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The Gamine Goddess: Audrey Hepburn

Updated on December 24, 2014

The Gamine Goddess: Audrey Hepburn

She was once called ‘the gamine goddess’. Audrey Hepburn’s slim figure, beautiful and big brown eyes, exquisite beauty and sense of style and chic made her into a fashion icon of the twentieth century. But she was much more than that. She was also a very talented actress. This wasn’t noticeable in all of her films but in Two for the Road and The Nun’s Story, arguably her two best movies, she proved the critics who thought that she was just a beautiful young girl, wrong.

Born in 1929 Audrey Hepburn had a difficult childhood. Her father deserted her mother when she was very young and was actually jailed for taking part in the Fascist movement in England. Audrey’s mother was a daughter of Dutch nobility but had to struggle to support herself and her children as a single mother. She lived in England for a short time during Audrey’s childhood and sent her to boarding school there. However, war was looming and they returned to Holland in the mistaken belief that it would be safer. They lived just outside Arnhem which was only twelve miles from the German border.

After the invasion by the Germans the family had little food to eat and Audrey’s work for UNICEF later was probably due in large part to her difficult time during the war. The Germans practically starved the local population by using Dutch resources to support their soldiers. According to Barry Paris, in his book, Audrey Hepburn: “A partial list of the immense wealth stolen from the Netherlands and sent to Germany included virtually all Dutch tea, coffee, butter, vegetable oils, fruit and woolen goods. In 1940, the entire apple harvest was requisitioned by Germany, along with fourteen million of twenty-two million chickens and most of the cattle.”

The Dutch Resistance did what they could to sabotage the war effort. Audrey played her part by acting as a teenage messenger for them, sometimes hiding messages in her shoes.

If she had been discovered, there might have been terrible reprisals against her and her family. Her uncle was shot after a Dutch attempt to blow up a German train. He didn’t have any connection with the attempt but was shot merely because he came from a prominent Dutch family.


The beautiful actress originally aimed to become a ballerina and studied under Sonia Gaskell who was a leading name of Dutch ballet. She advised Audrey to go to England where there were greater opportunities and Audrey won a scholarship to the prestigious Marie Rambert ballet school. She postponed this because of financial difficulties but she was eventually able to go and subsidized her training with part-time modeling.

Audrey began her acting career with a part in the ballet in the musical, High Button Shoes. She was one of the ten who obtained jobs out of the one thousand who auditioned, and had one line in the show. Later she obtained minor parts in the movies, Laughter in paradise, and the Lavender Hill Mob. A bigger role was given to Audrey in the film, Secret People, in which she played an innocent ballerina with a revolutionary sister. Valentina Cortesa who played Audrey’s sister, Nora, insisted that Audrey be given the role.

Audrey’s big break came when she was discovered by the famous French author, Colette, whose book, Gigi, was being made into a play. Audrey Hepburn was dancing around in the foyer of the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo where she was acting in the film of the same name. The red-haired, elderly Colette called out: “Viola! There is my Gigi,” and sent a letter to Anita Loos, the scriptwriter of the play. Audrey won rave reviews when she appeared in the Broadway play. One critic called her ‘nearly perfect as Gigi’.

The highlight of her career was, however, the charming movie, Roman Holiday, in which she plays a beautiful princess in love with a journalist. Gregory Peck was so impressed with his lovely young co-star that he generously got her billed on the same line. This was very unusual. Audrey Hepburn justly won the Oscar for the role. The journalist, Otis Guernsey, once remarked that: “Fairy tales are her natural element.”

The gamine actress married the much older actor, Mel Ferrar, in 1954 and had a son, Sean. Her fame continued to rise with such movies as Sabrina, Love in the Afternoon and War and Peace, in which she played the lovely heroine, Natasha. The role of her life, however, was in The Nun’s Story, based on a true story of a nun who worked in an insane asylum and in Africa. This powerful movie showed the nun’s struggle with her attraction to a handsome doctor (played by Peter Finch) and her changing attitudes towards the Church.

Two of Audrey Hepburn’s best loved films are My Fair Lady and Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
She was given a hard time by the media for her role in My Fair Lady because Julie Andrews had acted the part of Eliza on stage, and she was also disappointed that Marni Nixon did the singing, but her acting is certainly a good match for Rex Harrison as Professor Higgins! She is slightly unbelievable as an upper-class call girl in Breakfast at Tiffany’s but played the role with such whimsy and wore such beautiful clothes that she became an icon of the Sixties.

Audrey Hepburn eventually gave up acting for family life with her second husband, Andrea Dotti, with whom she had another son. She did come out of ‘retirement’ to play such roles as Marion, in Robin and Marian, and in Sydney Sheldon’s Bloodline, but her movies were panned by the critics.

