The Dark Side of Audrey Hepburn
by ALMIE ROSE
Nothing about my ex-husband interests me. I have spent two years in hell – surely the worst in my life.
More than once, I was at the station seeing trainloads of Jews being transported, seeing all these faces over the top of the wagon. I was exactly the same age as Anne Frank. We were both 10 when the war broke out… if you read [her] diary, I’ve marked one place where she says, ‘Five hostages shot today.’ That was the day my uncle was shot.
I admit that people have often said they never really get to know me. But does anyone ever know someone else completely?
It’s become cliché for teenagers and young women of our generation to love Audrey Hepburn. For some reason girls of the 90s grew up with an affinity for Hepburn to where it became, "Welcome to college, here’s your Breakfast At Tiffany’s poster for your dorm room." That film is based on a dark novella in which Holly Golightly doesn't get her cat back, doesn’t get the guy, and is generally a horrible person. But in the film, it’s not even really clear that Hepburn plays a prostitute. That completely went over my head the first time I saw it. I thought she just liked to wake up early and put on a party dress. Also there’s that horribly racist Mr. Yunioshi character that Mickey Rooney threw in there. So I guess if you really analyze it, there is a dark side to the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s, just not in an obvious way.
And that’s the thing about Audrey Hepburn. She has darkness but it isn’t obvious. The problems of Marilyn Monroe became part of her legend but Audrey’s were carefully tucked away in a Givenchy handbag. A friend of mine once despaired about a fight she got into with a rude friend of a friend. She didn't even know this person and yet she was torn up about it. When I asked her why it bothered her so much, she said it was because she strived to be like Audrey Hepburn, and "no one ever said anything bad about Audrey Hepburn."
She is a rank amateur who needed a dozen takes. – Humphrey Bogart
Bogart hated working with Hepburn, but he had a point. Though she had come off a major film (Roman Holiday) for which she won an Academy Award, her success was partly due to luck, timing, and the graciousness of her costar Gregory Peck, who insisted on giving the unknown equal billing. Before Roman Holiday Hepburn starred in the play Gigi. Paramount actually considered her "plump" and put her on a strict diet of steak tartare and greens before filming. (You know Hollywood is fucked up when Audrey Hepburn is put on a diet.) Hepburn herself never believed that she was thin.
According to her son, Hepburn would refer to herself as “fake thin” because her upper body and waist was especially thin and would give her an overall appearance of slightness. One can’t help but roll their eyes at her claim because, well, look at her. Rumors of an eating disorder plagued her, but if you consider World War II an eating disorder, then yes, she was very disordered. In 1944 Nazis occupied the Netherlands, where she and her mother lived.
Audrey and her family, with the exception of her Nazi sympathizer father, worked for the resistance. She suffered severe malnutrition and once had to hide in a cellar for a few days. When she was a child she almost died of whooping cough. This, combined with her poor nutrition during the war, lead to her asthma. Despite the fact that she had weak lungs and knew it, she continued to smoke for the rest of her life, even though she was consistently told that she "might be in the early stages of emphysema." Yes, it was the fifties and sixties and smoking was a vice, but even someone in that era with those symptoms would know it was a bad idea.
In the 80s she lamented over the condition of her skin, but it was typical of her to point out flaws. She would often call herself ugly and wished that she had a bigger chest. It is of course these "flaws" that have made her so iconic, but it’s very possible she had some form of body dysmorphic disorder or at least a very low self-esteem.
Her weight plummeted to an all-time low during her first divorce from her controlling and jealous husband Mel Ferrer. A child of divorce and with a child of her own, Hepburn desperately wanted to make the marriage work, but Ferrer's likely infidelity and definite need for complete control over Hepburn’s professional and personal life sent her into a deep depression. The man had to be a total asshole for Hepburn to refer to her divorce as "two years in hell" considering that she spent most of her early teens dodging Nazis.
During the separation Mel stayed with Hepburn but only out of concern for her health; she was apparently, according to a friend, "down to 82 pounds and looks thin and wan; she has never looked so frail in her life, even when she was ill." Again, quite the statement, considering that Hepburn compared her youth to Anne Frank's.
Their divorce was described as "absolutely unexpected" not only to her fans and the media, but their friends as well. One of them, Dee Hartford Hawks, said that only two weeks before their separation she ran into them at a nightclub in France and that "Audrey and Mel were acting like honey-mooners. They danced every number together – even the Watusi." The Watusi!! Who could have predicted this?? A second miscarriage also put a strain on their already frail marriage.
