Born in 1929 in Ixelles, Belgium, Audrey Hepburn grew up to be one of the world’s leading actresses and fashion icons. She was one of the most recognized on-screen actresses during the Golden Age of Hollywood, quickly becoming recognized for her work in films such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Roman Holiday, for which she became the first woman to win an Academy Award.
And while people today regard her as a classic beauty, she is so much more than her looks. Hepburn devoted a lot of her life to humanitarian work, throwing herself into organizations such as UNICEF. Interested to learn more about the iconic actress; keep clicking!
Hepburn Is The Third-Greatest Screen Legend
Through her career, Audrey Hepburn played an array of characters in various genres of film. Some would say that she was a product of her time, but she had more than one skill up her sleeve that placed her as the third-greatest legend during Hollywood’s Golden Age of film, according to the American Film Institute.
And she wasn’t awarded that honor because of her looks. Hepburn landed iconic roles that people today still enjoy watching, including classics such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Charade, and Roman Holiday, a part for which she was the first actress ever to win an Oscar.
Hepburn Loved To Dance
While a majority of her fans regard her as an actress and fashion icon, Audrey Hepburn first threw herself into the art of ballet. During her time at boarding school at the Arnhem Conservatory, Hepburn became infatuated with the style of dance, continuing her training under Winja Marova in Arnhem, a city in the Netherlands.
Under Marova’s tutelage, she became a star pupil. But due to the second World War, Hepburn did little more with her dance skills other than performing on the streets. She did this in hopes of raising money for the Dutch resistance effort. It’s even rumored she participated in the resistance!
She Received A Scholarship With Dance Rambert
After World War II ended in 1945, Hepburn moved to Amsterdam with her mother and siblings. There, she continued to study the art of Ballet under Sonia Gaskell, a huge name in the Dutch Ballet. Later that year, she accepted a dance scholarship with Dance Rambert to study ballet in London.
Unfortunately for the young dancer, Rambert told her she would never make the status of “prima ballerina” due to her height and weight. She was malnourished and overly thin due to the war. So, Hepburn decided to leave ballet behind her and focus her effort on acting.
Hepburn Was Big In The Theatre Scene
After leaving ballet behind her, Hepburn refocused her efforts on her acting career. While her mother was working random jobs in order to support the family, Hepburn landed a few theatre gigs. Her job was as a chorus girl in the West End production of High Button Shoes.
From there, she landed a few more small roles. Hepburn even took some elocution lessons from actor Felix Aylmer to make her stage voice clearer. She was determined to make it in the entertainment industry.
Gigi Was Hepburn’s First Big Role
After being cast in tiny stage roles, Hepburn finally landed the title role of Gigi in the 1951 Broadway production of Gigi. Hepburn was spotted in a crowd by the French novelist Colette, of whose work the play is based on, and was hired for the lead role right then and there.
Never having had a speaking role in a play, Hepburn required some private lessons. But her performance was praised by critics. The New York Times said, “her quality is so winning and so right that she is the success of the evening.” Hepburn even won a Theatre World Award for her role.
Roman Holiday Was Her Ticket To Worldwide Fame
Even though Hepburn found success on the stage, her big break didn’t come until after Gigi wrapped up in 1953. That year, she was cast in what would be known as her big-break, as the female lead, Princess Ann, in the romantic comedy Roman Holiday, opposite George Peck.
Ironically, the producers originally wanted Elizabeth Taylor for the lead, but quickly changed their minds after seeing Hepburn’s screen test. Director William Wyler said, “She had everything I was looking for: charm, innocence, and talent. She also was very funny. She was absolutely enchanting, and we said, ‘That’s the girl!'”
She Became The First-Ever Woman To Win An Oscar
Roman Holiday did more for Hepburn than put her name on the map. The film was a box-office success and won the new actress many unexpected accolades. She became the first-ever woman to win an Academy Award for Best Actress. She also won a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture and a BAFTA for Best British Actress in a Leading Role.
Soon after, Hepburn was signed to a seven-year contract with Paramount, landed the 1953 cover of Time magazine, and was slowly but surely becoming a fashion icon for young women everywhere.
She Was Owning Her Stage Presence, Too
Even with all of her success on-screen, Hepburn still enjoyed dabbling in theatre performances. In 1954, the actress returned to the stage as a water nymph who falls in love with a mortal in the Broadway production of Ondine. Her performance was an instant sensation with theatergoers.
A New York Times critic said, “somehow, Miss Hepburn is able to translate [its intangibles] into the language of the theatre without artfulness or precociousness. She gives a pulsing performance that is all grace and enchantment, disciplined by an instinct for the realities of the stage.” Hepburn’s performance won her a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play.
Dancing And Acting Collided In 1957
While Hepburn decided to leave dancing behind her, it had a way of sneaking into her acting career. In 1957, she starred opposite dance legend, Fred Astaire, in Funny Face. The romantic musical comedy showcased Hepburn’s expressive dance style while introducing the world to some new fashion trends.
Funny Face had Hepburn dressed in black capri pants and ballet flats, both of which became wildly popular after the release of the film. But they weren’t the only styles Hepburn is known for revolutionizing.
Hepburn Was In High Demand
While Hepburn wasn’t cast in any films in 1955, it didn’t stop her from winning the prestigious Golden Globe for World Film Favorite. The young actress was on quite the roll in the world of entertainment, so she wanted to end the decade with a bang.
Hepburn wound up starring in multiple films by the end of 1959. Her parts included Natasha Rostova in War and Peace; a dancing bookkeeper turned model in Funny Face, an innocent daughter in Love in the Afternoon, and Sister Luke in The Nun’s Story. The latter winning her a third Academy Award nomination.
