There is simply no denying that the late Audrey Hepburn is one of the most recognizable female actresses of all time. With roles in classic romantic films Sabrina, My Fair Lady, Roman Holiday and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Hepburn established herself as one of Hollywood’s most charming and elegant leading ladies of the 1950s and ’60s.
Hepburn’s legacy has remained evident even in 2021 – Holly Golightly’s iconic little black dress with pearls from Breakfast At Tiffany’s remains a fashion staple in women’s closets (and on Halloween), while the movie’s poster often adorns the walls of classic diners or teenage girls’ bedrooms. The opening of Breakfast At Tiffany’s was even reimagined in a 2007 episode of Gossip Girl, demonstrating Blair Waldorf’s admiration for Holly Golightly.
But Hepburn was much more than Holly Golightly in that famous dress, and an upcoming TV series about her life will soon allow fans to learn more about who Hepburn was behind the scenes. The Good Wife producer Jacqueline Hoyt will be developing the drama series Audrey, in collaboration with Hepburn’s son Luca Dotti and Italian journalist and writer Luigi Spinola.
Here’s what we found out about the iconic actress in the meantime.
8 She Started Off As A Ballerina And Dental Assistant
Before gracing our screens, Audrey Hepburn had a life that could have been a movie. When the Second World War broke out in 1939, Audrey and her mother moved to Arnhem, in the Netherlands, where she began practicing ballet. She attended the Arnhem Conservatory, quickly becoming Winja Marova’s “star pupil” in ballet. When the war ended in 1945, Audrey and her mother moved to Amsterdam, and Hepburn trained under professional dancers Sonia Gaskell and Olga Tarasova. This resulted in a ballet scholarship for Hepburn, who moved to London to perform with Ballet Rambert. Hepburn would never make it to prima ballerina status, however. She was told that despite her talent, she was not tall enough and the malnutrition she’d suffered during the war had weakened her considerably. Hepburn shifted her focus to acting, though she did get to showcase her ballet talents in the 1952 film The Secret People.
After the promises of a ballet career had faded, Hepburn began to train as a dental assistant. Her dental career was short lived, however – she continued to do theatre in London before getting her first on-screen role in The Secret People. Hepburn’s next role? Roman Holiday, the breakout 1953 film for which she won an Academy Award.
7 Audrey Hepburn Worked As A Volunteer Nurse During WW2
Audrey Hepburn is also known for her humanitarian efforts off screen, and one can only assume that her interest in giving back to the world began during her brutal WW2 experiences. Hepburn’s father Joseph Ruston was a Nazi sympathizer, resulting in her parents’ divorce and subsequent abandonment by her father. Hepburn’s mother Ella moved them to the Netherlands in 1939, believing that they would avoid most of the violence of the war. When the Nazis occupied the Netherlands in 1940, Audrey’s uncle Otto van Limburg Stirum was executed for being a member of the Dutch Resistance.
Soon, food and supplies were being diverted to the Nazis, leading Hepburn to develop the severe malnutrition that ultimately ended her ballet career. Hepburn soldiered on, becoming a volunteer nurse in a Dutch hospital at just 16 years of age. One of the Allied soldiers Hepburn treated was a young paratrooper named Terrence Young, who would work with Hepburn 20 years later on the film Wait Until Dark.
6 She Was Part Of The Dutch Resistance During WW2
But her courage was not limited to the walls of that Dutch hospital – a teenage Hepburn also worked as a member of the Dutch Resistance, using her ballet skills to raise money for the “rebels and their underground war.” Hepburn performed secretly, and also transported secret messages in her ballet slippers. Hepburn was almost caught – she was captured by the Germans and forced into a truck, but made an escape when they pulled over.
Though Hepburn did not often discuss her traumatic war experiences, she did bond with her future husband Rob Wolders over their shared experience in the war – Wolders was born in a neighbouring town in the Netherlands.
