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Associated Press

Audrey Hepburn, Hollywood’s Fairest Lady

August 10, 2010
by Anita Gutierrez-Folch
An icon of Hollywood elegance and style—and an avid philanthropist—Audrey Hepburn remains one of the most beloved movie stars of the 20th century.

Audrey Hepburn’s Early Days

Audrey Hepburn was born Edda Kathleen van Heemstra Hepburn-Ruston in Brussels, Belgium, on May 4, 1929, to an English father and a Dutch mother. Hepburn spent most of her youth in England, where she attended boarding school, and the Netherlands, where she and her mother relocated at the start of World War II. Hepburn’s father had abandoned the family when Audrey was only 6 years old, leaving her and her siblings solely under her mother’s care.

Despite the hardships the family endured during the war, Audrey was able to complete her education and take ballet lessons. She continued her studies in London and Amsterdam, perfecting her dancing and expanding into modeling and acting.

Hepburn's Notable Accomplishments

In 1948, Hepburn made her debut as a chorus girl in the musical “High Button Shoes” in London. In 1950, she earned her first feature role in the musical “Sauce Piquante.” The next year, Hepburn ventured onto film, obtaining a minor part in the feature film “One Wild Oat.”

Shortly after, Hepburn moved to New York for a starring role in a Broadway production  of the French comedy “Gigi,” a role that quickly caught Hollywood’s eye. In 1953, Hepburn was catapulted to fame with her role as Princess Ann in “Roman Holiday” alongside Gregory Peck, a part that earned her an Academy Award for Best Actress.

Film took predominance over theater as Hepburn’s career unfolded. During her last Broadway performance as a water nymph in “Ondine,” Hepburn met her future husband, co-star Mel Ferrer, and earned a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play.

In the following years, Hepburn continued to star in a variety of Hollywood hit productions, including lighter romantic films such as such as “Sabrina” (1954), “Funny Face” (1957) and “Love in the Afternoon” (1957), and historic dramas such as “War and Peace” (1956) and “A Nun’s Story” (1959).

In the 1960s, Hepburn evolved from sweet and naïve roles into more mature and controversial parts, such as her famous portrayal of Holly Golightly in Truman Capote’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961). This role was crucial for her Hollywood career, earning her a fourth Academy Award nomination and helping to establish her as an icon of elegance and style.

Casting decisions surrounding Hepburn were sometimes controversial, however. Author Truman Capote allegedly preferred the more sensual Marilyn Monroe for the role of Holly, and Hepburn herself had misgivings about taking the role. Hepburn was also controversially cast as Eliza Doolittle in the 1964 film version of the musical “My Fair Lady.” Many fans and critics believed the part belonged to Julie Andrews, who had portrayed the role on stage.

In 1967, Hepburn took on a more dramatic role, playing a blind woman in the thriller “Wait Until Dark.” She earned her fifth Oscar nomination for her starring role.

The Rest of the Story

When the 1960s came to an end, Audrey Hepburn abandoned acting as a full-time career, appearing sporadically in films such as “Robin and Marian” (1976), “Bloodline” (1979) and “They All Laughed” (1981). Her final appearance on screen was in Steven Spielberg’s “Always” (1989).

After her retirement from the movie industry, Hepburn spent most of her time in Switzerland. In 1968, she divorced Ferrer, with whom she had two sons, and married Italian psychiatrist Andrea Dotti shortly after. Dotti and Hepburn had one son together, but later divorced.

After retiring from film, Hepburn devoted her time and effort to children in need. Becoming a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in the late 1980s, Hepburn traveled through Africa, Asia and Latin America trying to raise awareness about children in need.

After returning from a trip to Somalia, Hepburn was diagnosed with colon cancer. She died on Jan. 20, 1993, in her Switzerland home.

To this day, Hepburn remains an icon of beauty, elegance, style and kindness. According to a Radio Times poll conducted in April 2010, women chose Audrey Hepburn as their favorite female movie icon.

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