“Somebody said to me, ‘You know, it’s really senseless what you’re doing. There’s always been suffering, there will always be, and you’re just prolonging the suffering of these children [by rescuing them].’ My answer is, ‘Okay, then, let’s start with your grandchild. Don’t buy antibiotics if it gets pneumonia. Don’t take it to the hospital if it has an accident.”’
I AM SORT OF MARRIED TO ROBERT,” SHE TOLD HIS HOMETOWN newspaper, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, in 1989. ”We’re always together and we have been for almost ten years now.“1
She turned sixty that May, and it was assumed that her film career was finished. But she now surprised everyone by agreeing to a cameo role in a new Steven Spielberg movie.
“She was as uncertain and nervous and undecided about her last film as she had been with Roman Holiday, her first,” says Wolders.2 Hepburn and Spielberg had never met. But she finally accepted the job because she admired his films and because he promised her it could be done in just a few days that summer.
“We left everything behind and got on a plane [for] Montana,” she said.3 By the time she arrived, costar Richard Dreyfuss had finished most of his own shooting and now turned over the house he was renting—a wonderful log cabin in the Montana woods—to Audrey and Rob.
Always (1989) starred Holly Hunter, John Goodman and Brad Johnson, as well as Hepburn and Dreyfuss. It was pure, nostalgic Spielberg—a remake of Victor Fleming’s World War II “morale booster,” A Guy Named Joe (1943), in which flier Spencer Tracy, killed in action, returns as a friendly ghost to watch over his girl, Irene Dunne, and her new romance with Van Johnson. Spielberg transposed his version to the present-day American west; the soldiers in battle became firefighters in a national forest.
The original had been written by Dalton Trumbo, who also wrote Roman Holiday, thus providing an alpha-omega bracket to her American career. But Audrey’s tiny role in this one was hard to describe. “Nobody knows what I am,” she said, “even Steven Spielberg! I would say I’m a spirit.... but not an extraterrestrial. It’s just plain old me with a sweater on.”4
Wolders recalls it as “a fantastic experience for Audrey. She worked a great deal over the phone with the writers, who wanted to tailor it to Audrey and get her input. Then Spielberg and Dreyfuss came to this lovely house in the woods, and they sat around and talked about what was she going to wear. I even went into the little town, Libby, to see what was in the shops there. All they had were hardware stores that also sold clothes. They finally decided on a simple turtleneck instead of wings.”
The typical Spielbergian opening is full of suspense: Dreyfuss’s plane is out of fuel but he manages to land. The gripping forest-fire scenes employ spectacular footage taken during the 1988 fires at Yellowstone National Park. But soon enough, after Dreyfuss executes a brilliant midair rescue of Goodman, his own plane catches fire and explodes.
Enter Audrey as “Hap”—a New Age angel in slacks, sent down to assist the freshly deceased Dreyfuss. Quietly, she explains that he must return to earth to inspire others and that true love means letting go. Only Hepburn’s sincerity redeems her platitudinous dialogue: “The love we hold back is the only thing that follows us here.” The “here” is evidently heaven—a meadow. “Time’s funny stuff,” she tells him.
Down below, dispatcher Holly Hunter grieves for Dreyfuss as she listens to their painfully ironic theme song—“Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” Hunter is the best thing in the film, exuding erotic presence and an exquisite sense of longing. In the movie’s most haunting moment, she dances in a seductive white dress with Dreyfuss’ ghost, without ever touching.
Hunter and Hepburn had no scenes together but enjoyed each other off the set. Wolders has fond memories of the time it was arranged for the whole cast and crew to go on a special outing to Coeur d’Alene Lake, just across the Idaho border from Spokane:
“They hired two huge busses to accommodate one hundred people, and it tells you something about Audrey and Holly that—as good professionals—they were the first ones on the bus. But only about six other people showed up, probably because they didn’t think Audrey or Holly or anybody else ‘important’ would go. While we were sitting there waiting, the radar thing in the bus kept beeping, and finally Holly yelled, ‘Shut that fucking thing up!’ Audrey found that extremely funny, and we spent a lovely evening on the boat with Holly that night.”
With its overbearing John Williams musical score, Always is sweetly sappy, imbued with Spielberg’s penchant for the supernatural and his simpleminded conviction that death, evil and everything else can be overcome through wishful thinking.
Variety opined that Audrey was “alluring as always, but corny as a live-action fairy godmother.”5 Leonard Maltin said Always suffered “from a serious case of The Cutes.” Pauline Kael in the New Yorker was most severe:
Was there no one among Steven Spielberg’s associates with the intellectual stature to convince him that his having cried at A Guy Named Joe when he was 12 was not a good enough reason for him to remake it? [He] has caught the surface mechanics of ‘40s movies [but has] no grasp of the simplicity that made them affecting. He overcooks everything, in a fast, stressful style.
Audrey Hepburn ... delivers transcendental inanities in the cadences that have stoned audiences at the Academy Awards and other film-industry shebangs ; people see her, rise to their feet, and applaud. She’s become a ceremonial icon, ravishing and hollow. Where has the actress gone—the one who gave a magnificent performance in The Nun’s Story? There’s no hint of her in this self-parody....
In 1943, it was the finality of death that was being repressed. What the New Age hell is being repressed now?6
But Audrey was thrilled by her ten-day close encounter with Spielberg: “I loved it, and I wouldn’t mind if he asked me again, like next summer. I’d be right back. I had really one of the best times of my life.”7 The admiration was mutual. Spielberg said one of the greatest thrills of his life was to have worked with Audrey. Universal lobbied to get her a Supporting Actress Oscar nomination, but Always—and the last performance of Audrey Hepburn—were overlooked.
The final tally was twenty-nine motion pictures, counting her two TV films—a modest total for such a stellar career.
In the second of her two scenes in the Spielberg film, Hepburn gently lectures Dreyfuss: “What we gave you is a chance to say, ‘I’m glad I lived, I’m glad I was alive’ ... and a chance to say goodbye.”
AUDREY’S DEEP involvement with UNICEF actually began a year before she made Always (and will be chronicled in detail below). But though all her UNICEF work was dramatic, no formal dramatic performance had been asked of her until an unusual benefit with the CBC Vancouver Orchestra in December 1988.
“This evening brings together all the things I love—children, music and UNICEF,” she began, in English and French. Then, with conductor Bruce Pullan and the Bach Children’s Chorus, she took part in a superb new Winnie the Pooh oratorio by David Niel for orchestra and children’s chorus. Between musical sections, she read selected Winnie tales, as kids clustered around her onstage, mesmerized by a voice perfectly suited to A. A. Milne. “Pooh was doing his stoutness exercises before the glass ... ,” she began, and smiles instantly appeared on every young face. Words and music alike were magical.
Live concert-stage performances made her just as nervous as any other kind of public speaking. But that one set an important precedent for a more potent musical collaboration to come. “It came about because of Audrey’s desire for it,” says conductor-composer Michael Tilson Thomas. Hepburn would read selections from The Diary of Anne Frank, integrated into an original orchestral work by Thomas, using themes from the kaddish, the Jewish mourner’s prayer. A series of benefit concerts for UNICEF would take place in March 1990 with Thomas’s Miami-based New World Symphony Orchestra in five American cities, plus a performance with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1991.
“Anne’s story is my own,” she often said. “I knew so many girls like Anne. This child who was locked up in four walls had written a full report of everything I’d experienced and felt.”
She had resisted all previous invitations to portray Anne Frank. But at this point in her life, with Thomas’s encouragement, she changed her mind. In a quavering voice, she tried to explain why to Larry King:
“When the liberation finally came, too late for Anne Frank, I took up my ballet lessons and went to live in Amsterdam with my mother in a house we shared with a lady writer, who one day handed me a book in galley form and said, ‘I think you’d like to read this.’ It was in Dutch, 1947: The Diary of Anne Frank. I was quite destroyed by it. [Later, when] I was asked to do the picture and the play, I was never able to.8 There were floods of tears. I became hysterical. I just couldn’t deal with it.9 ”But now, I think it is a wonderful occasion to pay tribute to this child, and I think Anne Frank would be very happy that today her words will be used to bring solace to so many children in conflict, and in aid of UNICEF.“10
Her emotional resistance had been overcome by the format and by the nature of her psychological approach. “The difference now is I’m not ‘playing’ Anne Frank,” she said. “I’m just relaying her thoughts. I’m reading. I still wouldn’t play her. It would have been like putting me back into the horrors of that war.”11 Even just reading the excerpts was painful, but she would do it. Composer Michael Tilson Thomas illuminates the process:
We both read the diary and made notations of the passages we liked most. We discovered there were a number of passages we both agreed on, and I asked Audrey to make me a tape of her reading those sections. I listened to that and started to think about how the music would work—to put order into it, how it would flow. But so much of the music, I realize now, was influenced by hearing the way she read, her voice, her personality. The piece is as much about Audrey as about Anne Frank.12
Thomas’s result, From the Diary of Anne Frank, was a set of symphonic variations created “in a kind of stream of consciousness way,” he says. He had precious little time to put it together—two months to write nearly thirty minutes of music. Holed up with a coffeepot in Miami, he called Audrey now and then for moral support and completed the piano score. They then met in Zurich, where Thomas was conducting with the London Symphony. He played it through for her, for the first time.
“She was blown away,” says Thomas, with no hint or need of modesty. “She had no idea what it was going to be like. I think she was terrified that it would be some giant, bizarre, dissonant, horrible thing.”
What she heard, instead, was one of the century’s most moving, melodic and muscular requiems, its tragic angularity both subtle and soaring. “She was relieved,” says the composer. “But it was still a major stretch for her to relate to this very intricate music. She didn’t read music; she didn’t have a musical education. She heard it in a very different way. It was an arduous process. She was nervous to do something like this live. It was a huge act of daring and devotion on her part.13
Frank’s diary, Thomas’s music and Hepburn’s speech merged in a richly creative way. It was her first true stage appearance in thirty-five years—in many ways more powerful than any film role she ever played. She read with astonishing simplicity and understatement, the melody of her voice an unpredictable delight. Her intensity brought audiences to tears. She had said she wasn’t going to “play” Anne—but that, in the end, was precisely what she did.
“It was an amazing kind of inward acting,” says Thomas, as if she was “imagining the cadences of the thought that the words represented, rather than ‘playing’ it to the audience.” Rob Wolders was with her at every rehearsal and performance and says, “In my mind, she became Anne Frank almost against her wishes, in the expression of emotion, her whole comportment, not just the voice. It’s a pity there is no videotape.”bv
Thomas’s favorite moment was just before the premiere, when she was debating what to wear: “She said, ‘I can’t decide if I should wear the pantsuit or the dress. Let me model them for you.’ She went into the next room and came back wearing this very elegant pantsuit and struck some tomboyish poses. Then she got very serious and said, ‘Now, I’ll show you the dress.’ She disappeared and came back wearing this stunningly understated Givenchy creation which hugged her gorgeous frame. I was absolutely dumbstruck. I just stood there with my mouth open, speechless. After a moment, she looked at me very kindly and said, ‘I guess you prefer the dress.’ ”14
From the Diary of Anne Frank premiered in Philadelphia on March 19, 1990. There, and throughout the tour, she was touched by the groups of schoolchildren who greeted her and gave her flowers and scrolls with messages to deliver—somehow—to children in the Third World. The production moved on to Miami, Chicago and then Houston.
