Cinemagic . . . . . .

Icon of film and fash­ion

Evergreen - - Contents Summer 2015 - Amanda Hodges

My dream was to wear a tutu and dance at Covent Gar­den.” This as­pi­ra­tion was Au­drey Hep­burn’s child­hood hope, keenly nur­tured even whilst try­ing to sur­vive the hard­ships of daily life in oc­cu­pied Hol­land dur­ing the Sec­ond World War and it was an am­bi­tion that brought her to Lon­don in early 1947. Here, with a com­bi­na­tion of much hard work and some lib­eral serendip­ity, and with her mother’s as­sis­tance, she would be­gin an ex­cit­ing new life, ini­tially en­rolled as a stu­dent at Marie Ram­bert’s fa­mous bal­let school.

Born Au­drey Kath­leen Rus­ton in 1929 in Brus­sels ( the Hep­burn came later) to a Dutch mother and an English fa­ther, Au­drey was con­sid­ered Bri­tish and car­ried a Bri­tish pass­port all her life, yet her ap­peal was quintessen­tially Euro­pean, her gamine beauty and de­light­ful per­son­al­ity one that would carve her an in­deli­ble place in the pan­theon of cin­ema history.

Au­drey had spent the war years in Arn­hem and Velp with her mother Ella ( her fa­ther Joseph hav­ing aban­doned the fam­ily when she was six) and the suf­fer­ing she ex­pe­ri­enced dur­ing this pe­riod pro­foundly in­flu­enced the rest of her life.

For the fu­ture UNICEF am­bas­sador her so­cial con­science was shaped at an early age, the young Au­drey car­ry­ing mes­sages for the Dutch Re­sis­tance in her shoes — since chil­dren were less likely to be stopped by Ger­man sol­diers — and she also par­tic­i­pated in reg­u­lar dance recitals given se­cretly in pri­vate houses, all funds as­sist­ing the Re­sis­tance. This may have placed her in con­stant jeop­ardy but, as she later re­flected as an adult, “there is prob­a­bly noth­ing in the world as de­ter­mined as a child with a dream… and I wanted to dance more than I feared the Ger­mans”.

Sadly, de­spite her un­quench­able spirit the detri­men­tal ef­fect of longterm food short­ages meant she ended the war se­verely mal­nour­ished, which was the real rea­son be­hind her fa­mously thin fig­ure, and she could only re­sume her danc­ing once she’d had time to prop­erly re­build her strength.

But Au­drey, who would be­come flu­ent in sev­eral lan­guages, was noth­ing if not de­ter­mined and when of­fered the op­por­tu­nity through her tu­tor So­nia Gaskell ( who’d worked with Di­aghilev), to come to study in Lon­don she leapt at the chance. This wasn’t her first visit to Eng­land, though, as she had spent the years 1936 to 1939 en­sconced at a small girls’ academy in Kent ( where she’d first dis­cov­ered the joys of bal­let), re­turn­ing to Hol­land only when war broke out in Septem­ber 1939.

Af­ter suc­cess­fully au­di­tion­ing in 1947 Au­drey would study dance in­ten­sively by day and work part- time in the evenings as a pho­tog­ra­pher’s model, also ap­pear­ing in ads for soap and sham­poo. Sadly her dance dreams were soon thwarted when, af­ter not be­ing in­cluded on the Ram­bert tour of 1948, it was de­cided she was too tall ( at five foot seven) and too ma­ture to have any re­al­is­tic prospects of be­ing a prima bal­le­rina. Up­set but aware of her press­ing need to make a liv­ing, Au­drey re­luc­tantly turned her at­ten­tions from dance and out into the wider field of en­ter­tain­ment.

Her first break was be­ing cast in the mu­si­cal com­edy High But­ton Shoes which opened at Lon­don’s Hip­po­drome in De­cem­ber 1948 and which cast Au­drey as one of sev­eral bathing beau­ties in var­i­ous dance se­quences. Spot­ted by pro­ducer Ce­cil Lan­deau and sub­se­quently cast in a pi­quant mu­si­cal re­vue

en­ti­tled Sauce Tartare which opened at the Cam­bridge Theatre in 1949, Au­drey was given a few lines to say in a se­ries of satir­i­cal sketches which hap­pily saw her able to em­ploy her dance skills. Sauce Tartare was much en­joyed by the crit­ics who rel­ished its wit and it ran for over 400 per­for­mances, its suc­cess spawn­ing the less- im­pres­sive and short­lived se­quel Sauce Pi­quante which lam­pooned pop­u­lar con­tem­po­rary plays and films. For Au­drey its most im­por­tant con­tri­bu­tion was that Lan­deau sent his favourite per­form­ers — which in­cluded her — over to the well- es­tab­lished Ciro’s night­club nearby to fea­ture in a so­phis­ti­cated late- night re­vue en­ti­tled Sum­mer Nights.