In an article by Tom Daly from the 1960s, he reported that Audrey attempted suicide twice. Once she tried to slit her wrists and it was Mrs. Yul Brynner who got her to the hospital in time. An unnamed insider said that "I've heard about Audrey’s suicide attempts, too, and that shocks me, but in a way I’m not surprised. Whatever that woman does she does with her whole heart and soul. And when she married Mel, she invested everything she had emotionally. It’s no wonder that she feels lost now." And it’s no wonder that so many sources (aside from Bogart and Hawks) wanted to keep such scandalous thoughts to themselves because Audrey was revered and famous for her elegance and charm. In an article "The Two Hepburns" (not referring to Katharine and Audrey, but to Audrey’s light and dark sides), Eliot George tapes into this darker side of Hepburn: "The wispy, sable-browed, gamin-faced Audrey is either Elfin Charmer or Iron Butterfly, depending on where you stand."
Another person who had plenty of bad things to say about Hepburn was Brenda Marshall, William Holden’s wife at the time that Holden and Hepburn shot Sabrina. Hepburn and Holden carried on an affair. (It was ironic that later in life Audrey would try so hard to create the perfect family and do anything for her children, though she slept with Holden well-knowing that he was married with three kids.) Holden would invite Hepburn over to his home for dinner and he, Audrey, and Marshall, who eerily resembled Hepburn, would all eat together. "Audrey felt guilty all through the meal." No! This is Watusi shocking!!
Everyone assumed that Holden would leave Marshall for Hepburn but as soon as she found out that Holden had a vasectomy and could not provide her with children, she left. Holden was also a crazy drunk who died when he fell and hit his head on his coffee table and didn’t realize that it was serious so he didn’t go to the hospital and just kind of bled out to death in his living room. Charlie Sheen has nothing on William Holden.
Holden and Hepburn would reunite about ten years later for the film Paris When It Sizzles, which one column described as "the worst movie ever made by anyone at any time." It was also around this time that Hepburn's marriage slowly and painfully began to unravel, and one can see the stress this put on her body. Even for Hepburn, she is unusually thin in his movie, and it may have been the only time in her life in which the eating disorder rumors were true. Holden tried to reignite their affair, but this time she was the married one and would not cave in.
People think of Hepburn as ever humble and ladylike but even she had her moments of divadom and snarkiness. While filming The Nun’s Story in Africa, Hepburn demanded that, "quarantine laws in the Belgian Congo would be waved for [her terrier] Famous […] and most important of all, that a bidet would be installed and waiting for her... It was probably the only bathroom fixture of its kind in Central Africa at that time." Slyly ironic considering she was playing a nun and nuns are all living without possessions. She did routinely visit a leper colony and refused to wear protective gloves "out of sympathy with the afflicted." She then likely went to her guest house and freshened up in her bidet-equipped bathroom.
While filming My Fair Lady she wouldn’t let Ferrer see her until her street urchin Eliza Doolittle look was completely washed away, though even though this look consisted of mere soot dotted on her face, Vaseline smeared in her hair, and dirty finger nails, and of course she still looked stunning. After retiring from film she married second husband Andrea Dotti and announced, "Now Mia Farrow can get my parts." Perhaps she meant it as a way of passing the baton over to another doe-eyed actress, but there is a certain edge to the comment, considering that after divorcing Mel, Hepburn "emerged with a hairdo even short than Mia's!"
Though people praise her for aging gracefully, perhaps the most shocking Hepburn quote ever was given during a 1980s interview with Harper’s Bazaar: “I think it’s [plastic surgery] a marvelous thing, done in small doses, very expertly, so that no one notices.” Not even Nicole Kidman will admit to her notoriously frozen face, but here was a beauty icon freely praising plastic surgery.
It is just another part of Hepburn’s life that most people breezily skip past. She is more than that waif figure forever posed in that little black dress on 5th Avenue. She came from a god-awful childhood, suffered from depression, got divorced twice and had an affair. There is nothing new or evil about any of these things, but it is interesting that these aspects of her life remained hidden. Monroe was just as sweet, just as loving, but her secrets spilled out and are still notorious. Why is Hepburn so sacred? Granted, the work she did with Unicef was immense and admirable, and nothing should detract from that. But why must she be a goddess? She was human, like any of us. She had flaws.
And Grace Kelly really was a slut. I stand by that.
"Martha" - Tim Buckley (mp3)
"Martha" - Tom Waits (mp3)
"We All Fall in Love Sometimes" - Jeff Buckley (mp3)