“We were ‘down’ after some mediocre reviews and had to travel to Houston the next day, changing planes, everybody exhausted,” says Rob. “The moment we got there, they had an interview set up for Audrey, who was terribly tired. But it was one of the best she ever gave.” Indeed, the delicate questions of KTRK-TV producer Shara Fryer on March 22 drew her out to an unusual degree. She sat unabashed in her wrinkled shirt and slacks and sneakers from the plane and, among other things, made an extraordinary statement on the subject of emotional pain.
“Do you carry the memory of hardship with you?” Fryer asked.
“There’s a curious thing about pain or hardship,” she replied softly. “In the beginning, it’s an enemy, it’s something that you don’t want to face or think about or deal with. Yet with time it becomes almost a friend. If you’ve lost someone you love very much, in the beginning you can’t bear it, but as the years goes by, the pain of losing them is what reminds you so vividly of them—that they were alive. My experiences and the people I lost in the war remain so vivid for me because of the pain. Being without food, fearful for one’s life, the bombings—all made me so appreciative of safety, of liberty. In that sense, the bad experiences have become positive in my life.“15
The last concert destination in the United States was New York City, where Anne Frank was performed for the United Nations General Assembly on March 25, 1990, and where her thoughtfulness and sense of fun lifted everyone’s spirits.
“It was exciting,” maestro Thomas remembers, “because Audrey had become so friendly and involved and generous with all these young musicians by then. The last night in New York after the concert, I said, ‘There’s an orchestra party. Would you like to go over?’ She said, ‘Of course!’ By the time she arrived at the hotel, this big disco party was going strong, everybody acting like twenty-three-year-olds. When they saw Audrey, there was a groundswell—everybody wanted to dance with her. She got right out on that dance floor with the double bass player, the cellist.... She did the requisite rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm ’n’ blues numbers, too. I couldn’t believe she did that for us all.”
Only Thomas and Wolders knew how much every performance took out of her. “Narrating Diary of Anne Frank,” she said, was “terrifying. To get up in front of a big concert hall with ninety professional musicians behind you and narrate for half an hour.... I’ve suffered from stage-fright all my life in the worst way. It affects my stomach, I get headaches. It’s awful. But when I’m shivering backstage and Michael is conducting the overture or first piece he’s doing, already I feel better.... I stand there absolutely petrified. And then the first strains of music make you forget yourself.”16
During the engagement in London, she revealed a trade secret about how she managed it: “I act the same way now as I did forty years ago ... with feeling instead of technique. All my life I’ve been in situations where I’ve had no technique, but if you feel enough you can get away with murder.”17
The critics called her May 1991 Anne Frank with the London Symphony Orchestra “heartbreaking.” On the recommendation of Leonard Bernstein, Thomas had reworked and improved the finale. That Barbican concert hall performance constituted Audrey’s first London stage appearance in forty years, and her last. She had received a letter from Eva Schloss, Anne Frank’s half-sister in England, asking her to become a patron of the new Anne Frank Educational Trust, to which she agreed. Schloss—an Auschwitz survivor—came backstage after the Barbican concert, deeply moved. “She and Audrey had a very emotional encounter,” says Rob. Audrey, through the Trust, issued an emotional statement:
“The memory of Anne Frank is with us today as it will be forever, not because she died but because she lived—just long enough to leave us her undying message of hope, of love, and above all forgiveness.”18
That London experience featured a joyous reunion. While studying dance with Rambert in the late forties, Audrey had lived briefly in a rooming house across the hall from London Symphony violinist Patrick Vermonth, who took care of her when she was sick. At the first “Anne Frank” rehearsal, she spotted him. “My God, Patrick!” They had a grand embrace. She cherished him most in relation to England’s chronic postwar shortages. “Patrick had an airline-steward friend,” says Thomas. “He flew to the Bahamas a lot in those days—and always brought back nylons for Audrey.”
Michael Tilson Thomas pauses long, when asked for a final summation, before formulating it:
“She was the dearest soul I ever met or worked with. She had that quality of ‘recognizing’ you even when meeting you for the first time. She looked at you in those first seconds with a delicious surprise—as if, ‘My dearest friend, you’ve suddenly appeared, how wonderful to see you again!’ She made you feel there was some special secret you shared with her, some beautiful melody playing that perhaps just the two of you could hear.”
Thomas wanted to do more performances with her, “but when I’d ask, ‘What are you doing on February 25, 1997?’ she’d just laugh. She couldn’t believe how far in advance the music world worked.” The last time he saw her was a year later in Gstaad, when she made him a pasta dinner. “We were eating,” he recalls, “and I said, ‘Listen, how about it? We’ll do the concert again and record it then.’ She said, ‘Well, the old girl’s not getting any younger. I don’t know if I should still be going on stage.’ I said, ‘Oh, please—of course you’re going to do it.”’
The “futuristic” dates Thomas had in mind were April and May of 1995, for New York and Rotterdam. She was particularly intrigued by the latter venue, for obvious reasons. But it would be Debra Winger and Dutch actress Pauline van Rhenen, not Audrey Hepburn, who would do those performances.
DURING THE Miami portion of her Anne Frank tour came shocking news from Europe about someone close to Audrey—a mysterious beauty with no surname.
Capucine, the striking French actress-model with the Nefertiti-like features, was born Germaine Lefebvre, in 1933, into a middle-class family in Toulon. She earned a degree in foreign languages and modeled for such haute couture houses as Dior and Givenchy. Her first meeting with Hepburn in Paris at Givenchy’s was the start of an intimate forty-year friendship.
In the late fifties, Capucine left France for Hollywood, under contract to producer Charles K. Feldman, and settled on her odd solo pseudonym: Capucine (“kap-u-SEEN”) was the French word for nasturtium. Her sultry beauty and deep voice led some to hail her as a possible new Garbo. The picture that really launched her was Edward Dmytryk’s deliciously lurid Walk on the Wild Side (1962), in which she turned in a memorable performance as the oppressed call girl in lesbian Barbara Stanwyck’s bordello. She then moved successfully upward in such stylish international hit comedies as The Pink Panther (1964) and What’s New, Pussycat? (1965). She was also in demand for a host of European features, including Fellini Satyricon in 1970.
Privately, she lived in Lausanne, not far from Audrey, in a small and troubled world. Audrey’s friend Anna Cataldi recalls living in Capucine’s apartment building as a student—the same building whose penthouse was occupied by Yul and Doris Brynner. More than once, Cataldi bumped into actor William Holden in the elevator, on his way up to tryst with Capucine. Their stormy affair had begun years earlier, during the making of two adventure films together, The Lion and The Seventh Dawn.
In the late seventies and eighties, when her film heyday was over, Capucine came to visit Audrey and Rob in Tolochenaz at least twice a week. On her good days, she and Audrey did all sorts of things together. But there were many bad days, related to her declining career, compounded by depressing memories of Holden.
For all his romancing of Audrey, Capucine and a dozen other women, Holden had remained married to Brenda Marshall for thirty tempestuous, unfaithful years—often separated but just as often reunited. Capucine had helped—or tried to help—him through many of his alcoholic binges. Blake Edwards recalls seeing Holden and Capucine at a screening of Days of Wine and Roses, after which Holden turned to Capucine and said, “Was I that bad?”
“Worse,” she said.
“Did I put you through that?” he asked.
“More,” she replied.
Holden’s sexual fidelity to her was zero but his financial help was substantial after the flop of her later European films. The persistent, bizarre reports that Capucine was a transsexual seem to have been debunked by Holden, whose amorous preferences were decidedly and conventionally macho.
In November 1981, William Holden fell and hit his head, in a drunken stupor, and bled to death in his Santa Monica apartment. Both Holden and producer Feldman—and possibly Darryl Zanuck and Peter Sellers, as well—“generously remembered” Capucine in their wills. Holden, in fact, remembered her to the tune of $50,000, enabling her to continue living fairly well in Lausanne.
But these days she was lonely and unhappy and worried about sliding into old age, without a mate or a source of income. She seemed to live in the past, often threatening suicide. “Cappy was a great friend of mine as well,” says R. J. Wagner. “She did some Hart to Hart episodes with me, and I loved her very much. But she was a very disturbed person.”
Rob Wolders often drove her to her clinic. “She was a manic-depressive,” he says. “Audrey had many trying times with her. They were very close, but it was the kind of friendship that rested largely on Audrey’s compassion.” Wagner says Audrey and Rob once saved Capucine’s life from an overdose of pills, but “when she came to, she was disappointed.”19 Rob, too, felt she resented them for helping thwart the attempt. “I’m weary,” she said. “I’d like to work, but the enthusiasm is gone. But then, so are the opportunities.”20
The grim call came on March 19 to Audrey’s hotel room in Miami, where Anne Frank was being performed that night. “Audrey answered the phone and turned ashen,” says Wolders. “She managed to get out the word—‘Capucine.’ ” At fifty-seven, she had finally succeeded in killing herself that afternoon, leaping from a window of her eighth-floor apartment in Lausanne.
Some weeks later, after they returned home to Switzerland, Audrey and Rob were visited by Capucine’s psychiatrist, a kind man they knew through many “Cap crises.” He told Audrey something that shocked her: “The pain Capucine was suffering was so immense, this was really the best solution.” Only then, says Rob, did Audrey make her peace with it.
In death, Capucine made an extraordinary gesture to Audrey. She was largely broke, her money from Holden long gone. Her sole asset was a modest equity in her apartment. She stipulated in her will that, when it was sold, half of the money was to be given to the Red Cross and the other half to UNICEF, both gifts in honor of Audrey’s work. It was about $100,000 apiece, and Audrey was asked to designate the projects to which it should go.
Capucine’s obituary in The New York Times concluded with, “Her only known survivors were her three cats.”
PERHAPS WITH Cap on her mind, she said, “All I really want now is not to be lonely, and to have my garden.”21
She often said she wasn’t much of a gardener and that her only real skill was “pulling weeds.” But that was, of course, more self-effacement. Her beautiful grounds at Tolochenaz contained a fruit-producing orchard and extensive vegetable and flower tracts. She was far more serious about gardening than the world knew. But it was about to find out.
“What fascinated me from the very beginning was, when you would just say, ‘Gardens of the World with Audrey Hepburn,’ people’s faces would light up,” says Janis Blackschleger. “It was such a pleasing combination and such a natural one.”
Blackschleger, a Peabody Award-winning documentary maker, was executive producer of that stunning six-part series, first proposed in January 1989. British garden authority Penelope Hobhouse and American garden writer Elvin McDonald were hired as consultants, and so was the perfect host. “I think [coordinating producer] Julie Leifermann was the first to utter Audrey’s name,” says Blackschleger. “She loved the idea. I think the appeal for her was to be out in and around beauty, and to bring that to people. With Audrey involved, you set a certain expectation, and our job was simply to fulfill that expectation.”
Who better to stroll down a garden path with than Audrey? The ambitious Gardens of the World series would take viewers on an around-the-world expedition exploring the greatest gardens on the globe—from Europe to North and South America and the Far East. Hepburn was filmed among the luxuriant cypresses of Tuscany, the bare rocks of Saiho-ji in Kyoto, and the perfect geometrical lines of the Jardins de Luxembourg in Paris, examining their philosophies and styles as she went. Each half-hour episode focused on a botanical genre: “Roses and Rose Gardens,” “Tulips and Spring Bulbs,” “Formal Gardens,” “Flowers and Flower Gardens,” “Country Gardens” and “Public Gardens.”