This marriage also fell through and she began to work for UNICEF with her new partner, Robert Wolders. She became UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 1987 and devoted her last years to working for children in countries ravaged by war, such as Somalia.

Audrey Hepburn died of colon cancer in 1993.


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    • Rangoon House profile image

      AJ 21 months ago from Australia

      Audrey was certainly a style icon in every way.

    • Jangaplanet profile image

      A James Di Rodi 5 years ago

      You are most welcome grand old lady. She really was one of world's most successful actresses. That's a good movie, A nun's story, where Audrey Hepburn played the part of Gabrielle van der Mal! Thanks for stopping by. :)

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 5 years ago from Philippines

      How wonderful to know more about this theatrical icon. I will always remember her in Breakfast at Tiffany's, but now I must look up a Nun's Story. Thanks!

    • Jangaplanet profile image

      A James Di Rodi 5 years ago

      It is unfortunate if that were the case. There is no comparison though. But many people liked Pretty woman. It’s thought of as one of the most honest and inspiring love stories ever, Really! at least that's what they say. Thanks Ian, my cynical friend. :)

    • Twilight Lawns profile image

      Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

      And, unfortunately, they say that more girls went into prostitution after seeing 'Pretty Woman' with Richard Gere and Julia Roberts... at least that's what they say.

      Cynically yours, Ian

    • Jangaplanet profile image

      A James Di Rodi 5 years ago

      You are most welcome Chandryclaire. It's one movie I have not seen yet. What I have heard though is that more people became fashion designers after watching Funny Face, at least that's what they say! Thank you so much for stopping by, I appreciate it. :)

    • Chandryclaire profile image

      Chandryclaire 5 years ago

      Audrey Hepburn is the most dexterous actress in all of movie history. My favorite Audrey movie is "Funny Face," which was released in 1957 and it was written by Leonard Gershe. The director, Stanley Donan, truly magnified Audrey's essence in this marvelous American Musical Film. Thank you for sharing the Biography of Hollywood's greatest gem, the one and only, Audrey Hepburn!

    • Jangaplanet profile image

      A James Di Rodi 5 years ago

      Hi John, thank you. That was a good film. She really was a great humanitarian. Interesting enough she was also fluent in English, Spanish, French, Dutch and Italian. How great was that!

    • John Sarkis profile image

      John Sarkis 5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Hi Jangaplanet, and what a wonderful hub this one is. I love Audrey, seeing "Breakfast at Tiffany's" a million times.

      Voted up


    • Jangaplanet profile image

      A James Di Rodi 5 years ago

      Hi Ian, Yes I heard about this! interesting though! They filmed it in black and white so that the characters wouldn't be distracted by its romantic setting of Rome! I read this somewhere once. Yes, Truman Capote had originally asked Marilyn Monroe to play the role of Holly Golightly, but Paramount Pictures decided they would go with Audrey Hepburn instead. He adored Marilyn Monroe .

    • Twilight Lawns profile image

      Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

      I didn't know about the Marilyn Monroe idea for 'Breakfast'. She would have given a vastly different slant to the film, but I have a feeling she would have done it well. Not better than Audrey, but definitely differently.

      She was never a vamp. and underneath all of that simpering and batting of eyes, there was a very damaged individual, and a very talented one also, I feel.

      By the way, did you know (and being you, you most probably did - and still do) that although colour movies were possible and had been for many years, "Roman Holiday" was filmed in "black and white" because they thought that the magnificent Roman scenery would have been too intrusive, or put the action into the background.

      With Peck and Hepburn???

      I wonder.

    • Jangaplanet profile image

      A James Di Rodi 5 years ago

      Hi Sunnysmiles, thanks for stopping by. She was one of the most beautiful and talented actresses of her time.

    • Sunnysmiles profile image

      Sunnysmiles 5 years ago

      She was a beautiful and talented lady.

    • Jangaplanet profile image

      A James Di Rodi 5 years ago

      You are most welcome Marta Rocha. I think we can all agree that Audrey Hepburn was one of the most disciplined and refined, beautiful, talented, unique and compassionate people ever, and a fashion icon. She possessed the most beautiful soul. Thanks for stopping by, much appreciated. :)

    • Jangaplanet profile image

      A James Di Rodi 5 years ago

      You are most welcome Dancing Water. Audrey Hepburn definitely was a remarkable actress and humanitarian for which she will (always) be remembered. And when she went to work for UNICEF, her inner beauty/spirit truly did shine through, I agree! Thank you so much for stopping by, and commenting, I appreciate it. :)

