weeks then.’ And she said, ‘I’ll be there if I can.’ ”

When they were in Bangladesh together, recalls John Isaac, “Audrey asked me my beliefs [about death] and I said, ‘I think I have the right to decide about my own life.’ She said, ‘For me, the same. I wouldn’t want to be dragged on.’ When she decided not to go through chemotherapy, I told Rob and Sean about this discussion. They believed she should go through with it—maybe there was a chance. But she didn’t want that.”5

On December 9, Audrey went back into the hospital for new exploratory surgery that revealed nothing more could be done. Christmas was not far off. She wanted to see Switzerland and La Paisible for the holidays, and Rob and Sean decided to take her home. On the night they left, December 20, they asked a few of her closest friends to come by Connie Wald’s to say goodbye. Billy Wilder describes the scene:

She, Rob, the nurse and the dogs were all staying at Connie’s. She wanted to say goodbye to me and Aud, and also to Gregory Peck and Véronique. She was in a white blouse, I remember, and was smiling all the time. But once in a while, she pushed her elbow into something under the blouse which injected the morphine, because she did not want us to see her suffering. She pushed it to release the drip.

Meanwhile, Rob was organizing the big limousine to get the dogs and the nurse and the luggage in. We said goodbye and went outside, and there behind Connie’s big palm trees on Beverly Drive was a cameraman. Peck got very angry and said, ‘You leave now or I’ll call the police,’ and the guy disappeared. It was very emotional. The end was never mentioned, but we all knew it was hopeless.6

Much to Rob’s relief, Givenchy had arranged to lease a private Gulf-stream jet for the trip to Switzerland, thus sparing Audrey the hassle and publicity of a commercial airliner. It left Los Angeles carrying a woman who now weighed less than ninety pounds and relied on intravenous morphine to relieve her pain.

Faithful Christa Roth went to see her the day after she returned to Tolochenaz, and found her in pretty good spirits. “I’m so glad I’m home,” she told her. “I can see my trees again.” It was a cold but beautiful Swiss December, and Roth came regularly to chat and bundle her up and take her for walks in the garden. “She would still go into the garden every day, even when she was very ill,” says Doris Brynner. “That was her biggest pleasure until those shit photographers took that away from her.”7 The paparazzi lay in wait behind the fence and took grim photos.

“I came to love Doris a great deal more in those last few months,” says Rob. “She was extraordinary with Audrey and helped her tremendously. Doris came through for her.”

On Christmas Eve, at Rob’s request, Audrey did a little reading for Sean and Luca of Time-Tested Beauty Tips, author Sam Levenson’s wise letter-poem to his grandchild:

For attractive lips, speak words of kindness.

For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people.

For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry.

For beautiful hair, let a child run his fingers through it once a day.

For poise, walk with the knowledge you’ll never walk alone....

People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed and

redeemed and redeemed....

Never throw out anybody.

Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you’ll find one at the end of your arm.

As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands. One for helping yourself,

the other for helping others.

She told her sons, “You are the two best creations I ever made.”8 Wolders felt she summoned superhuman courage to help him and the boys deal with losing her: “She didn’t leave until she knew we were in full accord about everything. She died, not leaving anything unsolved. She became almost stronger than the disease.... It never altered her character. There was no bitterness, not for a moment.”

Sean Ferrer agrees. “She left everything in perfect order,” he says, “as if she knew she wasn’t going to be around long.”

The prospect of death did not frighten her?

“No,” Sean replies. “We were much more angry about it than she was, about the fact that it was so unjust. She said, ‘It’s not injustice, it’s the way nature is. It has nothing to do with me or with injustice. It’s the process.’ ”9

They all agreed to celebrate Christmas, as usual, and Rob had gone to the village to get some gifts. “The feeling of desolation,” he says, “—to be there by myself just before Christmas. The merchants kept asking, ‘How is madame?’ Those were the saddest hours, the Christmas shopping. I came back extremely down and Audrey said, ‘What’s the matter?’ I said, ‘It was horrible to be in town without you.’ She was quietly angry with me because it meant I was losing courage—that if she left me, she would be responsible for my unhappiness. There was a parallel in her attitude and in Merle’s.”

On Christmas Day, Audrey came downstairs, with difficulty, and presented everyone with a little gift. “She gave me a beautiful Givenchy scarf,” says Christa Roth. The day went well and, at the end of it, Rob took her back upstairs.

“That last Christmas is one of the most wonderful recollections for me,” he says. “It was so important to her to have the boys and me together. We were able to sleep in the same bed until the day she died, and once we shut out the lights, we were in our own world and felt very peaceful. It was just us. I remember that voice in the dark saying, ‘This is the happiest Christmas I’ve ever had.’”

ONLY A WEEK or so before her death, she called Michael Tilson Thomas, whose parents had recently died within a few weeks of each another. “You’re so lucky,” Audrey told him. “If only I could have loved my parents as freely as you did yours.” He tried to express his concern for her, but she wouldn’t talk about herself: “It was, ‘Are you all right, Michael? I’m sorry I haven’t contacted you sooner. You must take strength in your music.’ So typical of her gentility and enormous care.”10

Hubert de Givenchy arrived from Paris. “They were so, so close,” says Leslie Caron. “There was a deep symbiosis between them.” On their last stroll together in her garden, she had to rest every ten steps. There, Givenchy recalled, “I noticed the fragrance of apples. I had to know where it came from, so I asked a servant. A part of the cellar was filled by the harvest of the previous autumn, which they were preparing to send, at Audrey’s wish, as in previous years, to the Salvation Army. She thought constantly of others.”11

As a last gift, she had bought three quilted coats, one for Sean, one for Rob and a navy-blue one for Hubert. As Givenchy was leaving, she asked for the coat to be brought to her and presented it to him, touching her lips to it with a little kiss and murmuring, “Think of me when you wear it.”12

Around New Year’s of 1993, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that Audrey (and Elizabeth Taylor) would be the recipient of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the next Oscar ceremony in April. But that was eons away in time and space. More immediate was the Screen Actors Guild Achievement Award, which she was to receive in Hollywood on January 10. She had sent an acceptance letter to be read by Julia Roberts, whose character in Pretty Woman at one point drifts off to sleep in a hotel room while watching Charade. “One would never fall asleep watching Audrey Hepburn,” Roberts apologized, and then read Hepburn’s last public statement:

As a child I was taught that it was bad manners to draw attention to yourself and make a spectacle of yourself. I then went on to make a rather nice living doing just that—with a little help from the greatest directors, the best writers, the most fabulous stars, glorious photography, terrific scores, super clothes, and the best crews in the industry. My job was to be on time and know my lines. [Others] helped and honed, triggered and taught, pushed and pulled, ... guided and nurtured a totally unknown, insecure, inexperienced, skinny broad into a marketable commodity. I am proud to have been in a business that gives pleasure, creates beauty and awakens our conscience, arouses compassion and perhaps most importantly, gives millions a respite from our so violent world.