Her narration, elegantly written by Glenn Berenbeim, contained a lot of Hepburn’s input. It was not to be a garden history, producer Stuart Crowner made clear. It was about being there, responding to the gardens and figuring out how and why they were created. But at the outset, there was a bit of concern when Audrey said she thought the series should be “poetic.”
“We didn’t quite know what she meant,” Blackschleger recalls. “We were a little afraid of it at first. We thought it might mean ‘sentimental.’ But we came to understand that her definition of poetic was the fusion of image, idea, music, art. She meant poetic in the fullest sense of lyrical.
“From when we first met with her, it was clear that Audrey favored a more natural style of garden. She wasn’t so enthralled with formal gardens and the notion of perfection. Our job was to reconcile Penelope’s discriminating requirements with Audrey’s more folksy, less rigorous ideas.”22
The professional and the amateur ended up a fine team. When work on the series began, Hepburn was sixty and Hobhouse was fifty-nine. “Penelope adored Audrey and thought, ‘I’m going to learn how to be sixty from Audrey,’” Blackschleger recalls. “Together, they were as conscientious as two sixth-grade schoolgirls. If you’ve never been one yourself, you might not know just how conscientious that is.” Hobhouse supplied the expert’s grand pronouncements, Hepburn the layperson’s warm enthusiasm.
Their itinerary was jammed tight, and gardens have no respect for production scheduling. They barely made it from Italy to England, for instance, in time for the once-a-year blooming of the old roses in the walled garden at Mottisfont Abbey. Then it was on, quickly, halfway across the planet to the Dominican Republic, where Gustavo Tavares led her among the six-foot vanda orchids of Villa Pancha, the exquisite “jungle” his family had been cultivating there for sixty years.
“That was the one venue that lacked a good hotel,” says Julie Leifermann, “and the first time Audrey stayed with a garden owner. She had a lovely time. Every evening when the sun would start to set, Gustavo made rum old-fashioneds and we all sat on his wonderful veranda and talked about the day.”bw
Leifermann had many duties on the production, but her primary job was to keep Audrey happy and functional. Audrey did not have or want an entourage—no hairdresser, no makeup or wardrobe person, no personal maid. “I’m a big girl,” she said. “I don’t need all those people fussing over me.” As her liaison to the production, Julie tried to help her with such things and to watch over her in general. But soon enough, the tables started to turn, Leifermann recalls:
She ended up becoming my caretaker. When she got comfortable with you and cared about you, she had this need to fuss over you, do things for you.... It became a running gag. I was always dashing back and forth from Europe to L.A. during the production and having perpetual jet lag. Invariably, sitting in the backseat of a car with Audrey, I’d fall asleep. I’d wake up with my head on her shoulder, and everyone would tease me about how I drooled on her. But she would say, ‘Come on, just put your head down on my lap,’ and cover me with her blue cape and I would sleep on her with her arms around me. She knew a little snooze would keep me going. So I slept on Audrey Hepburn through many weeks of travels around the world.23
The first location shoot on “Gardens of the World,” in April 1990, was in Holland for the tulip episode. It was a homecoming, of course, and Netherlanders took advantage of the opportunity to honor her with the official christeningof “the Audrey Hepburn tulip”—a luminous white one—in a ceremony at her family’s ancestral home in Doorn, now a museum. There, she saw Baroness Jacqueline van Heemstra, her eighty-seven-year-old maiden aunt and last of her mother’s siblings, for the final time. “It was a very emotional moment,” Leifermann says. “Her aunt was in a wheelchair and they hugged and kissed and spoke in Dutch.” Hollanders take their tulips seriously. Doorn was full of spectators and news media, Julie recalls, and the ceremony full of protocol :
There was a big pedestal with the tulip in a beautiful glass vase on a pillow. But the moment the ceremony began, a huge black cloud rolled in out of nowhere and the wind knocked the vase off just as the tulip was to be handed to her and named in her honor. It started to downpour, and everyone said, ‘Oh, my God, what do we do?’ But Audrey just laughed and ran around the podium after the tulip, grabbed it, stuck it back in the vase, and put it all back. Then the cloud moved off, the sun came out, and everything was fine. She had taken charge and righted it all.24bx
In their three months together on the road, Audrey’s ministrations to Julie continued to the end:
When I got sick in Italy, she was constantly checking to see if I had a temperature, sticking a cough drop in my mouth—the mother hen fussing over her chick. In England, on our last location, I ran out of clothes. We had a half day off and Audrey wanted me to go shopping with her in a little village called Broadway—spend the afternoon together and do girl stuff. I said, “I have to get my clothes cleaned and ironed for tomorrow.” She said, “Bring them with you. We’ll figure it out.” So I did. My hotel washed them, but they wouldn’t iron them.
So we went and did our shopping, and then we went back to her room, and she said, “Give me your pants and your shirt, I’m going to iron them.”
I said, “You can’t iron my clothes.”
She said, “Do you know how to iron?”
I said, “Not very well, but I’m going to try.”
She said, “Give me those.”
I said, “No, if anyone finds out you ironed my clothes, I’m in trouble.” We were fighting over my pants.
“Give me them.”
“Now, stop it, and let me have them.”
So I gave in and she stood there happily ironing my pants and shirt, folded them beautifully.
“There you go,” she said. “Now we don’t have to look at you in wrinkled clothes tomorrow.”
And that was that.25
Leifermann found the sophisticated star easily delighted by a bug or a bird. “It wasn’t a put-on. She genuinely loved the beauty of small things. She was connected to the simplicity of how life could work and tried not complicate it.” Her love of problem-solving reached a comic peak in Paris at the Jardins de Luxembourg, where Audrey had a big trailer in which to change clothes and relax when she wished. Midway in shooting, Julie had to go to the bathroom, and Audrey said she’d go along. They walked through the park to the motor home but, once there, couldn’t find the driver, who had the key:
I said, “I really have to go.” Audrey said, “I do, too—come here!” She takes me around to the back end of the trailer and says, “I’m going to boost you up. Go through the window and unlock the door.” So there’s Audrey down low, hoisting and pushing—trying to get me up high enough to grab onto something. “You’d better hurry,” she says. “We’ve got a crowd around us.” I pull open the window, get halfway through, legs flailing, half of me is in, half out. She’s pushing me and I don’t know what I’m falling into. Finally she shoves me through—and the crowd starts to applaud! I ran around, opened the door and she scooted in. It was, “Image be damned! I have to go to the bathroom!” 26
Audrey wanted to be sure the series made a statement about the environment—“something people hadn’t heard before,” says Blackschleger. “So we had her write up what she wanted to say, and we decided to open and close the series on that statement.”
It declared that, “Gardens remind us of the beauty we are in danger of losing. The arts of the garden nurture and comfort the human spirit, [offering] man a chance to regulate at least one aspect of his life ... and show himself as he wishes to be.”
Hepburn’s favorite site in Japan was Kyoto’s Saiho-ji, the contemplative monastery garden, created in 1339 by a Zen Buddhist priest, with hundreds of different mosses and sculpted evergreens in bamboo-enclosed seclusion. Its “grammar of formality,” she said, beautifully demonstrated that each garden, like each country, had a unique language. So did Hepburn herself, says Blackschleger—a language of distinct gender:
One of the things Audrey brought to the world was a feminine point of view. If we had a language that ended in o’s and a’s, if we understood masculine and feminine in those fundamental terms—but we don’t. How few words we have that end in “a.” How few feminine visions. Tropical gardens, for instance, do not have a linear history the way most European gardens do. We wanted to tell the tropical story as one of beauty and fragility, not conquest. That is essentially a more feminine idea. We don’t have that clear masculine-feminine distinction in our cultural view of the world, which is really more pleasing to both. We go to the extreme of feminist, which is something different.27
“WHEN YOU WERE with Audrey you felt prettier, better about yourself and your own possibilities,” Blackschleger says.28 Millions felt the same—espe—cially seeing her in Gardens of the World, dressed in the stylishly casual designs of Ralph Lauren.
Like Givenchy, Lauren had both a personal and professional relationship with her, though of much more recent vintage. They had met three years earlier in his New York flagship store at Seventy-second Street and Madison Avenue.
“She came in with Rob,” the designer recalls, “and my wife Ricky said, ‘Ralph, you’ll never believe it. Audrey Hepburn’s in the store. Do you want to meet her?’ I said, ‘I’d love to, but let her go through the store.’ Later, she came up to see me. I said how much of a fan I was, and she said, ‘Well, I’m a fan of yours,’ and asked for my autograph. I wanted her autograph!”
On a subsequent visit to his store, she told Lauren the clothes she wore as a girl were “simple, European classic”—the exact quality she liked in his designs. “She knew my clothes before I knew her,” he says. “She knew exactly what she wanted. Nobody could tell her what to wear.”
He found that out firsthand. One day in the store when he approached her with a suggestion, she cut him off with, “All right, Ralph, you can go now.” Lauren was offended: “I thought, so this is what Audrey’s really like—bossy. It was the manner I didn’t like. I walked out very angry at her.”
Earlier, Audrey and Rob had accepted Lauren’s invitation to spend a three-day weekend at his house in Jamaica, and Ralph didn’t see her again until their departure for Kingston.
“On the plane, she was very effervescent,” he recalls. “I said, ‘Audrey, I want you to know I’m angry at you,’ and I told her why. She said, ‘Ralph, I really felt I was holding you up—it must have come out the wrong way. I’m very sorry.’ I was always very direct with her. I think she valued that in people.”
Lauren says many of his conversations with Audrey were left unfinished or interrupted by other people. That didn’t bother her but it did him, and one day he gave her his theory: “I said, ‘Audrey, you don’t really want to listen. You’re too tight.’ She said, ‘What do you mean?’ I said I felt she wasn’t receptive to hearing certain things. She said, ‘That’s insecurity, Ralph.... All my life, I was too tall, long neck.... I never thought I was pretty.’ I said, ‘How could you think that?’ But she did. She was a very protected person. She was assured about who she was but, at the same time, insecure in so many ways.”29
When Gardens of the World came up, it was Lauren she called upon for her wardrobe. “I love Givenchy for night,” she told him, “but I love your sport clothes for daytime.” Today, when asked to elaborate on the differences between his and Givenchy’s fashion, Lauren chooses his words carefully:
“Givenchy is a charming, elegant man, and they had a fine connection. But I must say, you could take Audrey into Sears Roebuck or Givenchy or Ralph Lauren or an army-surplus store—it didn’t matter, she’d put something on and you’d say, ‘It’s her!’ Very few people can do that. Clothes look great or not so great, depending on who’s wearing them. I truly feel Audrey gave Givenchy a look. As time went on, they collaborated, but I think she picked what was Audrey out of Givenchy. The same for my clothes. She just picked from them what was right for her.”30
One delightful result, in the Gardens of the World series, was her outfit—with its feminine hint of a military collar—worn during the tour of George Washington’s gardens at Mt. Vernon. Surely, it was an original designed for that occasion?
“No,” Lauren replies. “We just went through the store and she picked it out. They were all existing designs.”
