Audrey Hepburn: A Charmed Life

Audrey Hepburn: A Charmed Life

by Robyn Karney


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“A sumptuously illustrated book which will delight idolaters of high fashion and movie stardom.” —Times Literary Supplement

With 177 superb photographs, Audrey Hepburn is a sumptuous celebration of Hepburn as a beloved fashion icon and actress. Karney tells the story of Hepburn’s life, from her childhood in Nazi-occupied Holland, through her early aspirations to become a ballet dancer, the instant and universal acclaim of her onscreen debut and her years as one of Hollywood’s most sought-after stars, to her later life working among the poorest children of the Third World. Karney’s book gives fans a rare view into the life of a beloved star.

Hepburn’s acting career began after a series of minor revue and film roles in London. Hepburn was spotted by the writer Colette, who immediately cast her in the central role of a Broadway adaptation of her story, Gigi. Soon afterwards, Hepburn was offered a role alongside Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday, for which she collected an Oscar for Best Actress. The book highlights all her success that followed: she won the Tony Award for Best Actress for Ondine, captivated audiences as Natasha in War and Peace, and was highly praised for her brilliance in a serious role in The Nun’s Story. Hepburn’s style was perfection, and her clothes—many of them designed by Givenchy, who dressed her for Funny Face in 1957—placed her on the world’s Best-Dressed Women list for several consecutive years. Her personality and sensuous yet untouchable beauty made her irresistible to the public. On Hepburn’s death, Liz Taylor said, “God has a most beautiful new angel now that will know just what to do in heaven.”

Skyhorse Publishing, along with our Arcade, Good Books, Sports Publishing, and Yucca imprints, is proud to publish a broad range of biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs. Our list includes biographies on well-known historical figures like Benjamin Franklin, Nelson Mandela, and Alexander Graham Bell, as well as villains from history, such as Heinrich Himmler, John Wayne Gacy, and O. J. Simpson. We have also published survivor stories of World War II, memoirs about overcoming adversity, first-hand tales of adventure, and much more. While not every title we publish becomes a New York Times bestseller or a national bestseller, we are committed to books on subjects that are sometimes overlooked and to authors whose work might not otherwise find a home.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781628725650
Publisher: Arcade
Publication date: 10/06/2015
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 124,317
Product dimensions: 9.00(w) x 11.40(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Robyn Karney’s work in film includes writing and editing, film criticism, and film story consultancy. She is the editor of Who’s Who in Hollywood.

Read an Excerpt


Who Is Audrey, What Isshe ...?

I was a very ordinary-looking little girlthin, bony, straight-haired, bewildered

Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn fits none of the clichés and none of the clichés fits her

Time magazine

Clues to Audrey Hepburn's originality are to be found in the background and events that shaped her. She was born on 4 May 1929, to parents who, in the words of writer Charles Higham, 'constituted a slightly indelicate pairing of the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie'. The baby daughter, christened Edda Kathleen Van Heemstra Hepburn-Ruston, was a 'long baby' with the 'prettiest laughing eyes'. From the outset, she was fragile, quiet and shy — 'a changeling in a family of sturdy charmers'.

The 'indelicate pairing' referred to by Higham was that of J.A. Hepburn-Ruston, a highly-placed Anglo-Irish banker, divorced and reportedly irresistible to women, and the Baroness Ella Van Heemstra, a Dutch aristocrat of distinguished lineage, divorced, the mother of two small sons, and still young and beautiful.

The Van Heemstras, a long line of wealthy, land-owning Dutch aristocrats, had close connections with the Royal household, which several of them had served in various capacities. The men distinguished themselves in the military, in government administration and in the law. They were proud, dutiful, honourable and cultivated people.

Audrey's mother was the third daughter of Baron Aarnoud Van Heemstra, a dignified and eminent lawyer who attended at the Court of Queen Wilhelmina. He had been, for a time, the Burgomaster of Arnhem, and was afterwards appointed to the governership of Dutch Guiana (later Suriname), which colony he ruled with distinction from 1921 to 1928.

In 1896, he had married Elbrig Van Asbeck, a baroness in her own right, whose antecedents could be traced to the twelfth century and included Hungarian, French and Jewish stock. Aarnoud and Elbrig had five daughters (one of whom became lady-in-waiting to Queen Juliana) and a son. This sizeable brood spent much of their childhood on one of the large family estates at Doom in Utrecht, living in a splendid castle surrounded by a moat and several hundred acres of verdant countryside.