To­day the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery’s Public Ar­chives oc­cupy the space once in­hab­ited by Ciro’s in Or­ange Street 65 years ago. Back in 1950 few could have re­alised that they were wit­ness­ing one of Hol­ly­wood’s bright­est stars in the as­cen­dant when Au­drey ap­peared here. Amidst the in­ti­mate con­fines of Ciro’s, au­di­ences were at last able to see her up close and her nat­u­ral, fresh- faced charm made her im­me­di­ately no­tice­able.

Work­ing phe­nom­e­nally hard and fin­ish­ing in the early hours af­ter her stint at Ciro’s, Au­drey’s tal­ent was no­ticed by at least two agents and, re­al­is­ing that film work might be forth­com­ing, she de­cided to en­rol with well- known ac­tor Felix Aylmer in or­der to im­prove her act­ing cre­den­tials. She pos­sessed ex­em­plary nat­u­ral poise and energy but un­der Aylmer’s ex­pert tute­lage she also learned how to pro­ject her voice and to con­vey di­a­logue ef­fec­tively.

Along­side her act­ing stud­ies of the time Au­drey also con­tin­ued to model, her nat­u­ral el­e­gance a fash­ion pho­tog­ra­pher’s dream and long be­fore her name gained wide­spread recog­ni­tion her face graced Pic­ture­goer and Film Re­view mag­a­zines as a ris­ing star. Aylmer had many con­nec­tions in show­busi­ness and sent Au­drey to test for the Hol­ly­wood epic, Quo Vadis. Although she au­di­tioned well, MGM Stu­dios didn’t have the courage to cast an un­known and opted for Deb­o­rah Kerr in­stead. But un­be­known to Au­drey fate had al­ready taken a piv­otal step in de­vel­op­ing her em­bry­onic ca­reer.

As­so­ci­ated Bri­tish Pic­tures Cor­po­ra­tion had their head­quar­ters just a stone’s throw from Ciro’s, in

Soho’s Golden Square, and their in­flu­en­tial cast­ing di­rec­tor Robert Len­nard ( who’d started his ca­reer work­ing with Hitch­cock) swiftly spot­ted Au­drey’s po­ten­tial and soon of­fered her a three- pic­ture deal. Although they would only ini­tially be tiny roles, her £ 500 pay packet for the first pic­ture was a rel­a­tive for­tune when one con­sid­ered that her pre­vi­ous work had net­ted just £ 12 a week.

Rem­i­nisc­ing years later Au­drey would re­flect with grat­i­tude on these times: “I was very happy when I was given an op­por­tu­nity to earn a lit­tle ex­tra money by do­ing bit- parts in movies as I needed money to live on.”

She would play a ho­tel re­cep­tion­ist in her first film and then a cig­a­rette girl in The Laven­der Hill Mob ( star­ring Alec Guin­ness), fea­tur­ing in six films dur­ing 1950- 1951 ( her con­tract at ABC hav­ing be­ing re­newed) but all were cameo ap­pear­ances. When she was loaned out to Eal­ing Stu­dios for the po­lit­i­cal thriller Se­cret Peo­ple, things moved up a notch as she was able to use some of her dance train­ing in the film and was also as­signed a lead­ing role in the pic­ture.

As she con­tin­ued ac­cru­ing in­valu­able ex­pe­ri­ence it was her sev­enth pic­ture, a fre­netic com­edy called Monte Carlo Baby, that would of­fer her next sig­nif­i­cant step for­ward. Film­ing in the Riviera in May 1951 she was spot­ted by the cel­e­brated nov­el­ist Co­lette who de­clared that she had seen the liv­ing em­bod­i­ment of her fic­tional hero­ine Gigi and lent her cru­cial stamp of au­tho­rial ap­proval by rec­om­mend­ing Au­drey to those cur­rently in the throes of cast­ing the film ver­sion of the novel.

Si­mul­ta­ne­ously Au­drey was also in­vited to do a screen test for a ma­jor new film star­ring Gre­gory Peck. An ex­ec­u­tive at the Lon­don of­fice of Para­mount Stu­dios look­ing for a young ac­tress to play a dis­en­chanted Euro­pean princess had seen her photo on the cover of a movie mag­a­zine and thought she had the nec­es­sary charm to con­vince; in­trigued, Au­drey met the film’s prospec­tive di­rec­tor Wil­liam Wyler at Clar­idge’s to dis­cuss the pro­ject.

Her test was so en­chant­ing she was swiftly signed to a sev­en­pic­ture con­tract ( ABPC se­cur­ing an ad­van­ta­geous deal in the process) and cel­e­brated her up­com­ing stage role in the heart of the­atre­land by din­ing at the Cafe Royal with her mother and her then fiance, wealthy play­boy James Han­son.