A partial preview of the Gardens series and high tea in Audrey’s honor were held at Cartier’s New York headquarters in March of 1991. “They wanted to be able to say, ‘She has breakfast at Tiffany’s, but she has high tea at Cartier‘s,”’ Blackschleger recalls. “Audrey said, ‘I’ve had breakfast at Tiffany’s and high tea at Cartier’s—I guess this means I have to have dinner at Bulgari’s.’ She knew how to weave all those commercial interests together and make everybody happy.
“Audrey and Robbie paid attention to all the details. They were amazing together. It was incredible to see two human beings be so elegant and responsible but also kind and caring.”
Julie Leifermann recalls asking Audrey, “‘How do you and Rob do it? How do you spend all this time together, travel together, live together, without killing each other?’ She said, ‘We just enjoy going through the world together.’ It was the sweetest thing to see their little jokes—that playful, mischievous side of her. She was so smart, so well-read, spoke gazillions of languages. No wonder Robbie never got bored with her.”31
SHE WOULD make no new movies, but neither would she forsake the past. It was a time to look back and pay tribute: Between 1989 and 1992, Audrey was an honored guest, or guest of honor, at no fewer than sixteen film galas. The full list would be taxing, but the highlights provide insight into the depth of her friendships.
She once said that the first thing she saw when she arrived in America was the Statue of Liberty—and the second was Richard Avedon. On January 14, 1989, at the Council of Fashion Designers salute to Avedon in New York, she appeared in a red strapless gown, her neck and shoulders drawn but proud, and lionized him:
“For Richard, I’ve happily swung through swings, stood in clouds of steam, been drenched with rain, and descended endless flights of stairs without looking and without breaking my neck.... Only with Richard have I been able to shed my innate self-consciousness in front of the camera. Is it his sweetness? Is it his sense of fun? The assurance that you know you’re going to end up looking the way you wished you looked? ... How many unknowns like myself were put on the map by Richard Avedon?”32
The next year she was thrilled, in view of her advocacy for children, to stand on a Broadway stage for the first time in forty years and hand out a 1991 Tony award to little Daisy Egan for The Secret Garden.
But most affecting personally was the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s “Gala Tribute to Audrey Hepburn” of April 22, 1991, at Avery Fisher Hall in New York, with tributes delivered by Billy Wilder, Stanley Donen, Gregory Peck, Alan Arkin, Tony Perkins, Harry Belafonte and many others.
What did the Lincoln Center tribute mean to her?
“I don’t know what it means,” she replied. “It’s a huge honor.”
What had her career meant?
She struggled for an answer before concluding that the key thing was the “experiences with other performers who somehow make you open up to them. For me, it always has to do with some kind of affection, love, warmth. I was born with an enormous need for affection and a terrible need to give it. That’s what I’d like to think maybe has been the appeal. People have recognized something in me they have themselves—the need to receive affection and the need to give it. Does that sound soppy?”33
That fund-raising event was the most successful since the first Lincoln Center Film Society tribute, in 1972, to Charles Chaplin. Tickets were sold out months in advance, and hundreds of checks had to be returned to disappointed Hepburn fans. Avery Fisher Hall seated 2,700 but, “We could have done this in Shea Stadium,” said one Lincoln Center publicist. Gala chairman Ralph Lauren set the evening’s tone by, professing a lifelong adoration of Hepburn. Stanley Donen topped him by noting, “My passion for her has lasted through four marriages—two of hers and two of mine.” He was topped in turn by Billy Wilder, who said he fell in love with her within five seconds of meeting her on the set of Sabrina, and then reprised one of his best lines: “I talk in my sleep, but fortunately, my wife’s name is Audrey.” Alan Arkin got an even bigger laugh—the biggest of the night—following a film clip from Wait Until Dark (see opening passsage of Chapter 7, p. 222). Wendy Keys, who programmed and directed the Lincoln Center tribute to Hepburn, recalls certain delicate, behind-the-scenes moments—with Anthony Perkins, for instance:
“I was nervous because I didn’t have or want any clips from Green Mansions. I said, ‘I hope you don’t mind, but I don’t have an excerpt from the film.’ He said, ‘I’m thrilled.’ ”34 Yet when he spoke that night, Perkins told the audience he had given up an offer to costar in Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot for the chance to meet and work with Audrey in Green Mansions.35by
One of very few invitees who failed to attend was Sean Connery, then shooting a film in Mexico. Another was a person only Rob Wolders expected to show up: “Cher was a great personal favorite of Audrey’s. When Wendy pointed out we had all men and no women, I suggested her as a surprise for Audrey, who adored her in Moonstruck.” But forty-eight hours before the event, Cher got sick and, on April 20, 1991, had to send Audrey her regrets:
This is a very hard letter for me to write because what I had dreamt of doing all my life was to be able to tell you in person.... the profound effect you have had on my life.
On the night I won the Oscar, you touched my hand and said you were glad I’d won.... You can never imagine what that meant to me. Since I was a little girl you have been my idea of a “star” and it was partly because of you that I became an actress.
You were a brilliant light for me in a sometimes dark childhood. I so wanted to be like you in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” that I put my hair in 2 pony-tails, bought huge sunglasses, and wore the closest thing to “you” I could put together. I got suspended from school for the sunglasses....
Someone once said to me that I was like a “3rd World Audrey Hepburn” —I’m not sure how they meant it, but it’s one of my favorite comments. [Your work] has inspired me again and again. I love you [and] you will never know how sad I am to miss this opportunity to say it in person.
Audrey’s own little speech that night was, of course, the climactic last act on the bill. Ralph Lauren saw her backstage just before she went on and was amazed that “she was so nervous ... pacing back and forth, smoking, her hands ice cold.”36
Wendy Keys has a similar recollection:
“If there’s a frozen moment, just one image I keep in my mind, it’s the view of her leaving from backstage to go out to the center of the Avery Fisher stage at the end of her tribute: She threw her shoulders back, and this beautiful white chiffon skirt swirled around her legs as she walked out to greet these people who were so thrilled to see her. It was heightened by the fact that she was so nervous. The sight of her back, with that beautiful French twist and those shoulder blades like nobody else’s—it was a moment I’ll never get over.”37
Once on stage, her words were no less gracious and rather more humorous than usual. She thanked all the directors, costars and technicians who made a “marketable commodity out of a skinny broad.”
The post-tribute dinner at Tavern on the Green in Central Park presented a dilemma. The restaurant’s tables held a maximum of ten, but many times that number had come to pay tribute to her and she was worried that there wouldn’t be enough room for them all at her table. “If there was a chance of their feeling slighted, Audrey would not allow it,” says Professor Richard Brown, one of her favorite interviewers, who was a guest and witness.38
On this night above all others, says Keys, “She had to make sure that everyone who had come long distances sat close to her, but she couldn’t bear to decide who should or shouldn’t. So she had us make one tremendous table by pushing ten together into a giant oval that went on for miles. It was perfect. Nobody’s feelings were hurt. It never happened before or since at one of those events, because most people don’t care. But Audrey did.”39
Keys felt that quality carried over onto the screen:
“One thing she portrays on film so sharply is hurt feelings. You’re so overcome by her beauty you don’t really acknowledge the acting that goes on behind it. In My Fair Lady, when Higgins abuses her, you can see her hurt feelings and how honest they are. It was something close to her surface, that vulnerability I saw Rob react to in private. He would be so devastated when he saw that wounded expression—that look in her eye when she was struck down by something.”40
RALPH LAUREN’S blunt, sometimes confrontational way of dealing with Audrey not only didn’t alienate her but seemed to draw them closer. His enormous affection for her was known by all, and Hepburn was the obvious choice to present him with the Council of Fashion Designers’ Lifetime Achievement award on February 3, 1992 in New York. Audrey’s was the most emotional of many emotional tributes to Ralph Lauren that night:
“You’ve not only created a total concept of fashion and style, but by your consistency and integrity, protected it, always reminding us of the best things in life. As a designer, you conjure up all things I most care about—the country, misty mornings, summer afternoons, great open spaces, horses, cornfields, vegetable gardens, fireplaces and Jack Russell terriers.
“As a man, I respect you for your total lack of pretension, for your gentleness, kindness, sincerity, simplicity. And as my friend, I love you.”41
When Lauren’s turn came at the end, he said, “You want to know the lifetime achievement?” Then, addressing his best pal from boyhood, “Steve, remember we went to the movies in the Bronx thirty years ago? Remember the princess? I got her!”
As noted, Hepburn graced no fewer than four tributes to Gregory Peck.bz “How much could they say about each other?” asks Rob Wolders rhetorically. But Audrey always found something more, notably at the Kennedy Center in December 1991:
Gregory Peck is the most authentic actor of our time.... Because he was willing to fight the studio executives when they didn’t want to take the risk, we have Gentlemen’s Agreement and its landmark exposure to anti-Semitism. Only because he wanted to play the part did they make To KillA Mockingbird. Dearest Greg, to your generosity, I owe my career. For your courage and integrity, you have my deepest respect. For your friendship, your goodness, and your humor, you have all my love.
Six months later, she was honorary chairperson of the American Cinemathèque’s tribute to Sean Connery. Their mutual friend Terence Young, who directed Connery’s great James Bond hits, sent regrets by telegram: “There are only two great stars in my recollection who’ve not been changed by great, massive success: Sean Connery and Lassie.”42 Said Audrey:
“Like every actress in the world, for years it was my dream to work with Sean Connery—marvelous—looking, superb acting, warm, versatile and wildly sexy. I got my wish. But I was cast as a nun. Nevertheless, once Robin was back from the crusades in all his splendor, the nun’s veil just seemed to melt away.”
At the Academy Awards that year—1992—Hepburn substituted for Mother Teresa in presenting an honorary Oscar to the ailing Indian director Satyajit Ray. Audrey got a standing ovation when she appeared in her Indian-style, off-the-shoulder Givenchy dress to introduce Ray’s pre-recorded acceptance speech from his hospital bed in Calcutta.ca
A few months earlier, when honored in Dallas by the U.S.A. Film Festival for her own contribution to motion pictures, she was asked how she felt about all the lavish praise.
“It’s wonderful,” she replied, “but at the same time ... you just die in a way. I mean, all those compliments. You wish you could spread it over the year. It’s like eating too much chocolate cake all at once. You sort of don’t believe any of it, and yet you’re terribly grateful.”43 She was deeply immersed in her “second career” with UNICEF by then, and—she told Dominick Dunne in Vanity Fair—she felt the same about the praise she was receiving for her UNICEF work:
“It makes me self-conscious. It’s because I’m known, in the limelight, that I’m getting all the gravy, but if you knew, if you saw some of the people who make it possible for UNICEF to help these children survive. These are the people who do the jobs—the unknowns, whose names you will never know.... I at least get a dollar a year, but they don’t.”44
On the other hand, she said, “I’m glad I’ve got a name because I’m using it for what it’s worth.”45
“HER CAREER can be split into two chapters,” says her friend Leslie Caron. “In the first part she received all the glory she could hope for, and in the second part she gave back, in spades, what she had received.”46
On the heels of the Allies’ liberation of Arnhem in 1945 came UNRRA, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, forerunner of UNICEF, bringing desperately needed food, medicine and clothing. Audrey, we know, was one of the first beneficiaries, and her emotional commitment to that agency began then and there. “There is a moral obligation,” she would say, “that those who have should give to those who don’t.”47
The death of actor Danny Kaye in March 1987 left a void at UNICEF. For the previous twenty years, he had roamed the world as its most popular Goodwill Ambassador. Only someone extraordinary could replace him or, at least, take over part of his work.
