The Untold Truth About Hollywood Icon Audrey Hepburn


| LAST UPDATE 07/14/2021

By Chloe Becker

It's hard to think about the Golden Age of Hollywood without Audrey Hepburn popping into mind. But there's more than meets the eye when it comes to this icon's rise to stardom. From pre-fame secrets to career scandals, this is Audrey Hepburn's untold truth.

A Future Golden Age Starlet

Audrey was born on May 4, 1929, in Brussels, Belgium's bustling capital city. The future starlet was raised mostly by her mother, Audrey Kathleen. Hepburn's father, Joseph, left the family when she was just six years old.

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Hepburn went to boarding school in England for some time. But when World War II broke out, she and her mother moved to Holland. Audrey Kathleen was of Dutch background and thought the pair would be safer in the Netherlands. But things soon took a turn.

A Dark Childhood

Despite Netherlands' pledges to stay neutral in the conflict, Germany invaded the country. Like many others at the time, Kathleen was unfortunately wrong in thinking she and Audrey could be totally safe in the country. Audrey was young but soon began feeling the effects of war.

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People close to Audrey's heart started disappearing as the occupying forces took them away. "Why was I spared when so many others were not? I asked myself [that] over and over," Hepburn said during interviews with biographer Diana Maychick of these dark times. She eventually found some light in all of the darkness...

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Joining the Resistance

How exactly did Audrey cope with the darkness all around her brought on by World War II? By becoming a part of the resistance. According to biographer Robert Matzen's book, Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II, the young woman joined the Dutch resistance against the Nazis after moving to Velp, Netherlands.

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Dr. Hendrik Visser 't Hooft was the primary person responsible for Audrey's recruitment into the Dutch resistance. Part of her responsibilities was to be "one of the ones [bringing] messages to families protecting Jews," explained author Robert Matzen. But that wasn't all.

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Dancing for The Resistance

According to Matzen, the future starlet also "Danced [to raise money] for the resistance." Young Hepburn danced ballet in underground concerts, where all of the windows and doors were completely closed and the performances took place in total secrecy.

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People paid to enjoy the concerts, and that money went straight to the resistance. But Audrey stayed modest about her role in the war. "Every loyal Dutch schoolgirl and boy did their little bit to help," she is quoted saying later in life. "Many were much more courageous than I was."

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Her Parents Did the Opposite

So Audrey was only an adolescent at the time but partaking in life-risking missions for the Dutch resistance. From sneaking messages to families in hiding to dancing in secret concerts, Hepburn put it all at stake for the sake of Europe's common good. But her parents did not.

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According to reports, Kathleen and Joseph (who was no longer in Hepburn's life) were both members of the British Union of Fascists. They were Nazi sympathizers, and Joseph was even imprisoned as an enemy of the state in the U.K. Once Audrey became famous, her team worked hard to keep this family history hidden.

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A Rising Star

Throughout the war, Audrey focused mostly on two things: surviving and resisting. Food was short, and times were rough. But when those terrible times finally passed, Hepburn made her way out of Velp and dedicated herself to modeling and dancing ballet in Amsterdam and London.

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The late 1940s brought Audrey's first professional milestone: she had her on-stage debut as a chorus girl in the London musical High Button Shoes. Two years later, in 1951, the budding actress starred in One Wild Oat and The Lavender Hill Mob. Hepburn's breakout role came soon after that in Gigi.

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She Almost Didn't Star in 'Roman Holiday'

Not long after Gigi, Audrey starred in the iconic film Roman Holiday. The Golden Age classic premiered in 1953 and shot the actress to stardom. But Hepburn almost didn't get the legendary part opposite Gregory Peck. It's rumored that the directors originally wanted to cast Elizabeth Taylor.

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When producers learned that Taylor could not take the role, they turned to Audrey as a second choice. "I can't say at the moment whether or not we will use Miss Hepburn in Roman Holiday," wrote director William Wyler in a letter before the decision was made. And that's not the only surprising fact about the starlet's past.