Au­drey her­self was still be­daz­zled by the un­ex­pected turn of events, a nat­u­rally mod­est, im­mensely like­able woman who, as her son Sean Hep­burn Fer­rer com­ments, was sim­ply “a star who couldn’t see her own light. In­stead she saw her­self as too thin and treated ev­ery­one around her with cour­tesy and re­spect”, qual­i­ties that en­deared her to ev­ery­one. Years of hard graft had sud­denly brought two ma­jor op­por­tu­ni­ties at once and both would ir­re­vo­ca­bly trans­form Au­drey’s life. Later she would ru­mi­nate on this swift change of for­tune, say­ing “My ca­reer is a com­plete mys­tery to me… it’s been a to­tal sur­prise since the first day. I

never thought I was go­ing to be an ac­tress, I never thought I was go­ing to be in movies.”

The dance world’s loss had un­doubt­edly been cin­ema’s gain since Au­drey would carve out a truly in­deli­ble niche in the history of film. Sean says of his mother that “she re­ally was like those char­ac­ters you see in the movies — emo­tional, coura­geous, del­i­cate and ro­man­tic”.

And with her per­for­mance op­po­site Peck in Ro­man Hol­i­day ( 1953) — which had hap­pily been brought to fruition in Lon­don — she would be­come the first ac­tress to win an Academy Award, Golden Globe and BAFTA award for a sin­gle role, one that would be­come one of her most cher­ished screen ap­pear­ances.

Au­drey’s en­dur­ing screen legacy is one that will be duly cel­e­brated this sum­mer, 65 years af­ter she first ap­peared at Ciro’s, with a ma­jor ex­hi­bi­tion at the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery in Lon­don. Pim Bax­ter, Deputy Di­rec­tor at the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery, says, “It is par­tic­u­larly ap­pro­pri­ate that the ex­hi­bi­tion will be staged in such close prox­im­ity to where she per­formed as a young woman. Au­drey Hep­burn was one of the world’s most cel­e­brated ac­tresses and I am de­lighted that the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery will hold a ma­jor pho­tog­ra­phy ex­hi­bi­tion ex­plor­ing the life and work of such a sig­nif­i­cant and much- loved fig­ure who spent the for­ma­tive early years of her ca­reer in Bri­tain.”

Film di­rec­tor Billy Wilder ( who’d over­seen 1954’ s Sab­rina) per­haps spoke for many when he once com­mented on Au­drey’s sin­gu­lar ap­peal by say­ing, quite sim­ply, “God kissed her on the cheek and there she was.” Ac­knowl­edge­ments: En­chant­ment: The Life of Au­drey Hep­burn by Don­ald Spoto ( Ran­dom House); Au­drey Hep­burn: Fair Lady of the Screen by Ian Wood­ward ( Vir­gin Books); Au­drey Hep­burn: An El­e­gant Spirit by Sean Hep­burn Fer­rer ( Sidg­wick & Jack­son).

© Para­mount Pic­tures

Au­drey Hep­burn by Bud Fraker, for Sab­rina, Para­mount Pic­tures, 1954.

© The Ce­cil Beaton Stu­dio Archive at Sotheby’s

Au­drey Hep­burn by Ce­cil Beaton, 1954.

© Nor­man Parkin­son Ltd/ Cour­tesy Nor­man Parkin­son Archive

The ac­tress pho­tographed wear­ing Givenchy by Nor­man Parkin­son, 1955.

As Holly Go­lightly in Break­fast at Tif­fany’s by How­ell Co­nant, pub­lished on the cover of Jours de France, 27th Jan­uary 1962.

© The Ce­cil Beaton Stu­dio Archive at Sotheby’s

Au­drey Hep­burn in Rome by Ce­cil Beaton, 1960.

Au­drey Hep­burn: Por­traits of an Icon

runs at the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery from 2nd July un­til 18th Oc­to­ber 2015. It will fol­low Hep­burn’s life, from her child­hood in Hol­land and sub­se­quently as a young dancer in Lon­don’s West End, to her ca­reer as a stage and screen icon, and will in­clude the im­por­tant phil­an­thropic work she un­der­took in later life. The ex­hi­bi­tion will present rare pho­to­graphs from the Hep­burn fam­ily col­lec­tion, dis­played along­side iconic por­traits of the ac­tress taken by em­i­nent pho­tog­ra­phers of the 20th cen­tury, in­clud­ing Ce­cil Beaton, An­gus McBean and Nor­man Parkin­son.

Tick­ets: npg. org. uk/ hep­burn or tel: 020 7766 7344.

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