The Tale of a British Icon: How Audrey Hepburn Went from Starlet to Legend

In today’s world, it’s uncommon to come across anyone who hasn’t heard of Audrey Hepburn. Recognized globally for her contribution to Hollywood’s Golden Age, it’s fair to say this woman set a high bar in the world of fashion and film.

As we’ve said, most people associate Hepburn as an icon in the acting and style industry, but how did she get there? Popular Everything is taking you on a tour through the evolution of one of Britain’s leading icons. From her earlier days as a ballet dancer, all the way to her work for Unicef, we vow to leave no fact uncovered!

Battling Through Hardships

Our story begins in Belgium, 1929 when the star was born. What some of you may not know was that at one point in her childhood, Audrey became known as Edda van Heemstra Hepburn-Ruston. Not only was her name a little more complicated than we remember it, but the same can be said for her early life.

Growing up in early twentieth century London, the terrors from the WWII outbreak were prominent in Hepburn’s daily life. So prominent in fact, that the star’s mother decided they would move back to the Netherlands in 1939, in the hopes of protecting them from Nazi invasion. Thus, the name change to Edda van Heemstra came into place, to conceal her British identity.

Holding Her Own Beliefs

When you’re young, you believe the word of your parents to be the absolute truth, right? Not in some cases. Despite Audrey’s mother and father both being known as Fascist, Nazi sympathizers, the situation for their daughter could not be more different.

As a teen, Audrey strongly disagreed with her parents’ political views. She did not share their pro-Nazi opinion and joined a resistance party in the Netherlands. Together, this group actively fought against the Nazis. It was here that Audrey took it upon herself to be a courier, raising funds and sending messages between several resistance groups. See, even from a young age this girl was turning heads with her work!

A Broken Family

Audrey may have received a wealthy and educated upbringing (did you know she learned five languages?!) but that didn’t mean things were going well behind closed doors. Here’s a perfect example of how money certainly does not buy happiness.

Audrey’s father was a dedicated Nazi sympathizer, so a relationship with his resistance-worker daughter was bound to be rocky from the offset. But they never even got a chance to properly interact. Joseph Ruston abandoned the family when Audrey was just six-years-old.

Failed Expectations

Life in the Netherlands was not as peaceful as Audrey’s mother, Ella van Heemstra had expected – this was a world war, after all. The famine which eventually hit Arnhem meant Audrey and family often struggled to find food. Can you imagine feeling hungry and not being able to do anything about it?

Like so many others who had suffered from Germany’s cutbacks in the Netherlands during the 1940s, Audrey suffered from illnesses such as anemia and malnutrition. It just goes to show, not all Hollywood stars have privileged beginnings!

Light on Her Feet

On a lighter note, Audrey also liked to spend time engaging in hobbies. Hepburn proved that performing is in her blood, after taking up ballet lessons from a young age – and doing pretty darn well at it. Hepburn began her training in Amsterdam, under the careful instruction of professional dancer, Sonia Gaskell.

Hepburn’s growing interest in both ballet and performing followed her after she moved back to London after the war ended in 1945. Just three years later in fact, and Hepburn was wowing the crowds as she starred as a chorus girl in the London musical, “High Button Shoes.” Talk about finding your talent early on in life!

A Natural Performer

If you ever need some inspiration to pursue your dreams, just read up on Audrey Hepburn’s life story. Performing on stage gave this young woman such a rush that she couldn’t wait to dip her feet further into the world of musical theater. Her talent scored her a role in Cecil Landeau’s play “Sauce Tartare” in 1949, and “Sauce Piquante” in the following year.

Fast forward just one year, and would you believe she’s already broken through into the world of film! That’s right, in 1951 Hepburn featured in the British comedy movie, “One Wild Oat.” It may have been just a small role as a hotel receptionist, but it was a step in the right direction.

Pursuing Her Passions

As the years go by, we tend to outgrow some of our previous hobbies. This was certainly not the case for someone as passionate and dedicated as Audrey Hepburn. Remember the early signs she showed of being a talented ballerina? This passion went one step further in 1952.

Success! Hepburn’s flair for dancing landed her most significant role as Nora Brentano in Thorold Dickinson’s crime-drama, “The Secret People.” In this role, Hepburn was granted the opportunity to wow audiences by performing all of her own ballet routines. As if her life couldn’t get any more exciting at this point, in the same year, Audrey put some time aside in her busy schedule for love.