Now that her sons were grown, in 1988, instead of retiring in comfort to the jet set, Hepburn began the job that would occupy the last five years of her life: Special Ambassador for the United Nations Children’s Fund. “I auditioned for this job for forty-five years,” she would say, “and I finally got it.48 I always felt very powerless when I would see the terrible pictures on TV. But I was offered a wonderful opportunity to do something [and it is] is a marvelous therapy to the anguish I feel.”49
How long did it take her to accept the position?
“About two minutes,” she said. “I’ve always had an enormous love of children. When I was little, I used to embarrass my mother by trying to pick babies out of prams at the market. The one thing I dreamed of in my life was to have children of my own. It always boils down to the same thing—of not only receiving love but wanting desperately to give it.”50
There was an even simpler way to put it: “It’s something I’d do for my child, so why not for others?”
The waters she first tested were in Macao, where UNICEF Portugal asked her to be guest of honor at a benefit concert in October 1987. In the beautiful Church of St. Lorenzo there, she delivered brief remarks—exactly two minutes—gently reminding her audience that 40,000 children die every day from preventable causes. She sat down briskly at the end, turned to Rob and asked, “Did I do all right?” It was her first real appearance for UNICEF, Wolders recalls: “She knew little about what was expected of her and was pacing outside in her evening dress beforehand because it meant the world to her.”
She had done all right, indeed.
Back at Macao’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Audrey shed her evening gown in favor of jeans for a late-night meeting with Jack Glattbach, UNICEF’s Regional Information Officer. (“Why did I think she looked better in T-shirt and jeans?” he wondered to himself.) She told him she was content in Switzerland and didn’t really want to travel much but would be glad to help UNICEF again—“if they ask me.” He made sure that she was asked, and over the next five years she often said, “It’s all Jack’s fault for getting me into this!” That, says Glattbach, “is the best thing I’ve been blamed for in all my years at UNICEF.”51 Indeed, he helped launch her on the course that would redefine her life.
Two months later in Tokyo, she was the “warmup act” for UNICEF director James P. Grant at a benefit concert by the World Philharmonic Orchestra—musicians from fifty-eight countries, under the baton of Giuseppe Sinopoli. It was there that she met Christa Roth, chief of UNICEF’s Geneva office, who soon became one of her closest friends and helpmates.
“She had a tremendous following in Japan,” Roth recalls. “It was mind-boggling. In Tokyo we organized a press conference in a normal hotel room. We thought maybe a few journalists would come, but there were tenfold—we had to change rooms to accommodate them all.”52
For Roth, as for so many, Hepburn had been a role model. “I’m fifty-four,” she says, “so when I was a teenager, it was the time of Brigitte Bardot—and I was as skinny as Audrey. I thought, if it’s not wrong for her, why should I feel bad about looking like that?” From now on, back in Switzerland, it was Christa who assisted her in a hundred ways, taking care of logistical details and helping her fight for the things she wanted.
After her successes in Macao and Japan, requests began pouring in from the UNICEF committees of Turkey, Finland, Holland, Australia—“and in our enthusiasm, we accepted all of them,” says Wolders, including one from Ireland. Dublin was a melancholy place, and after accepting the invitation, they had misgivings based on the memory of the previous sad visit with her father. But it turned out to be a cherished experience.
When they arrived there on September 30, 1988, the Irish committee chair-woman told her, “There’s a lady who says she knows you from your childhood. We didn’t want to tell her to go away.” It turned out to be the elderly Greta Hanley, Audrey’s nanny in Brussels half a century before—a woman she adored. Their emotional reunion was the first of many, through UNICEF, that brought her closer to her “extended family” all over the world.
Hepburn’s commitment to UNICEF grew stronger, and quickly. “It’s hard to be too late, to see a child that already has polio,” she said. “It shouldn’t happen anymore, [nor should] a child be a victim of war. That’s why we have to get on with it. It is a question of time for so many children. They don’t have time to wait.” She often quoted Charles Dickens: “In the little world in which children have their existence, nothing is so finely perceived and so finely felt as injustice.”53
In later years, the powerful images of Audrey Hepburn in the Third World would leave the rest of the world with the impression that she made dozens of UNICEF pilgrimages. In fact, over four years, there were just eight missions—but of increasingly profound impact.
THE FIRST JOURNEY: ETHIOPIA-MARCH 1988
Audrey’s first field-trip assignment for UNICEF was designed “to attract attention, before it was too late” to the poorest country in the world. Ethiopia was in dire distress. Millions were starving from famine, drought and civil war. One in four Ethiopian children was dead by age five. Those who survived were grossly malnourished, many of them blind from vitamin A deficiency. The refugee centers, filled to overflowing, were potential death camps due to epidemics.
The logistics were complicated by many stops and unreliable transportation. “We flew across the country in comfortless, clattering transport aircraft,” said UNICEF board member John Williams, who went along. Audrey would sit next to the pilot, gazing down at the dry riverbeds, naked mountains and occasional patches of green, teeming with people. “She was awed. By the second day she knew the name and background of each of the twenty people accompanying her—European pilots, Ethiopian minders, American journalists and UNICEF officials.”54
One of those people was UN photographer John Isaac, a soft-spoken veteran of many such hardship missions, with whom she and Rob formed a deep bond. This was Isaac’s fifth trip to Ethiopia in four years, and during their week together in Eritrea and Tigré—the areas hardest hit by drought and civil war—she soaked up every tidbit of information he gave her, educating herself on the technical problems of food transport and water.
Isaac explained to her that the drought was due to the lack of dams to hold rainwater, and that a new one was being constructed. Audrey wanted to see it.
“Ethiopians are very proud,” says Isaac. “They don’t want handouts. This was a very good program where they would do a day’s work for a certain amount of grain. We watched thousands of people carrying water and rocks on their backs, mixing the mud and building this huge dam with their own hands. The pictures from there are very biblical.”
Isaac had traveled with Harry Belafonte and Liv Ullmann and other fine UNICEF ambassadors, but Audrey and her sense of humor were different, he says: “I told her, ‘When the plane lands, I want to get out first to get a shot of you.’ I was nervous—it was my first big ‘event’ with her—and as I was getting out, my camera fell with the battery pack and wires and everything connected to me. Audrey was behind me and said, ‘John, you dropped your—equipment. Well, thank God it’s still attached. Can I get it up for you?’ Everybody cracked up.”55
The fact that Hepburn met John Isaac early on “is what colored much of Audrey’s feelings towards UNICEF,” says Rob Wolders. “He really inspired her. He spoiled us. We were looking for more people like that, and they don’t exist.”
Isaac, a native of India, had been one of the UN’s most brilliant photographers for twenty years. His first assignment was the war in Lebanon; his second, the Vietnamese boat people, followed by ten years of work in Iran, Iraq, Kuwait and Ethiopia. His personality and philosophy had a profound impact on Audrey:
“For me, human dignity is more important than getting that ‘great’ picture,” he says. “I try not to take anybody’s dignity away. One of the boat people in Thailand was a little girl who was raped by twenty pirates, her father was shot, her mother committed suicide. I saw her washed up on the shore. A nurse said, ‘She hasn’t spoken a word. She just stares at me.’
“I didn’t want to photograph her. I went back to the hotel, bought some chocolates. I had some Vietnamese music and brought back my tape recorder, sat next to her, and played the music for her. After about ten minutes, she put out her hand and I gave her some chocolates. To me, that was worth ten thousand pictures. I told some nuns, ‘You have to rescue this girl,’ and they took her to California. A lot of people said, ‘That’s not your job.’ Well, I’m a human being first. I don’t care about the Pulitzer prize.”
Audrey, too, had to adjust to the emotional as well as physical stress, and to the political constraints of the job.
“Working with the UN is sometimes very frustrating,” says Isaac, “because you’re in the middle. You can’t support this or that side. Initially, she was flustered by that. You want to sympathize. But she took a stand on a lot of things. She was so worried about her first UNICEF press conference.”56
In preparation for that, back in Addis Ababa, “she was determined to master every nuance of the labyrinthine politics of war and drought,” says John Williams, who spent hours drilling questions and answers with her.“57 Videotapes of the press conference show she was not only nervous but on the verge of tears—hands shaking visibly when she sipped a glass of water—as she tried to explain to the media what she had seen. In the end, she was powerfully articulate and moving.
The only one who thought she could have done better was Audrey herself. Everyone else sat up and took notice, including the Marxist government of Ethiopia, which found reason to criticize her, thus provoking a second round of international publicity during which she declared, “A child is a child is a child, whether his parents are Marxists or Nazis.”
The challenge was just beginning. Preparing to leave her Addis Ababa hotel, she suddenly realized she had sent down the bags containing all of her clothes. She was in her underwear, recalls Rob, who obligingly gave her his raincoat, which hung down to her ankles. She wore it on the plane home and during her press conference at the Rome airport. Italy was the first stop of an exhausting postmortem press tour of America, Switzerland, Finland and Germany, talking about Ethiopia in as many as fifteen interviews a day. “I think,” she said, with typical modesty, “it made people aware that there were needs.”58
WHETHER IT WAS a two-minute speech at the Oscars or a two-hour one for UNICEF, “it scares the wits out of me,” she said.59 “My stomach goes to pieces and my head starts to ache.” She had such stage fright, says her daughter-in-law Leila, “that you could literally see her knees knocking behind the podium.”60 While accepting her Golden Globe award in 1990, “I was terribly concerned that the mike would pick up the thumping of my heart while I was speaking,” she said. “My epithet will be, ‘It’s nerves what done her in,’ as Eliza Doolittle would say.”61
Even so, she was getting better at it fast, and at thinking on her feet. In her first BBC interview, asked for proof that UNICEF’s food distribution efforts ever succeeded, she thought a moment and replied sweetly, “If a famine is averted, you don’t hear about it, do you?”62
Cannily, she and Christa Roth began to refine her dealings with the press. “Many times,” says Roth, “people would ask for an interview about UNICEF when they really just wanted to talk about movies. She would talk an hour about, say, Ethiopia and five minutes about films, but the story would be 10 percent UNICEF and 90 percent movies. It bothered her a lot. So we started to restrict the interviews to publications that gave her solid footage. It worked out quite well. She got a lot of a coverage.”63
More coverage than any other UNICEF ambassador before or since. That convinced her to be even better prepared and to write all her own speeches. As her conscientiousness increased, so did her impact. She told a Congressional subcommittee:
“In Ethiopia, I went to the orphanage in Mecalee ... five hundred children, whose parents died in the drought of 1985 ... which is run by Father Chasade of the Catholic Church. It was he who in desperation said, ‘If you can’t send me food for my children, then send me the spades to dig their graves.’ ”64
UNICEF, she said dramatically, chose to send the food.
“There is a science of war, but how strange that there isn’t a science of peace,” she declared, paraphrasing Maria Montessori. “There are colleges of war; why can’t we study peace?”65 She articulated that more passionately in replying to a question about how Ethiopia had affected her personally:
I have a broken heart. I feel desperate. I can’t stand the idea that two million people are in imminent danger of starving to death, many of them children, [and] not because there isn’t tons of food sitting in the northern port of Shoa. It can’t be distributed. Last spring, Red Cross and UNICEF workers were ordered out of the northern provinces because of two simultaneous civil wars....
