Born Audrey Kathleen Ruston on May 4th, 1929 in Ixelles near Brussels, Audrey Hepburn spent her childhood in Belgium, England and the Netherlands. She experienced the ravages of Nazi occupation of Holland during WWII where she witnessed many traumatic events including the transportation of Dutch Jews to concentration/extermination camps plus her uncle was executed in retaliation for sabotage acts. Hers was not as easy childhood.
She took up ballet lessons and after WWII moved to London where she was told, despite her talent, that due to her height and weak constitution (after malnutrition during the war) she wouldn’t be a ballerina so she decided to concentrate on acting.
She managed a few bit roles in films in the next few years but it was the lead role in the Broadway play Gigi that brought her to prominence which led to her casting in the romantic comedy Roman Holiday also starring Gregory Peck.
Playing the role of a European princess who escapes the rigours of royalty with an American newsman she delighted audiences and scooped all the major acting awards for that year.
A new movie star was born.
She followed up Roman Holiday with a leading role in Sabrina opposite heavyweights Humphrey Bogart and William Holden and was again utterly charming.
She then starred in a number of successful films during the remainder of the decade where she was by far the best thing in the ponderous War And Peace as Natasha Rostova; she showed off her dancing skills in Funny Face with Fred Astaire and was superb as Sister Luke in The Nun’s Story which depicted her character struggles to succeed as a nun.
By the 1960s she was arguably the most loved female movie star in the world and she then played the role for which she is now most identified with – Holly Golightly in Blake Edwards lush romantic film Breakfast At Tiffany’s.
As introverted person, Hepburn had to expand her range to play the wildly extroverted character, but so she did in a performance that has now become iconic.
She followed that with playing opposite to Cary Grant in the splendid Charade – arguably the best Hitchcock type film that Hitchcock didn’t direct. Their chemistry was simply sublime.
Next came My Fair Lady, and although Hepburn was marvellous as Eliza as a lady she just didn’t quite seem right when she was a cockney guttersnipe.
She wasn’t happy when she learnt the singing for her role was to be dubbed by Marni Nixon.
Another romantic comedy beckoned where she shone with Peter O’Toole in How To Steal A Million and her last major starring role was as a blind woman terrorised by a group of criminals in the excellent Wait Until Dark.
After 1967, Hepburn chose to devote more time to her family and acted only occasionally in the following decades where her main focus was as an ambassador for children for UNICEF.
In late 1992 she was diagnosed with abdominal cancer and on January 20th, 1993 she died in her sleep at home in Switzerland aged 63.
I can think of no other actress/movie star from the 20th century who epitomises the glamour, style and acting skill of films from yesteryear whilst not only projecting an outer beauty but also containing an inner beauty that still endures today.