Continued from part one
Audrey Hepburn was fluent in French: that predestined her for a role in the French production Monte Carlo Baby (1951): The film was shot in English and French. Although Audrey Hepburn only appeared in the film for twelve minutes, the shooting of Monte Carlo Baby was an important experience for her: Hepburn saw the French Riviera for the first time. The U.S. film market initially had no interest in the production: later, when Hepburn was a star and the film was released in the U.S., viewers wondered why Hepburn was only cast in such a small role.
By no means did Hepburn’s breakthrough in Hollywood come overnight: rather, it was a long road that stretched over several years.
On September 18, 1951, a screen test for the film Roman Holiday (1953) took place in London: Paramount executives were enthusiastic about the young actress. Paramount originally wanted to sign Hepburn for seven years. Eventually, Hepburn negotiated a two-year contract that allowed her to continue acting in plays: Hepburn’s contract contained numerous freedoms that other actresses did not enjoy at the time.
While filming the movie Monte Carlo Baby, Audrey Hepburn met French writer Colette at the Hôtel de Paris, who was preparing a Broadway production of her 1944 play Gigi. Colette was desperate to find a leading lady for her production. Colette found what she was looking for in Audrey Hepburn: Hepburn traveled to New York in late 1951 to play the lead in Gigi on Broadway. She had already signed the contract with Paramount for Roman Holiday, but her Broadway commitment took precedence, according to her contract. Only after Gigi was dropped off Broadway could filming begin on Roman Holiday.
The romance Roman Holiday, starring Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn, was well received by critics and audiences: Viewers were particularly enthusiastic about the young actress Audrey Hepburn, who did not fit any of the previous Hollywood stereotypes.
Her role in Roman Holiday catapulted Audrey Hepburn to the top of Hollywood: from now on, actress Audrey Hepburn was an international phenomenon. This was reflected in the entire course of her life: from now on, it made a difference in which dresses and shoes Hepburn appeared in public. Every dress she wore from now on was carefully selected and was the subject of public discussion. The young woman who had actually wanted to become a ballet dancer had now become a style icon. No matter where she was, people were interested in her.
A class of her own
Audrey Hepburn was no second Greta Garbo, no second Grace Kelly, and no second Marilyn Monroe: she came to Hollywood with her own style, both in acting and in fashion and style. This fascinated numerous directors who had already worked with many influential Hollywood actresses: for example, Billy Wilder, who had worked with Monroe and Marlene Dietrich, among others, was also fascinated by Hepburn and cast her in his romantic comedy Sabrina (1954). During the filming of the movie, Hepburn for the first time worked with French fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy, who had an enormous influence on her clothing style throughout her career.
Later, Hepburn collaborated again with Billy Wilder for the film Love in the Afternoon (1957).
War and Peace
For many decades, no one had been interested in a film adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s two-thousand-page novel War and Peace: That changed abruptly in the mid-fifties. Now all the Hollywood studios at once seemed eager to bring the monumental novel to the big screen. Finally, Paramount Studios adapted the coveted material. Audrey Hepburn played the role of Natasha Rostova. Producer Dino de Laurentiis was able to win her over for the project and, with Audrey Hepburn as a drawing card, managed to dissuade the other studios from the plan to turn Tolstoy’s material into a movie.
The filming of War and Peace (1956) was particularly strenuous for Hepburn: her previous two Hollywood films, Roman Holiday and Sabrina, had been shot chronologically. During the filming of War and Peace, however, she was forced to play a naive teenage girl on one day and a mature adult the next.
Musicals & Westerns
With her next Hollywood film, a dream came true for Audrey Hepburn: Funny Face (1957) was a movie musical. During the course of the film, she acted and danced alongside Fred Astaire, returning to her roots as a ballet dancer. In Funny Face, Audrey Hepburn also sang in front of a camera for the first time and trained her voice.
In 1960, Audrey Hepburn starred in the western The Unforgiven: It was her first and also the last Western in which she starred. Behind the scenes, there were numerous inconsistencies that led to the script being changed several times. John Huston directed the film, and Burt Lancaster played another leading role.
Moon River & Charade
After The Unforgiven, Audrey Hepburn took a year off: after that she returned more glamorous than ever. Truman Capote originally had Marilyn Monroe in mind for the role of Holly Golightly in the film adaptation of his play Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
But Paramount Studios overrode the author and cast Audrey Hepburn in the role of Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961).
The male lead was played by George Peppard, after Steve McQueen, among others, had been in discussion for the role.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s is still one of the best-known Audrey Hepburn films, not least because of the memorable theme tune Moon River (composed by Henry Mancini), which is sung by Audrey Hepburn in the film.
Among critics, Charade (1963) is said to be the best Hitchcock film that Hitchcock himself didn’t even make: Starring Cary Grant in the male lead, the film brought back memories for audiences of the numerous Grant-Hitchcock film collaborations, which by then were already a thing of the past. Hepburn starred in the female lead role of Regina Lampert. The film is characterized by numerous twists and turns, and with Cary Grant, Walter Matthau, James Coburn and George Kennedy, the film also assembled a large star cast.
In the mid-sixties, Audrey Hepburn was given a unique opportunity: she was offered the chance to play one of the greatest musical roles ever, that of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. For Audrey Hepburn, who particularly enjoyed starring in musical adaptations, it was the fulfillment of a dream. The production was based on the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw, about a language professor who wants to transform a young flower seller (played by Audrey Hepburn in the film) into a duchess by teaching her to speak like a member of the upper class. At the 1965 Oscars, My Fair Lady won the award for Best Production.
Over the course of the seventies and eighties, Audrey Hepburn starred in numerous other films. Over the decades, she solidified her status as a style icon and was appreciated worldwide for her unique style.
Audrey Hepburn died on January 20, 1993 at her estate on Lake Geneva.
Main source: Paris, Barry: “Audrey Hepburn”, 1996 Berkley Books
Cover picture: © Simon von Ludwig