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What She Doesn’t Have – She Doesn’t Need—Audrey Hepburn

You probably don’t remember about Audrey Hepburn, at fifteen. How this thin, fragile, sensitive child victim of World War II, was reduced to eating weeds and grass from the fields of Holland.

I’d forgotten it—and I feel I know her pretty well—but Mel Ferrer, hex leading man on the stage (and in real life, too, at the moment!), reminded me of it the other day.

That’s why Audrey’s been in precarious health lately.

“People all around her were dying of starvation,” Ferrer told me. “Her ankles were filling up with water.

“There was no meat to eat. And no salt. And her serious condition was spreading. Her whole constitution was undermined.

“Now,” continued Ferrer, “she eats good food, and all the meat she was supposed to have eaten back in those years. But her blood pressure is away down. Everything for her is a big effort.

“That is why,” he added, “she doesn’t have the strength to go out a lot socially, and do a lot of interviews.

“It makes life difficult for her,” Ferrer said, “because she, like Garbo and Helen Hayes, is an actress who—I don’t want to sound corny—feels she must give of herself to the audience.”

And so that is the fight that the twenty-four-year-old Miss Hepburn is making today: to regain her health so she can give to her audiences.

But it is only half the fight. For Audrey, sitting in her dressingroom at the theatre where she stars in Ondine with Ferrer, plainly told me of another battle.

“I have to prove to everybody that I am not a fluke,” she said.

“A fluke!” I exclaimed.

She who had just won the Academy Award for Roman Holiday and who was acclaimed as almost no actress ever had been for Ondine—a fluke?

“I have to show them.” She nodded, with sort of a half-smile, as she lay back en a chaise longue, in her luxurious dressing room.

“I’ll have to do a whole series of pictures and plays to do that,” she continued. “I think Ondine has done a little toward it.

“But it has by no means established me as an actress yet. Maybe Sabrina Fair, which should be around somewhere pretty soon, will help.”

You may think this is false modesty. But I do not. Miss Hepburn has convinced me of her sincerity and her earnestness.

She sees herself now at a new phase of her career. She’s no longer a pixie from Hollywood who’s sort of interesting to audiences. Sort of “cute.” She’s on the spot now. She’s got to do far, far better acting now, because henceforth she won’t be judged as a pixie, but as an important leading woman who will, or will not, measure up to the greatest actresses of our time.

How amazingly serious she is about the battle was brought out by Ferrer in some more recollections of her recent activities.

“We were in Boston opening there with Ondine,” he said.

“It was opening night—just before the curtain. All day long, Lew Wasserman, head of her agency, had been trying to get her from Hollywood.

“There she was, about half way through her make-up, fifteen minutes from the curtain, when the call came through. I ran into her on the stairs and I asked her, ‘What are you doing in this part of the theatre now?’

“She told me Wasserman had called from Hollywood to tell her that Sabrina Fair was a great success. That people got up and cheered.

“And this had happened in Long Beach, where people don’t do that.

“We went.on and did the first act of our show then, and at the intermission I said to her, ‘That was wonderful news about Sabrina Fair.’

“I again complimented her on the success of the picture, and she said, ‘Yes, that’s all nice, and that’s all fine—don’t you think we were kind of slow in our first act?”

Then there was the problem of her hair shade for Ondine.

Ondine is a water sprite. Alfred Lunt, the director of the play, had felt from the first that the girl should be a blonde.

Audrey had wished to play the part with her own hair which, of course, is dark. But she decided that Lunt might be right.

And when did she decide this? On the afternoon of the day the show opened.

“She went that very afternoon and got her hair bleached,” recounted Ferrer.

“But she felt it wasn’t right. It was false. She said it seemed that she was ‘cheating’ a little. She didn’t like her hair blonde. So she changed her hair back to its real color—and got a blonde wig.

“But the wig didn’t satisfy her, either.”

