In The Magazine

Screen Divinity

Tuesday, April 7, 2015
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If Hollywood is the ultimate dream machine, the land where movie magic can transform illusion and fantasy into reality, then in its long and often incredible history no screen divinity ever led a more enchanted life than its greatest princess, the ethereal and exquisite Audrey Hepburn. The story of her life could be the basis for a modern fairy tale, for no star of the celluloid constellation ever dazzled the worldwide public with as breathtaking an American film debut as she, and the aura of her uniquely delicate persona has never faded within the public’s adoration. If divinity ever achieves human form, this goddess will forever remain one of the favored idols in the memory of filmgoers, and my own extended audience with her ranks as one of my most treasured experiences.


On performing

Oh, I can’t believe that at all! I was always terribly shy. Maybe I would perform by myself, without anyone watching, but that is quite a different thing. I would perhaps dance to music on a record, but basically I was very timid about being watched. I was always much too embarrassed by an audience, and even now I still go through hell in front of an audience. Actually I was always much too introverted to be an actress at all, so I was certainly not a born performer . . . But I do love fairy tales, and was always drawn to enchantment. I suppose it was the make-believe aspect of it all that appealed to me. Pretending that I was someone else was always fun for me.


On life during war

I’ve been asked that question before, about being fairly well-to-do before the war, and then being ruined, for our house was shelled and demolished, and then whatever possessions my mother and aunts had were exchanged for turnips and potatoes to keep us alive during that last winter. So, we lost everything of material value in the war, but we were always able to survive. Except of course during that horrid winter—we called it “The Hunger Winter”—in 1945 . . . They were fighting door to door and house to house, so we had to stay in the cellar for about three weeks. We were actually living in the cellar, and each time we came up another part of the house was gone.


I was not a resistance fighter . . . I had lots of friends in the underground. Every so often they would use me to deliver a message to such and such an address, and I would pop it into my sock and head off, dropping the missive off. Actually I’m almost embarrassed to talk about it, for it sounds as if I did something like Mata Hari, when in fact it amounted to very little. Of course, If I had been caught there would have been hell to pay . . . In Holland a bomb would go off each day in a different area, but you would have to go on living every day with that kind of danger being a way of life. It somehow seems not to be so extraordinary any longer when you see it on a daily basis.


On her early career as a dancer

I was 24, you see, and although it seems to have happened overnight, as you say, I had been working as a performer since I was 13 . . . I was terribly lucky. Admittedly, I had never had any acting training of any kind, but I had been working terribly hard for years. As I told you, I had been doing those twice nightly reviews at the Hippodrome, which means twelve shows a week, going into the theater at five in the afternoon and coming out at midnight, exhausted. Much of the time I was also doing a third show, a cabaret, for the same producer who was putting on these revues also had a cabaret, at Ciro’s. (We would rush from the Hippodrome to this other theatre—and I mean all of the girls in the revue—where we would change costumes and dash back on-stage to perform in another show.) I would thus go home at three in the morning. You could walk home in London at that hour in those days, but I doubt you can today. My great protection, by the way, were the ladies of the night. They looked out for me all down Piccadilly and on Bond Street, wherever I was walking . . . I knew them all, their faces and their names, and they watched out for me. They would ask me how the show had gone when I passed them on their corners, so there was always someone keeping an eye out for me. As you know, South Audley is a very elegant address . . . We [Audrey and her Mother] had an elegant address, to be sure, but only one room, with use of the bathroom down the hall and the use of the kitchen.


On meeting Cary Grant

Stanley Donen, who directed Charade, was going to pick me up at my hotel in Paris, and he had Cary Grant with him. The plan was that the three of us could become acquainted over dinner, before shooting began. I was thrilled to death, of course, to be in the back of the car with Cary. Well we got to the restaurant, and the waiter poured the wine, and I threw it right all over Cary Grant. I was mortified, as you might imagine. That is my Cary Grant story. He had on a lovely pale gray flannel suit, and in my excitement I knocked the dark red wine all over him ruining the suit.


Truman Capote

I love to laugh, as you know . . . Truman did nothing but make me laugh, whenever he opened his mouth. He was brilliant, and really very affectionate. One of the times that I will never forget, when I laughed more than any other time, we were both house guests on a Villa in Majorca. We were staying with friends who rented the house from fear and out in the middle of Spain, was more than I could bear. It was the funniest scene in my entire experience.


On old age and life

In my experience giving is much nicer than receiving. The loneliness of old age is a big problem, not so much because people don’t receive love any longer, but because they have no one to give their love to . . . If you can go on giving love to someone or something you can still feel useful . . . The tragedy of getting old is that one is often no longer needed, for the children have left home and begun new lives of their own. Feeling useful, feeling needed, having someone to give your love to is terribly important. By giving love, you receive it. This is how it works. You receive happiness because you are able to give. Perhaps some people would say that this is an idealistic way of looking at life, but I don’t think it is. It is how I see life.


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