Updated: Apr 17
As a boy I had the romantic tendency once in a while to fall in love with a film personality who was of a much earlier generation than my own. It all began at about three or four with a revival of Walt Disney's Snow White at the cinema. You can imagine who it was I fell head over heels for, and it wasn't the seven dwarfs! But my early infatuation with Snow White did not stop there. At six or seven it was a devoted feeling for Marilyn Monroe. And that has never dented or diminished, merely ripened and seasoned. After a gap of about four or five years during which that ripening and seasoning set in, it was Audrey Hepburn. My pocket diary at age about eleven, says it. I had seen My Fair Lady on television, and reacted, in words to say, that I think I was falling big time for her! We can all realise what good qualities we have at times, one of mine is good taste! On a site dedicated to eradicating or defeating prejudice, I declare at least a bias in favour of Audrey Hepburn, a woman, so much more than a movie star, a person, but not a saint, a wonderful actress and a remarkable lady!
Twenty five years ago today Audrey Hepburn died and I cried. Loving Audrey was not difficult, whatever the form, whether childlike enthusiasm or adult appreciation, it's easy. Audrey Hepburn was loveable.
It was easy to love her when she had a Roman Holiday, and not possible to be jealous of Gregory Peck, even if a little envious. It was easy to love her as Sabrina, and yet wonder why she ended up with Humphrey Bogart and not William Holden, or either of them. It was easy to love her when she had Breakfast at Tiffany's, and not be resentful of George Peppard! It was easy to love her when they said, like she did, that she had a Funny Face, even though Fred Astaire in the film and most of us watching, could love that face! And it was very easy to love her as My Fair Lady, for the title said she was mine!
But it was even easier to love Audrey for some who might, barely know who she was. To be a small child and love a film star was one thing, and one that was far from meaningless, and has been longlasting. Yet a small child, in the inumerable countries, who Audrey Hepburn visited as UNICEF Ambassador, would have looked at her, as an older, wiser, beauty, than had been seen on the silver screen, and would have seen her with the youthful wisdom of a child. I think I could glimpse that as a boy, although to really see it later, as so many children did, and in those circumstances, in the setting of her work for UNICEF, was a very different story. To those children she was a kind lady bringing them hope.
Audrey Hepburn was the only Goodwill Ambassador of that great organisation, who was herself a child of UNICEF. As a teenager after the second world war, she had been a recipient of their goodwill. Not really, so much, rootless, her Dutch, Belgium, Anglo-Irish, trajectory did not mean that, but she was very nearly, in a sense, homeless, in her recent history up to that moment after the war. She never forgot that she had been in need and that an organisation who cared were there when she needed them.
The move from movie star, to children's ambassador, was a gradual, rather than sudden, one. Her maternal instinct was more than a main part of who she was. She had showed a loyalty to her husbands, they had not, fully, returned, and an ongoing committment to her two sons from her two marriages. She had put her career on hold. She had sought the highest fees she could secure for roles , which were fewer later, to secure her children, for their futures. But the transition to UNICEF Ambassador took it's toll. Always rather fragile in health, the extraordinary workload and passionate committment, was taken by her, so very seriously, that there can be little doubt that it affected her physically and emotionally. How does anyone confront and engage with so much suffering and hunger and not get affected? But hunger for food, and hunger for justice, the advocacy for which she had become so persuasive, so eloquent, so natural a speaker, aided by her longtime and most loyal partner, Robert Wolders, could not replace the actual hunger that somehow was in her, and neglected, for continual good health for this special Goodwill Ambassador . But she loved the work. And she felt a reward greater than ever as a film star. Sir Peter Ustinov, one of the great Ambassador's for UNICEF, before and after her, said of her " She knew better than anyone else that the recompence of such work lies in the eyes of those in need of succour...it is they who bring it home, in all it's simplicity, that such work is worthwhile." When she died he said " Audrey Hepburn would have died young at any age."
Since her loss to this world, she has become a classic figure, known for her style more than her substance. But she was both, and the latter far more. Much feted in her life, she for some reason, never got a Damehood from the British Honour's List, awarded, and she did not get this or another, honour, for the reason, I reckon, nobody realised she carried a British passport, as well as a UNICEF one, so universal was her appeal, so ambiguous, her accent! I think the time has come for a very beautiful statue of this very beautiful human being.
Loving Audrey from afar, or from near, was and is easy. Up close it must have been easier. Audrey Hepburn was loveable. And more than anything, she was loving. She loved the men in her life. She loved her children. And she loved the children of this world who needed her and UNICEF, even if they barely knew who she was . We who did and do, always shall.
Author : LORENZO CHERIN