While it’s her film roles that are most remembered, the things Hepburn did both before and after her movie career are arguably even more fascinating than what she’s known for onscreen. When movie roles grew scarce as she approached her 60s, Hepburn could have easily retreated to a life of luxurious retirement. Instead, she devoted her remaining years to helping others by bringing her celebrity to UNICEF through her role as a goodwill ambassador.
Decades after her death, Audrey Hepburn remains a Hollywood legend and one of the 20th century’s most recognizable celebrities, yet there’s a lot that even her most devoted fans may not know about this intriguing actress, style icon, and humanitarian. Read on to discover the untold truth of Audrey Hepburn.
The war made my mother who she was,” Hepburn’s son Luca Dotti, told Matzen, who chronicled her little-known role in the Dutch resistance while she was also studying ballet as a teenager. In a 2019 article for Time, Matzen quoted Hepburn describing how she danced in “underground concerts to raise money for the Dutch resistance movement. … The recitals were given in houses with windows and doors closed, and no one knew they were going on. Afterwards, money was collected and given to the Dutch Underground.”
Matzen also wrote of 15-year-old Hepburn smuggling food to an Allied fighter pilot whose plane had crashed. She was able to avoid detection because the German police considered her to be “safe.” The author also offered a quote from Hepburn about her wartime efforts, who humbly downplayed her role. “Every loyal Dutch schoolgirl and boy did their little bit to help,” she is quoted as saying. “Many were much more courageous than I was.”
According to Matzen, Dr. Visser ‘t Hooft enlisted the teenage Hepburn to assist the resistance as “one of the ones [bringing] messages to families protecting Jews. She danced [to raise money] for the resistance, money to feed Jews in hiding. Nobody [wrote about] how enmeshed in the Jewish story she was.”
Growing up during such a dark period in history undoubtedly affected Hepburn, yet miraculously it did not seem to imprint darkness on her psyche. As Matzen theorized, it somehow appeared to have the opposite effect. As he told the Times of Israel, “Here is a woman who, as a girl, experienced horrible things, and channeled them into beauty and positivity, spreading messages of peace and survival.”
Prior to her death in 1993, Audrey Hepburn gave extensive interviews to biographer Diana Maychick, whose 1993 biography, Audrey Hepburn: An Intimate Portrait, was published posthumously later that year. According to a review in the Chicago Tribune, Maychick ultimately came to believe that Hepburn’s slim physique was the result of an eating disorder, with its roots dating back to her malnutrition and near-starvation while growing up in Nazi-occupied Holland during the Second World War.
According to Maychick, Hepburn’s wartime hunger led her to eventually “resent” food and treat hunger like something to be controlled. “I decided to master food; I told myself I didn’t need it,” Hepburn told Maychick of growing up hungry during the war. “Of course, I took it to an extreme,” Hepburn added. “I forced myself to eliminate the need for food.”
After Hepburn had watched friends, neighbors, and even her beloved Uncle Otto arrested and then executed, wrote Maychick, she also experienced survivor’s guilt that likely contributed to her complex feelings about food and decision to skip meals. “Why was I spared when so many others were not?” Hepburn said. “I asked myself over and over…”
In the letter, which has since been archived by the British Film Institute, Roman Holiday director William Wyler — who was in Rome prepping the film he had yet to cast — writes to fellow director Thorald Dickinson, who had just directed Hepburn in his 1952 film Secret People. Wyler had been sent a screen test of Hepburn that Dickinson directed, and Wyler revealed that “a number of the producers at Paramount have expressed interest in casting her.”
Rumor has it that the role of Roman Holiday’s Princess Ann was originally intended for Elizabeth Taylor; when she was unavailable, Hepburn’s screen test presented a new option. “I can’t say at the moment whether or not we will use Miss Hepburn in Roman Holiday,” Wyler wrote before casting Hepburn, describing her screen test as being “as good as any I’ve seen in a long time.”
In 2015, Audrey Hepburn’s son, Luca Dotti, wrote a personal memoir about his mother, Audrey at Home: Memories of My Mother’s Kitchen. Among the many details he divulged in the book are Hepburn’s beauty secrets, which were excerpted for French Vogue. Her biggest beauty tip is also the most basic: remain hydrated, which will keep the skin regenerated and plump. “She insisted so much on everybody … drinking a lot of water. And that really, today, is so important for the support of everything,” said Dotti, as reported by Yahoo! Lifestyle.