I went into rebel country and saw mothers and their children who had walked for ten days, even three weeks, looking for food, settling onto the desert floor into makeshift camps where they may die. Horrible. That image is too much for me. The “Third World” is a term I don’t like very much, because we’re all one world. I want people to know that the largest part of humanity is suffering, that starvation exists even in a wealthy country like America—which is scandalous, a true disgrace.... 66
I think that, today, never has there been more suffering in more places all at once. At the same time, never has there been so much hope. We’ve had the greatest gift mankind could possibly give to children, which is “The Convention on the Rights of the Child.” Two hundred and fifty thousand children die every week—last week, next week—and nobody really talks about it. It’s the greatest shame and tragedy of our times. And it must Stop.67
The Convention on the Rights of the Child was based on the “Declaration on the Rights of the Child,” proclaimed by the UN in 1959, calling on all nations to guarantee children’s rights to health, education and protection in time of war. It was to be adopted into national legislation everywhere. She talked it up wherever she went and confronted the cynicism head on. In New Zealand, for instance, a patronizing interviewer praised its idealism but doubted that politicians could ever be convinced to care and do something about it.
“If you and I are convinced, they’re going to be convinced too,” she shot back. “Somebody said to me the other day, ‘You know, it’s really senseless, what you’re doing. There’s always been suffering, there will always be suffering, and you’re just prolonging the suffering of these children [by rescuing them].’ My answer is, ‘Okay, then, let’s start with your grandchild. Don’t buy antibiotics if it gets pneumonia. Don’t take it to the hospital if it has an accident.’ It’s against life—against humanity—to think that way.”68
THE SECOND JOURNEY: TURKEY—AUGUST 1988
Hepburn’s next trip, to Turkey, coincided with an international children’s festival there and a shift in UNICEF’s agenda from food to health. The priority in Turkey was immunization against the six main child-killing diseases: measles, tuberculosis, tetanus, whooping cough, diphtheria and polio. UNICEF and the World Health Organization had set a joint goal of universal child immunization by 1990, and their high-gear efforts were now saving three million young lives each year.
Audrey called Turkey “the most lovely example” of UNICEF’s ability to provide brilliant organizational skills in partnership with cooperative nations:
“We notified the government that their infant mortality was very high. The Turkish government sent a group to New York to study the program we had completed in Colombia. The group went back, and a total immunization program was planned in four months. The Turkish president and prime minister went on TV, the school teachers spoke from their desks, and the imams from their pulpits. The army gave us their trucks, the fishmongers gave their wagons for the vaccines, and once the date was set, it took ten days to vaccinate the whole country. Not bad.”69
Not bad at all. Good consolation for the local TV programming in Ankara. “Because it was a state visit, they had an Audrey Hepburn festival,” Rob Wolders recalls. “One night we turned on the television, and there was My Fair Lady. I had never seen it and was looking forward to it. But it was in Turkish. The combination of Audrey speaking in Turkish and Marni Nixon singing was too much. I had to turn it off.”
THE THIRD JOURNEY: SOUTH AMERICA—OCTOBER 1988
Street children and education were the focus of her South American tour a few months later. In Venezuela and Ecuador, she later told Congress, “I saw tiny mountain communities, slums, and shantytowns receive water systems for the first time by some miracle—and the miracle is UNICEF. ”I watched boys build their own schoolhouse with bricks and cement provided by UNICEF.“70
Most intently, she studied projects designed to aid children living on the street. That situation appalled her as much as it did Roger Moore, her friend and fellow UNICEF colleague (she had helped to recruit him), who was now viewing the far worse “violence of neglect” in Brazil. “First they ignored the street kids,” said Moore, “and now they’ve started killing them.”
He had met thirteen-year-old prostitutes, living in the streets, who used the money they earned to buy toys. So relentlessly grim was his report that he felt obliged not to end it on a totally depressing note: “I get one dollar a year for this—a whole dollar—but I have to wait a year to get it. UNICEF is receiving that interest on that dollar, you realize.”71
Audrey found it harder to leaven her remarks with humor. Her ferocity could be frightening. When she learned something shocking, she demanded that the world learn it, too. “Do you know how many street children there are in South America?” she would later ask in New York. “All over the world? ... But especially in South America and India? It’s something like a hundred million who live and die in the streets.”72
THE FOURTH JOURNEY: CENTRAL AMERICA—FEBRUARY 1989
She had met many dignitaries on her previous trips but had not been drafted for “summit meetings” until now, on the most upbeat UNICEF journey she ever made, in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. In Central America—while Colonel Oliver North covertly stoked Nicaragua’s Contra war with arms from Iran—Audrey pleaded the case for children in many forums, but most remarkably in a series of meetings with the chief executives of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
“¡Bienvenida Audrey Hepburn,” read hand-lettered signs all along the way, “los niños te saludan!” (Welcome—the children salute you!) She was everywhere at once, it seemed, weighing babies at a new maternal-care clinic, turning on the spigot for the first time at a mountain village’s water project, handing out press awards for excellence in covering children’s issues in Tegucigalpa. No frown troubles her features in the documentary footage—just joyous scenes of gorgeous, fairly healthy and happy children, whom she snatches up for hugs.
In flawless Spanish, she delivered a lovely message on breast-feeding to the television cameras: “Soy Audrey Hepburn. Soy madre. La leche materna es el mejor regalo que una madre puede dar a su hijo. Es para toda la vida. ”cb
The “summits” went flawlessly, as well. She charmed the presidential pants off Honduras’s Jose Azcona Hoya and Guatemala’s Roberto Carpio. Most touching was her meeting with Salvador’s ailing President Napoleon Duarte, who died shortly afterward.
Having accomplished all that, she got the kind of reward she liked best: a private evening with Rob, her UNICEF companion Teresa Albanez, and her photographer-godchild, Victoria Brynner, Doris’ daughter. Together they all attended a gathering in San Salvador, where Audrey sang and played the guitar with a group of local musicians. When the party was over, the adoring minstrels followed her outside and kept on singing. “They were still serenading her as we were driving off,” says Wolders. “So much love for Audrey there.”
Victoria Brynner grew up with Audrey and often photographed her, but never “officially.” This was “a great opportunity for me to be with her in the context of her work,” says Brynner, “and to watch her deal not only with the suffering people in the field but with all the UNICEF officials, the governments, the media, constantly bouncing from one to the other. It was so impressive to see how giving and patient she always was.”
After one wrenching inspection of Quito’s most poverty-stricken areas, the two women stopped into the magnicifent La Compañía church. “We stood there next to each other and held hands and each said our own little prayer,” Victoria recalls. “After what we’d just seen, it was very moving. A few months later, on my birthday, she came to our house with a little basket, and in the basket was a bird’s nest she had found in her garden, and in the bird’s nest was a little hand-painted paper bird, and under the bird was an unbelievable cross set with diamonds and rubies. The card said it was for that moment we spent in the church in Quito. I have worn it every single day.“73
As AN INSPECTOR in the field, the lady of fashion dressed down and traveled light: Two suitcases and a carry-on held all the jeans, sneakers, sweatshirts and Lacoste pullovers she required. For UNICEF, as for Gardens of the World, she pressed her own clothes in the hotels, did her own hair and makeup, and never made a late entrance. On the road, she needed no one to hold her hand, literally or figuratively, except Rob.
As a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., however, she reverted to type—and to nerves. On April 6, 1989, smartly attired in a sleeveless black Karl Lagerfeld dress, she was jittery, clinging to the arm of U.S. UNICEF Committee President Lawrence Bruce as she entered a Capitol conference room to testify before the House Select Subcommittee on Hunger.
As John Isaac had told her early on, UNICEF spokesmen were in a tricky position because they could not take political stands. But in the bellicose Reagan-Bush eighties, politics and economics were at the heart of most human disasters worldwide and could hardly be ignored. Walking that tightrope, the UN staff had devised the idea of a “1 percent for Development Fund” and was now trying to sell it to the world community. Audrey was one of its first and greatest saleswomen:
“Less than one-half of one percent of today’s world economy would be the total required to alleviate the worst aspects of poverty and would meet basic human needs over the next ten years,” she told the congressmen. “We cannot ignore the economic issues that have made the 1980s into a decade of despair....
“The heaviest burden of a decade of frenzied borrowing is falling not on the military nor on those foreign bank accounts nor on those who conceived the years of waste, but on the poor who are having to do without the bare necessities.... When the impact becomes visible in the rising death rates among children, then what has happened is simply an outrage against a large section of humanity. Nothing can justify it.... The burden of debt must be lifted to a degree where the developing countries can cope with debt repayment.”74
It costs $5 to vaccinate a child for life, six cents to prevent death from dehydration, and eighty-four cents a year to stop a child from going blind. “How is it that governments spend so much on warfare and bypass the needs of their children, their greatest capital, their only hope for peace?”75
It was a strong political stand, carefully worded. UNICEF, she went on, was the one international organization with the infrastructure and diplomatic leverage to channel aid directly to children and not through governments.
When she finished, UNICEF executive director Jim Grant spoke bluntly to the committee of Audrey’s import to the cause:
“At the heart of whether we succeed is public opinion.... It isn’t the question of funding anymore. In the Sudan, it’s public opinion that is going to keep the pressure on the two sides to allow the supplies to move.... Ms. Hepburn will be going to Sudan next week to keep world public attention on it. [With her,] we have a new capacity to talk to people. Television picks up a picture in the Sudan and says, ‘Ms. Hepburn is there ... children are dying but there is still time to do something about it.’ Last fall, the media weren’t able to get in there. Then, you saw only the bodies of the dead four months later.”76
It’s just a six-minute drive from the Capitol to the White House, but a much greater distance psychologically. After her congressional appearance, Audrey and Rob were invited to a state dinner there for Israeli Prime Minister Shamir. “Bush was very considerate,” Rob recalls. “He put Audrey on his left.”
He was doing himself a favor, of course. But it gave Audrey a perfect chance to speak with him about what mattered to her. When she mentioned her forthcoming “emergency” trip to Sudan, he introduced her to Cable News Network’s Bernard Shaw and suggested that his network ought to cover it. (Bush was an avid CNN fan.) Before leaving, Audrey arranged to come back for a private chat with the woman of the house, as Barbara Bush remembers:
Audrey came to call on me the next day to talk about her work with UNICEF. I had met her once before in Rome at a luncheon when George was vice president. Audrey felt passionately about two things, both of which mattered to me also: She loved children and became an advocate for young people in distress around the world; and she adored dogs.... She played with Millie’s puppies, and I was slightly surprised that Millie let her pick them up without even a small protest.... How the world admired that lovely creature!77
THE FIFTH JOURNEY: SUDAN—APRIL 1988
Just days after that White House visit, Hepburn and Wolders found themselves in Sudan to witness the start of a miraculous UNICEF-sponsored relief effort called “Operation Lifeline.”
“Sudan is an outpost of despair, but it has astounding beauty,” Rob recalls. “I remember Audrey looking down from the plane at where the Blue Nile and the White Nile branch out and saying she had this great feeling of gladness. It’s wrong to think we’d go to a place like that and immediately be immersed in misery. There was a period of assimilation.”
UNICEF’s Jim Grant had been appointed special envoy to the Sudan and was largely responsible for the negotiations that led to Operation Lifeline. Its goal was to ferry food to southern Sudan, which was cut off from all aid because of the civil war. Audrey and Rob watched the first ship with food and medical supplies leave Khartoum for Kosti on the Nile.