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She Dated John F. Kennedy

Audrey was, in some ways, America's sweetheart. So it might be surprising to hear that she was once briefly involved with the late John F. Kennedy. It's no secret that the former president had a liking for Golden Age icons and was not always loyal to his wife.

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John's most famous affair was arguably his relationship with Marilyn Monroe. But before marrying Jackie and taking a seat in the Oval Office, Kennedy and Hepburn reportedly briefly dated. This didn't become public knowledge until much later. At the time, Audrey was making headlines for entirely different reasons...

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The First Academy Award

Audrey and John F. Kennedy's romance didn't receive attention, but that didn't mean the spotlight wasn't on the rising star. Hepburn made waves in the industry with her critically-acclaimed role in Roman Holiday. The part earned the actress an Academy Award.

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Hepburn went on to win five more Oscars in her lifetime. It's a good thing she landed that role of Princess Anne in Roman Holiday because we can't imagine the classic film without Audrey. The starlet's next part brought with it on-screen and off-screen scandals.

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An Affair With Her Married Co-Star

After Roman Holiday, Audrey became a household name and one of the most desired actresses in Hollywood. So naturally, she easily landed her next role in 1954's Sabrina, a romantic comedy-drama. Hepburn played Sabrina, a woman entangled in a love triangle with two brothers.

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But behind the scenes, the Hollywood set had as much scandal as the on-screen scenes. Audrey had a relationship with her married co-star, William Holden. This would soon bring troubles. But in the meantime, things were under wraps, and Hepburn began a different kind of love affair...

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The Beginning of a Fashion Love Affair

While Audrey's relationship with William Holden intensified, so did another passion in the actress's life. The filming of Sabrina marked the start of Hepburn's love affair with fashion. It was also the beginning of a beautiful lifelong friendship with a famous designer.

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French fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy, who founded the House of Givenchy shortly before Sabrina began filming, was hired to create the wardrobe for the 1950s movie. He and Audrey became the best of friends. Together, they helped Hepburn become famous for reasons other than acting.

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She Became a Fashion Icon

As entertaining as Sabrina's funny twists and turns were, there was something else in the film arguably as enchanting as the plot: Audrey's fashion. With the help of Givenchy, Hepburn looked French-chic and stylish in all of the movie's famous scenes.

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The sophisticated wardrobe became part of the film's hype, and Paramount capitalized on it. The production company used Hepburn's Parisian fashion to advertise Sabrina and made sure the starlet stunned at the various premieres. And so, Audrey became a fashion icon. But around the same time, her relationship fell apart.

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A New Beau

Audrey and her Sabrina co-star, William, were going strong, despite the fact that he had a wife. Holden was in love with the Hollywood icon and planned to end his marriage for the sake of their relationship. But then Audrey learned the actor didn't want more children.

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William was already a father and told Audrey he didn't want more kids. That was a deal-breaker for the starlet. She soon moved on and got back together with an old fling, actor Mel Ferrer. The two reunited on the set of 1954's Broadway performance of Ondine. But things soon took a strange turn.

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A Very Awkward Proposal

In some ways, Mel Ferrer was probably a rebound for the famous actress after the heartbreak from William Holden. Nonetheless, she fell for the new beau. And when the Sabrina production team learned things were heating up, they used it to the film's advantage.

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Paramount feared that rumors about Audrey and William's affair would tarnish the film's image. And so, when they found out that Hepburn and Ferrer were engaged, the production company told the couple to announce their news during a party at Holden's house. Talk about awkward!

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An Unexpected Request

Audrey had already come a long way from her war-ridden youth in the Netherlands. She was one of Hollywood's most in-demand stars and busy with marriage, too. But in 1959, the actress's past came back in an unexpected way: Anne Frank's dad, Otto, wanted Hepburn to play his daughter in an upcoming film.

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Otto knew of Audrey's difficult experiences as a teenager in the Netherlands during the war and how they paralleled Anne's. But Hepburn was too haunted by those dark times to take on the role. "I was so destroyed by it... that I said I couldn't deal with it," she explained of her rejection of the role.