In Switzerland that same day, January 10, Audrey took her last walk around the gardens at La Paisible, supported by Rob and Doris, stopping at each plot to remind them what was planted there and what kind of attention it would require come spring.

“Those last weeks would have been sheer hell if it hadn’t been for Audrey’s attitude,” says Rob. “Even a few days before her death she was trying to make me laugh and said, ‘Smile for me, Robbie.’ I tried, for her sake.”

Of the pain, she would say, “It’s not that bad,” but even with medication, it was terrible. At last, when she was slipping in and out of consciousness, Sean remembered, “She kept saying people were expecting her—angels or Amish people working in the fields were waiting for her.”13 Rob clarifies:

They turned up the morphine, and the progress of the disease was resulting in hallucinations—but almost always peaceful ones. At one point, Audrey and I were together and she was looking intently at my side of the bed. I said, “What do you see?” She said, “It’s very beautiful.... like something from that Peter Weir movie.” I said, “Witness?” She adored that film and talked about it a lot. “Yes,” she said, “they’re all simple, spiritual-looking people.”

She was very calm. “I’m sorry, but I’m ready to go,” she told Luca.14 In the end, she survived the first operation by just seventy-nine days—even less than the three months her doctors had predicted. Audrey Hepburn died at home at seven p.m. on Wednesday, January 20, 1993.

INEVITABLY, there was more guilt and more hindsight.

“Would it have been better for Audrey to have been at home all the time, instead of having to deal with an American hospital and the National Enquirer?” Rob wonders. “I keep going around in circles. I had so many misgivings. About three weeks before her death, I asked Audrey, ‘Would it have been better, instead of working for UNICEF, if we would just have been together here with the dogs?’ She said, ‘Think of all we would have missed. Think of what we did together!’ But I had to ask myself, if she hadn’t done it, would that have been better for her?”

There is no answer, of course. It is equally possible that Hepburn’s UNICEF work prolonged, rather than shortened, her life.

Wolders speaks of a certain existential angst she had—not about death but about life, and “living it correctly.” Her ASPCA friend Roger Caras observes, “You can come out of her kind of background one of two ways, hard or soft. She came out soft. She wasn’t hardened by her difficult experiences in life.”15

Sean recalls that, “My mother used to say, ‘Let us say that we are sitting in our house and we hear the terrible sound of screeching tires ... and we run outside and find that a child has been hit by a car.... You pick him up and you run all the way to the hospital. You don’t stop and wonder who ran the red light or who should have looked both ways before crossing.’”16

Audrey cited the same parable to reporter Alan Riding when he asked her if she was “a person of faith.”

“Enormous faith,” she replied, “but it’s not attached to any one particular religion.... My mother was one thing, my father was another, in Holland they were all Calvinists. That has no importance at all to me.... The minute something happens to a child, you pick it up and take it to a hospital. You don’t think about religion or politics.”17

Her mother’s Christian Scientism was not a huge influence on her, “but something about it might have remained with her,” says Rob, “perhaps involving an acceptance of fate. She never talked about religion. Not long before her death I brought it up, and she said, ‘My only religion is a belief in nature.’”

She said many things in her last weeks, says Sean, but one stands out most memorably: “The last time we all walked in the garden, Giovanni, her gardener, came up and said, ‘Signora, when you get better, you’ll come and help me to trim and to plant again.’ She smiled and said, ‘Don’t worry, Giovanni, I will help you—but not like before.’ ”18

AUDREY HEPBURN’S death occurred on the day of President Bill Clinton’s inauguration and interrupted all the news broadcasts of those proceedings. It was also, oddly enough, the day on which rock ‘n’ roll was declared the official music of the White House. There was no connection—except that four United States presidents sent letters of condolence to Rob Wolders.

The day she died, Tiffany’s stores around the world put her photograph in their windows and placed memorial advertisements saying only: AUDREY HEPBURN—OUR HUCKLEBERRY FRIEND——1929-1993.

By coincidence on the following day, January 21, Audrey was seen by millions in the first of PBS-TV’s six-part Gardens of the World series. Many papers carried the Garden reviews and Audrey’s obituary in the same issue. The show was “off the charts,” producer Janis Blackschleger recalls: “We were in complete denial. We were insisting on this life-affirming statement she made in Gardens, and we had a lot of ads we were planning to do for the series. But still, to this day, it just doesn’t feel right to say ‘the late’ Audrey Hepburn.”

For Anna Cataldi, the news and the denial were even more intense. After parting with Audrey in Somalia, she had gone on immediately to Bosnia to observe the UNICEF-proposed ceasefire for which Audrey had made a video appeal, with Serbo-Croatian subtitles, that was broadcast twelve times a day in Yugoslavia.

“I went to Bosnia because of Audrey,” says Cataldi. “She did an appeal for the ‘Week of Tranquility’ at the end of October, to help the children in Sarajevo before winter arrived. There she was on TV—when we had electricity—such a vision. I think if Audrey had been well, she would have gone to Sarajevo herself.”

Cataldi stayed there a month before escaping by car with two other journalists and a ten-month-old baby with an amputated leg. “They shot at us,” she says, “but we drove through the mountains and finally we arrived in Croatia, where there was peace. I saw a little restaurant. I’d been cut off from the world.... My first call was to my family. The second was to Audrey. I was going to tell her that I saved a baby, which I knew would make her happy. I said, ‘Giovanna, give me la Signora.’”

But la Signora could not come to the phone, and Anna would not see her again.