Today, Het Kasteel De Doom, as the castle was known, is called simply Huis-Doorn, and is open to the public as a stately home-cum-museum. It figures in the history books as the last refuge of Kaiser Wilhelm II, who bought it from Baroness Elbrig Van Heemstra soon after his flight from Germany towards the end of World War I. At this time, 1918, the Van Heemstras had moved residence to another of their ancestral estates near Arnhem where, in 1920, their daughter Ella married the Honourable Jan Van Ufford, also a distinguished aristocrat and servant of the Royal household.

This was a stormy union, which ended in divorce five years and two sons later. Baroness Ella Van Heemstra, as she reverted to calling herself, and her boys, Alexander and Ian, spent periods of time with her parents in Suriname. There she met Joseph Hepburn-Ruston, who, as managing director of the Brussels branch of the Bank of England, was closely concerned with the administration of the Van Heemstras' financial affairs and properties.

The couple were married in Batavia (now Jakarta) in September 1926, and in due course took up residence outside Brussels. It was here, in a large, elegant and gracious nineteenth-century house, set in attractive grounds, that their first and only child was born. Despite the proverbial silver spoon in her mouth, she displayed neither the robust physicality that characterises the Dutch nor the confident, outgoing personality that went with her lineage.

Audrey Hepburn's later life bore, to a pronounced degree, all the marks of a childhood and adolescence that turned out to be a striking amalgam of privilege and deprivation. Inculcated with the breeding, culture, discipline and history of the Van Heemstras (whose portraits graced the walls of art galleries and museums as well as those of fine private houses), spending her early years in luxurious and idyllic surroundings, she wanted for nothing. She loved her half-brothers, in whose company she lost her shyness and played the tomboy with evident relish; her relationship with her mother was a close one, which she later admitted had the greatest influence on her. The attachment remained strong until Ella's death in 1984.

However, Baroness Van Heemstra was as formidable as she was admirable. She acted as the strong-willed guardian of her daughter's interests, and her disagreement over certain issues, notably the men in Audrey's life, made for periodic difficulties. Towards the end of her life, Audrey, who was always driven by the need for love and affection, spoke of her mother in an American television interview with Professor Richard Brown: 'It is true that I had an extraordinary mother. She herself was not a very affectionate person in the sense that I today consider affection. I spent a lot of time looking for it — and I found it. She was a fabulous mother but she came from an era — she was born in 1900, Victorian influence still — of great discipline, of great ethics ... a lot of love within her, not always able to show it. And very strict.'

When Ella Van Heemstra was growing up, her father held the traditional view that well-born young women avoided having any truck with the stage and the people connected with it. They were not considered respectable. The independent-minded Baroness no longer shared this opinion. Her authoritarian style of parenting notwithstanding, she encouraged her daughter's early enthusiasms for music and dance, and supported her later ambitions.

While still a tiny child, Audrey manifested a passionate love of animals, flowers and the countryside, which endured throughout her life. Other than enjoying games with her brothers, she was a solitary little girl, preferring to play with kittens, puppies and rabbits rather than other children. Reclusive and hypersensitive, she reacted badly to tensions and unhappiness, yet was capable of enjoyment, high spirits, and an impish and infectious sense of humour. A daydreamer who loved dressing up in her mother's clothes, she was keenly responsive to music and, as soon as she was able to read, became an avid bookworm, much influenced by her brother Ian.

Their shared enthusiasm for books was one of the few private memories that she articulated in detail in later years, telling the London Evening News, 'He's the original bookworm and when we were children he was devoted to Kipling. I admired him so much that I read all Kipling's books because I wanted to be like him ... The result was that I had read nearly every book by Edgar Wallace and E. Phillips Oppenheim before I was 13. Those were real adventure books, and to me as a girl they had far more appeal than "Topsy Goes to School".'

This strong response to literature, combined with her refusal to play with dolls, which she considered 'silly', are early indications of the paradoxes that would come to characterise her image and persona in later years. The girl who hated dolls would grow to love children and long for her own; the taste for exciting thrillers and adventure stories was superseded by her devotion to fairy stories. She said, in the same interview, 'If I ever want to accentuate the importance of anything in any form of entertainment, it is the quality of the fairy tale ... people go to the theatre and the cinema for the same reason that makes them like fairy tales — the sense of watching something that isn't real. The fairy tale is, to my mind, the core of entertainment.'