To me, Miss Hepburn had many descriptions of that wig. It was stuffy and hot and horrible. She felt “it looked dead in the back.”

So Miss Hepburn determined to discard the wig, too. But what could she do to be a blonde without a wig?

She found that she could paint it with some gold-looking dust each night.

And this was what she wanted.

She had on her own hair, it was sprinkled with some blonde or gold powder, and she felt natural and real.

“She does a Mary Martin every night washing that gold out of her hair, but it is finally the way she wants it,” said Ferrer. “And it no longer looks dead in the back.”

Then there was the matter of costume.

Nobody quite knew what an ondine should wear. In fact, until the show started getting attention, many people around Broadway didn’t know what an ondine was.

Miss Hepburn, however, knew. She designed two of her three costumes herself—including one that’s received much attention because it seems that about all she wears is a fish net—although actually she wears tights, too.

She created, personally, a blue make-up powder to blend with a blue costume; a creamy make-up powder to blend with a white outfit. And then came her most startling contribution.

Miss Hepburn designed for herself two pointed ears.

She created them out of plastic. Make-up genius Eddie Senz decorated them with gold. These pointed-up ears gave her the look of a fawn or a sprite that was so essential to the show, but which nobody else had worked out.

When the praise began pouring in for the show—about the same time she began receiving all the awards for Roman Holiday . . . Miss Hepburn allowed all of that flattery to roll right off.

It seemed to make no impression on her at all.

But there was one thing that touched her, from far away.

She learned that Ingrid Bergman had gone to see her picture, Roman Holiday in Italy, and had liked it.

The story was, in fact, that Miss Bergman had come from the theatre crying.

“What are you crying for?” Rossellini had asked Ingrid. “Was it a tragedy?”

“No, it was a comedy.”

“What are you crying for then?” Roberto had demanded.

“I was so touched by Audrey Hepburn,” Miss Bergman had answered.

This was the one part of recent praise for Miss Hepburn that practically “knocked her out.” And it is easy to see why, knowing what we do about her now. It was because Audrey was such an admirer of Ingrid Bergman, the actress, and wanted to be thought a good performer by one like Miss Bergman.

Let me make clear, however, that Miss Hepburn will not disclose most of these things about herself.

When I saw her in her dressingroom, she offered me tea or coffee or a drink, and was almost jocular. She mentioned that she herself still did not drink any hard liquor ever. Just wine occasionally.

“Just lately I’ve been drinking beer after the show,” she said. “I find I’ve been terribly dehydrated after a performance. Beer quenches my thirst and is very relaxing to me, too.”

As for restaurants:

“I eat a great deal at Dinty Moore’s, always the red meat department!”

I asked her whether she would tell me how she felt about her own career.

“Yes. First I was given a break when I appeared here in Gigi. That was the year I was sort of discovered.

“The next stage was when I did Roman Holiday. When they found whether I had any future in pictures, whether I was photogenic, whether I could act in front of a camera.

“They discovered, perhaps, there was hope for me.”

As she told me all this, she got up from her chaise longue and darted across to her dressing table to get some hand cream.

She returned to the chaise longue and settled back in it, her pretty legs stretched out. I thought of the words of Billy Wilder about her: “This girl single-handedly will put bosoms and sweater girls out of business in Hollywood.”

For this lean, unvoluptuous child was exuding all the sex appeal that should be allowed. Without seeming to try to do so. Above her head was a small wreath of seaweed that Ferrer had given her on opening night, and all around the dressingroom were gifts from other friends.

“And now,” she said, “is when I must prove I’m not a fluke.”

I asked her about her great ambition that we’d talked about before—to play Shakespeare.

“I would have liked one day to go to Stratford or to the Old Vic Theatre,” she said, “but you need a much vaster knowledge of Shakespeare than I have to do it well.

“I don’t just want to try to do Shakespeare. I want to do it well!”

She added that she probably should wait. “But you don’t want to wait forever.”