A Big Decision

Back in her London days, Audrey had stumbled across James Hanson. As an educated businessman, Hanson proved himself to be quite the catch. James and Audrey hit it off immediately, and in 1952, Hanson eagerly popped the question to the love of his life, Audrey Hepburn.

Hepburn was entirely on board with the arrangement and seemingly couldn’t wait to be the new Mrs. Hanson. She had already bought her dress when Audrey was hit with a sudden realization that their different careers wouldn’t make a marriage work. She made the quick decision to call the whole thing off. Talk about an extreme case of cold feet!

Revelling in Success

The year 1953 truly granted Audrey Hepburn world domination. Her impressive performance in the romantic drama, “Roman Holiday,” really set this woman apart from the rest. Within this production, Hepburn embodied the courageous Princess Ann, a young girl who managed to flee from the strict limitations of being a royal.

Still not sure how impressed viewers were with Audrey’s performance in this movie? Get this: the young star was nominated for her first Academy Award for Best Actress – she was becoming quite a hit! Not only this, but Hepburn beat acting legend, Elizabeth Tayler, for the role. Now, that is something!

Back to Broadway

Moving over to the next year, and Audrey returned to her Broadway roots. The actress was working alongside American actor and stage director Mel Ferrer, in the play “Ondine.” Chemistry had to be high between these two, as they told the love story between a water nymph (Audrey) and human (Mel) beautifully.

Another day, another award! Hepburn was met with success once again for her latest movie. The same year the play was released, Audrey won a Tony Award for Best Actress in a play. It seems there was one person in particular Hepburn wanted to celebrate this tremendous win with…

Meeting the One

There seemed to be a lot of chemistry going on between Audrey Hepburn and Mel Ferrer within the fantasy show, but did you know these romantic feelings existed offscreen, too? The two actually met at a cocktail party hosted by a friend, Gregory Peck. It was Hepburn herself who suggested she star alongside Mel in a play during this time.

It was while filming together that the pair became official. Fast forward just eight months, and the two were so loved up they traveled to Switzerland on 25th September 1954 to tie the knot. What can we say, when you’ve found the one, you just know!

A Crowd Favorite

Despite not starring in any new productions in 1955, Audrey Hepburn’s name was still resounding in the mids of many critics. In this year, she was awarded a Golden Globe for World Film Favorite – people could not get enough of her!

Keen not to slow down any time soon, the next few years saw Audrey Hepburn continue doing what she does best – feature in some of the biggest productions of the year. In 1957, Audrey showed off those dancing skills once again, this time alongside Fred Astaire in the musical, “Funny Face.” While doing so, audiences were also wowed by the trendy garments she was donning.

A Style Icon

Wishing not just to be known for her acting and dancing abilities, this woman was also known as one of the biggest pioneers in the fashion world. The star can give thanks to one friend in particular for this.

During her time in the spotlight, Audrey Hepburn developed a close friendship with French fashion designer and her own personal stylist, Hubert de Givenchy. Imagine having one of the most popular fashion designers as your best friend, it’s any girl’s dream!

A Role to Remember

1961 was another big year for the acting superstar that was Audrey Hepburn. Why? She was cast to take Marilyn Monroe’s place in Blake Edward’s drama movie, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

Many remember this movie as Hepburn’s most defining roles of her entire career, winning the star her fourth Academy Award nomination. If you didn’t consider her a fashionista before, you certainly would have after watching her portray the Holly Golightly, the glamorous New Yorker who made heads turn in that now famous little black dress.

Personal Demons

What many people don’t know, was that playing such an extroverted character in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” proved to be quite the challenge for the young star. Despite having an entire nation swooning at her good looks, Hepburn herself was not one to brag.

This may come as a surprise to some, but Audrey Hepburn, like so many of us, suffered from her share of insecurities. It was later announced by people close to her that the star wasn’t always comfortable in her own skin, and even struggled at times to see why the public found her so attractive.

Marriage Breakdown

While experiencing several miscarriages from 1955 to 1959, the cracks were beginning to show between Hepburn and Ferrer’s marriage. Rumors circulated that the actor was controlling, with Hepburn herself admitting he often had a bad temper.