Early childhood, then, was protected and comfortable, a period of privileged play in wonderful surroundings, nurtured by nannies, governesses, and private tutors. Time was divided between the family estates in Belgium and Holland and, from the age of four, England, where she was taken during the winter months. But a shadow was cast over this seemingly perfect existence by tensions which arose in her parents' marriage. By all accounts, the major cause of strife between the Hepburn-Rustons was the husband's method of handling his wife's financial affairs. Conflict degenerated into open quarrel, creating an atmosphere that clearly distressed Audrey. During her father's frequent absences abroad on bank business, she seemed happy enough within the limitations of her grave and shy personality, but his homecomings upset the child. She would then withdraw into her shell, hiding in the nearby fields and, in a classic syndrome of misery, eating compulsively. Chocolates were a particular favourite and, despite her almost painful thinness throughout most of her life, she went through a period of ungainly puppy fat.

In 1935, when Audrey was six, without preamble or explanation, her father left the household never to return. He settled in London, where his upper-class social circle included Sir Oswald and Lady Diana Mosley and Hitler's girlfriend Unity Mitford. He forged ever closer links with these acquaintances, and became a wholehearted supporter of Mosley's Fascist movement, marching with the British Black Shirts. His daughter's views on this turn of events have not been made public. Apparently, when World War II was over he was living in Ireland, but there are conflicting accounts as to whether or not she ever saw him again after the outbreak of the war.

Meanwhile, and contrary to expectation, when her parents' divorce was finalised some considerable time after Hepburn-Ruston's exit, he insisted on regular access to his daughter. The practical outcome of the settlement was that Audrey, not yet ten, shy, jittery, self-consciously critical of her appearance and temperamentally unsuited to the rigours of a hearty, hockey-playing English educational establishment, was shipped off to an exclusive girls' boarding school near London. With the unyielding determination to put a positive gloss on a negative situation that coloured all her public comments, she confessed many years later that she had been 'terrified', but that 'it ended up being a good lesson in independence'.

In the event, Audrey's relatively brief sojourn at the school proved of profound significance to her future. The strict regime, academic demands and communal living for so reclusive a young girl must have been a shock to the system. She had been a sickly child and now developed the migraine headaches that would continue to plague her. But the difficulties of adjustment were quickly compensated for by the ballet lessons she began to take at the school. When Baroness Van Heemstra arrived to meet her daughter at the end of the first term, she found a new Audrey: lively, enthusiastic and obsessed with dance. From that moment on, ballet became her passion, Pavlova her heroine and stardom her aspiration.

London broadened her horizons in other directions. She was taken to the major historical monuments such as the Tower and learned about the queens who had perished there; she visited the National Gallery, enjoyed the Zoo at Regent's Park (nearby to where Ella rented an apartment), experienced the thrills of Madame Tussaud's, and responded with enthusiasm to that uniquely British form of entertainment the Christmas pantomime.

The pattern of Audrey's life seemed set for several years to come when, on 3 September 1939, Britain declared war on Hitler's Germany. Baroness Van Heemstra, fearing a Nazi invasion of England, prevailed upon her ex-husband to send their daughter back to Holland in the interests of her safety — not just Holland, but Arnhem, a city close to the German border which would have to endure some of the severest consequences of the Occupation.

But the irony of Baroness Van Heemstra's decision didn't become apparent until the following spring. In September 1939, Arnhem was a delightful city of historic associations and fine medieval architecture, bordered by lovely woodlands and gentle hills rather than the characteristically dull, flat landscape of the country. In addition to museums, art galleries, historic homes and old churches, there were parks, ablaze with tulips in the spring and summer, and a local symphony orchestra. And, of course, the bridge, to become famous as the scene of a brutal defeat for an Allied invasion.

Arnhem was a city of English affiliations. Several English families had settled there in the seventeenth century, and the famous poet and soldier Sir Philip Sidney died there. Baroness Van Heemstra became president of the local branch of the British-Netherlands Society, a position that provided fertile ground for sowing the seeds of wartime resistance in which she would soon be heavily engaged.

When Audrey arrived to join her mother and brothers, she found herself living in one of the comfortable family estates just outside the city. She was enrolled at the Arnhem Day School to continue her education, a routine step for a ten-year-old girl, but one that presented her with severe difficulties since she had not learned to speak Dutch. Recalling her first days at the school, she described how she 'sat at my little bench completely baffled. For several days I went home weeping. But I knew I couldn't just give up. I was forced to learn the language quickly. And I did.'

