There are movie stars and then there are movie stars -- performers who have such a unique and often indescribable quality that their very name connotes the magic of the cinema. Audrey Hepburn was definitely a movie star.
“Everybody loves Audrey,” says Ian Birnie, director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s film department. “No one ever looked or sounded like Audrey Hepburn -- not even remotely. She stood in complete opposition to the ‘50s bombshell women -- the Marilyns, the Jane Russells and Janet Leighs.”
Hepburn has remained timeless. Her characters, her look and her persona seem as contemporary today as they did nearly six decades ago.
Beginning Friday, LACMA is saluting the actress with its series “Audrey Hepburn: Then, Now and Forever.” The event begins with a double bill of 1953’s “Roman Holiday” and the 1981 comedy “They All Laughed,” directed by Peter Bogdanovich, who will introduce the screening. On tap for Saturday is her Oscar-nominated turn as Holly Golightly in 1961’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and 1967’s marvelous romantic comedy “Two for the Road,” in which she’s paired with Albert Finney. The series continues through Nov. 13.
The tall, gamin and sophisticated Belgian actress appeared on Broadway in 1950’s “Gigi” and had made a few films in England, including a tiny part in 1951’s “The Lavender Hill Mob,” but she was still unknown to most of the American public until she turned up in William Wyler’s “Roman Holiday,” for which she won a lead actress Oscar as a princess on tour in Rome who decides to take a “holiday” from her duties and travel around the Eternal City incognito.
Hepburn worked steadily for the next 15 years in such beloved films as 1954’s “Sabrina,” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” 1964’s “My Fair Lady” and 1967’s “Wait Until Dark.” Then she took a nearly decade-long break from cinema, returning in 1976’s “Robin and Marian” opposite Sean Connery. She only worked occasionally thereafter, however, preferring to spend most of her time with her family and working as a special UNICEF ambassador.
When she died of cancer in 1993 at the age of 63, the world mourned.
Several people who worked with Hepburn, as well as film professor Rick Jewell, discussed the Hepburn magic.
Directed Hepburn in “They All Laughed”
She was absolutely real. I mean, she looked in the other actors’ eyes and told the truth. She had a kind of purity and saintliness. She reminded me of the silent stars like Lillian Gish and Mary Pickford. It was like she wasn’t acting.
The amazing thing about Audrey I found from working with her is that she was a very vulnerable person and very fragile emotionally. She was completely professional and she managed to somehow take that vulnerability and sensitivity and marshal it into something she can work with and convey on the screen.
It was difficult to get her to do the movie. She was in Europe at that point in her life and she wasn’t very interested in making movies. She had done it. The thrill was gone. In this case, I think she did it because I would make her son, Sean Ferrer, my assistant. And she wanted Sean to have the experience of doing that. I think that’s one of the reasons she agreed to do it.
She was the opposite of the diva. She never complained.
Costarred in “Two for the Road”
She was a consummate professional. We would be out in the heat with everybody sweating bullets and there she was sitting under an umbrella and never needed to be mopped up or powdered. She just was right there. She and Albert were quite chummy by then -- that’s as far as I go on that.
He would tease her a lot in my presence. He called her “Tawdry Audrey” or “Audrey Sunburn” and things like that and, of course, she giggled and everything.
At the end of the film, there was a wrap party. And Audrey danced with every single member of the male crew all evening long. She was a wonderful dancer, by the way. I think she ended up with a blister on her foot. She was that outgoing.
She and Finney, who were very close at that point, invited my wife Bonnie and I out to dinner. It was Paris in August and everything is closed in August. Audrey had a very sensitive stomach and couldn’t eat French food, so we wound up at this awful Italian restaurant. The food was awful, but Audrey sat at the head of the table with such manners and such goodwill and such charm that you would think you were eating at the Savoy. She carried it off beautifully with no mention of the rotten food. That is the way she was.
Appeared with Hepburn in the 1987 TV movie “Love Among Thieves”
I met her when she first came out at Paramount. I got that feeling she was something special -- that I was in the presence of someone very, very special.
She reflected everything that she was. I know that sounds a little bit strange, but she was able to just present herself without very many complications. I think that comes out in her work. When you see her, she is so direct. She was in the moment -- always. Those close-ups of her when she looks and you see into her eyes, there is no diffusion. You are looking into her soul and spirit. She had a great soul and she had great spirit of life.
She was like velvet to work with. She was just an amazing woman. I adored her.
Professor at the USC School of Cinematic Arts
What was amazing, for me, was the combination of innocence and elegance. She had it and I think that is probably what William Wyler saw in her when he cast her in “Roman Holiday.” There was something about her that just leaped out at you. They used to talk about the cameras loving certain individuals, and it certainly loved her in a very special way.
I think the thing that attracted all of those great directors to want to work with her is that they knew her films would be special and would be somehow set apart from most of the genre efforts simply because she would be the leading lady in it. She was just so special, so different from everybody else, that you knew that you would get a fine performance out of her, but you would also get the Audrey Hepburn magic at the same time.
There is a Garbo-esque quality about her -- that kind of ethereal quality is the best way I could put it. Even though she wasn’t like Garbo, who just dropped out of sight when she was still reasonably young. Audrey was very much a very public figure. But you still don’t think of her as someone who really aged. She had that ageless quality about her. You don’t find that with very many big stars.
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Audrey Hepburn: Then, Now and Forever
What: Friday: “Roman Holiday,” “They All Laughed.” Saturday: “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “Two for the Road.” Oct. 30: “Sabrina,” “Love in the Afternoon.” Nov. 6: “Charade,” “Wait Until Dark.” Nov. 7: “War and Peace.” Nov. 13: “My Fair Lady”
Where: Leo S. Bing Theater, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd.
When: Fridays-Saturdays through Nov. 13
Price: $10 general admission; $5 for second film only
Info: www.lacma.org or (323) 857-6010
LACMA films, the sequel
As the Audrey Hepburn tribute makes clear, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s weekend film program is back in operation. Earlier this year it had been canceled by LACMA Director Michael Govan, who said the film department had amassed a $1-million deficit over the last decade. A public protest ensued, and the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. and Ovation TV stepped forward in August with $75,000 each to continue the weekend screenings at least through June. Following the Hepburn series will be “Hitchcock in Britain: The Sound Thrillers,” kicking off Nov. 20 with the original 1934 version of “The Man Who Knew Too Much” and “Murder!” Other series will be announced later.
-- Susan King