Ro­man­tic tell-all tells noth­ing

The Washington Post Sunday - - BOOK WORLD - BY CHRIS KLIMEK book­world@wash­ Chris Klimek is an editor at Air & Space/ Smith­so­nian mag­a­zine. For more books cov­er­age, go to wash­ing­ton­

The cover of “Au­drey and Bill” help­fully clar­i­fies that it’s “A Ro­man­tic Bi­og­ra­phy of Au­drey Hep­burn & Wil­liam Holden.” The two film stars met while co-star­ring in Billy Wilder’s ef­fer­ves­cent 1954 rom-com, “Sab­rina.” In that film, Hep­burn plays the ti­tle char­ac­ter, the young daugh­ter of the chauf­feur to the filthy-rich Larrabee fam­ily; she pines for David Larrabee, played by Holden. Once she’s grown up a lit­tle, she even­tu­ally catches David’s ever-wan­der­ing eye, but he steps aside to give Sab­rina a shot at ro­mance with his big brother, played by Humphrey Bog­art — three decades Hep­burn’s se­nior.

Few films buffs would deny the su­pe­ri­or­ity of an ear­lier movie Wilder and Holden made to­gether, “Sunset Boule­vard.” But “Sab­rina” re­mains beloved 60 years later, which is the

rai­son for pub­li­cist-turned-bi­og­ra­pher Ed­ward Z. Ep­stein’s glib, shal­low book. Holden, who Ep­stein as­serts never let his 30-year mar­riage get in the way of his busy sex life, al­ways car­ried a torch for Hep­burn af­ter their af­fair dur­ing the mak­ing of “Sab­rina.” Though “they’d shared an emo­tional in­ti­macy that pre­cluded words,” she dumped him upon learn­ing he’d un­der­gone a va­sec­tomy.

Ep­stein brings a pub­li­cist’s fuzzy eye for crit­i­cism to his sur­vey of Hep­burn and Holden’s ca­reers. Hep­burn is in­vari­ably grace­ful, dig­ni­fied and blame­less, though he notes that she en­gi­neered the fir­ing of the orig­i­nal cin­e­matog­ra­pher of “Paris When It Siz­zles” be­cause she didn’t like the way he was light­ing her. Nowhere does the au­thor — a self-de­scribed “show busi­ness in­sider” — be­tray the slight­est sus­pi­cion that movies are some­thing more than van­ity reels for their stars. He seems to have aimed his book at au­di­ences who as­sume films are made en­tirely by movie stars, who come up with the sto­ries them­selves and im­pro­vise their di­a­logue.

That’s un­for­tu­nate, be­cause both Hep­burn’s and Holden’s ca­reers en­com­passed a com­plex and in­ter­est­ing tec­tonic shift in Amer­i­can cin­ema, when the old, glam­orous stu­dio sys­tem gave way to the grit and re­al­ism of the “New Hol­ly­wood” of the 1970s. In­stead of ex­plain­ing this tran­si­tion and how it treated Hep­burn and Holden (badly, for the most part), Ep­stein dwells on such trivia as Hep­burn’s Givenchy-de­signed wardrobes.

Those in­ter­ested in an­cient Tin­sel­town gos­sip de­liv­ered with the style and firm point of view of a world-class critic are urged to check out film his­to­rian Ka­rina Long­worth’s weekly pod­cast “You Must Re­mem­ber This,” of­fer­ing “true sto­ries from Hol­ly­wood’s first cen­tury.” Knowl­edge­able and lac­er­at­ingly funny, it’s ev­ery­thing that Pa­rade-mag­a­zine-level ma­te­rial like “Au­drey and Bill” is not.


Au­drey Hep­burn and Wil­liam Holden, co-stars in the ro­man­tic com­edy “Paris When it Siz­zles,” en­joy a ride on a river boat along the Seine in June 1962.

AU­DREY AND BILL A Ro­man­tic Bi­og­ra­phy of Au­drey Hep­burn & Wil­liam Holden By Ed­ward Z. Ep­stein Run­ning Press. 240 pp. $25

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