Cataldi arrived in Tolochenaz the night before the funeral. “The house was full of people—Givenchy, all the Ferrers, the Dotti clan, everybody,” she recalls. “At one point, Giovanna said, ‘La Signora ... she is in the living room.’ I opened the door, nobody there. In the middle of the room was Audrey’s coffin, closed. That beautiful white living room—white floor and couches, impeccable, everything exactly the way Audrey kept it. Just one little vase with one rose.”19

In Tolochenaz, funerals were not allowed on Sunday, but the rules had been changed. A huge number of people lined the way from the house to the church, and from there to the cemetery. Audrey’s simple pine coffin was carried from La Paisible to the church by Sean, Luca, Givenchy, Rob, Audrey’s brother Ian, and her longtime friend and lawyer Georges Müller. Mel Ferrer, seventy-five, walked behind them. Sean saw him waiting in line. “Come, Papa,” he said, hugging his father as they entered the stone church.20 Some six hundred villagers listened outside via loudspeaker to the service presided over by eighty-three-year-old pastor Maurice Eindiguer, who had married Audrey and Mel in 1954, baptized Sean in 1960, and given Audrey the last rites just two hours before her death.

Rob had asked UNICEF’s Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan to deliver a eulogy, and he did so with extemporaneous eloquence. “She was an extraordinary star in every sense of the word,” said the Prince, who had known and loved her from their first meeting after a performance of Ondine forty years before. He spoke of what she symbolized to the world—of her ability to touch everyone who came in contact with her and of her insistence that the welfare of the children was the adult world’s most solemn responsibility.

“To know the affluence of places like California and then suddenly to be placed in the Sudan was a tremendous shock,” he said. “When she came back from one of those trips, you could see it had taken a lot out of her, physically and morally. But at the same time, she felt we could somehow turn things around. She kept going. Always, there was her underlying optimism.”21

Sean then read the Sam Levenson poem she liked so much and added, “Mummy believed in one thing above all: She believed in love. She believed love could heal, fix, mend, and make everything fine and good in the end.”

At the end of the thirty-minute ceremony, hymns were sung by a children’s choir from St. Georges International School in Montreux. At the village cemetery, she was laid to rest atop a small hill overlooking Lake Geneva. Her grave would be marked by a plain pinewood cross.

“SHE LEFT the biggest vacuum anybody could leave,” says Doris Brynner. “A great big black empty hole.”22 But it was Audrey’s “three men” that Anna Cataldi worried about most. She speaks of them with maternal bluntness:

“One hour after the funeral, Sean was putting on the California New Age act, talking so esoterically. And poor Luca, just out of art school.... When my book, Letters from Sarajevo, came out in Italy, he did the cover design. He’s very good. When Luca was with Andrea, he was shy. But when he was with Audrey, he behaved like a Hell’s Angel, speaking Italian with an accent of Roman suburbs, in front of his mother! ... But can you imagine, to lose a mother like Audrey?”23

John Isaac says “Robert was completely devastated. He was pretty strong until the last moment when they lowered the coffin. That’s the first time I saw him just break down.”

All those men without Audrey—Rob, Sean, Andrea, Luca. “Audrey was the focus,” says Anna. “She was surrounded by men.”

Audrey had called Sean “my best friend”—mature even as a child. “He’s been a rock in my life, enormous support,” she said. “He was born with a marvelous nature. He’s one of the nicest human beings I’ve ever met.... I’m totally crazy about my sons.” The feeling was mutual. “I still carry her every day in my heart,” he says, “so she is still my best friend, too.”24 A year after her death, in Tolochenaz, Sean Ferrer assesses his mother in remarkably candid terms:

She always followed the program and her life was very continuous. She tried to get up and eat and take her walks and go to sleep at the same hour. She saved up strength like you would save up a handful of water for your last drink. Instead of using it to do commercials or whatever, she used it for the kids, because that’s what mattered to her.

I think that connects back to her childhood—to the loss of her father and the fears that never left her. First it was fear of a tough mother, fear of being alone and being abandoned by the father, fear of the war. And then she was damned scared all her life through her career. She was scared to death, man. She was scared to death.25

Was it a fear of potential loss?

No, of being up there, of having to perform—afraid she wasn’t good enough, wasn’t as beautiful as all the other women and had to work harder and know her lines better than anyone, get up earlier and have the best makeup person and the best costume man and the most beautiful clothes. They were almost like an armor in which she was protected....

In her case, the motivation was fear, and love for her family. From her youth, she never saw herself as we did. She thought it was a gift that could go away any day. Most artists believe that somehow they’re going to be “found out”—models most of all. They’re all glitz on the outside but on the inside they’re [trying] to keep up this exterior cupola that may crash if you remove the center stone....

That’s why people love her on the screen, because when she cries, she really is feeling it, really living through it. She is believing, reliving—she’s actually there. And you want to take her in your arms and hug her.26

Sean attended the March 1993 Oscar ceremonies to accept Audrey’s Jean Hersholt Award. “On her behalf,” he said, “I dedicate this to the children of the world”—his own, included. Soon after Audrey’s death, Sean and Leila learned they were about to become parents. “My God, how Audrey would have loved that!” Doris Brynner exclaimed. Emma Audrey Ferrer, born in Tolochenaz, inherited a closet of hand-embroidered baby clothes worn by her father and a nursery that was her grandmother’s dressing room.

“She missed seeing her first grandchild,” says Sean. “But there’s a little bit of her in that baby.”27

Sean Ferrer continues in the film-production business, commuting from Switzerland to Los Angeles and New York. Luca the graphic artist works with computers, shares his mother’s desire for privacy, and lives quietly with his boarding-school sweetheart, Astrid, in Paris.

Robert Wolders lives in the Rochester, New York, suburb of Irondequoit, near his mother and sister Claudia who, like his older sisters Margaret and Grada, were very close to Audrey. He travels a great deal, tending to commercial and UNICEF interests—and to the memory of Audrey Hepburn.

The Wolders home is an elegant “Dutch” environment in white. It is no maudlin shrine but contains enough images of Audrey to ensure that her presence is strongly felt. Something else ensures that in a lively way—tiny little “Missy,” the Jack Russell terrier who cuddles into the sleeves of Rob’s sweater and never leaves him as he sits and talks. Audrey gave him the dog five years ago, and Missy is a precious living link to her now.

