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Audrey Hepburn, Hollywood's Beautiful Ambassador

Updated on August 8, 2014

Audrey Hepburn, Fashion Icon, Movie Star, and Diplomat

Audrey Hepburn was a beautiful Belgian born British actress and model, who became one of the most successful and well-known film actresses in the world.

She was a fashion icon and role model for women all over the world, helping to typify and define a particular type of fresh, vulnerable, elfin beauty. Today's popularity of the slim fashion model is due to Audrey Hepburn's influence.

Although she appeared frail she was mentally extremely strong and at the end of her acting career when she went on to a diplomatic career as a children's ambassador for Unicef, she was so solidly committed to her cause she became regarded in the highest esteem by even the most hardened politicians. She is still well regarded today and is ranked at number three in the American film Institute's list of Greatest Hollywood Actresses.

Early Days

Audrey Hepburn was born Audrey Kathleen Ruston in Brussels on 4 May 1929. Her father was a wealthy English banker, and her mother a Dutch baroness. When they divorced in 1935 Audrey briefly attended school in England


    Audrey in 1939, aged 10 then returned to live with her mother and her two half-brothers in Arnhem in Holland. From 1940 she lived there under German occupation and saw such hardship that she turned down a role in 'The Diary of Anne Frank' in 1959 because of the painful memories it stirred. She herself suffered malnutrition during the war years and she once confessed to eating tulip bulbs. Her later hard work for UNICEF was partly as a result of the tragedies she witnessed during the war.

She had ambitions to become a ballet dancer and trained at the Arnhem Conservatory moving to London after the war to study with the Marie Rambert Ballet Company. In order to support herself she did part-time modeling and she registered with various film studios as an actress in the hope of getting part-time work as an extra.

The Young Actress

After appearing in an educational film 'Dutch in Seven Lessons' in 1948 her first movie role was a small part in the British film 'One Wild Oat' in 1951 followed by several other minor roles in 'Young Wives' Tale', 'Laughter in Paradise', and 'The Lavender Hill Mob' . Her fresh, radiant good looks were noticed and she got the break she needed by being chosen to play the lead in the American production of 'Gigi' which began a long run in November, 1951 and for which she won a Theatre World Award for her performance.

Her success in 'Gigi' led to film offers and she was offered her first important movie role in the 1952 film 'Secret People' in which she played a ballerina. She then obtained the role which thrust her into the world spotlight, that of the princess in William Wyler's 'Roman Holiday' in 1953, co-starring with Gregory Peck. At the age of only 24 Audrey won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her enchanting performance in 'Roman Holiday' and she became a fully fledged Hollywood star.

Audrey with Alec Guinness in 'The Lavender Hill Mob' in 1951
Audrey with Alec Guinness in 'The Lavender Hill Mob' in 1951

                     Audrey with Alec Guinness in 'The Lavender Hill Mob' in 1951

The Hollywood Star

The following year she followed this success with a Tony Award for Best Actress for her work in 'Ondine'. It was at this time that she became a role model for the modern young woman. It seemed as if every female wanted to be Audrey Hepburn.


With Humphrey Bogart in 'Sabrina' 1954 Audrey's subsequent film career was not long - she played only 15 major roles between 1953 and 1967 - but she was nominated four more times as Best Actress for her roles in 'Sabrina' in 1954,The Nun's Story' in 1959, 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' in 1961, and 'Wait Until Dark' in 1967. She was also critically acclaimed for her performances in 'War and Peace' in 1956 and 'Funny Face' with Fred Astaire and 'Love in the Afternoon' the following year. 'Charade' in 1963, her only film with Cary Grant,was another major commercial success and in 1964 she had one of her few movie disappointments with 'Paris When It Sizzles' with William Holden.

In 1964 Audrey was cast as Eliza Doolittle in 'My Fair Lady' which won the Best Picture award for that year. Although she recorded vocals her singing was dubbed for the film and she received some criicism for her acting in the early part of the movie. After her Oscar nominated role as the terrorized, blind heroine of the thriller 'Wait Until Dark' in 1967, Audrey made made only a few pictures. She co-starred with Sean Connery in 'Robin and Marian' in 1976, and appeared in the crime thriller 'Bloodline' in 1979. Her movie career was over but a new career beckoned.

Breakfast at Tiffany's, 1961

                   Audrey as Holly Golightly, the part she was destined to play.

A new career - UNICEF - The United Nations Children's Fund

UNICEF is an organization that assists children in crises by providing food, medical care and schooling. Audrey originally started working for UNICEF in 1954, doing radio presentations for them and she always said that was happy to dedicate her life to helping impoverished children after her own good fortune in surviving the rigors of the Nazi occupation of Holland.

She began her permanent ambassadorship by visiting Ethiopia and Turkey in 1988 and then went on to tour South and Central America. The following year she visited Sudan and Bangladesh. Everywhere she went she exuded a natural warmth to which people responded. As a hardened UN photographer said: "Children would just come up to hold her hand, touch her - she was like the Pied Piper".

Audrey continued her work for UNICEF in in the 1990s, going to Vietnam and then Somalia during a terrible drought. She was always positive: "People in these places don't know Audrey Hepburn, but they recognize the name UNICEF. When they see UNICEF their faces light up, because they know that something is happening. In the Sudan, for example, they call a water pump UNICEF".

In 1992, her indefatiguable work with UNICEF was recognised when she was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush. In the same year she was also awarded the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for her contribution to humanity. It was awarded posthumously and was accepted by her son on her behalf.

Personal Life

Audrey married twice, first to American actor Mel Ferrer from 1954 to 1968, and then to an Italian doctor, Andrea Dotti from 1969 to 1982. She had a son with each - Sean in 1960 by Ferrer, and Luca in 1970 by Dotti. Her elder son's godfather was the novelist A. J. Cronin, who resided near Hepburn in Lucerne. She had several affairs, most notably with Albert Finney, her co-star in 'Two for the Road' in 1967. From 1980 until her death, she lived with the actor Robert Wolders. She called this time the happiest of her life.

Audrey Hepburn died of colon cancer at her home in Switzerland on January 20, 1993. She was 63.

Audrey Hepburn DVD's

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What's your take on Audrey Hepburn? All comments welcome!

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      dollartlover 5 years ago

      I admiror her inside and outside beauty! Check out my lens!

    • CoeGurl profile image

      CoeGurl 5 years ago from USA

      Love her, as you can see by my lens Audrey Hepburn Style, all about Audrey Hepburn's elegant style. It's very interesting to see the photo you posted of Audrey at age 10!