Look Where You’re Going Audrey!
One morning not long ago Audrey Hepburn stood at the window of a large, comfortably furnished hotel room in Paris gazing at the traffic passing below. She alternately sipped from a hot, steaming cup of French coffee and nibbled on a biscuit. She was pondering a question that had been asked a moment before: Had she found a formula for success?
She turned away from the window, put down her cup on the small, graceful French table next to her and answered quietly, “I think you must be definite and determined to succeed. I have faith in believing that if you do something for the right reason it has a blessing on it. And I believe,” she added, “it’s important to analyze yourself and decide exactly what you are best able to do and then do it.”
Has this definite and determined girl who certainly has a blessing upon her really succeeded? It would certainly appear that she has. By any Standard, Audrey seems to be sitting right smack on top of the world. Not since Garbo has a new actress been welcomed with such fervor and adulation. From time to time stars have exploded in the skies over Hollywood: sultry femmes fatales like Hedy Lamarr, fragile waifs like Janet Gaynor and Luise Rainer, distinguished ladies whose names are preceded on the screen by Miss (Greer Garson and Deborah Kerr) and, of course, the rounded blondes in the shape of a Marilyn or a Jayne. Audrey never fitted any of these cliches nor did any of these cliches fit her. After seeing “Roman Holiday,” one critic said of her, “Amid the rhinestone glitter of the current glamour crop, she shines with the authenticity of a diamond.” Audrey has been shining ever since, brightening the box office with such hits as “Sabrina,” “War and Peace,” and the just released “Funny Face,” with Fred Astaire. In two plays, “Gigi,” which helped to discover her and “Ondine,” which settled her private life, she gained acclaim.
Her marriage, in spite of dire pronouncements that Mel Ferrer is at worst a Svengali and at best a “difficult” man, has apparently confused the critics and been a smashing success. Audrey and Mel appear to enjoy working together almost as well as being together. Right after her marriage, she said, “I’ve been restless, but that’s over. I didn’t know where or what I wanted to be. Now I do. Wherever Mel is I’m home.”
But in spite of such success and happiness, some friends of Audrey’s, who have known her since the days when she was a hoofer in London night clubs and who share in her thoughts, say that Audrey often seems wistful for the past. Certainly not the past of her rootless childhood, or the terror-filled days during the war as an adolescent living in Holland under Nazi occupation, but the past of her youth when she was planning the life she wanted to lead and the things she wanted to do. They claim that Audrey suddenly found her career moving so fast that there wasn’t time to ask herself: “Is this what I really want? Is this what I should be doing?”
Once she wanted to be a ballet dancer. After the war she spent three years in Amsterdam attending a ballet school and then moved on to London to continue her studies. One ballet instructress said of her, “If she had wanted to persevere, she might have been a leading ballerina.”
Audrey never became a ballerina. For practical reasons it was necessary for her to get a job in the chorus of the London production of “High Button Shoes.” She got other jobs in night clubs, modeled, got bit parts in British films. The ballet became lost in the shuffle of other activities. In fact, when she had the time and money to study again it was the theatre she turned to.
Again there was the same intensity on the part of the ambitious Audrey to be an actress. Not just the enlargement of the role of a pretty girl (at the time Audrey’s face was helping sell Lacto-Calomine, a popular beauty preparation) but to be a serious dramatic actress. She attended the theatre as often as she could and studied under British character actor Felix Aylmer, who praised her “poise and motion.” At the time she gave friends the impression that she wanted to play nothing less than meaty Shakespearean roles, and they marveled at her “iron will.” She wasn’t trying to impress her friends. This wasn’t a “great star” bit that she was playing. She had a sincere aspiration to be an actress and a good one.
As in the case of ballet, Audrey never played Shakespeare or the Old Vic and there are those critics of her acting who say she never will. That, in the sense of being able to project a part, she’s not an actress at all, but instead a person of tremendous charm and presence who is capable, as one critic put it, “of placing blinders on an audience, so that when she is on stage, it becomes virtually impossible to look at anyone else.” She also has a great ability to communicate her innermost feelings to the audience. This is a rare and unique thing, but it is more closely related to character and personality than to the specific art of acting. Audrey plays herself, and most people would be disappointed if she didn’t. If you are a woman, for instance, this is how you would like to be. Particularly, if you are as physically imperfect as Audrey. By any beauty parlor or beauty contest standards she is hopelessly ill-proportioned and unsymmetrical. Her teeth are crooked, her frame is lank and yet somehow she comes off as a ravishingly beautiful girl. She is the living embodiment of that old adage about beauty being more than skin deep.