Shortly after her death, Wolders was asked by UNICEF to put together a cdfilm from video footage he had taken in the field. The resulting documentary, Audrey Hepburn in Her Own Words, was modest in length (twenty-three minutes) but soaring in content—the most moving film record of her last years’ work. Soon after that, he immersed himself in the preparation of a marathon, three-hour “Audrey Hepburn Memorial Tribute” benefit concert at the United Nations General Assembly in New York—the most star-studded performing-arts event in UN history.* “They all came in without even a rehearsal,” Rob recalls. “Henry Mancini didn’t quite know what he was going to play. I kept begging him to do ‘Moon River.’ He heard Frederica von Stade was going to sing it and didn’t want to do it twice—but then he did it anyhow, with a ‘special stamp’ on it for Sean and Luca and me.”

Wolders’ business interests include a longtime association with Public Storage Partners, a conglomerate with its own management company, and he continues to give as much time as he can to UNICEF. But his friends worry about him.

“Every time we speak on the phone, he always comes back to, ‘Should I have done this or that?’” says John Isaac. “I say, you can’t blame yourself. You were helping her. That’s what she wanted. She did what she wanted.”

Wolders muses constantly on that, and on Audrey.

“They say the pain lessens with time,” he says. “But it’s not true.”

HEPBURN AND WOLDERS never married and kept their finances scrupulously separate. He had suffered after the death of Merle Oberon from false reports characterizing him as a gold digger, and he was determined not to let it happen again.

“People assume Audrey was wealthy, but they forget that she hadn’t worked for years and that she educated and supported her two children largely by herself,” Wolders says. “Long before her death, I insisted that I not be part of her estate.”

That decision startled Hepburn’s sons. But Wolders did agree to serve on the board of directors of a new foundation created by Sean and Luca to carry on their mother’s work.

The Audrey Hepburn Hollywood for Children Fund is located at 4 East 12th Street in New York’s Greenwich Village. “We originally thought we could become a subcommittee of UNICEF,” executive director Rose Ganguzza told film writer Maria Ciaccia. “But the bureaucracy was mind-boggling. We wanted to be able to work on things more efficiently, to be a storefront operation—to have a lasting effect, something ongoing and grass roots.”28 The Fund’s member-advisors include Martin Short, Whoopi Goldberg and Jim Carrey, plus many others who have never before loaned their names to such a cause.ce

UNICEF’s institutional nose is a little out of joint. “Our understanding at first was that we would be one of the beneficiaries,” says a UNICEF official, “but Sean has not yet made a clear decision where funding will be going. He wants to create a foundation to benefit various organizations, including places where UNICEF is not operating, like the United States and England. He wants it to be independent.”

Many, including the chief director’s father, think it should be relocated to the West Coast. “I’ve been giving Sean a lot of free advice,” says Mel Ferrer. “There’s no point calling it ‘Hollywood for Children’ and having it based in New York.”29

One of its goals is to be a conduit to other charities. The organization is still embryonic, but Hepburn’s sons are “caring individuals,” says Ganguzza, “and they’ll find the way. She left them her loving legacy. It’s a lot to live up to.”30

The sons are constantly asked to testify to that legacy, beyond just UNICEF. The little matter of her film career was at the forefront in 1994, with the $600,000 restoration of My Fair Lady. Over thirty years, the film had deteriorated to the point that it was in danger of total ruin. Its glorious color had faded and spotting of the negative was serious. Typical of the cinematic dermatology was a three-second spot on Audrey’s face, which cost $10,000 to fix. Film restoration experts Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz had done handsome reconstructions of Lawrence of Arabia and Spartacus, but My Fair Lady was an even bigger job—literally—the first rescue of a Super Panavision 70 film.

“I am so very moved,” Sean told the jammed audience at the My Fair Lady gala “re-premiere” in New York, September 19, 1994. “One day our little Emma will be able to look up and see her grandmother ... see her, feel her, and love her.”

Jeremy Brett, better known by then as PBS’s Sherlock Holmes, was one of the very few surviving costars in attendance. (“I got better notices for Freddy this time around than I did before,” he said.31) The refurbished print was gorgeous, but most in the audience felt the highlight of the night came during the final credits: As a fine postscript, the restorers added the soundtrack of Audrey’s own rendition of “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?”

Silenced for thirty years in the vaults, she finally got to sing it herself.

My FAIR LADY’S restoration was just the beginning. In the two years since, the postmortem fascination with Audrey Hepburn has burgeoned into a major cultural and commercial phenomenon. Countless Hepburn film retrospectives, on network and cable television and in theatrical screenings across the country, have recaptivated millions of old fans and created generations of new ones. What accounts for such renewed and renewable popularity? One simple answer comes from Patricia Davis, a program-scheduling executive at American Movie Classics: “You always felt good after you saw Audrey Hepburn.”32

Contemporary Hollywood, meanwhile, having fashioned a new Sabrina in 1995, is also planning a remake of Two for the Road, to star Meg Ryan and to be written by Carrie Fisher. A 1991 Asian-American film production by Sharon Jue was called My Mother Thought She Was Audrey Hepburn. The most worshipful new project, similarly titled, is Why Can’t I Be Audrey Hepburn?, a comedy tentatively set for production by Steven Spielberg’s new “Dreamworks SKG” company, with Téa Leoni starring as a woman obsessed by Hepburn. Producer Robert Evans has something similar in development called Golightly, whose heroine is fixated on Holly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Audrey-obsessed films and books seem to constitute a whole new genre. The most serious entry is Alan Brown’s novel, Audrey Hepburn’s Neck (Pocket Books, 1996), film rights to which have been bought by director Wayne (Smoke) Wang. In this tale, it’s not a woman but a young man who is mesmerized by Audrey. The setting is a semi-surreal Japan, where the rural womenfolk eat grilled eel while watching their beloved Hepburn movies.

Audrey isn’t the first film icon to be embraced by whole societies and woven into their artistic and psychological fabric. The Swedish sphinx preceded her and inspired such “personal” works of art as the fine Anne Bancroft film Garbo Talks and an intriguing novel The Girl Who Loved Garboby Rachel Gallagher. But otherwise, the only comparable icons are Valentino, Harlow, Dean and Monroe, whose cults have one great morbid prerequisite in common: an early, tragic, preferably violent death.