The 60s Brought The Role Of Holly Golightly
Probably the biggest and most iconic role of Hepburn’s career happened in the 60s. In 1961, the actress was cast as Holly Golightly in the famous movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s, even though Marilyn Monroe was the preferred choice by Truman Capote, author of the original novella the film is loosely based on.
Hepburn’s portrayal of the New York socialite has made the character one of the best-known in cinematic history. Well, her portrayal, and the infamous little black dress she wears in the opening credits!
By The End Of The 60s, Hepburn Was A Huge Star
The 60s were quite the decade for Audrey Hepburn’s acting career. She was starring in films left and right, being nominated for prestigious awards for pretty much all of her roles. Two such films were Charade, which she starred in opposite Cary Grant, and My Fair Lady.
Ironically, in the latter film, Hepburn wasn’t entirely sure about playing the role of Eliza Doolittle, thinking Julie Andrews would better portray the character. The part included a lot of singing, something Hepburn wasn’t comfortable with. Even so, Hepburn was cast, and she was nominated for both a BAFTA and New York Film Critics Circle award for Best Actress.
Hepburn Slowly Made Her Way Out Of The Spotlight
By the end of the 60s, Hepburn was slowly making her way out of the spotlight to spend more time with her family. She was married back in 1954 to actor Mel Ferrer, of whom she had children.
But they divorced in 1968, and Hepburn remarried a year later to Italian psychiatrist Andrea Dotti. The two had a son together. It wasn’t until 1976 that Hepburn decided it was time to make a comeback in Hollywood. To her credit, she made it back, but it wasn’t the same as before.
By 1976, Hepburn Was Back On Screen
After a long hiatus, Hepburn decided it was time to jump back in the saddle. So, she tried her hand at acting once more. In 1976, she landed the role of Maid Marian in the period film Robin and Marian, opposite Sean Connery.
While the film wasn’t overly successful in the box-office, people were excited to see Hepburn back on the silver screen, especially with a big name like Connery. Film critic Roger Ebert said, “[Connery and Hepburn] really do seem in love. And they project as marvelously complex, fond, tender people; the passage of 20 years has given them grace and wisdom.”
Her Next Film Was A Box-Office Failure
By the time 1979 rolled around, Hepburn’s career was on a steady decline. Even though she was cast in Bloodline alongside the star-studded cast of James Mason, Romy Schneider, and Ben Gazzara, the film was a box-office failure and the beginning of the end for Hepburn’s career.
It was a couple of years later, in 1981, that she starred alongside Gazzara once more, in the film They All Laughed. Unfortunately, the film didn’t get a lot of recognition, as it was overshadowed by the murder of one of its actresses, Dorthy Stratten.
Her Last On-Screen Work Was In The 90s
Hepburn’s last motion picture was in Always, a 1989 Steven Spielberg film where she made a cameo appearance as an angel. Afterward, the actress completed two more entertainment-project, but nothing for the silver screen. In the spring and summer of 1990, Hepburn filmed a PBS documentary series on location in seven countries called Gardens of the World with Audrey Hepburn.
An hour-long special aired in 1991, with the start of the series airing only two days after the iconic actress’ death in 1993. The first episode landed Hepburn a posthumous Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement – Informational Programming.
1992 Brought Audrey Hepburn’s Enchanted Tales
Hepburn’s other final project was a little something called Audrey Hepburn’s Enchanted Tales. The 1992 album consisted of classic children’s stories, all read and recorded by Audrey Hepburn. As her PBS documentary series did, the spoken-word album landed Hepburn a posthumous award.
In 1994, Hepburn was awarded a posthumous Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for Children. At the end of her career, Hepburn had won one Academy Award, three BAFTA’s, one Primetime Emmy, two Golden Globes, one Grammy, one Tony, and a Screen Actors Guild Award. And those accolades aren’t including those she won posthumously!
Hepburn Was A Style Icon
Aside from her acting, Hepburn was very well known for her iconic style of short hair, cigarette pants, and ballet flats. Her fashion choices were so distinctive that journalist Mark Tungate went as far as to call her a “recognizable brand.”
Once Hepburn made it to the silver screen, she made “thin in.” In 1961, she was added to the International Best Dressed List, being praised for her minimalist style, statement accessories, and monochromatic colors. Hepburn was a fashion icon until her death in 1993.
She Left Hollywood And Focused On Humanitarian Work
In the middle of becoming a huge name in Hollywood, Hepburn was also making a name for herself in the world of humanitarian work. She was highly involved in UNICEF during the 50s, joining radio programs to re-tell her story of being a child during the World Wars.
Due to her busy schedule, it wasn’t until 1988 that Hepburn finally went on a mission trip with UNICEF. That year, she traveled to an Ethiopian orphanage, having UNICEF deliver food to the impoverished children. In the following years, Hepburn traveled to Turkey, Central America, and Vietnam, all in the name of the UNICEF organization.
Hepburn Was Wildly Recognized For Her Humanitarian Work
For her humanitarian work with children around the world, Hepburn was awarded various accolades. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences posthumously awarded the actress the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, and former President George W. Bush awarded Hepburn with the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom.
In 2002, “The Spirit of Audrey” was erected at the UNICEF headquarters in New York, in honor of Hepburn’s contributions to the organization and humanitarian work. And to recognize her incredible efforts to better children’s lives around the world is the United States Fund for UNICEF’s Audrey Hepburn Society. See, we told you she wasn’t just a pretty face!