To realize the long and special process that went into creating this unique personality, it is important to thoroughly understand her bizarre background.
Audrey’s mother, the Baroness Ella van Heemstra, belongs to a noble Dutch family. Her father, J. A. Hepburn-Ruston, was a dashing Irish adventurer and sometime businessman who preferred to make his home in Belgium. It was in Brussels that Audrey was born on May 4, 1929.
Audrey has very little recollection of her early years except that her father was away on business most of the time and there was nobody to play with except two half brothers (her mother had been divorced) and a variety of animals that roamed wild on her father’s country estate. Audrey recalls that unlike most other little girls she didn’t play with dolls. “They never seemed real to me.” She was a quiet, reflective child given to daydreaming and dressing up in her mother’s clothes. When she was older she went to school in England. She learned to speak Dutch, French and English fluently. Later, an unpleasant association with the Nazis paved the way for a familiarity with German.
When Audrey was seven or eight her father, who had taken up with a British Fascist organization, simply left his family, never to be heard from again. As one who knows the family later recalled, “He left no recollections to which Audrey or her mother wish to cling.” Nobody knows where he is today or whether or not he is aware of his daughter’s fame.
After war was declared in 1939, Audrey and her mother moved from England back to Holland, thinking the little nation would be spared from German occupation. A few weeks after they had settled in Arnhem, where the van Heemstras had a family home, the Nazis invaded the Netherlands. Audrey, the soft-eyed dreamy child, suddenly found herself confronted by a most frightening series of events. A beloved uncle was shot as an “example” to the Dutch underground fighters. A short time later, Audrey’s cousin, a prominent figure in the royal court, was executed.
As a child under the occupation, Audrey lived a shadowy life. She had seen a performance of the Sadler’s Wells ballet a few months before and then and there decided to be a ballet dancer. In spite of the danger involved her mother sent her to the local conservatory of music. Like every spirited child in Holland, Audrey did what she could to help the resistance movement. She helped raise money by appearing at clandestine “blackout” concerts at which she played the piano and danced. On her way to school—she was eleven at the time—she carried messages to the underground in her shoes.
Life became increasingly difficult for Audrey and her mother. Money and food became scarce. There were many meals in which the main course was endive, a vegetable that Audrey has since come to loathe. She spent most of her time scrounging for food and clothing. Finally, just before the close of the war, Audrey and her family suffered the terrible experience of having their home bombed to the ground. Audrey and her mother escaped with nothing but the clothes they wore.
After the war mother and daughter moved to Amsterdam. Though ruined financially, the Baroness was undaunted and took a job as a cook-housekeeper with a wealthy Dutch family. With money that was left over she sent Audrey to the conservatory for ballet lessons and three years later, when she was nineteen, her mother raised sufficient funds to send her daughter to England for further studies.
The Baroness always had great ambitions for Audrey to be a dancer or a musician or an actress. In her own youth she herself had had dreams of becoming an actress. It had always been her wish that Audrey fulfill them. Today, many of Audrey’s critics maintain she is not as close to her mother as she once was, that she went against her mother’s wishes in marrying Mel. This is false. The Baroness is keenly interested in her daughter’s career but feels that Audrey’s personal life is no business of hers. She sees her as often as possible and when she writes she always asks Audrey to send autographed pictures of celebrities for her “collection.” She was particularly pleased recently when Maurice Chevalier, who plays Audrey’s father in “Love in the Afternoon,” sent her a photograph inscribed, “To Audrey’s real mother from her reel father.”
In England Audrey had friends and relatives who were delighted to harbor this charming girl of whom they had memories only as a child. England was heaven. After four years of occupation Audrey gorged herself on all the things she had been deprived of—cakes, cookies and chocolates. For the first time in her life people warned her about becoming fat. “In all the wrong places,” she said. When her hand wasn’t in the cookie jar she was busy circulating in London—visiting agents, taking ballet and acting lessons, posing for photographers. Even then her off-beat beauty, combined with a pixie-like naivete and innate dignity, beguiled everybody who met her.