5 She’s Part Of The EGOT Club
Like Rita Moreno, John Legend, Mel Brooks and Whoopi Goldberg, Audrey Hepburn is one of only 16 EGOT winners in the world – that is, she has an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Golden Globe. In fact, Hepburn won an Oscar for her very first leading role in Roman Holiday, starring opposite Gregory Peck. She won a Tony Award for her performance in Ondine, an Emmy Award for hosting Gardens of the World with Audrey Hepburn, and a Grammy for her spoken word album Audrey Hepburn’s Enchanted Tales.
4 Audrey Hepburn Was Constantly Compared To Marilyn Monroe
In the book Audrey Style by Pamela Keogh, the author describes Audrey Hepburn as “the anti-Marilyn”. “She wasn’t overtly sexy in the 1950’s va-va-voom way. She wore ballet flats and had a short gamine haircut. And she wore black when in those days, it was only worn for funerals.” Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn did indeed become famous in the same era, but the two were incredibly different – though they couldn’t avoid the comparisons to each other. In fact, Monroe was Truman Capote’s first choice to play Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, turning the role down because her acting coach thought it would be too risky for her to play a lady of the night. The Breakfast at Tiffany’s we know today may have been completely different if the va-va-voom Monroe had played the lead role.
The two actresses also had an ex-boyfriend in common! When President John F. Kennedy was an unmarried senator, he briefly dated Hepburn. Monroe also dated him during his presidency, famously singing a sensual version of “Happy birthday Mr. President” to him. Hepburn also sang him “Happy Birthday” the following year.
3 She Had A Pet Deer
In 1959, when Audrey Hepburn was filming Green Mansions, she was told to bring her costar (a baby deer named Pippin) home with her so the animal would learn to follow her. The deer took to Hepburn immediately, and the love was reciprocated – the two went everywhere together, including the supermarket. The fawn, nicknamed Ip, even slept in a custom-made bathtub.
“It was truly amazing to see Audrey with that fawn,” said Bob Willoughby in his book Remembering Audrey. “While Audrey’s maid had been told about the little deer, she could not believe her eyes seeing Ip sleeping with Audrey so calmly. She was shaking her head and just kept smiling.”
2 Audrey Hepburn Was Self-Conscious About Her Feet
It’s hard to believe that one of the most beautiful actresses of her time was self-conscious about anything, but former ballerina Hepburn reportedly despised her feet. Though she was only 5’6, Hepburn wore size 10 shoes. And her feet weren’t the only problem she had. She once declared, “I’d like to be not so flat-chested.”I’d like not to have such angular shoulders, such big feet, such a big nose.”
Hepburn’s son Luca recalled his mother’s insecurities to The Lady, explaining “‘She knew people saw her that way but she didn’t see herself as beautiful at all. She was actually quite self-conscious about her defects – her nose, her feet, too skinny, not enough this or that. Of course, I always saw her as my mother; you don’t see her as beautiful or ugly.
‘The one thing she really linked to beauty was self-respect when getting old.”
1 She Stopped Acting To Do Charity Work
After filming only 16 movies (and winning the aforementioned EGOT!), Hepburn eventually began turning down roles to spend more time with her family. Her son Sean Hepburn Ferrer recalled growing up in Switzerland, far away from Hollywood, and having a normal childhood.
Hepburn also chose to devote her life to full-time charity work, becoming a UNICEF Goodwill ambassador in 1989. She visited Ethiopia, which was going through a brutal famine, and raised awareness about the situation in the country to media outlets in the US, Europe and Canada. Hepburn’s work with UNICEF took her all over the world, and her dedication to her new role led her to testifying before the US Congress. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992.
In 1993, Audrey Hepburn, iconic actress turned inspiring humanitarian, passed away from cancer at her home in Switzerland. Hepburn was 63 years old. Fans of Hepburn are in luck – they will be able to relive some of the actress’ finest moments when Audrey is released.