In an attempt to prove the headlines wrong that these two were not happily married, Audrey and Mel welcomed their first son, Sean Hepburn Ferrer, into the world in 1960. Despite this, there was no denying that these two had their issues, leading to their eventual decision to divorce in 1968. This came as a massive relief to Audrey’s mother, who felt Ferrer, the “frog-faced delinquent” only brought her daughter down. A perfect example of how a mother knows best!

The Steady Sixties

During the 1960s, by now a household name and Hollywood star, Audrey continued taking center stage in some of the biggest movies of the time. In 1963 she featured in the romantic-thriller “Charade,” the following year in the “My Fair Lady” musical, and horror movie, “Wait Until Dark,” in 1967.

This movie may have been released just one year prior to the breakdown of her marriage with Ferrer, but Hepburn was keen to stay professional. Her exceptional work as blind woman, Susy Hendrix, gained her not her third, not her fourth, but her fifth Academy Award nomination. That’s a lot of shiny trophies!

Another Shot at Love

As we know from how her life has played out so far, Audrey was not keen to dwell on past relationships too much. Just a year after the divorce from Mel Ferrer, the movie star became romantically linked to Italian psychiatrist, Andrea Dotti, after meeting on a cruise. Who knew, even when the cameras weren’t on her she was still living a fairy tale!

The couple felt no need to take things slowly and married the very next year. Where did the magic happen? The ceremony was held in a beautiful location at the town hall in Morgues, Switzerland. Audrey stunned the crowds too, donning a gown designed by you guessed it, Givenchy. Who else? Just four months after marrying, and Audrey fell pregnant again.

Welcoming Baby Number 2

Luca Dotti, Hepburn’s second child, was born February 8th, 1970. This time around, Hepburn wanted to devote more time to her son. She, therefore, took a back seat from her hectic acting schedule. This wasn’t to say she stopped acting completely, but her work became more infrequent. By this time, she was already a Hollywood legend, so we think she deserved a little break!

It turns out, this vacay from Hollywood life wasn’t as relaxing as Hepburn anticipated. Trouble in Swiss paradise struck after several rumors began to spread about Andrea’s infidelity – he had been spotted getting cozy with several younger women. By 1982, Audrey had completely detached herself from any feelings towards Dotti and divorced the Italian stallion.

Comeback of the Century

She may have almost taken a 10-year break from the acting world, but Audrey was certainly not getting comfortable. Keen to make a big comeback in Hollywood, Audrey returned in 1979 as Elizabeth Roffe in the thriller movie, “Bloodline.”

During this time, Audrey was still a few years from divorcing Dotti and clearly unhappy in her marriage. In a strange twist of events, Hepburn came across co-star, Ben Gazzara. The two got close and confided in each other over both of their failed marriages.

Wolders Was the One

The next time Audrey was to cross paths with Ben Gazzara was in 1981, on set for thriller-romance, “They All Laughed.” What had changed between Audrey from then and now? She was head-over-heels in love with a new beau, Robert Wolders.

Audrey first met Dutch businessman, Robert Wolders, at a party in 1980 – and some may say it was love at first sight. These two never married, but it was easily the most successful relationship Hepburn had; the love these two shared never seemed to die down.

Lending a Helping Hand

Audrey’s generous attributes shone during her teenage days as a courier, and they shone once again all those years later, through her tremendous work for the less fortunate.

Such humble beginnings had almost left this Hollywood star feeling guilty for the successes she had obtained over the years. Her desire to give back to society took her straight to UNICEF – an organization which provides food and healthcare to children and mothers across counties most affected by WWII. Not only did Audrey become an ambassador for the charity in 1988, but she donated her last movie paycheck to the group.

Paying Her Back

Hepburn passed away on January 20th, 1993. In order to pay thanks for her tremendous efforts to help raise awareness and work for the UNICEF charity, the head members of the organization created a tribute which honored the star.

So, what was it? The tribute to Audrey took the form of a bronze statue labeled “The Spirit of Audrey.” It was revealed in 2002 during a ceremony opened by husband, Wolders – who was also a key contributor to the UNICEF charity.

One Inspirational Legacy

What a woman! There are not many people in this world who hold as many talents as Hepburn while having the compassion to donate such a heavy amount of their time to the less fortunate.

Whether you remember her as the teenage Dutch resistance member, the Hollywood movie star and trendsetter or the compassionate UNICEF donator, there’s an inspirational story that goes with any part of Audrey Hepburn’s life.