It was obvious that sooner or later she would catch the eye of the movie companies. But when she did, it was not an actress they had in mind. She was merely asked to be decorative. She “decorated” an Alec Guinness comedy, “The Lavender Hill Mob,” by appearing in one brief scene as a saucy cigarette girl—black stockings and all that—but it was enough for her to be considered for something better. When a frothy little comedy about high jinks on the Riviera was casting, the pretty girl with “legs” was suggested for a supporting role. As Audrey recalls, “The day the producer interviewed me, everything went wrong. I had a terrible time finding a stocking that didn’t have a run in it. The zipper got caught in my dress and when I finally got to my agent’s office the interview with the producer lasted exactly a minute and a half! I was sure I’d failed.”
That may have been the most important minute and a half in Audrey’s whole life. Of course, she got the part, which took her to the Riviera. While she was shooting a scene in the lobby of the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo, Colette, the celebrated French novelist whose play “Gigi” was being cast in New York—without success—spotted Audrey, went over to her and said, “Vous etes ma Gigi.”
A fairy godmother with a wand couldn’t have proclaimed Audrey’s stardom any more fittingly. She was a star the moment she spoke her opening line in “Gigi.” The next morning the New York Times’ critic commented: “Miss Hepburn is an actress. Spontaneous, lucid and captivating.”
When her name went up in lights a couple of weeks later, she is said to have darted across the Street to see and, looking up at it, sighed, “Oh dear, and I’ve still got to learn to act.”
This was not prompted by girlish modesty. She felt it was a fact and that she would have to do something to correct the situation. But at the same time, she wasn’t so dewy-eyed that she wasn’t aware of her status as a star. From that moment on Audrey “was solely interested in consolidating her foothold in a heaven strewn with fallen stars,” one writer said.
For Audrey this meant work, work, work while adhering to a Spartan and disciplined schedule that worried her friends and often annoyed her critics. “This training thing is a pose,” one said after Audrey had been signed to make “Roman Holiday.” “She’s made it—why doesn’t she relax and have fun?”
But her friends affirm that this is the only way Audrey can work. Audrey confessed recently, “Acting doesn’t come easy to me. I put a tremendous amount of effort into every morsel that comes out. I don’t yet feel that I have enough experience or store of knowledge to fail back upon.”
She is aware of her peculiar problem as an actress—the need to submerge her own distinct personality into that of the role she is playing. For instance, her Natasha in “War and Peace” has been compared to Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone with the Wind.” Many critics say that while Vivien Leigh mas Scarlett, Natasha was mostly Audrey. As a result her role as the nun in “The Nun’s Story” will offer a great challenge.
Any diversion, Audrey felt from the beginning and still feels, throws her off the track. She has always ruled out parties while she is working and has fought against interviews on the set. She finds it incredible that this is an accepted practice. “During the shooting of ‘War and Peace’,” she explained recently, “reporters were constantly on the set for interviews. They couldn’t understand why I was unable to sit down with them and give them my life story and then walk back into a scene and give a performance. I’m incapable of turning my feelings off and on like an electric light.”
This intense devotion to work and her aversion to ordinary social pursuits caused her fans and admirers at first to be doubly curious about her personal life and romances, if any. The only name that was linked with hers was that of a wealthy, socially acceptable young Englishman named James Hanson. For a long time they were engaged. At one point, as a matter of fact, invitations announcing her marriage to Hanson had been mailed and it was reported that her wedding gown was hanging in a closet in Rome while she was making “Roman Holiday.” At the last minute the wedding was called off. “When I found out that I didn’t even have time to attend to the furnishings of our London flat, I suddenly knew that I would make a pretty bad wife. I would forever have to be studying parts, fitting costumes and giving interviews. What a humiliating spot to put my husband in . . . making him stand by, holding my coat while I signed autographs.”
It was pretty thoroughly agreed after that by Audrey’s friends that when she did marry, it would have to be to somebody in the theatre.
