Audrey Hepburn — Most Exciting Star of 1953 🇺🇸

Audrey Hepburn |

November 30, 2021

She is the most exciting star of 1953 — and here is her story, told in her own words to

Jane Wilkie

Everything Hollywood has ever accomplished, all the actors it has ever discovered, all the pictures it has produced, have been ‘sensational’, ‘terrific’ and ‘colossal’. The words have been used so often that by now nobody listens to them.

So when Hollywood got its first look at Audrey Hepburn on the screen, in Roman Holiday, the press was left without suitable adjectives. It was necessary, and accurate, to describe this new, young actress in the most complimentary terms, but somehow the correct words sounded empty. She is truly great, but the critics who saw the press preview agreed it was going to be difficult to convince the public that Miss Hepburn is that magnificent.

After the showing was over, the editors present immediately began to plan Audrey Hepburn stories, certain that the minute Roman Holiday was released to the public, there would be a surge of curiosity about her. The next morning, Paramount’s publicity department was swamped with questions. Where did Audrey Hepburn come from? What was she like? Was she under contract? What did she eat for breakfast? Was she married?

They didn’t know a great deal. She had been born near Brussels and educated in England. She had studied ballet, and she had played the title role in the Broadway production of Gigi. Her performance drew rave reviews. The show had toured the United States, and William Wyler had contracted her for Roman Holiday, to be made in Rome. Before Miss Hepburn was whisked away to eastern cities and eventually to Italy, Paramount publicists managed to learn enough about her to, write a brief biography. Unfortunately, Miss Hepburn was not available for interviews. She was in England and would not return to Hollywood until September, when she would star in Sabrina Fair.

This was a disappointment to everyone, Modern Screen included. Roman Holiday would be released in September, and everybody would want to know all about Audrey Hepburn, at once.

Modern Screen had an idea, though. “It must be done, and there’s a way to do it. Tape an interview and send it to her in England, and with Paramount’s cooperation, she will tape record her answers and send them back.”

So over at Paramount studio, a very uneasy reporter was hooked up to a frightening machine that looked like the instrument panel of a Stratocruiser. Then they stuck a microphone in her hand and said, “Go ahead.”

This type of interview had its limitations, of course, for there is no possibility of a normal flow of conversation. The reporter remembered Miss Hepburn’s dignified manner in Roman Holiday, and began with “Well, Miss Hepburn, I’m going to have to ask you a lot of sassy questions.”

If she objected to such personal questions, fired at her for a solid half hour by an utter stranger six thousand miles away, her reply gave no sign of it. Her answering tape arrived from England within a few weeks, and was equally long and extremely gracious in tone. The most immediately remarkable thing about it was her voice Having been educated in England she speaks with the precise and clipped diction of the British, yet there is something so soft, almost sleepy, about her voice that it is enchanting. It is unfortunate that, along with a report of the questions and answers, it is not possible to allow the reader to hear this voice. It is expressive, sometimes lilting in laughter, sometimes, when speaking of tragic things, barely audible. Maybe you can imagine it as you read her answers.

Modern Screen: Would you describe the house near Brussels in which you lived as a child? What was your father’s occupation? Did you have any brothers or sisters?

Audrey Hepburn: The house we lived in outside Brussels was a very charming, quite large country house where I lived -with my father and mother and my two brothers, both of whom are older than myself. My father was a businessman. I was very fond of my brothers. We had the normal squabbles, but they were always happy ones.

Modern Screen: Were your parents strict, or do you feel you were spoiled? Were you a tomboy? Do you think you were particularly difficult to raise?

Audrey Hepburn: My mother, I think, has brought me up as well as any mother ever does. I think she did a wonderful job, with three children, and I don’t feel she was over-strict or that we were spoiled. She brought us up in a very natural, healthy way.

I don’t think I was a tomboy. I’d say I was a rather moody child, quiet and reticent, and I liked to be by myself a great deal — which made me quite an easy child to raise. Nevertheless I needed a great deal of understanding, which I always got from my mother.

Modern Screen: You were sent to school in England? Did you like school?

Audrey Hepburn: I was. I went to a little private school in England as, at the time, we were living in Belgium and my mother thought it was right for me to speak English, being brought up as an English child. I spent the first years of my life there, with periods back home either in Belgium or wherever my parents happened to be at the time.

“Did you like school?” you ask me. Well, I liked the children and my teachers, but I never liked the process of learning. I was very restless and could never sit for hours on end, learning things. I enjoyed learning the subjects I liked — I always loved history and mythology and astronomy— but I hated anything to do with arithmetic or that sort of thing. School in itself I found very dull and I was happy when I finished.

Modern Screen: Your biography says you were ten when the war broke out and your mother took you back to Holland, where you later studied ballet. Why did you attend school in Holland under a Dutch name? What about your entertaining in Underground concerts to raise money for the Dutch resistance movement?

