Audrey Hepburn: An Icon

A star among stars, in a time when Hollywood was thriving, Audrey Hepburn’s beauty and talent made her nationwide famous. Considered to be one of the biggest movie icons of the twentieth century, Hepburn was also involved in humanitarian work during and after her acting career.

Humble Beginnings

Born near Brussels on May 4th, 1929 as Edda van Heemstra Hepburn-Ruston, Audrey Hepburn went on to become one of Hollywood’s biggest icons throughout the 1950s and 60s. Starring in one huge role after another, she was an unstoppable force wining the hearts of millions who were witnessing her charm and talent on screen consistently. 

However, it wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows for Miss Hepburn as she grew up during a very turbulent time in the world. During World War II she and her family struggled a lot to find their footings. She lost an uncle and a cousin to the Nazis all the while her parents were struggling to put food on the table. 

It wasn’t until she and her family moved to London that her life truly began. By doing ballet and modeling, her talent was apparent on many fronts. Her performance in the Broadway play Gigi as a result led to her being cast in her first movie as a lead in Roman Holiday. 


Taking Over Hollywood

Once the audience saw Audrey Hepburn on the screen as a young princess looking for a change in Roman Holiday (1953), they were immediately enamored. For her performance, she became the first actress ever to win all three awards; an Oscar, Golden Globe and BAFTA. That same year she also won a Tony award for her performance in the play Ondine, which clearly meant that she was set to have a legendary career in Hollywood. 

She continued her dominance with her mesmerizing performance in Sabrina (1954), where she plays a young woman looking for love. The film was number one in the box office for its first two weeks of being released, and went on to be nominated for six Oscars, including of course a Best Actress nomination for Audrey Hepburn herself. 

The musical Funny Face, released in 1957, was her next role. Here she stars as a shy bookstore assistant who is brought into the modeling world because of her “funny face”. Not sure why the producers thought that casting one of the most conventionally beautiful people to ever live in a role where she is supposed to have a funny face would work, but the movie was in fact received well.  Hepburn sings her own songs in the film, and her performance is as great as the audiences would have come to expect by this point. Although it’s worth mentioning that, as was a pattern with most Hollywood films of that time, Hepburn’s love interest, the legend Fred Astaire, was three decades older than her. 

The thoughtful religious drama ‘The Nun’s Story’ released in 1959 was a very complex role for Hepburn. Based on the novel by Marie Louise Habets, the movie was longer than usual for her roles, coming in at a runtime of 152 minutes. In it, she plays a young woman who has decided to dedicate her life to religion and become a nun. Upon entering a convent, the film follows her journey and inner conflicts as she grows as a person and as a nun. The film was nominated for eight Oscars, although it did not win any of them. Hepburn was once again nominated for Best Actress as well. 

In perhaps her most iconic role ever, she starred in Breakfast at Tiffany’s in 1961. The movie was a huge commercial and critical success, with its impact being felt even nowadays everywhere. The Library of Congress selected the movie for preservation as “culturally, historically or aesthetically important.” Hepburn also sings one of the most iconic movie songs ever, “Moon River” written for the movie by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer. Moreover, Hepburn’s looks during the film are considered some of the most iconic ever. Even her sunglasses are iconic, in fact her “Little Black Dress” worn during the movie is considered as the most famous LBD of all time and the most iconic look of the twentieth century. 

She once stated that playing extroverted roles was a bit of a difficulty for her due to her being an introvert by nature. 

The Children’s Hour (1961), is a drama film based on the stage play by Lillian Hellman. Directed by William Wyler, the story was quite groundbreaking at the time. It focuses on two women being accused of being in love by one of their students, and the consequences thereafter. 

In Charade (1963), she starred alongside legendary lead man Cary Grant. She plays the role of a recently widowed woman who gets caught up in a murder-mystery. The movie combines the romantic, comedy and thriller genres all in one. 

She was a regular in Hollywood up until 1967, with more impactful roles in movies such as Paris When It Sizzles (1964), My Fair Lady (1964), How to Steal a Million (1966), and Wait Until Dark (1967) for which Hepburn received yet another Oscar nomination. 

She only gave very few performances from this point and on, releasing only four movies all throughout the 1970s and 80s, with her last role being in Steven Spielberg’s ‘Always (1989)’. 


Humble Endings

Having been married twice, becoming a style icon, a Hollywood star, and mother of two, Audrey Hepburn spent all her life, but especially her last few years, doing humanitarian work. 

She became a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF in 1989, and was in office until her death in 1993. Her first field mission for UNICEF was in Ethiopia where she visited an orphanage and sent food to starving children. She attributed her humanitarian work to her own struggles early in her life when she did not have enough to eat. She also went to Turkey, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bangladesh, Vietnam and more to offer help to those in need. For her work with UNICEF, she was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by U.S. President George W. H. Bush. 

To call Audrey Hepburn simply a legend is not even doing service to her status. She is one of the best actors, one of the most beautiful people, one of the most talented and perhaps the biggest style icon to have ever lived. Ingeniously talented, her name will be remembered for as long as there are people to remember. 


Picture: Shutterstock / Lucian Milasan

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