There was no such imperative in the case of Audrey Hepburn, whose sphere of influence went far beyond film. An au courant example is the list of “Most Fascinating Women of Our Time” in the July 1996 issue of Britain’s influential Harpers & Queen: The surprise is not Hepburn’s inclusion but her ranking—number one. That corresponds to her powerful, ongoing force in fashion and advertising. More à la mode now than ever, her look and her look-alikes again dominate the runways of Prada, Calvin Klein and, of course, Givenchy and Lauren, and adorn the toniest European and Madison Avenue advertisements from L’Interdit fragrance to Nicole Miller scarves. There’s no end to the phenomenon, but there’s a final item of note for the pop-music scene:

The thirty-five-year-old movie containing Audrey’s only smash musical success, “Moon River,” provided both the title and the whimsy for a major hit tune of 1996—the offbeat love song “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” by Texas band Deep Blue Something. Songwriter Todd Pipes, who was born well after the movie was made, estimates that he has seen it more than fifty times.

AUDREY WOULD NOT write her autobiography. Over and over she was asked, and over and over she said no. “In the last year,” she told Ed Klein, “I’ve had seven requests from publishers for the Audrey Hepburn story—you know, the definitive book. It’s an idea [I hate:] How boring to have to sit there and write your whole life.... The other thing that makes me hold back is that you cannot write your life as if you’d live in a [vacuum]. You’ve lived with lots of other people. So perforce you have to talk about others. I have no right to do that nor would I.”

And to other interviewers: “Memoirs? I don’t want to relive it, nor do I need the psychotherapy—get on with it!”33

Sean had encouraged her to write a book, “if for no one else, then for Luca and myself,” and because it might have guaranteed her financial security for the rest of her life. “But you and Luca already know everything,” she replied.

Her “three men” respected that decision. But after her death, a spate of Hepburn books appeared, one of which outraged and mobilized them into legal action: Diana Maychick’s Audrey Hepburn: An Intimate Portrait (Birch Lane Press, 1993), made much of Hepburn’s alleged anorexia, but its greater offense, in the family’s view, was Maychick’s claim that Audrey had actively cooperated with her in a series of phone interviews.

“Never, ever did Audrey speak with her,” Wolders insists. “I keep very careful records, and I even got hotel phone records where we stayed. Maychick claims to have had interviews when, in fact, Audrey was dying.” The suspect book was optioned for a possible TV miniseries, now stalled pending resolution of the Estate’s litigation against Maychick and her publisher.

Rob Wolders strokes little Missy on his lap and looks out his living-room window in Rochester at the ever-present snow, still on the ground in April. He has just read two other film-star biographies and is troubled by the problematic contrast he sees in trying to capture Hepburn’s life on the page.

“Audrey was in a sense an open book,” he says finally. “She was not enigmatic like Louise Brooks or Greta Garbo. There was a wonderful darkness in their personalities—a ‘mystery’ to be uncovered. There’s nothing like that with Audrey.”

Back in 1954, British critic Clayton Cole had called her not just a “weird hybrid with butchered hair” but also “insincere” as an actress.34 As the years went by, however, most people felt sincerity was her biggest asset. “Hepburn was first of all a human being,” says Eleanor Lambert.35 It was her personality more than her acting that made her a star.

Her early films were fairy tales, of course. “One would like to see her play stronger parts which would broaden her,” said a fan magazine in the early fifties. “Could she play the daughter in The Glass Menagerie or Sally in I Am a Camera? Only her future acting will answer that.”

The answer seems to have been no.

“I’ve never been driven,” she said, except “by the need to provide for my mother and myself.”36 Even that drive soon disappeared “because I had the luxury of not needing it. After Roman Holiday, the offers came in. It was not in my nature to be terribly ambitious or driven because I didn’t have the confidence.... My confidence came and went with each movie.”

A psychiatrist who “shrank” her for Good Housekeeping in 1959 asserted that her early life contained a dozen things that might have driven a less controlled person to an analyst.37 “She shared her joys with friends, but kept her unhappy moments to herself,” said Hubert de Givenchy.38 And at least she knew the source of her problems.

“People all have fears,” she said, “but mostly they are distant and unknown to them. They are afraid of death, which they haven’t gone through; they are afraid of getting cancer, which they don’t have; they are afraid of getting run over, which hasn’t happened. But I’ve known the cold clutch of human terror. I’ve seen it, I’ve felt it, I’ve heard it.”39

Phil Donahue jumped to the conclusion that “living under the Nazis left you very insecure?”

“That is not what left me insecure,” she answered. “My father leaving us is what left me insecure.40 [It] has stayed with me through my own relationships. When I fell in love and married, I lived in constant fear of being left.... Whatever you love most, you fear you might lose.”41

Yes, yes—she had always wanted the security of love and children more than her career. So much so, that she could never quite face or self-efface her enduring screen presence:

“Many years ago, my mother said to me, ‘Considering that you have no talent, it’s really extraordinary where you’ve got.’42 She said it in the middle of all the successes I was having. She wasn’t putting me down. She was saying how fortunate I was. She was right. I don’t have this huge talent. I’m not a Laurence Olivier or a Meryl Streep.... I landed in this business because I had to earn a living.43

“The acting was a surprise to me. It still is. I wanted to be a ballerina, that’s all.... It’s easier to be a shy ballerina than a shy actress. You don’t have to talk. You can hide yourself in your music and just forget about yourself. That I became an actress is something of an accident.”

Michael Tilson Thomas marvels at how realistic she was about her good fortune: “She said, ‘I didn’t really have to do much. I just had to be myself and it worked.’ She had the best head on her shoulders. She could easily have bought into Hollywood and everything that it represented. Instead, she emerged as what she was: Her integrity and personal qualities were more powerful than all the films and good works.”44

Hepburn’s total output (just twenty starring films in forty years) was as modest as Garbo’s (twenty-six), and of comparable impact. Also comparable were their continental ways, which seemed to evade a nationality, and their mesmerizing “low” voices: Garbo’s was nearly a baritone; Hepburn’s, a velvety contralto of “purred elegance,” said Peter Bogdanovich—a voice “that barely made the acquaintance of consonants,” as distinctive in accent as in the idiosyncratic way she used it.

