Discover Audrey Hepburn beyond the Charade

Story by Jack Foley

 

A CRITIC once declared that 'in a cruel and imperfect world, she was living proof that God could still create perfection'. Audrey Hepburn, I guess, was as close to perfection as any actress in her heyday, becoming nominated for five Oscars and appearing in countless classic movies - Roman Holiday (pictured above), Breakfast at Tiffany's, Sabrina, Wait Until Dark and, of course, My Fair Lady (now revived on the West End stage).

Throughout her career, however, Hepburn was to develop a special relationship with one photographer - Bob Willoughby - who became a very close friend. Willoughby often caught the hidden side of the actress, visiting her on the set of countless movies to depict Hepburn during quieter, more personal moments.

And now, his photographs can be viewed at an exhibition at Proud Camden Moss, in NW1, until March 30, which is a must-see for any fans of the star. As another critic points out, the show 'indulges every silver screen fantasy - and is all the more enjoyable for that'.

Audrey: An Intimate Collection brings together over 180 prints taken by the Hollywood photographer, both on and off-set and at home with her husband, Mel Ferrer, and young son.

Proud Camden Moss, 10 Greenland Street, NW1 (020-7482 3867).

Hepburn fact-file:

Born on May 4, 1929, near Brussels, in Belgium, Audrey Hepburn-Ruston was the daughter of an English banker and a Dutch baroness.

She was sent to a girls' school near London after her parents' divorce and was vacationing with her mother in Arnhem, Holland, when World War II broke out. She subsequently spent the war years in the Nazi-occupied town, attending a local public school and receiving ballet training at the Arnhem Conservatory.

After the war she went to London on a ballet scholarship and soon began winning modeling assignments from fashion photographers. In the early 50s she joined Felix Aylmer's acting classes and began playing bit parts in British movies. While filming Monte Carlo Baby on the French Riviera, in 1951, she met Colette, the French novelist, who insisted that Audrey play the lead in the forthcoming Broadway adaptation of her Gigi.

Her success in the play led to a starring part opposite Gregory Peck in one of the finest films of her career, the fabulous Roman Holiday, for which she won an Academy Award (she would later be nominated for Oscars four more times, for Sabrina, The Nun's Story, Breakfast at Tiffany's and Wait Until Dark).

No stranger to award ceremonies, she also won the Tony Award for her performance in the Broadway play 'Ondine' just six weeks after her appearance before Academy members. It was during this run that she married her co-star, Mel Ferrer, in 1954. They would also co-star in King Vidor's War and Peace, while he directed her in Green Mansions and produced her last picture of the 60s, Wait Until Dark (1967), for which she received her fifth Oscar nomination, for her portrayal of a terrorized blind woman. The couple would divorce a year later, however.

The following year, 1969, she married an Italian psychiatrist nine years her junior and made her home in Rome and later in Switzerland. She was named a Special Ambassador for UNICEF and devoted much of her free time to charity.

She returned to the screen for a short time in 1976, after a nine-year absence, as Maid Marian in Robin and Marian alongside Sean Connery. But her acting played second fiddle to her charity work.

Shortly after a highly-publicized 1992 mission of mercy to famine in war-torn Somalia, she was diagnosed with colon cancer and, after a brief struggle with the disease, died in 1993. Her death was mourned internationally.

But her appeal and memory lives on through the real highlights of her career - movies such as Funny Face, Love in the Afternoon, The Nun's Story, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Charade and My Fair Lady. They remain the favourites of many.