Recognised as both a film and fashion icon, Hepburn was active during Hollywood's Golden Age. She has since been ranked as the third greatest female screen legend in the history of American cinema and been placed in the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame.
Breakfast at Tiffany's
Born in Ixelles, a district of Brussels, Hepburn spent her childhood between Belgium, England and the Netherlands, including German-occupied Arnhem during the Second World War. In Amsterdam, she studied ballet with Sonia Gaskell before moving to London in 1948 to continue ballet training with Marie Rambert and perform as a chorus girl in West End musical theatre productions.
After appearing in several British films and starring in the 1951 Broadway play Gigi, Hepburn played the Academy Award-winning lead role in Roman Holiday (1953). Later performing in successful films like Sabrina (1954), The Nun's Story (1959), Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), Charade (1963), My Fair Lady (1964) and Wait Until Dark (1967), Hepburn received Academy Award, Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations and accrued a Tony Award for her theatrical performance in the 1954 Broadway play Ondine. Hepburn remains one of few people who have won Academy, Emmy, Grammy, and Tony Awards. Hepburn was the first actress to win an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a BAFTA Award for a single performance: Roman Holiday in 1954.
Cary Grant Anthony Perkins William Holden Henry Ford
She appeared in fewer films as her life went on, devoting much of her later life to UNICEF. Although contributing to the organisation since 1954, she worked in some of the most profoundly disadvantaged communities of Africa, South America and Asia between 1988 and 1992. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of her work as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in late 1992. A month later, Hepburn died of appendiceal cancer at her home in Switzerland in early 1993 at the age of 63.
"For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others;
for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness;
and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone."
Hepburn's parents were members of the British Union of Fascists in the mid-1930s, with her father becoming a true Nazi sympathiser. After her mother discovered him in bed with the nanny of her children, Hepburn's father left the family abruptly. In the 1960s, Hepburn would finally locate him again in Dublin through the Red Cross. Although he remained emotionally detached, his daughter remained in contact and supported him financially until his death.After Joseph had left in 1935, Ella van Heemstra took her children home to Arnhem, though her sons frequently stayed in The Hague with their father, Ella's first husband Hendrik Gustaaf Adolf Quarles van Ufford. In 1937, Ella and young Audrey moved to Kent, where Hepburn was educated at a tiny independent girls' school in the village of Elham, run by the sisters Rigden and then attended by about 14 children. In September 1939, Hepburn's mother relocated her back home in Arnhem, in the belief that (as during World War I) the Netherlands would remain neutral and be spared a German attack.
"The work Audrey Hepburn did for UNICEF was imperative for us" said Lawrence E. Bruce, Jr., former president and CEO of the US Committee for UNICEF. In 1991, President George Bush gave Audrey the highest honor any individual can receive in the United States - the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She said, "I have been given the privilege of speaking for children who cannot speak for themselves, and my task is an easy one, because children have no political enemies. To save a child is a blessing: to save a million is a God-given opportunity."
Whilst there, Hepburn attended the Arnhem Conservatory from 1939 to 1945 where, in addition to the standard school curriculum, she trained in ballet with Winja Marova. After the Germans invaded the Netherlands in 1940, Hepburn adopted the pseudonym Edda van Heemstra, because an "English sounding" name was considered dangerous during the German occupation. In 1942, Hepburn's uncle Otto van Limburg Stirum (husband of mother Ella's older sister Miesje) was executed in retaliation for a sabotage by the resistance movement, whilst Hepburn's half-brother Ian was deported to Berlin to work in a German labour camp. Hepburn's other half-brother Alex went into hiding to avoid the same fate. After this, Ella, Miesje, and Hepburn moved in with Baron Aarnoud van Heemstra in nearby Velp. During her wartime struggles, Hepburn suffered from malnutrition, developed acute anæmia, respiratory problems, and œdema. Hepburn, in a retrospective interview, commented, "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. I remember, very sharply, one little boy standing with his parents on the platform, very pale, very blond, wearing a coat that was much too big for him, and he stepped on to the train. I was a child observing a child."
Audry Hepburn in "My Fair Lady"
By 1944, Hepburn had become a proficient ballet dancer. She had secretly danced for groups of people to collect money for the Dutch resistance. "The best audience I ever had made not a single sound at the end of my performances," she remarked. After the Allied landing on D-Day, living conditions grew worse and Arnhem was subsequently devastated by Allied artillery fire under Operation Market Garden. During the Dutch famine that followed in the winter of 1944, the Germans had blocked the resupply routes of the Netherlands' already-limited food and fuel supplies as retaliation for railway strikes that were held to hinder German occupation. People starved and froze to death in the streets; Hepburn and many others resorted to making flour out of tulip bulbs to bake cakes and biscuits. One way that Hepburn passed the time was by drawing; some of her childhood artwork can be seen today. When the country was liberated, United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration trucks followed. Hepburn said in an interview that she fell ill from putting too much sugar in her oatmeal and eating an entire can of condensed milk.