Audrey Hepburn: Actually, my mother was in Holland when the war broke out, and I was at school in England. I flew over to join my mother in Arnhem — that was Christmas of 1939, just before the Germans entered Holland — because things were beginning to blow up all over Europe, and Mother thought the safest place for a child of ten was with her mother, after all. No one knew where it was safest at the time.

Yes, I did go to school under a Dutch name I used my mother’s name because it wasn’t too good an idea to draw attention to the fact that I was English. My nationality just might have got me into trouble.

I was there all during the war, and I started studying ballet very soon after I arrived in Holland. I had taken various lessons in England and loved dancing, and once I’d started in Holland, I decided I wanted to be a ballerina. I had a rather sketchy and erratic training because of the war. Malnutrition stopped me on one hand, and conditions got more and more difficult.

I did indeed give various Underground concerts to raise money for the Dutch resistance movement. I danced at recitals, designing the dances myself. I had a friend who played the piano and my mother made the costumes. They were very amateurish attempts, but nevertheless at the time, when there was very little entertainment, it amused people and gave them an opportunity to get together and spend a pleasant afternoon listening to music and seeing my humble attempts. The recitals were given in houses with windows and doors closed, and no one knew they were going on. Afterwards, money was collected and given to the Dutch Underground.

Modern Screen: Would you tell me about your family and your life during the war? Did your family suffer any hardships because of it? Didn’t the English parachute into Holland near your town of Arnhem in an attempt to deliver the Dutch from the Nazis?

Audrey Hepburn: I couldn’t really talk about the war without talking for hours. It’s five years out of my life. I was living there and saw the landing and was there all during the fighting.

Modern Screen: An impertinent question. Are your parents still living, and if so, are they still married? I ask this because your biography mentions only your mother in your later life. Does the family still own the home outside Brussels?

Audrey Hepburn: No, they are not. I mean, they are divorced. They are both living. No, we don’t own the home now.

Modern Screen: When you went to England in 1948, did you qo alone? How did you get the part in High Button Shoes?

Audrey Hepburn: Yes, I went alone to England. It wasn’t until I had my first job, in High Button Shoes, that I was able to afford the luxury of having my mother come over. At the time, there was a great deal of restriction where money was concerned, and I couldn’t get any money out of Holland. I did an audition for High Button Shoes and, with many other girls, was put through my paces and then was engaged by the producer of the show at the time — a man called Archie Thompson — who gave me my first real break.

Modern Screen: How old were you when you came to America to do Gigi on Broadway? Did you sail or fly? Would you tell me your impression of New York? Was there anything in particular you wanted to see, or eat, or experience in the States? How did our cities impress you? What did you like about Americans the most?

Audrey Hepburn: I was twenty-two when I went to New York to do Gigi. I sailed, especially, as I wanted to approach America by sea for the first time, and was dying to see the New York skyline and the famous Statue of Liberty. Of course it was my luck that we arrived about three o’clock in the morning. It was pitch dark, and I stood freezing in a nylon nightie in front of my porthole, and saw nothing.

I had a great day. I was shown New York, and went to my first baseball game immediately. Within two hours of my arrival in New York, I was standing in the Yankee Stadium, cheering my head off at a great game which I knew nothing at all about, but found very exciting. Naturally, I wanted to see everything, but I wanted to absorb America slowly, to take it as it is, as everybody sees it and lives it. The food? Well, I must say — all those steaks! Very exciting! Incidentally, they did a great deal for my health as I needed them at the time, and I’ve been a much healthier person since.

The cities showed me America. We went through Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Detroit, Chicago, Washington, Wilmington, Richmond, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco. San Francisco’s a great city, isn’t it? Oh, boy! I found it exciting to see America this way — working my way across — and thought it particularly exciting because each city was so different. It was like arriving in a different country each time.

I liked the unaffectedness of the Americans. They’re warm, they’re kind, and whatever they’ve got to say, they say it.

Modern Screen: Were you homesick when you were making Gigi? Tell me about your meeting with William Wyler.

Audrey Hepburn: Never. I was too happy to be homesick. I was too excited about what I was doing. This was something I’d been longing for all of my life. I would have loved my mother to have been with me, and to have seen it all with me, but otherwise there was too much to be grateful for to nibble away at it with petty homesickness.

Mr. Wyler came to London and I met him and his wife at his hotel. We talked about the picture and he agreed I could be tested for it. I made the test, which he arranged for me, as he wasn’t able to stay in London, and it wasn’t long before I heard the great news I could do Roman Holiday and that I was under contract with Paramount.

Modern Screen: Did you enjoy making Roman Holiday, and American methods of picture-making?

Audrey Hepburn: The American method of picture-making was slightly diluted by the Roman and Italian atmosphere. I don’t think I’ll get the real American method until I work in Hollywood. I thought it was a great combination — good Hollywood organization with a bit of Roman sunshine thrown in. We had great fun, and it was a fantastic experience.

Modern Screen: Has anyone ever told you that you resemble Gregory Peck? Some people here have said your face looks like a feminine version of his.

Audrey Hepburn: I must say I haven’t noticed, because I’ve never thought of it. I’d like to think so because — I mean, he’s a pretty good looking man. Isn’t he?