    • Jangaplanet profile image

      A James Di Rodi 5 years ago

      You are most welcome ishwaryaa. I will always remember Aurdey Hepburn as the beauty, the talent, and most importantly, the giving. This is the soul that defined her, I agree! I loved The Roman Holiday as well. Thanks for stopping by, and for the vote, much appreciate. :)

    • Jangaplanet profile image

      A James Di Rodi 5 years ago

      Hi Ian, “Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.” Truman Capote quote! I actually read the book! You are definitely right, she portrayed Holly Golightly brilliantly. Seductive and wistful masterpiece! It's Truman's best work and arguably one of the finest American novellas! Though I wonder what would have been, had he got his way and had Marilyn Monroe play the role of Holly Golightly? Thanks for stopping, much appreciated. :)

    • Twilight Lawns profile image

      Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

      The book!

      Have you read the book?

      Truman Capote may not have envisaged Audrey, but I feel she portrayed the ingenue (on the surface) brilliantly

    • Jangaplanet profile image

      A James Di Rodi 5 years ago

      Thanks uNicQue! Breakfast at Tiffany's, a charming film! I liked her in the role as Holly Golightly! especially because of that iconic image of her in a beautiful black dress, with her hair up and a cigarette holder in her hand! Thanks for stopping by, much appreciated. :)

    • profile image

      Marta Rocha 5 years ago

      Thank ou for sharing this nice article!

      What a beautiful history!! She is a source of inspiration. She went through difficult moments, but made a comeback and became an icon of fashion, beauty, style and goodness!


    • Twilight Lawns profile image

      Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

      Who could not love her?

      So beautiful, so talented, so hard working for the charities and institutions she believed in.

      A really worthwhile hub.

      Thank you.

    • Jangaplanet profile image

      A James Di Rodi 5 years ago

      You are most welcome Hyphenbird. I agree, Audrey Hepburn was a woman of substance. A classic beauty with a compassionate soul as well! Irreplaceable. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting, much appreciated . :)

    • Dancing Water profile image

      Dancing Water 5 years ago

      I always admired Audrey Hepburn, and considered her a class act. However, when she went to work for UNICEF, her true inner beauty shone through. Thank you for taking the time to writing a lovely hub about a true natural talent and beauty: Audrey Hepburn!

    • Jangaplanet profile image

      A James Di Rodi 5 years ago

      Hi rfmoran, She really was a great lady, no doubt about that! It seems extraordinary to think that the song Moon River almost didn't make it into the final cut of Blake Edwards' 1961 film, Breakfast at Tiffany's. It really is a memorable theme song! Thanks for dropping by and commenting, I appreciate it.

    • ishwaryaa22 profile image

      Ishwaryaa Dhandapani 5 years ago from Chennai, India

      An engaging biography on one of Hollywood's Golden era's stars - Audrey Hepburn famous for her elfin beauty & her certain landmark films! I have seen her two films - The Roman Holiday & Breakfast at Tiffany'. She looked very pretty and did justice to her roles in both these films. Also, it is interesting to note her life during the War before her foray into films. She was a typical Taurean lady - trio of beauty, talent & generousity! A well-written hub! Well-done!

      Thanks for SHARING. Interesting. Voted up

    • uNicQue profile image

      Nicole Quaste 5 years ago from Philadelphia, PA

      Great hub! :) She is truly amazing. She is so charming in Breakfast at Tiffany's. It was the first movie I saw with her in it, and I ended up watching two more that same day.

    • Jangaplanet profile image

      A James Di Rodi 5 years ago

      You are most welcome christopheranton. A great actress indeed. 'My Fair Lady' was the best movie ever made, with 12 Oscar nominations and winning 8. Thanks for stopping by, I appreciate it.

    • Hyphenbird profile image

      Brenda Barnes 5 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

      Thank you for this lovely tribute to Ms. Hepburn. I have always loved her films and think she was such a classic beauty. She was also a woman of substance and that remains after the body has passed on.

    • Jangaplanet profile image

      A James Di Rodi 5 years ago

      You are most welcome Sethughes. Thanks! Audrey Hepburn was a great humanitarian. Indeed she was an angel.

    • rfmoran profile image

      Russ Moran - The Write Stuff 5 years ago from Long Island, New York

      The original love of my life. When I see her Moon River runs through my brain. I cannot believe she died almost 20 years ago! Thanks for a great Hub about a great lady.

    • christopheranton profile image

      Christopher Antony Meade 5 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      A great actress. "My Fair Lady" is one of my favourite musicals. Thanks for this great tribute.

    • Sethughes profile image

      Sethughes 5 years ago

      Awesome hub thanks for sharing. She was an angel!


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