“Audrey had a little speech pattern all her own,” says costar Eli Wallach. “Nobody else could do it.” Its tone had an unusual, emphatic kind of upward swing when she finished a sentence. Cecil Beaton called it “a singsong cadence that develops into a flat drawl, ending in a childlike query.”45

Unfortunately, that voice lost most of its meaning to millions in the non-English-speaking world, with or without dubbing. But Audrey had something that rose above the Tower of Babel and crossed all international barriers of language: her eyes. “From Sabrina on, she was like no other actress,” Theodore Bikel told John Barba. “Innocence and mischievousness, wrapped into one—an extraordinary mixture, acted with her eyes.”46

There was a recurring holy trinity of words in the litany of her screen appeal. Bikel intoned the first—“innocence”—and is bolstered by Bogdanovich: “Audrey Hepburn became the last true innocent of the American screen.” The second is “gamine”—the boyish but sexy waif with impish European style. The third word, “vulnerable,” is the quality most often attributed to both her real and screen character. One critic referred to it as her “indestructible frail-ness.” Director Fred Zinnemann considered it very real: “In her private life, she was emotionally vulnerable to [everyone, but especially] her mother, her brothers, and Mel.”

Rosalie Crutchley was dubious: “Audrey, vulnerable? Yes, maybe.... The one thing that is rather unpleasant about acting is that you have to reveal certain things about yourself through a character, and I don’t think Audrey liked doing that.”47

That contributed both to her ambivalence about making movies, and to the limitation of her roles. Richard Lester, after Robin and Marian, had described her as “a very methodical, almost mechanical performer. I would not say she was a varied actress. She was a star. She was always more or less Audrey in the way that John Wayne was always John Wayne. The qualities she had in person were the qualities she had on the screen.”48

They were the qualities that Gregory Peck exalted: “Audrey is a magical combination of high chic and high spirits.”49 And they were the qualities, coupled with her later UNICEF work, that made her one of the most beloved actresses of her time.

“When Nick Dunne was doing his piece on Audrey for Vanity Fair,” William Banks recalls, “I said to Rob, ‘Aren’t you a little nervous, because he can be so bitchy?’ Rob said, ‘Nobody can be bitchy about Audrey.’ And of course, Dunne wasn’t.”50

But then, in the bottom of the ninth, up steps Nora Sayre to spoil the no-hitter—in Running Time: Films of the Cold War:

“Many adolescent girls of the fifties were almost tyrannized by the image of Audrey Hepburn: Hers was the manner by which ours was measured, and we were expected to identify with her, or to use her as a model.... Flirtatious yet almost sexless, Hepburn appealed because she was utterly unmenacing to men. [The adulation of her] seemed to tell us that young women ought to be well-heeled, submissive and sexually spotless—sophisticated at parties, perhaps, but free of genital vibrations.... Why did we rush pell-mell to choose a haughty pre-anorexic upon which to pattern ourselves, so slavishly and for so long?”51

Is IT POSSIBLE to separate the actress from the flesh-and-blood woman? Nora Sayre didn’t like either of them: Demure morality and the tyranny of the skinny waist were not to everyone’s taste. There was a lot going on in the fifties and sixties that Audrey Hepburn represented, and a lot that she did not. Her type—especially her sexual type—was not the unanimous preference of all or even most men. Nobody put Marilyn Monroe out of business but herself.

But in the end, unlike most of her peers, the personal Audrey was even stronger than the screen Audrey. Even her “worst” traits were spoken of fondly. UNICEF’s Horst Cerny, for instance, sheepishly cites “two things kind of contrary to her image: She smoked, which—for a non-smoker and for UNICEF—surprised me. The other thing was her enjoyment of whiskey.”

Billy Wilder calls her “that unique lady! She’s what the Latin calls sui generis—the original, no more examples, and never will be.” Dominick Dunne asked her if she was surprised by the excitement she always caused wherever she went. “Totally,” she replied. “Everything surprises me. I’m surprised that people recognize me on the street. I say to myself, ‘Well, I must still look like myself.’ ... I don’t understand it. At the same time, I’m terribly touched by it.”52 It was all the more surprising since she had deliberately distanced herself. Many considered her a snob because she held so aloof from the public and the media—and most of all, from Hollywood.

“I certainly did not intend to be untouchable,” she replied to that charge. “I came to work every day ... terribly nervous ... terribly insecure, was I going to get the words right, was I going to do it properly? And ah, the relief when they said, ‘Print,’ and Willie [Wyler] or Stanley [Donen] was happy. And then I went home at night and had my bath and my supper and learned my lines and got up again at four a.m.”

Ironically, Donen—whom she was so eager to please—confirms her untouchability. “I longed to get closer,” he said, “to get behind whatever was the invisible but decidedly present barrier between her and the rest of us, but I never got to the deepest part of Audrey.... She always kept a little of herself in reserve, which was hers alone, and I couldn’t ever find out what it was, let alone share it with her.”53

Dr. Ron Glegg, Rob Wolders’s brother-in-law, perceived much the same thing: “I sensed a sort of reserve, a hesitancy in her relationship with people. She was always prepared to withdraw from any event or discussion—she could quickly, almost abruptly, bring it to an end. I’d give her an ‘A’ in closure! It made her not less but more interesting.”54

Audrey acknowledged that quality in herself but felt that, at least in her film work, it wore off as soon as “I discovered the [other] actors were just as insecure as I was, however famous and however long they had been at it. Gary Cooper used to get clammy hands like I did. Cary Grant and Rex Harrison worried like mad ... because people were expecting a lot of them, which they weren’t of me, though I was expecting a lot of myself.”