The next day, while visiting a remote Sudanese refugee camp, Audrey noticed a fourteen-year-old boy lying on a dirt floor and asked what was wrong with him. The answer was terribly familiar: acute anemia, respiratory problems and edema, due to malnutrition. “That was exactly the same way I finished the war—that age, with those three things,” she said, noting that even when fed, starving children often never recover from the neurological damage. “I thought, how strange to hear those same three things. But it was also a moment of glory for me, because just then a big UNICEF truck came by full of food and medicine.”78
Be it famine in Ethiopia, civil war in El Salvador, or ethnic massacre in the Sudan, “I saw but one glaring truth: These are not natural disasters but manmade tragedies for which there is only one manmade solution—peace.” Just in the past month of this most brutal civil war, “20,000 starving orphan boys have fled from the Sudan into Ethiopia,” she said. “Many of them never make it. They either die of hunger on the way [or] drown in the river which divides the Sudan from Ethiopia.”79
In the Sudan, with Rob’s help, she would again employ her “summit” skills, as Wolders relates:
“There was a meeting arranged for Audrey, me and Sadique, the man in power, who didn’t usually deal with UN people. But he wanted to see Audrey, and he was gracious to her. It was our intention to go to the refugee camp in El Mereim, where 16,000 people had died. Sadique sent his minister of health along with us, and we got to an area just on the border with the Christian south. From there we were supposed to go with the Moslem minister of health into rebel country, the city of Juba, which was totally surrounded by government troops. But they said they couldn’t guarantee safety and they made us go back to Khartoum.
“It was very frustrating. We said we were willing to take a chance, but the UN officials overruled us. So rather than go home with our tail between our legs, we got a Red Cross plane to fly us from Khartoum to Nairobi—a night flight over Uganda—and then they sent one of rebel leaders to Kenya to fly us back into Sudan. It illustrated Audrey’s determination. Without that corps of journalists along, we could speak our minds more bluntly to the leaders there, and we did. It produced some results.
“Some places we went to over the years were run-of-mill, but this was one of the truly exotic places we’d heard about as children—Khartoum. We smuggled in a bottle of scotch, by the way, since it was a Moslem country.”
SOMETIMES it got to her. “If everybody just decided to do something about it, we wouldn’t be here talking about it,” she said in frustration. She had to reinvent the wheel constantly—as at the Canberra Press Club, where the question was, “What do you really do for UNICEF?”
“My task is to inform, to create awareness of the needs of children,” she replied politely, as if for the first time. “It would be nice to be an expert on education, economics, politics, religions, traditions and cultures. I’m none of those. But I am a mother and will travel.”80 UNICEF had only 2,000 paid employees, she said. It consisted mostly of volunteers, such as herself. “I fly around the world on tickets donated by airlines, stay in hotels free of charge—in great luxury, I might add.”
It was a rueful inside joke at UNICEF that people so often congratulated her for her work with UNESCO. Over and over, she explained the difference between the two organizations, chiefly that “UNICEF has no permanent allocation. We get no funds from the UN. By definition, we are a fund, not an agency.”81
Hepburn provided a phenomenal boost to the fund-raising campaigns of the national UNICEF committees everywhere. Also, every year between 1988 and 1992, she hosted with Roger Moore the Danny Kaye International Children’s Special in Holland, which was broadcast worldwide and drew enormous donations.
“Jim Grant told me they got $1 million in contributions every time she made an appeal on Barbara Walters or wherever,” says John Isaac. “She made such a huge impression.”
Isaac and Hepburn had become important figures in each other’s lives by then. After their Ethiopia trip, she had written to say how much she enjoyed traveling with him and the photos he had taken. She now told him Bangladesh was her next choice for a UNICEF visit, and she wanted him to come with her.
THE SIXTH JOURNEY: BANGLADESH—OCTOBER 1989
“Everybody was calling Bangladesh ‘a basket case,’ ” Isaac says, “because of the constant mishaps they had with floods, famine—you name it. But when everybody else was throwing up their hands, Audrey said, ‘I want to go there and be with them and promote their cause.’ I thought that was amazing.”
Together, he and Audrey and Rob first visited projects for poor children in Bangkok, then quickly moved on to Bangladesh.
“She traveled to every little corner,” Isaac recalls. “In one town, she leaned over to me and said, ‘John, do these people know or care who I am?’ I said, ‘You’d be surprised.’ As we were talking, I heard this one man say to another, ‘I think that is Miss Hepburn.’ When I told her that, she turned around and asked, ‘Do you know me?’ The guy said, ‘I have seen Roman Holiday ten times!’ In the middle of Bangladesh!
“Often the kids would have flies all over them, but she would just go hug them. I had never seen that. Other people had a certain amount of hesitation, but she would just grab them. Children would just come up to hold her hand, touch her—she was like the Pied Piper.”
Cole Dodge was the UNICEF representative in Bangladesh, and it was his job to show Audrey and Rob the health-related projects connected to UNICEF. At one stop, he recalls, a crowd surrounded Audrey—as always—when she stepped from her car:
“She smiled at the children, and some of them came forward to stroke her arm and hold her hands as we walked through the village. To the side of the path, just ahead, a small girl sat by herself under the shade of a coconut tree. The little one caught Audrey’s attention, and she asked, ‘Why doesn’t she join the others?’ Walking over, Audrey knelt down and spoke with her. Then, picking her up, she hugged her close. The child’s legs, crippled by polio, dangled uselessly. Carrying the little one, Audrey walked towards us, her eyes filled with tears. None of the rest of us had taken notice of that child.”82
A few weeks later, back in the United States on Larry King Live, a caller asked, “How do we know when we send money that it actually gets there?”
“I know it gets there because I’ve seen the results,” she said. “UNICEF money goes straight to projects and never to governments.83 I just came back from Bangladesh [where] contaminated water is the biggest killer of children. In the last eight years, we have sunk 250,000 tube wells there.... It’s not enough to know there’s been a flood in Bangladesh and 7,000 people lost their lives. Why the flood? What is their history? How are they going to survive?”84
Isaac was most struck by the fact that, at any given moment, “she dealt only with what she was doing. Audrey had no color, no race. She went to Bangladesh at a time when the main crisis was over, but it was still an ongoing thing. ‘I want people to be reminded,’ she said. Today, we forget what happened yesterday with all the satellite technology. Today you are here, tomorrow there, the next day, somewhere else. How soon people forget the previous tragedy. But she never did.”
RISKS HAD TO BE weighed before every trip—even to the United States. After the Pan-American disaster over Lockerbee, European fears of airline terrorism reached panic levels. But Audrey had agreed to a six-city American fund-raising tour for UNICEF, including Atlanta, where former president Jimmy Carter was to give her an award. She and Rob flew first to Los Angeles to see Connie Wald and there, at dinner one night, they met former ambassador Anne Cox Chambers and her good friend William Banks. Chambers, the publishing heiress and daughter of 1920 Democratic presidential nominee James M. Cox, turned out to be chairperson of the Atlanta UNICEF event—a pleasant coincidence with a pleasant outcome: She offered Hepburn and Wolders a “lift” in her private plane, to spare them another commercial flight.
“Audrey asked what time,” recalls Chambers, “I said, ‘Oh, around noon, but there’s no hurry. Just come when it suits you.’ When we arrived at noon, she was already there—this radiant creature standing at the top of the steps in the doorway with that lovely smile, saying, ‘Welcome aboard your own airplane!’” As the plane was revving up, William Banks said half-facetiously, “I always say a prayer at takeoff,” and Audrey replied, “Oh, I just hold Robbie’s hand.” The Hepburn-Wolders friendship with Chambers and Banks was instant: All four of them had not only UNICEF in common, but also gardens—and dogs.85cc
At the Atlanta ceremony, Jimmy Carter presented her with her award and said, “When I was young, guess who I wanted to be? You may think Thomas Jefferson or Andrew Jackson—not at all. I wanted to be Humphrey Bogart or Fred Astaire or Cary Grant, I was so filled with envy of them being kissed by Audrey Hepburn.” Audrey replied, “I’ll fix that,” and gave him a big kiss. They would often work together later on UNICEF causes.
William Banks was as impressed with Rob as with Audrey and, even more, with their relationship. “It was obvious that he adored her and she adored him,” says Banks, a courtly southern gentleman. “I’ve never seen a better marriage, even though they were not married. When the cameras converged on Audrey, Rob always stepped out of range in the most graceful way. He basked in the admiration people felt for her. He was self-effacing but not self abnegating, and she looked up to him so.”86
Rob was always there, says John Isaac, in every way:
“She would see him running around and say, ‘Isn’t he wonderful? I don’t know what I’d do without my Robbie.’ Always ‘my Robbie.’ Day in and out, he made sure everything was right.” Audrey often declared, “I could never have done all this work with UNICEF without Robbie.... He does a million things.”87
Jeffrey Banks summed it up: “The overwhelming thing about Audrey was that men wanted to protect and shield her from all the bad in the world. That was my instinct at age eleven, for instance. But Rob’s the one who truly did it.”88
Wendy Keys enjoyed watching their “sense of playfulness” together: “At the Peninsula Hotel after they’d just flown in, Rob and I were talking across a coffee table. She was busy unpacking, but he said, ‘Audrey, could we move these flowers? I can’t see Wendy.’ She swept them away and then plunked down a teeny little flowerpot instead and said, ‘Now can you see Wendy?’ She took advantage of the moment and the prop. It was delicious.
“Another time, she and I were gossiping with our legs swung over our respective sofas, yakking away. Rob came out of the shower in a terry-cloth robe and sat down to reveal a beautiful leg. She winked at me, and the two of us started to giggle. One of those moments—that constant twinkle in her eye.
“They shared a lot of things—their commitment to other people and to UNICEF. Rob’s own enormous UNICEF commitment was rarely acknowledged, and he didn’t want it to be. But he was certainly the best man in her life. The others were appalling, or normal, depending on your point of view. What a wonderful thing that she and Rob found each other.”
The press, meanwhile, kept asking the same old question: Were they going to get married?
“Why bother?” she replied to one reporter. “It’s lovely this way ... more romantic. It means we’re together because we want to be, not because we have to be. It’s a slight difference, but maybe it’s a very good one.”89
THE SEVENTH JOURNEY: VIETNAM—OCTOBER 1990
Of all Audrey Hepburn’s remarkable UNICEF journeys, the least remembered is her visit to Vietnam. Unlike the others, it received little coverage except in France, whose ties to Vietnam were historic. For America and the American media, more recent wounds were still unhealed. Audrey was too apolitical to get the virulent criticism dealt to Jane Fonda for going to Vietnam during the war itself. Instead, she got the silent treatment.
The Vietnam trip had been suggested in 1987 by UNICEF’s Jack Glattbach, who now accompanied her on what turned out to be a highly useful mission. As in Bangladesh, the main purpose was to get the government behind the UNICEF-supported immunization and water programs. And as in Bangladesh, Audrey went everywhere.
At Mo Vang Commune in Hoang Lien Son Province, the children handed her flowers and performed a martial-arts demonstration in her honor. “How do you say thank-you in Vietnamese?” we hear her ask in the video documentary footage. “Ka-mun,” she is told—and thereafter uses it freely. A child hands her a rose, whose stem pricks Audrey’s finger. “All roses have thorns,” she smiles. Priming a new pump, she splashes water on her face and proudly proclaims that UNICEF supplied the materials but that the wells “have all been made by the Vietnamese themselves.”
