Friday, February 26, 2010

In Retrospect: Audrey Hepburn

I had never before seen an Audrey Hepburn movie. I knew her as the girl in the long black dress, with the large black sunglasses, gazing into the window at Tiffany’s. However, the first Audrey film I watched was not Breakfast at Tiffany’s, a favorite of the mainstream media’s. The first Audrey film I watched was her first American picture, Roman Holiday; where she charmed just about everyone to the point of near confusion. Journalists scrambled for fresh new words to describe this doe eyed newcomer; this svelte beauty with the unidentifiable accent.

I was charmed as well. I'm going to be cliche and say that I fell in love with her. She was spunky, she was adorable, she was sweet and utterly charming. When I first saw her in that film, it was so clear to me how naturally beautiful she was. There was just the slightest hint of makeup. I had never come across anyone so beautiful in the Hollywood of today. The only other women who seemed to compare with Audrey in the looks department were from ‘back then’; Vivien Leigh, Ingrid Bergman, and Grace Kelly. (Those were the few ladies I had discovered before Audrey as my classic film obsession began).

Audrey’s beauty is very much a relevant topic. She’s been described as a classic beauty; sometimes, unique. I like to think of her as the latter, because her looks were so different from her contemporaries. Stunning as she was, classic could not describe her face. Anthony Beauchamp, the photographer who discovered her in 1949, said of Audrey: “I couldn’t quite fathom that she was real. There were so many paradoxes in that face. Darkness and purity; depth and youth; stillness and animation. She had a fresh new look, a beauty that was ethereal.” Audrey had a quiet majesty about her; there was a regal glow to her face, but it wasn't overpowering. She was kind of like the girl next door; but ethereal.

Take note of how simply made up she is here, but that still doen't take away from her natural elegance.

Her eyes definitely play a large role in adding to her incredibly striking face. A friend of mine was once studying Audrey's picture on the cover of a biography I was reading and she remarked: "It's her eyes." I knew what she meant. Those eyes drew people in. They still do. It's easy to see how  people noticed her right away even though she was just another dancer first starting out. She was known as the chorus girl with the eyes. Even as she aged ever so gracefully, those eyes of her remained mesmerizing.

I know Audrey never thought of herself as anything special. She didn't think much of her looks, or her talents. Like so many actors, she dismissed it. (Ava Gardner serves as another good example). But as her son Sean put it, Audrey was like a star that couldn't see it's light. That makes her infinitely more lovable. "She was a joy to work with- enormous talent, and no ego," Sidney Sheldon remarked. Sean points to his mother's dedication; she never quite understood how she landed in films, but she was always polite and courteous, and always on time. Simple maybe, but Audrey treasured simplicity, and so she wasn't ever quite the Hollywood type. And that my friends, further endears her to the regular girls next door.

And as if that wasn't enough, she spoke on behlaf of the children of the world. She was not an extraordinary humanitarian; she was an extraordinary human being. She was filled with true compassion and love, not just for her family and those closest to her, but to those children of war, sickness and famine. Her own experiences of growing up during World War Two certainly played a role in acting as an ambassador to UNICEF, but it's nothing short of remarkable. She was a child of war and tragedy. Perhaps that suffering made her even more beautiful. She still retained her optimism throughout the war, and throughout her life; as someone who knew the real horrors of mankind, she understood the importance of all the simple things  we too often take for granted. I know it's been said countless times before, but it's important when talking about Audrey.

Throughout this post, I've mainly discussed Audrey as a beauty and as a woman. There hasn't been a lot of mention of her career, has there? After all, I discovered her first as an actress, as did many people. But I suppose this retrospect is paying tribute to the woman I've gleaned bits and pieces of information from. It'd be very easy to speak about Audrey's films and the characters she portrayed, and how she did indeed bring some of her own personality into Princess Ann, Sabrina Fairchild, Jo Stockton, Holly Golightly, and Regina Lampert. We know the Audrey from the movies; no matter how many biographies or quotes we read, we'll never know the true Audrey.

So I suppose this retrospect is paying tribute to a wonderful role model, who I've seen and admired as a person and as an actress, but only from afar. Like many of the Audrey lovers and devotees out there, I feel a connection to her. And I mean, if you're a true fan of hers, you can't help but fall in love with this lovely girl, and her large sad eyes. But how is it that she continues to enchant people of all ages, even years after her death? Maybe it's because Audrey's brand of je nais se quoi; her elegant spirit, are timeless, and really never go out of style.

I regard her as more than just a silver screen talent or a style icon, and that is my own retrospect. And I hope I've made some sense of how much and why I adore this woman!

Rest in Peace, Audrey.
May 4, 1929-January 20, 1993

"God kissed Audrey Hepburn on the cheek and there she was." -Billy Wilder

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