Modern Screen: Do you consider London your home?

Audrey Hepburn: London is my home. We have a little apartment here and my mother lives here. But I’m quite used to the idea now that I shall be commuting for the rest of my life — I hope — between America and England. I hope to spend a lot of my time in New York. I love New York. I’d love to settle there. I love San Francisco and it’s a beautiful city, but you can’t compare the two. I like New York because there you’re in the center of things. Whatever’s going on in the world seems to sort of center around New York. People pass through, and I have the theatre there. If it were not for the theatre, I might very well live in San Francisco.

Modern Screen: What about your appetite? What are your favorites?

Audrey Hepburn: I don’t say I eat a lot. I eat small meals, but I love to eat quantities of the things I like. I love meat. I love a steak. And I adore sweets and chocolate and things like that. But I try to take myself in hand.

Modern Screen: How about reading? How much? What type of thing?

Audrey Hepburn: I read as much as I possibly can, not as much as I’d like to. Anything, as long as it’s by a good writer. My great hero has always been Rudyard Kipling — right now I’m a fan of Graham Greene’s. I’ve found that my life has been spent so much in ballet class or studios or working that I haven’t spent as much time in studying these things as I’d like to. In short, I’d like to see and read and know a lot more than I do, and I’m working hard on it.

Modern Screen: What about love life? What can you say about your romantic life and your ideas on it?

Audrey Hepburn: Oh, boy. (pause) I’ve been asked the question often enough — I should know the answer. Everybody knows I was engaged and no longer am, at this point. I’ve not as yet discovered a way to combine a career and married life, both of which are full time jobs and entail a great deal of responsibility because mainly they involve other people. It would be simple if it involved only one’s self. You’ve got to be pretty sure, and to be able to say with certainty that you can cope with the combination, and until I find a way of doing that, I don’t think I dare get married. Right now I’m still pretty level-headed about it. I’m not a great girl for going out with a lot of people. I have my particular friends and like to see a lot of them. This is all a lot of talk — you realize that, don’t you? One day you just fall in love and get married, career or no career. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t in love last time — I was very much so. Perhaps too much so to dare embark on a life I didn’t know too much about. Well— at this point I’m free lance, and I think it’s the best.

Modern Screen: What about Sabrina Fair?

Audrey Hepburn: I read the stage play but haven’t yet read the screen script. I love the story, I love the idea. I think Paramount bought it for me partly because I like it so, and I’m very happy about the whole idea — and that Billy Wilder is going to direct. How lucky can a girl be? She makes her first picture with William Wyler and her next with Billy Wilder. It almost seems too good to be true, and I’ll try to live up to all this.

I’d like to add something to this now I’ve finished it. Dear Miss Wilkie, I want to thank you very much for this interview. On hearing it played back, I find it rather incoherent and hope you will forgive me for being so. I do hope to meet you very soon when I come out to Hollywood. I’ll say goodbye, and thank you very much.

If Miss Hepburn thinks she gave an incoherent interview, she should know that the most vitriolic profiles ever written were those in which the writer reported verbatim the conversation of his subject. It is an unflattering method, usually. Miss Hepburn had no idea her replies would be set down verbatim (and they wouldn’t have been if she had been less competent). Yet she comes out of it a charming and articulate girl.

At first glance, the story seems to give little besides the statistics of Audrey Hepburn’s life. Examined more closely, it establishes the fact that she is a girl of tact and refinement. She is a grateful and devoted daughter. The utter silence on the subject of her father suggests that the family rift disturbed her considerably, yet she has the taste to bypass the subject. She is a candid person, being one of the few actresses to admit delight when school was over, and to admit a feeling of inadequacy where self-education is concerned. Reading between the lines, one understands that Miss Hepburn suffered considerably during the war, yet she does not dwell on the fact. She glosses over the fact that she has been a victim of malnutrition, that she was a spectator of bloody fighting, and that today she can’t get enough meat or chocolate. She treats lightly the fact that she contributed to the Dutch resistance movement, an activity for which she could have been caught and put into a concentration camp. She modestly neglected to answer questions that would necessitate a bit of boasting — such things as her linguistic ability and the extent of her travels. She discloses a delightful sense of humor, a zest for life, a sincere liking for Americans and the adoption of American slang. She seems to be a self-reliant, ambitious and courageous girl who has a deep capacity for love. Her recent engagement to a wealthy British businessman is discussed, however briefly, in a frank and refreshing manner, and her ideas about marriage would prove her to be an unusually thoughtful girl.

This is all we know. This, and the description of people who have met her. They are the only ones, at this writing, who are capable of describing her in terms slightly new to the Hollywood vocabulary. They include coquettish, saint-like, alluring, hoydenish, disarming, sensitive and captivating. The American press will soon be swamped with news about her, but in the interim Modern Screen has copped the first interview for a fan magazine. Despite the revolutionary method of interviewing, it was successful because the new star is, among other things, coherent.


Source: Modern Screen, November 1953