Thursday, March 15, 2012

Audrey Hepburn – Hollywood Legends – March 2012

Audrey Hepburn is best known as being one of the iconic ‘it girls’ of the 1950s and 1960s in American cinema, bringing her own unique and cool style. Over that course of her career she worked with brilliant directors (William Wyler, Billy Wilder, King Vidor, Stanley Donen, Fred Zinnemann, Blake Edwards, George Cukor, Terence Young, and Steven Spielberg) and opposite wonderful leading men (Gregory Peck, Humphrey Bogart, William Holden, Fred Astaire, Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, Rex Harrison, Peter O’Toole, Albert Finney, and  Sean Connery). Hepburn is one of the most loved and well-regarded film stars in cinema’s history, beloved for her work in film and as a humanitarian.

Early Career:

As a young girl in Holland during WWII, Hepburn studied to be a ballerina at the Arnhem Conservatory from 1939 to 1945. She secretly gave performances to raise money for the Dutch resistance (I have also read that she worked for the underground transporting messages). She even changed her name (to Edda van Heemstra), as her own sounded too English. Like many in Holland, Hepburn struggled throughout the war leaving a lasting impression on her (and is the reason she became devoted to the international humanitarian organization UNICEF). At the end of the war, she was considered to be a good ballerina and continued her studies with Sonia Gaskell, a leading figure in the Dutch Ballet. In 1948, she traveled to London to study ballet and also supported herself as a model. However, her teacher in London, Marie Rambert, assessed that she would never be a prima ballerina, due to her poor nutrition during the war and her relatively tall height. Thus, Hepburn decided to pursue acting. Being that she could dance, Hepburn found work in London’s musical theatre (starring in High Button Shoes, Sauce Tartare and Sauce Piquante from 1948 to 1950). However, a setback was that voice was not strong and needed to be developed. So, she took elocution lessons, and was spotted by a scout for Paramount Pictures leading to minor roles in a few British films, chief among them The Lavender Hill Mob with Alec Guinness. Her name started to garner a lot of heat as she took roles in The Secret People and the title character in Gigi on Broadway.

Roman Holiday and Newfound Stardom:

Famed auteur director William Wyler (who had become one of the best directors in Hollywood with excellent work in the late 1930s and throughout the 1940s) wanted to make a film in Italy’s capital Rome. At the time, location shooting was very rare. However, for the story of a European princess who runs away from her royal family and responsibility to bask in the freedom of everyday life, Wyler demanded it be shot on location (and it was, but at a much lower budget). That film is 1953’s Roman Holiday. Paramount Pictures also originally wanted Elizabeth Taylor to star opposite Gregory Peck, but Wyler had auditioned Hepburn (who was still a no-name at the time) and absolutely loved her for the role. She is so good in the film that Peck even demanded that her name be with his above the title (“You’ve got to change that because she’ll be a big star and I’ll look like a big jerk”). Hepburn received her first Oscar nomination and win for the role (her first leading screen role), as well as a BAFTA and Golden Globe. Paramount promptly signed her to a seven year deal. Her next picture was with another auteur Billy Wilder, co-starring with Humphrey Bogart and William Holden in Sabrina (a Cinderella-like story). She was again nominated for Best Actress at the Oscars and BAFTAs, but she lost in both cases. She also collaborated with Hubert de Givenchy on the film, looking through his latest collection and forming a life-long partnership and friendship. She knew exactly how she wanted to look and had an inherent style. She was de Givenchy’s muse and her style became world renowned. In 1954, Hepburn returned to Broadway to star in Ondine, for which she won a Tony Award (she is one of 12 people to have an EGOT: Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony). She was quickly becoming one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, starring in a number of box office hits. In 1956, she starred in Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace directed by legendary silent filmmaker King Vidor. Then she showed off her dancing abilities in Funny Face with Fred Astaire, followed by the Billy Wilder romantic comedy Love in the Afternoon co-starring Gary Cooper. Hepburn next took on a weighty drama to close out the 1950s with The Nun’s Story. She received her third Oscar nomination and won her second BAFTA, giving arguably her most demanding and finest performance.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Becoming an Icon:

Hepburn took a short break, giving birth to her first child Sean, but then was right back to work with 1961’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Directed by Blake Edwards (one of the great comedy directors), the film was nothing like how author of the source material Truman Capote imagined it should be, with Hepburn grossly miscast as he had envisioned a Marilyn Monroe type. Hepburn herself felt she was miscast as well, not having the overt sexuality of the novella’s Holy Golightly. Despite that, however, she was nominated for her fourth Oscar and her performance is one of the most iconic in cinema history. For her next film, she reteamed with William Wyler for the socially liberal (in a very illiberal time) The Children’s Hour, starring opposite James Garner and Shirley MacLaine. It is one of the first Hollywood films to look at the subject of lesbianism and features a very good performance by Hepburn. Though, due to the subject matter, it went almost completely unnoticed commercially and critically. Cary Grant was set to star opposite Hepburn in both Roman Holiday and Sabrina, but mindful of their age difference (25 years) he had passed on both projects. By 1963, Grant had all but retired from playing a leading man, however the comedic thriller Charade directed by Stanley Donen was too good a film to pass up. To make Grant (59) more comfortable romancing Hepburn (34) in the film, the script was changed to have Hepburn romantically pursue Grant. The two stars enjoyed working together, with Grant saying, “All I want for Christmas is another picture with Audrey Hepburn.” Her next big film came with a lot of controversy. For George Cukor’s My Fair Lady, studio head Jack Warner favored a bigger and more bankable star for the film over Julie Andrews who had originated the role in the musical stage show. Specifically, he wanted Hepburn or Elizabeth Taylor. Hepburn initially passed favoring Andrews be cast, but eventually she took the role. Hepburn, a non-singer, had done her own singing in Funny Face, but was dubbed by Marni Nixon for almost 90% of her singing in My Fair Lady. When first informed that Warner planned to dub her, she walked out on the production, later saying she would have never taken the role if she knew she would be dubbed. She returned and lip synced to recorded tracks during filming, while co-star Rex Harrison recorded his own voice live. The media even created a false rivalry between Andrews and Hepburn, especially when Hepburn was not nominated for an Oscar and Andrews won Best Actress for Mary Poppins in 1965 (but in reality they were friends). After the fact, critics have hailed Hepburn’s performance as being wonderful, and Harrison named her has his favorite co-star. Next Hepburn made another film with Wyler, How to Steal a Million co-starring Peter O’Toole (a personal favorite of mine), and another film with Stanley Donen, Two for the Road co-starring Albery Finney. Her last film before retirement was the thriller Wait Until Dark, in which she plays a blind woman who is terrorized by thugs lead by Alan Arkin who believe she has something they desperately want in her apartment. It was directed by Terence Young (known for his work earlier in the decade on the James Bond films Dr. No and From Russia with Love). Hepburn received her fifth and final Oscar nomination for her performance in the film. An interesting side note: during WWII Hepburn, 16-years old, was a volunteer nurse in Holland. During the battle of Arnhem, as part of Operation Market Garden, the hospital she was stationed at received many wounded Allied soldiers. One of such soldiers was future director Terence Young, a paratrooper she helped nurse back to health.

Final Projects:

After almost a ten year absence from cinema screens, Hepburn returned in the period drama Robin and Marian, co-starring with Sean Connery. Richard Lester’s film looked at the later life of English folk hero Robin Hood. She then took on two films that were both poorly received: working again with Terence Young in Bloodline and then starring in Peter Bogdanovich’s They All Laughed, which would be her last starring role. Taking another almost ten-year break from films (though she had a role in the TV movie Love Among Thieves), Hepburn took a small supporting role, the last of her career, in Steven Spielberg’s Always.

Audrey Hepburn’s Career Highlights:

1)      Roman Holiday (1953)* – leading (DVD, Streaming)
2)      Sabrina (1954) – leading (DVD, Streaming)
3)      Funny Face (1957) – leading (DVD, Streaming)
4)      Love in the Afternoon (1957) – leading (DVD, Streaming)
5)      The Nun’s Story (1959)* – leading (DVD, Streaming)
6)      Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) – leading (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
7)      The Children’s Hour (1961) – leading (DVD, Streaming)
8)      Charade (1963)* – leading (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
9)      My Fair Lady (1964) – leading (Blu-ray, DVD)
10)   How to Steal a Million (1966)* – leading (DVD, Streaming)
11)   Two for the Road (1967) – leading (DVD, Streaming)
12)   Wait Until Dark (1967)* – leading (DVD, Streaming)
*Editor’s picks

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