- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 21, 2006

The fall book parade brings two biographical works on the late, beloved Audrey Hepburn: one a frank but sympathetic life story that tells of her extramarital affairs, the other a coffee-table book packed with memorabilia.

“Enchantment: The Life of Audrey Hepburn,” by Hollywood biographer Donald Spoto (Harmony Books), covers her life, from her childhood under Nazi rule in Holland and Belgium to her inspiring work for UNICEF and her death from cancer in 1994.

“The Audrey Hepburn Treasures,” by Ellen Irwin and Jessica Z. Diamond (Atria), is a hefty, beautifully designed volume with biographical sequences, 200 photographs and envelopes containing copies of letters, contracts, clippings, snapshots, etc.

Speaking from his home in Denmark, Mr. Spoto says that four years ago he took “a hard look” at writings about Miss Hepburn, including three or four biographies plus picture books and studies of her movies.

“They were books about St. Audrey,” he says. “I think that alienates the subject from the reader; it doesn’t bring the reader closer to the person in the stained-glass window. Readers would be much more likely to empathize with a real human being who suffered, was insecure, like other human beings.”

“Enchantment” is the most moving in accounts of Miss Hepburn’s war years, when she and her family nearly starved to death and she witnessed random shootings of civilians by German soldiers. Also dramatic are her last six years, when she abandoned her career to tour the world on behalf of sick and starving children.

Mr. Spoto also delves into her personal life, including a fling with William Holden, a married man, when they starred in “Sabrina” in 1954. During her own marriages, to actor Mel Ferrer and to Rome psychiatrist Andrea Dotti, Mr. Spoto writes, she had passionate affairs with playwright Robert Anderson (who wrote the screenplay of 1959’s “The Nun’s Story”) and co-stars Albert Finney and Ben Gazzara.

“She wanted desperately to be loved, and she didn’t choose her husbands wisely,” the author says. “Actresses often do not.”

When Jack Warner bought the movie rights to “My Fair Lady” and cast Rex Harrison to repeat his Broadway role as Professor Henry Higgins, he believed he needed a film star to play the female lead. He chose Audrey Hepburn instead of Julie Andrews, who had initiated the role of Eliza Doolittle.

“There was a huge deception by Warner,” Mr. Spoto says. “He told Audrey, ‘It’s going to be your voice singing the songs.’ Marni Nixon had been lined up to dub the songs from the start. Warner sabotaged Audrey’s Oscar by not letting her sing. Who would vote for [someone for] best actress in a musical who didn’t sing her songs?”

Miss Hepburn reacted to the slight from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with “enormous grace,” appearing at the awards to present Rex Harrison’s Oscar.

“The Audrey Hepburn Treasures” resembles in size and weight a big-city telephone book. It is indeed a trove of a remarkable life, with memorabilia dating from her Brussels birth through the London, New York and Hollywood years to her work with the children of African tribes.

Sean Hepburn Ferrer, Miss Hepburn’s firstborn son, was the instigator of the book, for which a portion of the profits will benefit the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund. He holds the copyright along with his half-brother Luca Dotti.

The book was assembled and written by Miss Irwin and Miss Diamond, both officials of the fund. “They know my mother’s life better than anyone,” Mr. Ferrer says.

Gathering all the material, including photographs never before printed, was a monumental task, helped by Miss Hepburn herself.

“My mother was not very good about keeping clothes; if they were outdated, she’d give them to an aunt or cousins or museums,” Mr. Ferrer says, “but she always kept all of her scripts, her photos, things that were meaningful.”

He recalls “a strange thing” that happened six months before his mother’s death. She spent six to eight weeks with her maid in the attic of her Swiss house sifting through her collection of memorabilia. It was all orderly when her family found it after her death.

In the early stages of “Enchantment,” Mr. Ferrer was asked to participate. He declined.

“My mother was a biographer’s dream and a nightmare,” he says, quoting a previous biographer. “She was a dream because she was a classic to write about and everybody loves her. She was a nightmare because there are no scandals, quasi-cruelties, no really juicy stuff. How do you write a Hollywood biography without the juicy tidbits?”

He also says he was aware of his mother’s extramarital affairs, so Mr. Spoto’s book would be no surprise for him.

A question he is often asked: What was it like growing up as Audrey Hepburn’s son?

“My answer is something people don’t expect: I have no idea,” he replies. “I grew up in the countryside of Switzerland, and she was a regular mom; she quit doing movies when I couldn’t travel anymore [because of school].”


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