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Audrey vs. Marilyn

Not long after the plea from Otto Frank, Audrey was in competition for a totally different role: that of party girl Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's. But similar to what happened with Roman Holiday, she almost didn't get the iconic part. This time, Hepburn was up against Marilyn Monroe.

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The author of the novel that the classic film is based on, Truman Capote, desperately wanted Marilyn to land the part. He thought the blonde bombshell was perfect for Holly. But sadly for him, Monroe turned down the offer. But the casting drama was only beginning...

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Audrey Almost Didn't Accept

Capote was furious when he learned that Audrey had been offered the role of Holly Golightly. "Paramount double-crossed me in every way and cast Audrey," the author said, as reported by Vogue. "The most miscast film I've ever seen," Truman added. And apparently, Hepburn felt similarly.

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Audrey confessed that she "didn't think I was right for it." But while Hepburn and Capote doubted her aura and capabilities, the director thought differently. Blake Edwards talked the starlet into accepting the role and changed the course of Hollywood history forever.

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Challenging Beauty Standards

Looking back at the Golden Age of Hollywood, it's nearly impossible to imagine the film industry without Audrey. But the truth is that at the time, Hepburn was arguably an outcast in some ways. The actress didn't exhibit a beauty aesthetic typical of the time.

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The popular standards of the time categorized the Marilyns of the world (beautiful, sexy, and curvy) as the ideal image of beauty. Audrey's soft mannerisms and slim physique were less common. But the world soon embraced her unique looks, too. Yet as Hepburn's fame increased, her desire to be in Hollywood did the opposite.

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Far, Far Away From Hollywood

By the time Breakfast at Tiffany'spremiered in 1961, Audrey had already welcomed her first child with husband and actor Mel Ferrer. The couple had a baby boy named Sean. Becoming a mother eventually drew the Hollywood starlet away from California as she sought quiet and privacy.

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Sean Hepburn Ferrer recalled growing up in a farmhouse in Switzerland, far away from L.A.'s flashing lights and movie sets. "I didn't grow up the son of a movie star; I didn't grow up in Hollywood, not the place, not the state of mine," he explained. But that didn't mean there was no trouble in paradise.

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Her Husband Was Jealous

By the 1960s, there was no arguing that Audrey was a total Hollywood icon. She wowed audiences with her acting, poise, and style in one film after another. But Hepburn's husband, Mel, was not quite as popular. He was certainly famous, just not at the same level as his wife.

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After some years, Ferrar began to feel like he was living in Hepburn's shadows. This led the once happy husband to resent his starlet wife and envy her unstoppable career. And unfortunately, that wasn't the only bump in the road the couple faced. They divorced in 1968.

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Not Very Faithful

Jealousy wasn't the only issue in Audrey's first marriage. A lack of faithfulness also permeated the relationship, as both partners continually cheated on one another. After the 1968 divorce, it wasn't long before Hepburn found love again with a new man.

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Audrey married Italian psychiatrist Andrew Dotti in January of 1969. This marriage was also marked by infidelity. But, there was also much happiness as Hepburn welcomed another baby boy. Luca Dotti was born on February 8, 1970. The actress's two sons meant everything to her.

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She Wanted To Be a Full-Time Mother

After giving birth to her first son in 1960 and another boy in 1970, Audrey felt further pulled to motherhood. In fact, after filming 1967's Wait Until Dark, the starlet took a break from the big screen. Hepburn didn't star in a film again until 1976's Robin and Marian.

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"I suppose you could blame me for ending my mother's career," Luca Dotti said. "If she had kept on working, her success professionally would have continued at a high level for many years." Despite having more time to focus on family, things at home fell apart.

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Done With Marriage

Perhaps Audrey thought that marrying someone who wasn't totally involved in the Hollywood industry would make for a better marriage after the jealousy issues in her first union. But as it turned out, Hepburn and Dotti were not meant to last forever, either. The couple divorced in the early 1980s.

