Craving Classic Hollywood: Audrey Hepburn

When I was a kid, I didn’t get Audrey Hepburn. My mom would rent me movies at the dearly departed Take Two Video, and when I wasn’t renting Grease for the millionth time, I found my way to My Fair Lady and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I love musicals as a general rule, but My Fair Lady just irks me. Henry Higgins is the absolute worst, and Eliza Doolittle’s exaggerated Cockney accent is painful. As for Breakfast at Tiffany’s, I was probably too young to enjoy it.

Roman Holiday

Roman Holiday (1953)

Then at some point in high school, I saw Roman Holiday on Turner Classic Movies and realized that Audrey Hepburn wasn’t always irksome. In fact, I liked her as Princess Ann because the character fit her regal demeanor so perfectly. And it doesn’t hurt to have Gregory Peck and his beautiful baritone sharing the screen.

Now, after watching several more of her films, I finally get it. She’s not just cute—she’s effervescent. Behind the posh voice and impeccable wardrobe is an actress who wasn’t afraid to use her image for laughs. Case in point, in Roman Holiday she sneaks out of the palace after being given a sedative to stop her “being a princess is no fun” outburst. When Gregory Peck finds her, she’s practically incoherent on a bench. He rather hilariously assumes that she’s drunk. So here’s the charming Miss Hepburn, presumed drunk and making absurd pronouncements to a stranger. Perfection personified! Equally hilarious is her baffled way of eating a sandwich while Walter Matthau explains her husband’s secret identity in Charade.

Funny Face

Funny Face (1957)

After watching even a few of Audrey Hepburn’s films, it’s impossible to ignore that she was usually cast opposite significantly older men. The most glaring example is Funny Face, a musical confection in which she stars with an almost-sixty Fred Astaire. The visual disparity is intensified by the fact that Hepburn looks twenty-three even in her thirties. I’ve tried to find an article about this pattern but to no avail. I suppose she was well-suited to play the ingénue characters, who usually have an older man to “guide” them. (Yes, that sentence made me throw up a little bit too.) In Roman Holiday, Peck’s character is very paternal toward her, holding her wrist instead of her hand and bossing her around. As much as I like the movie, it creeps me out when they finally kiss.

I said that Audrey is more than her impeccable wardrobe, but we need to talk about those clothes for a minute. When she wears her beatnik outfit in Funny Face, I want to wear black cigarette pants and a turtleneck all day, every day. In Charade she wears a series of monochromatic outfits in black, white, beige, or red. You just don’t see those matching sets anymore, with a dress, coat, and hat all made to be worn together. I love mixing colors in outfits, but Audrey is causing me to rethink my position. Girl looks gorgeous!


Charade (1963)

I like watching multiple movies with the same actor, especially spanning different points in their careers. As my Classic Hollywood education continues, I should have more opportunities to write actor-focused posts. That is, if Anne Helen Petersen hasn’t already done it.



Filed under Movies

3 responses to “Craving Classic Hollywood: Audrey Hepburn

  1. Melinda

    Guess I’m catching up on your blog today-ha! I think I’ve seen three A. Hepburn movies in my life: Roman Holiday, Charade, and My Fair Lady. Since it’s been about ten years since I saw Charade, I don’t think I could say anything about it. Beyond the other two just being products of their time, I do have a couple of comments.

    You probably know this already but My Fair Lady was based off the play Pygmalion which in turn was based off the Greek myth. If I remember correctly (and Wikipedia tells me I’m correct so of course it’s 100% true), the play ends with Eliza leaving Higgins and marrying Freddy. Apparently this end caused a bit of difficulty for Shaw as a lot of fans wanted Eliza to stay with Higgins. From Wikipedia, so take as you will:
    “Pygmalion was the most broadly appealing of all Shaw’s plays. But popular audiences, looking for pleasant entertainment with big stars in a West End venue, wanted a “happy ending” for the characters they liked so well, as did some critics.[9] During the 1914 run, to Shaw’s exasperation but not to his surprise, Tree sought to sweeten Shaw’s ending to please himself and his record houses.[10] Shaw returned for the 100th performance and watched Higgins, standing at the window, toss a bouquet down to Eliza. “My ending makes money; you ought to be grateful,” protested Tree. “Your ending is damnable; you ought to be shot.”[11][12] Shaw remained sufficiently irritated to add a postscript essay, “‘What Happened Afterwards,”[13] to the 1916 print edition for inclusion with subsequent editions, in which he explained precisely why it was impossible for the story to end with Higgins and Eliza getting married.
    He continued to protect the play’s and Eliza’s integrity by protecting the last scene.”
    Early 20th c. shipping wars. So yeah, Shaw would have agreed with you.

    Roman Holiday is actually one of my favorite movies. I do see where you’re getting the paternal sense from Gregory Peck (I believe this was Hepburn’s breakout role), but I always read it as a relationship that could never be. Not ‘doomed’ necessarily but rather a friendship that has great potential to become a successful romantic relationship and where both individuals know that life circumstances will never allow their relationship to develop to that extent. It’s more mature(?) than a typical Romeo and Juliet based story. I have a lot of feelings about this movie.

    Um, last thought (sorry about the essay). You mentioned the whole creepy age difference between older actors and younger actresses. I think it’s still something we see today but which we’re not quite as aware. (Yay Hollywood sexism!) This did remind me of a TCM comment about a Jimmy Stewart movie done when he was 50s/60s. Supposedly the actress cast as his romantic interest was nearly half his age. Stewart reasonably felt uncomfortable with the situation and avoided romantic roles in favor of paternal or other roles after that.

  2. I think Roman Holiday is wonderful, and I’m sorry if that didn’t come across in the post. I watched some bonus features on the DVD, and they tell how Gregory Peck asked for Hepburn to receive top billing alongside him because he knew she would be the real star of the film. So he was obviously very kind and supportive of her, probably playing a more paternal role in real life, and maybe that’s part of what I’m reading onscreen. I love your interpretation of their characters’ relationship, and it seems spot-on to me.

    Such a good point about continued sexism in Hollywood casting! For instance, in the last two years Jennifer Lawrence, now 23, has starred opposite Bradley Cooper and Christian Bale, both in their late 30s during filming. It didn’t stop me from enjoying the films, but it definitely raised an eyebrow. There’s this article (link below) from Vulture with graphs showing how as actors age, the age gap widens between them and their female costars. Isn’t Clooney always charming the pants off some want in her 30s?

    • Melinda

      Ha, the other movie I had to rewatch this weekend after making the original comment. I just like to think they continued to meet for interviews throughout their lives, and there would just be incredibly candid moments where public masks come off and there’s genuine affection between them. But yeah, I still see where you get a paternal feeling about their relationship.

      God, that’s an amazing article. I kind of made the comment off-hand but the graphs really make you realize how often it did and continues to happen today.

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