She had had no huge disappointments or unfulfilled hopes. “I am the most un-bitter person in the world,” she told Rex Reed. “I was asked to act when I couldn’t act, to sing in Funny Face when I couldn’t sing, to dance with Fred Astaire when I couldn’t dance, and do all kinds of things I was not expecting and was not prepared for. Then I tried like mad to cope with it.”55

But there was one thing that she sought and never quite achieved—seren—ity: “I don’t think it exists. [You] can be perfectly serene, then you spend two minutes thinking about the Kurds and want to shoot yourself. I mistakenly thought that with age comes serenity, when your job is done, maybe you have earned enough money so you can be secure and the children are okay.... Perhaps the only time you can be serene is when you are very small, when you don’t know all these things.”56

But if serenity was elusive, love was not—and that was Audrey Hepburn’s open secret:

“Actors, directors, technicians ... there’s something in some of them that makes you open up to them. With me, it always has to do with some kind of affection they convey—a message of affection, love, warmth. I was born with an enormous need for affection. I have always been terribly aware of it, even when I was small. And a terrible need to give it, like every child—they all want a dog, they want a cat, they all want a horse, they all want to cuddle a baby. That has been very strong with me.... Much more important than receiving affection is giving it.”57

“THERE’S NEVER BEEN a helluva lot to say about me,” Audrey once declared, but the world begged to differ.58

A great deal was said about her in Arnhem on April 23, 1994, at the dedication of a bust by Dutch sculptor Kees Verkade in Burgemeesters Plaza, near “Human Inference Street”—a midtown neighborhood of neat red brick houses characteristic of prewar Arnhem. Hundreds came to see the unveiling that sunny afternoon, as a dozen blue and white UNICEF flags snapped in the wind.

It was very much a family affair. Rob, Sean, Luca, Hubert de Givenchy and Audrey’s brother Ian sat together in the front row listening to the speeches, all in Dutch. Popular performer Paul van Vliet, who had been inspired by Audrey to become UNICEF’s goodwill ambassador in Holland, read an original poem:

I drink to the people who never play safe, who begin things without knowing how they will end.

I drink to the people whose joy is erased and who don’t give a damn what’s around the next bend ...

The bust itself is—well, a bust in all ways. “It’s not Audrey,” says Van Vliet. “It has no warmth in the eyes and mouth.” Indeed, with its distended neck and hollow eyes, it looks more like the blind girl Suzy in Wait Until Dark than the real Audrey Hepburn. The crowd’s subdued reaction registers its disappointment. But the release of a dozen white doves, soaring gracefully up and away, provides a touching end to the ceremony.

Fame, Audrey said, “creates a certain curiosity. People want to see you. I’m using that curiosity for the children.”59 In her lifetime, millions of curious people stared at Hepburn differently from the way they stared at other movie stars.

When someone said Hollywood wasn’t very romantic any more, she replied, “Well, I am.... I could never be cynical. I wouldn’t dare. I’d roll over and die before that.”60 She was a romantic, all right, but at the same time, says Gene Feldman, her film documentarist:

She was a woman of enormous substance. She always described herself as not knowing, not being sure. But when she made a decision, it was totally fixed. When I saw her talking on Somalia, that was ferocity. That was a Golda Meir. Her performance as a human being was even greater than her performance as an actress. She activated something in us all. She was not some ‘vulnerable’ or pathetic figure. There may have been moments in her life when she was battered or drawn to the wrong people. But she had the courage to pick herself up and go on to maintain her work, her kids, the man she loved, Rob, her basic notion of who she was: an independent woman. It wasn’t God-given. She did it herself, and with a nobility of spirit.61

Some movie stars have an impact greater than the medium can explain, and Hepburn was one of them. She was part of our shared cultural experience—a huge influence on the way women looked and played the feminine role.62 Our image of her really stems less from her films than from the fashion magazines. In any case, glamour queens, like good strippers, must keep something hidden to retain the audience’s attention. If all is revealed, the show is over.63 Hepburn, for that reason and others, chose to keep her personal life as private as possible.

“We think we know all about Elizabeth Taylor’s weaknesses [for] men and food,” says Caroline Latham, “or Doris Day’s love of home, children and dogs; or Marilyn Monroe’s troubled search for love. But few of us attach any such intimate characteristics to ... Audrey Hepburn. If the result is somewhat two-dimensional in personal terms, it is all the more powerful as an icon.”

Her friend Leslie Caron says Audrey “conducted her life as discreetly as the way she dressed.” The irony is that Hepburn’s fabulous “look” was essentially just something that evolved over time to camouflage what she considered her faults. But still today, decades after her peak, if a designer exclaims, “It’s so ‘Audrey’!”, everyone knows exactly what he means.64

“Through the years,” says designer Michael Kors, “Audrey Hepburn has projected an image of style and not of fashion.” Though she was not an American, Hepburn’s style reflected the great American designs: “She became the symbol for what we all talk about today in fashion—a woman who has independence, confidence to do what she wants when she gets dressed,” offers Rebecca Moses. “She was the beginning of minimalism,” maintains Isaac Mizrahi. According to Christian Lacroix in Paris, “Audrey Hepburn didn’t simply epitomize the style of Hubert de Givenchy. She symbolized a generation.”65

Dwight MacDonald’s verdict back in 1960 was that “she is not an actress, she is a model, with her stiff meager body and her blank face full of good bone structure. She has the model’s narcissism, not the actress’ introversion.” Others, too, call her more a figure of fashion than of film. But her defenders—such as the late Eva Gabor—vehemently reject that view:

“That annoys me, because she was a wonderful actress. The blind girl in Wait Until Dark? That was not a fashion model. War and Peace—the scene where her brother gets killed? That was acting, not fashion.”

But she was also a fashion legend, of course:

“She always underdressed instead of overdressed,” says Eva. “Nobody in the world looked better in plain white pants and a white blouse. Whatever she put on became perfectly elegant. Without a stick of jewelry, she looked like a queen. The queen should look so good. I mean, the perfume this woman used—everything about her was perfect. Those wonderful eyes, the sweetness, the genteel soul. I can’t imagine Audrey with a bad thought. Maybe she was too good to be here. Maybe the Lord decided he wanted her up there.”66

Divine references abound when people talk about her. “She was taken too young—a gift from God,” says R. J. Wagner.67 “Hepburn as actress and woman seemed a gentle emissary from a better world than ours,” wrote Richard Corliss. “She taught, by example, what a lady was: a vessel of grace and gravity, ready wit, eldritch charm; a woman whose greatest discretion was to hide her awareness of her splendor.”68

After she won her Academy Award for Roman Holiday, “she was not highfalutin,” says Billy Wilder. “She did not play ‘The Oscar Winner.’ She was humble. She listened intelligently. She made what she said and felt so true that her partner—whether it was Holden or Bogart or Cooper—had to react the proper way. She drew them in. She could say something risque, but the way she did it had a kind of elegance that you could not, under any circumstance, mistake for Madonna reading the line.