Rather more happily for the girl, her mother arranged for her to pursue her ballet lessons at the Arnhem Conservatory of Music and Dance. If the teaching was undistinguished, it was sufficient to give Audrey a much-needed training in posture, to strengthen her spine, and to loosen up the stiffness which was a heavy liability for a would-be ballerina. Her feet and ankles were weak but, drawing on her characteristic steely determination, she worked at strengthening them sufficiently to allow her to dance on point.

By the spring of 1940, the war clouds were rumbling over Holland. Uniformed soldiers tramped the streets, barbed-wire barricades were erected across the Dutch fields (visible near the Van Heemstra home), the quiet was periodically shattered by gunfire from the borders. That same spring, in the face of serious danger, the Sadler's Wells Ballet was touring Holland and arrived to perform in Arnhem. The courageous company, in the charge of the illustrious choreographer and teacher Ninette (later Dame Ninette) De Valois and conductor Constant Lambert, was headed by Margot Fonteyn, Robert Helpmann and Frederick Ashton. They gave a repertoire that included The Rake's Progress, Walton's Façade, and Les Patineurs.

Their performance was undoubtedly the high point of the starstruck young Audrey's life to date, the occasion further enhanced by the fact that Ella, in her capacity as president of the British-Netherlands Society, hosted the evening. There is a story that exemplifies the atmosphere in which this memorable performance took place.

After the curtain, against a background of increasing gunfire heard in the distance and apparently oblivious of the dangers that were becoming evident to everybody else, the Baroness made a fulsome speech. In addition to the thanks given and the compliments paid, she kept the nervous dancers sitting through a seemingly endless account of the history of Sadler's Wells. That was not all. When she finally wound up her address, Ella announced a late-night supper, at which Audrey was introduced to her idols and presented them with bouquets.

As soon as they decently could, the ballet company fled into their buses, making for the coast and the perilous journey home, but minus scenery, props and costumes which they were forced to leave behind in their efforts to escape the imminent German invasion. There was, however, an explanation for Ella Van Heemstra's behaviour. Aware that there were Nazi supporters in the audience that night, and having already decided to adopt a determinedly unprovocative stance in relation to the Germans, she wished to give the impression that the safety of the English visitors was of little concern to her. It was the first game in the charade that she would play throughout the war, a period when she subtly implied that the Van Heemstra links with the last Kaiser indicated a pro-German bias. With Jewish blood in her veins, Ella could ill afford to antagonise the enemy.

On 10 May 1940, after a night of alarms and sirens, gunfire and falling parachutes, the Germans crossed the Rhine into Holland; on 15 May the Dutch were forced to capitulate. Arnhem, and the rest of the country, was now occupied by the armies of the Third Reich.


Frailty and Fortitude

What I fear most in all the world is war, especially human suffering. During the Nazi occupation ... I saw so many things which made a lasting impression. But out of it all has come the fact that I am basically optimistic

Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn is the gamine, the urchin, the lost Barnardo boy ... she is a wistful child of a war-chided era

Cecil Beaton

Audrey Hepburn's steel will was forged in the fires of war. Through five long years, hardship and tragedy held sway in Arnhem, where, in common with the majority of their compatriots throughout the country, people demonstrated high courage, doing whatever was possible to defy Nazi edicts and hide and protect members of their Jewish population. Queen Wilhelmina and her cabinet fled to exile in England. Throughout the war, she broadcast to her suffering subjects on Freedom Radio and became the symbol of their resistance.

Dutch children were forced to confront the horrors of the war; hundreds were active participants, and many died, in the struggle for liberty. Among those who perished was the young Dutch Jewess Anne Frank. Her bravery and lost youth came to serve as an emblem for the fortitude of many of her contemporaries. The eleven-year-old Edda Van Heemstra was one of them and in later years, as Audrey Hepburn the actress, she was repeatedly approached to play her tragic contemporary in the dramatisation of The Diary of Anne Frank. It was an obvious choice, but she steadfastly refused. Then, in 1991, in her role as ambassador and fund-raiser for UNICEF, she appeared with the London Symphony Orchestra at London's Barbican concert hall, where she read from Anne Frank's diaries to an orchestral setting composed by the conductor, Michael Tilson Thomas.


Excerpted from "Audrey Hepburn"
by .
Copyright © 2012 Robyn Karney.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

1 Who Is Audrey, What Is She,
2 Frailty and Fortitude,
3 Stepping Out,
4 Willy, Billy, Bill and Mel,
5 War and Peace,
6 Bonjour Paree,
7 Acts of Faith,
8 A New Life,
9 Fair Lady,
10 Retreat,
11 Journeys,
Feature Films,

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