Of course, it’s the romantic life of Miss Hepburn that worries lots of people. They can’t seem to be content unless they get her married off, or at least engaged.

“What about Mel Ferrer?” I asked her.

“No comment,” she replied, with a smile.

“How about your love life?” I persisted.

“No comment,” she repeated. “There’s nothing to tell . . . it’s sad but true.”

“I’ve predicted that you won’t be getting married to anybody for five or six years,” I said.

“Five or six! That’s a bit long. A couple, maybe!” she flung back.

A Broadway character, ticket-seller Georgie Solotaire, had stated the situation pretty well not long before. He said he had been quite happy one Sunday afternoon when, in a movie theater, he found himself sitting next to Audrey Hepburn.

“Then I saw somebody holding her hand,” Georgie said.

“It turned out to be Mel Ferrer.

‘“Now, why,” demanded Georgie, “does that guy have to watch her Sunday, too, when he’s with her every night?”

It seems that about one-half the New York male population is jealous of Mel. Before Mel came into the plot, there were rumors that Gregory Peck and Audrey were acting romantic ’way back when they were making Roman Holiday together.

Audrey didn’t exactly deny it. She just didn’t discuss it.

Before that, she was definitely going to marry handsome James Hanson, a rich British trucking gentleman, whose family has interests in Canada and the United States, some of them, in fact, in the El Morocco nightclub. They got engaged, then broke it off, and Miss Hepburn quite sensibly explained it.

“As we were not going to get married, it seemed sensible not to stay engaged.”

“But why did you decide not to get married?”

“We saw as much of each other as we would have if we had been married—and it was bitter little,” she replied. “So I decided this is not the proper climate for married life.”

All this indicated to me a great growing-up on the part of Miss Hepburn and her emotions. For the first time I had talked to her about romance, about two years ago, she had been extremely enthusiastic about getting married to James Hanson—immediately.

“Why?” I had asked her.

“Because,” she’d retorted, “I think it’s a great waste of time not being married to James.”

She explained further, “We met at a party and was I lucky! I knew I wanted to marry him the first day I met him. It was love at first sight.”

She was impatient to get married at once, but with a “proper marriage.” Honeymoon and all that.

Her career kept getting in the way. There was Gigi to finish on Broadway. Then there was Roman Holiday to do. And besides, her husband-to-be was busy all over the world, too, because his father’s company is in London with branches in Canada.

And so they chose to get unengaged.

Although Audrey has grown up, it remains difficult for me to dissociate her from that Dutch pixie I saw the first time I popped into her dressing room at Gigi.

She was barefoot that night, romping nervously around the room receiving people dropping in to exclaim about her triumph in the opening of the show.

Each time I saw her in her dressingroom, she seemed to be barefoot.

“The trouble is, I don’t have pretty feet,” she said once, trying to hide them. “They’re knobbly.”

This could be, but you wouldn’t notice it. Even though she’s what you call “virtually flat-chested,” being a size thirty two in the sweater department, you don’t notice that, either.

The fact is that this little 110-pound wonder girl with the twenty-one-and-a-half-inch waist, who grew up under the Nazi occupation in Holland, has everything—and what she doesn’t have, she doesn’t need.

Her Dutch mother is in New York sort of looking after her now. One of her mother’s duties is keeping track of all her trophies. A little porcelain rabbit that her mother gave her for luck when she was a little girl, is on her dressing table, still.

Audrey has ambitions besides Shakespeare, right now.

One is to get back to her ballet lessons which she dropped during her concentration on Ondine and the two movies.

“And in there somewhere, I’d like to get a little holiday,” she added with a certain wistfulness.

The last time I saw her in her dressingroom, I noticed and commented on the fact that she wasn’t barefoot this time.

“The next best thing to it,” she said, indicating her thin-soled slippers.

Little Audrey not barefoot? Little Audrey has really grown up.





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