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A toast to Audrey Hepburn

With a LACMA screening series honoring the late actress beginning Friday, former colleagues reminisce. Says Robert Wagner, 'She was like velvet to work with.'

October 22, 2009|Susan King

There are movie stars and then there are movie stars -- performers who have such a unique and often indescribable quality that their very name connotes the magic of the cinema. Audrey Hepburn was definitely a movie star.

"Everybody loves Audrey," says Ian Birnie, director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's film department. "No one ever looked or sounded like Audrey Hepburn -- not even remotely. She stood in complete opposition to the '50s bombshell women -- the Marilyns, the Jane Russells and Janet Leighs."

Hepburn has remained timeless. Her characters, her look and her persona seem as contemporary today as they did nearly six decades ago.

Beginning Friday, LACMA is saluting the actress with its series "Audrey Hepburn: Then, Now and Forever." The event begins with a double bill of 1953's "Roman Holiday" and the 1981 comedy "They All Laughed," directed by Peter Bogdanovich, who will introduce the screening. On tap for Saturday is her Oscar-nominated turn as Holly Golightly in 1961's "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and 1967's marvelous romantic comedy "Two for the Road," in which she's paired with Albert Finney. The series continues through Nov. 13.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, October 23, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 30 words Type of Material: Correction
Audrey Hepburn: An article about Audrey Hepburn in Thursday's Calendar referred to her as Belgian. She was born in Brussels, but her mother was Dutch and her father was British.

The tall, gamin and sophisticated Belgian actress appeared on Broadway in 1950's "Gigi" and had made a few films in England, including a tiny part in 1951's "The Lavender Hill Mob," but she was still unknown to most of the American public until she turned up in William Wyler's "Roman Holiday," for which she won a lead actress Oscar as a princess on tour in Rome who decides to take a "holiday" from her duties and travel around the Eternal City incognito.

Hepburn worked steadily for the next 15 years in such beloved films as 1954's "Sabrina," "Breakfast at Tiffany's," 1964's "My Fair Lady" and 1967's "Wait Until Dark." Then she took a nearly decade-long break from cinema, returning in 1976's "Robin and Marian" opposite Sean Connery. She only worked occasionally thereafter, however, preferring to spend most of her time with her family and working as a special UNICEF ambassador.

When she died of cancer in 1993 at the age of 63, the world mourned.

Several people who worked with Hepburn, as well as film professor Rick Jewell, discussed the Hepburn magic.

Peter Bogdanovich

Directed Hepburn in "They All Laughed"

She was absolutely real. I mean, she looked in the other actors' eyes and told the truth. She had a kind of purity and saintliness. She reminded me of the silent stars like Lillian Gish and Mary Pickford. It was like she wasn't acting.

The amazing thing about Audrey I found from working with her is that she was a very vulnerable person and very fragile emotionally. She was completely professional and she managed to somehow take that vulnerability and sensitivity and marshal it into something she can work with and convey on the screen.

It was difficult to get her to do the movie. She was in Europe at that point in her life and she wasn't very interested in making movies. She had done it. The thrill was gone. In this case, I think she did it because I would make her son, Sean Ferrer, my assistant. And she wanted Sean to have the experience of doing that. I think that's one of the reasons she agreed to do it.

She was the opposite of the diva. She never complained.

William Daniels

Costarred in "Two for the Road"

She was a consummate professional. We would be out in the heat with everybody sweating bullets and there she was sitting under an umbrella and never needed to be mopped up or powdered. She just was right there. She and Albert were quite chummy by then -- that's as far as I go on that.

He would tease her a lot in my presence. He called her "Tawdry Audrey" or "Audrey Sunburn" and things like that and, of course, she giggled and everything.

At the end of the film, there was a wrap party. And Audrey danced with every single member of the male crew all evening long. She was a wonderful dancer, by the way. I think she ended up with a blister on her foot. She was that outgoing.

She and Finney, who were very close at that point, invited my wife Bonnie and I out to dinner. It was Paris in August and everything is closed in August. Audrey had a very sensitive stomach and couldn't eat French food, so we wound up at this awful Italian restaurant. The food was awful, but Audrey sat at the head of the table with such manners and such goodwill and such charm that you would think you were eating at the Savoy. She carried it off beautifully with no mention of the rotten food. That is the way she was.

Robert Wagner

Appeared with Hepburn in the 1987 TV movie "Love Among Thieves"

I met her when she first came out at Paramount. I got that feeling she was something special -- that I was in the presence of someone very, very special.

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