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And while the famous actress had other love affairs after the divorce (and during the marriage), she never married a third time. In 1980, Hepburn started dating Robert Wolders, a Dutch television actor. At the same time, Audrey focused on something outside the world of Hollywood and romance.

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A UNICEF Ambassador

With a stable romantic partner and a successful acting career that had reached its peak, Audrey turned her talents to a different arena. The starlet was, by nature, a helper and decided to make a difference for people in need around the world. So, Hepburn became a UNICEF ambassador.

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Audrey knew that her status and fame could be a big benefit in drawing attention to global crises. The actress began touring the world as a UNICEF ambassador in the late 1980s. Hepburn visited Ethiopia, Turkey, Venezuela, and Ecuador, among other countries. This eventually got her recognized in a very big way.

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The Presidential Medal of Freedom

Not only did Audrey travel the world meeting people in need of better resources, but she also became a sort of representative for these communities. The Hollywood icon suddenly found herself off of sets and face-to-face with world leaders and politicians.

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Hepburn testified in Congress and attended the World Summit for Children. In 1992, the starlet was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her contributions to society. But unfortunately, something tragic prevented Audrey from attending the ceremony in person.

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"How Disappointing"

After a humanitarian trip to Somalia in 1992, Audrey was back in Switzerland. But suddenly, the actress started suffering from extreme abdominal pain. Hepburn returned to California to see her doctor and was diagnosed with an uncommon form of cancer.

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"How disappointing," Audrey reportedly said after hearing the diagnosis. Doctors warned that she did not have much more time. On January 20, 1993, Hepburn passed away at 63 years old. But Hollywood continued to recognize her impact on the world long after that.

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Becoming an EGOT

Audrey earned multiple awards and became a critically acclaimed actress during her time in Hollywood. Aside from five Academy Awards between 1954 and 1968, Hepburn also won a Tony in 1954 for Best Actress in a Play for the Broadway production of Ondine.

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After her untimely passing, Hepburn ultimately achieved EGOT status: a label reserved for stars who win an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony. Audrey won an Emmy in 1993 for Gardens of the World with Audrey Hepburn and a Grammy in 1994 for a spoken word album for children, Audrey Hepburn's Enchanted Tales. And that wasn't all.

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Audrey Inspired Lady Gaga

It's no secret that Hepburn's legacy continues to live on in the 2000s. From Breakfast at Tiffany's posters to Halloween costumes, references to the Golden Age icon can be found in many places. Including one very famous star at the 2019 Academy Awards red carpet.

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In 2019, Lady Gaga showed up at the Oscars in a fully Audrey-inspired get-up. From the hair to the gloves, the singer channeled Holly Golightly. She even wore the same famous diamond donned by Hepburn for the legendary role. The Born This Way singer isn't the only celeb who has honored the late actress.

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Audrey's Famous Granddaughter

Fame might just run in the family. After all, Audrey's first son with Mel Ferrer was the product of two talented actors, so it can be expected that the arts are in the relatives' DNA. One particular Hepburn descendent has a resemblance to the late starlet: her granddaughter.

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Emma Kathleen Keburn Ferrer became known after an iconic 2014 photoshoot. Audrey's granddaughter posed in modern-day versions of her grandmother's most iconic and memorable images. While the Golden Age actress passed before meeting Emma, the 27-year-old reps her grandma on the red carpet.

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"Ultimate Beauty Icon Of All Time"

It's been nearly two decades since the legendary artist's passing, but Hepburn continues to define and inspire today's beauty standards. In 2015, Audrey was voted "The Ultimate Beauty Icon Of All Time," beating the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, and Beyonce.

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And lucky for us, the starlet's son revealed one of her biggest beauty tricks: stay hydrated. "She insisted so much on everybody ... drinking a lot of water. And that really, today, is so important for the support of everything," Luca Dotti shared. From Audrey's mouth to our ears, we're keeping our water bottles filled.

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