“Audrey was known for something which has disappeared, and that is elegance, grace and manners—things you cannot take a course in. You’re born with it or not. What is needed to really become a star is an extra element that God gives or doesn’t give you. You cannot learn it. She just was blessed. God kissed her on her cheek, and there she was.”69

In the characters she played on film, most of Hepburn’s leading men didn’t realize her allure until the end, says Wendy Keys—“but we knew all along.”70 No actress ever pleaded more earnestly with her screen suitors not to admire her, or to so little effect.71 “Everything about her,” wrote Marjorie Rosen in Popcorn Venus, “worked toward a female dignity.”

But oddly enough, there were few other females in her films. “She always had fathers or uncles—no mothers, children or girlfriends,” says Keys. “Audrey was always bouncing off a variety of men.”72 Accepting her 1990 Golden Globe Award, she said there were always “too many names in thank-you speeches, so I’ll only mention a few.” As a joke she then reeled off, fast as she could, the names of thirty-four people crucial to her film career—of whom Shirley MacLaine and Lillian Gish were the only women.

In her “other” career with UNICEF, however, it was women with whom Audrey identified most profoundly. While men fought and children starved, women grieved and did all the work. In Somalia, she said, “women are respected—it’s a matriarchy. I spoke to a wonderful Somalian woman lawyer who said, ‘Women can bring peace to this country because we’re strong.’ Their status is unusual for a Muslim country. They have the vote and the ‘say’ at home. They can stop their husbands and children from carrying guns and shooting each other.”73

Only a woman and a mother could have felt Somalia so viscerally—and communicated it so directly to the world.

WILLIAM HOLDEN—in one of his rare, non-self-referential remarks—came up with an insight into Audrey: “I think people love her off the screen for the same reason they love her performances—a kind of orderliness and formality.” 74

It is the film star’s grim duty to age in front of the public. Hepburn did so with characteristic dignity and order, without resorting to the usual extremes—over—the—hill “guest” shots and commercials, or pathological withdrawal.

“I never expected to be a star, never counted on it, never even wanted it,” she once said. “Not that I didn’t enjoy it all when it happened. [But] it’s not as if I were a great actress. I’m not [Ingrid] Bergman. I don’t regret for a minute making the decision to quit movies for my children.”75

But millions of others regretted it. “I think she retired much too early,” says Leslie Caron. “It’s a pity she didn’t move on to more mature parts. She would have given something so heavenly. There’s grace and beauty to be shared at every age, and she had that above everyone else. It’s a loss.”76

Audrey herself had twinges. “I’d have loved to have done a movie with Jimmy Stewart because we’ve known each other for so many years [and] I’ve always had an enormous rapport with him,” she said in 1991. “I’d have loved to have made a picture with Philippe Noiret [and] I’d have liked to have done a picture with de Sica.... He wanted to do Camille, but I didn’t want to do it because I didn’t dare follow Garbo’s footsteps.”77

Kurt Frings had wanted to reteam her and Gregory Peck for a Roman Holiday sequel in which the princess (now a queen) and the reporter (now a successful novelist) have a daughter and son who fall in love. Just fifteen months before her death, she wanted to do a picture with Peck “the way we are now,” she said.78 “And I’d love to do a picture with Michael Caine or Michael Douglas—actors who have style but aren’t pompous about it.” As late as December 1992, unaware of how ill Audrey was, Julia Roberts was still looking for a project she and Hepburn could do together.

“There’s a luxury in being able to retire before it’s time to retire,” said Audrey, while admitting in the next breath: “It would be fun to do another part before I roll over.”79

She held out. In the end, she played her greatest part not on a movie set but on the vast and more dramatic stage of Africa.

“AUDREY AND Cary Grant are the only people I ever knew who had no age,” says Ralph Lauren.80 Nothing is more quickly dated than high fashion, yet for all her importance in that realm over the decades, Hepburn seemed to have no time. At the last of her life, instead of trying to simulate youth, she was unashamed to look like the sixty-three-year-old woman she was, “which is to say, better than any sixty-three-year-old woman who’s pretending that she isn’t,” said The New York Times. “Would that she were going to be around longer, to teach us all how to grow old.”81

One of those celebrated Two Women is among many in Italy with deep emotional attachments to her. “Audrey was meek, gentle and ethereal,” says Sophia Loren, “understated both in her life and in her work. She walked among us with a light pace, as if she didn’t want to be noticed. [I regret losing her] as a friend, as a role model and as a companion of my youthful dreams.”82

From Rome, Valentina Cortesa, the star of Hepburn’s first important film, Secret People, laments, “I miss her. Well, we all miss her.... Carina, carina, deliziosa. La piccola cerbiatta. ”83 Audrey meant so many different things to so many different people. “We shared our lives for 15 years,” says Rob Wolders, “but I’m only now becoming fully aware of how important a figure she was in her generation and for future generations.”

Her reality was shaped by the horrors of World War II, when people needed and tried to help one another. But once it was over, she said, “they were just the same—gossipy and mean.”84 If that was the rule, she wanted to be the exception. She had learned something and didn’t want to be the same. Her sorrows were the desertion of her father and an inability to please her mother. After the war, the roles were switched: Audrey would became the “nurturer” —for her parents, then for her own children and, finally, for the children of the whole world.

She wanted only to be a dancer. By the standards of the day, she couldn’t manage it—but her dancer’s discipline turned her into a superb technician for life. Later as a film star, some inner voice told her she was unworthy of such great acclaim. She could never quite reconcile the public adulation with her private self-image or her mother’s impossibly high standards.

The case history was not unusual, but the way she resolved it was: No Garboesque reclusion for Hepburn. No booze or pills. She had a secure place, early on, as a major cultural icon in film and fashion. She could have comfortably remained there with no additional effort. But in her centeredness, she figured out that the one thing she could do and should do was give back.

She lived her last thirty years in an age when cynicism largely displaced idealism. “She was too good for Hollywood,” says her gentle friend Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., “but somehow she graced it, her life shone on it, and it became a different place while she was around.”85 People called her “Saint Audrey”—fondly, sarcastically or both. She told Rob Wolders she did not want to be remembered that way. She was no saint—just a human being with the heart and the will to rise above her frailties.

Once when she was asked to pick a single word to describe herself, Audrey Hepburn smiled and replied, “Lucky.”86 So, too, was the world.


Our huckleberry friend


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