After finishing “Sabrina” in Hollywood, Audrey went to New York to discuss a play with Mel Ferrer. She had met Mel once, in Gregory Peck’s apartment in London after “Roman Holiday,” and had been unimpressed. Mel and Greg were old friends. When she and Mel talked about “Ondine” she was sufficiently impressed with the play, at least. to agree to co-star with Mel in the fantasy.
Unlike the evenings spent alone after performances of “Gigi,” Audrey, it was noted, left the theatre frequently on Mel’s arm. They were spotted in the early hours of the morning “doing the town,” Audrey acting as if this were all a new and exciting world that she hadn’t known existed before. One night Audrey and Mel were discovered at a jazz emporium on Broadway called “The Metropole,” “Lindying” between the tables.
On more sedate occasions when they were together people remarked that they seemed even closer than lovers. They seemed more like brother and sister—anticipating each other’s thoughts and gestures. As a result nobody was more than mildly surprised when it was announced a few weeks after the closing of “Ondine” that Audrey and Mel would be married in Switzerland.
But there was speculation on what had been Mel’s attraction for Audrey. After all he was thirteen years older than she, had been married four times (twice to the same wife) and had four children. But, as one who knows him well recently commented, he does have that rare quality in an American man, he makes a woman feel like a woman. He is also a stimulating and charming talker on a wide range of subjects and above all is sophisticated and cosmopolitan, qualities that appeal to Audrey.
While Audrey and Mel have traveled constantly since their marriage, they manage to live graciously and comfortably wherever they are. Audrey is by no means a domestic type but she does try, she says, “to make a home for my husband under whatever circumstances we have.” Among the six trunks that travel with them wherever they go are two filled with just personal possessions, like a favorite set of silver candlesticks, records, books and pictures. Their constant attention to each other’s needs belie the critics who refuse to believe they are happy together. That, instead, their relationship is a kind of master-to-slave one, with Mel directing her life, using her career as a stepping stone for his own.
Normally gracious and placid, Audrey explodes when she hears this analysis of their marriage, and she has heard it many times. It’s the one personal question that she feels called upon to answer and refute. “Why do people keep on saying that Mel makes all my decisions, decides what I am going to play and with whom and where? I, of course, ask his opinions about such things. Any wife would. And I respect his judgment. But Mel is scrupulously correct about not giving an opinion unless it’s asked for. This is because we do want to keep our careers separate. And the fact that we value them so much doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t give them up in a minute if our personal happiness was at stake.”
As a couple Mel and Audrey have been lucky in being able to combine marriage and a career and be close to each other. While Audrey was in Paris making “Funny Face” and later “Love in the Afternoon” with Gary Cooper and Maurice Chevalier, Mel was working for Warners in “Paris Does Strange Things” and later, in the south of France, shooting “The Vintage” for M-G-M. Weekends Mel would pop into his Thunderbird and pick up his wife at the Nice airport and they would spend two lovely days together basking in the sun, playing tennis and finding little country inns in which to “hide out.”
When Mel took off recently for Mexico to make “The Sun Also Rises,” Audrey was right by his side. She had turned down all offers just to remain with her husband. “I don’t plan to go to work until next November, when I’ll do ‘The Nun’s Story,’ ” she said. “These six months I’ll be able to spend with Mel and I feel that’s very important. Acting is, of course, also important to me, and probably always will be. But marriage means more.”
But friends who know them well are divided on how long this idyll can last. Some say forever. That this handsome, talented couple have such a grasp on reality and are so well-disciplined and analytical about themselves that it would be hard to think of them failing at anything. Their marriage and their careers are indestructible, according to this group.
But others wonder, particularly in the case of Audrey, whether or not she isn’t too coolly intellectual, too calculating in her dealings with herself and the world about her. These friends say she will never really be able to fulfill herself as a woman or an actress until she does throw caution to the wind and lets herself be guided by her heart.
But that’s all up to Audrey. In the past, there were her friends and critics to help her find her way. But now she stands alone on the threshold of what could be the turning point in her career. The chance to fulfill herself as a great actress. Only a few doubt that she can accomplish this. And everybody agrees that for the first time in her life, at last, she knows where she’s going.
YOU’LL LOVE: Audrey Hepburn in Paramount’s “Funny Face” and A.A.’s “Love in the Afternoon.” Also warner Brothers’ “The Nun’s Story.”
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE JUNE 1957