The tour was going so well that, midway, Glattbach briefed her on Vietnam’s unique “structural adjustment” policies and asked if she would emphasize that in the documentary they were shooting. “Oh, that’s too complicated for me,” she replied. “Really, if I don’t understand it, I can’t speak it.” Glattbach said fine, never mind. But soon after, he recalls, “watched by a few hundred Vietnamese villagers and with absolutely no ‘fluffs,’ she spoke four minutes to camera and covered every point from the discussion she ‘didn’t understand.’ It was one of the best summaries I ever heard. It got seven minutes on ABC prime-time news and incredible TV pickup around the world.”90
The video footage shows it clearly: Everywhere she goes in Vietnam, Hepburn is greeted lovingly and the mood is upbeat, with no recriminations about the war. She meets the heads of several unions, all of them women. But her most important meeting is the last—a “summit” indeed, with General Vo Nguyen Giap, Vietnam’s deputy prime minister and great war hero, the field commander most responsible for defeating the mighty United States.
“This general and UNICEF—we have a lot in common,” she said formally, in his presence. “We have both fought many battles for children. I just hope we will be as triumphant as you have been, and conquer all the children’s diseases.”
Giap said UNICEF’s help was crucial to a country that had suffered so many years of war. In response, she said, “I find your country miraculous, and I think UNICEF has never had a more ideal situation to take care of children because you always have given children the priority in spite of war.... Your education and literacy are very high, and immunization almost completed.”
Clearly charmed, General Giap smiled and said, “You have so many praises! But we feel we have so much more work to do.”
AUDREY’S OWN WORK took many forms, including the artistic. A UNICEF Christmas card these days was adorned with her sketch of an Ethiopian mother carrying a baby, simply but beautifully done. The original was donated to the Finnish UNICEF committee and sold at auction in Helsinki for $16,500.
“It was a fund-raiser for camels,” says Rob Wolders. “For the vaccination campaign in Chad, they used camels with solar-energy panels in order to keep the vaccine refrigerated. They could buy a lot of camels with that $16,500.”
The following year, she launched the UN’s “Rights of the Child” postage-stamp series in Geneva with a first-day philatelic envelope of her own design.
In August 1990, she went to Oslo, Norway, to cohost the “Concert for Peace,” sponsored by the Elie Wiesel Foundation, with Jimmy Carter, François Mitterrand and Nelson Mandela among the participants. Audrey introduced Václav Havel and James Galway, and conductor Lukas Foss led the Oslo Philharmonic. Havel made a great impact on her and, soon after, she deftly worked his significance into her remarks at UNICEF’s Universal Child Immunization kickoff ceremony in Rome:
“I didn’t think I’d live to see the end of [the Cold War]. I had grown up with it and it was part of all our lives. Then the world changed dramatically. Like the Berlin Wall and the Soviet empire, the old order has come tumbling down. We now have something that is so rare in the course of civilization: a second chance....
“UNICEF and the World Health Organization [have] achieved their goal of universal child immunization by 1990. This is the miracle of this decade. It does not mean we have immunized every child. It does mean that 80 percent of the world’s one-year-olds have been immunized against the six major child-killing diseases—four out of five children on the whole planet! ... In 1974, only 5 percent of the developing world’s children were vaccinated.
“The day people can count on having two children survive, they will have two instead of having nine in hopes that two will live.... China, Indonesia, Thailand and Mexico have proven that population can be slowed [through] education and family planning. Letting children die is not the remedy to overpopulation.” 91
The immunization campaign had been the most monumental global mobilization in the history of UNICEF—if not the history of the world. But ironically, she told Harry Smith on CBS This Morning, the immunization rate in America was decreasing. In North Africa, 79 percent of all children were now vaccinated against measles; the figure was 58 percent in Houston and 52 percent in Miami! When her time was up, she would not let Smith cut her off. “May I tell you one more thing?” she pressed. “Rotary International has raised three-quarters of a billion dollars for immunization over ten years—an extraordinary example of what people can do.”
A sweet smile of triumph crossed her face: She had managed to slip in one last plug.92
In view of those measles statistics and the fact that one in five American children lives in poverty, Smith asked if we should be more concerned with our own kids, rather than the world’s. “I think we can do both,” she replied. “Sure, we take care of our own children first. Charity begins at home. But there’s no reason why we can’t have love or time or money or food for children in Africa.93 It’s the endless wars that have destroyed what we’ve tried to do [there]. Adults fight and children die. Peace is what I’m pleading for, because until there’s peace we won’t be able to construct.”94
That was the message she took to Washington once again in June 1991 for her second congressional appearance, at the invitation of senators Philip Leahy of Vermont and Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas, to urge a boost in aid for Africa.
“We tried to plan a time when she and I could both be in Africa together,” recalls Senator Kassebaum, “but we never could get it worked out. She was very shy, and she looked very frail. She did such a tremendous job of calling attention to the plight of children in ways that nobody else could.”95
THE LAST JOURNEY: SOMALIA—SEPTEMBER 1992
Somalia, torn to shreds by war and famine, was hell on earth—eight million people in a land the size of Texas, most of them starving to death. Hepburn had wanted to go there a year earlier but the New York office thought other assignments more urgent and Somalia too unsafe. Now, as she and Rob left Switzerland, Somalia was still on the back pages of the papers. But Audrey Hepburn’s last mission was about to rivet the world.
“Apocalyptic,” she called it. “I walked into a nightmare.... I have seen famine in Ethiopia and Bangladesh, but I have seen nothing like this—so much worse than I could possibly have imagined. I wasn’t prepared for this. It’s so hard to talk about because it’s unspeakable.”96
Among many images that haunted her was the first, from the air, as they flew into Kismayu from Nairobi over the desert:
“The earth is red—an extraordinary sight—that deep terra-cotta red. And you see the villages, displacement camps and compounds, and the earth is all rippled around them like an ocean bed. And those were the graves. There are graves everywhere. Along the road, around the paths that you take, along the riverbeds, near every camp—there are graves everywhere.”97
Kismayu’s huge displaced-persons camp held 20,000 people, but it took a while for it to dawn on Audrey that there was something missing. “There were no babies and practically no infants, because they are the most fragile,” she said.98 “They were just all snuffed out like candles.”99 At the feeding center in Baidoa, “One of the first sights I saw was that they were loading the bodies of that night onto a truck, and most of them were very small. Just one night’s dead. Around a hundred. Children were sitting around waiting to be fed, but they were beyond wanting food. Some of them had to be more or less force-fed with little tiny spoonfuls. They are just totally spent.”100
Many of the children and adults were maimed. Those who could still walk looked like ghosts, caught between the worst drought in history and a horrifying civil war that had destroyed whole families, whole villages—the whole country. There were no highways, no phones, no sanitation. You didn’t need a visa to get in because there was no government to care. “There’s nothing left,” Hepburn said. “The cattle are dead, the crops are gone, whatever there was has been looted. Anarchy. It’s a country without a government—a mayhem of marauding bandits who are likely to hold up a convoy or loot a storehouse.101
“This is the first in history that a country has been totally held together by individuals, by relief workers, these incredible, heroic people [from] Save the Children, Care, Oxfam, Médecins Sans Frontières. But there are very few of them.”
Hepburn’s presence in Somalia coincided with that of her journalist friend Anna Cataldi, who confirmed Audrey’s assessment in the story she sent back to Milan:
“The volunteer workers with Médecins Sans Frontières [Doctors Without Borders] look at us with dazed expressions. Clearly, they are in a bad way. Malaria, amoebas, and now that they’ve had so much contact with blood, they are testing them for AIDS as well. These brave people stayed in Somalia even during the bombardments, when everyone else had left.”102
The brighter side was that food was now arriving under the protection of UN peacekeepers and the U.S. Navy. Audrey was profoundly moved during a visit to the USS Tarawa aircraft carrier and its 2,400 sailors and Marines. “We were there for less than an hour and at the end were handed a check for $4,000, which the boys had collected,” she said, weeping at the recollection. “You see, there I go again. But I don’t want people to feel helpless. Everything is needed—blankets, clothes. The rains are coming now. Rain brings more death. In one camp where one night the death toll was sixty, it rose to over one hundred the next night because of the rain, because they’re so fragile, and the chill—it’s just too much for them.”103
Bryant Gumbel on the Today show later asked if, in view of the anarchy, any amount of assistance was more than just a Band-Aid?
“Survival means much, much more than a Band-Aid,” she said. “I wouldn’t call a good doctor that saves your child from dying a Band-Aid. You may say that only tiny numbers of people can be helped. But the numbers are getting bigger. I go through my soul-searching. What can I do? What am I going to go and do there? But for all of us there’s something we can do. It’s true you can’t take care of 1,000. But finally, if you can save one, I’d be glad to do that.”
Among her challenges was to try to explain a complex colonial history—the difference between Somalia and Somaliland, for example, so named by the territory’s Italian and British conquerors, respectively. “Are we not reaping the mess we made so many years ago when we enriched ourselves?” she said. “We didn’t do a hell of a lot for those people, did we? That’s why it’s right that we do now.”104
Audrey was asked not to dwell on that with the press, as UNICEF was now getting money from both the Italian and British governments. But Cataldi was able to be more fierce about the politics of it: “We Italians are responsible for Somalia,” she wrote, as a result of which, hundreds of thousands of people were now dying “without even knowing why they are dying. They can’t comprehend the ocean of rhetoric surrounding them, because this people of poets doesn’t know how to read. Illiteracy in Somalia is the highest in the world: 95 percent.”105
Why had the world been so slow to react? Audrey made a telling comparison. “People in Florida complained bitterly when aid took five days to get to the area hit by the hurricane,” she said. “We’ve always been too late. In Ethiopia—a million people were dead before the BBC ever showed those pictures. In the Sudan, a quarter of a million died. Perhaps we’re too late in Yugoslavia.... You could not get into Somalia to know really what was going on—to get inland and see the extent of the devastation.... You can’t show pictures or write stories until you can go there and tell the world about it.106 I came to Somalia because there cannot be enough witnesses.”
Before leaving Africa, she held a press conference in Nairobi on September 22 and then granted a private interview to Nairobi TV reporter Katherine Openda—perhaps the most poignant she ever gave. “Somalia is one of the worst tragedies ever,” she said. “It has gone over the edge. I want to be very careful how I say this. I don’t want to sound overly dramatic. But you really wonder whether God hasn’t forgotten Somalia.”
Openda asked how she personally coped with it, and she replied, “Perhaps I don’t. I give in sometimes. It is heartbreaking.... You never walk away from it, ever again. It’s an image you carry with you for the rest of your life.”
Hepburn’s Somalia mission was followed by press conferences in London, Geneva and Paris and a host of television appearances in the United States. Not least of her skills was that she could speak with reporters in a variety of languages. More than any other, this round of interviews generated an unprecedented amount of international coverage and captivated the world. In all of them, she looks a bit tired but otherwise healthy, betraying no hint of the fact that she had just fifteen weeks to live.
Some of the news media, flippantly but fondly, called her “Mother Teresa in designer jeans.” Columnist Liz Smith was one of the first to refer to her as “Saint Audrey.” Sally Jessy Raphael recalled the day she appeared on Raphael’s program to talk about Somalia: “The people who work with me are pretty tough cookies. But during the interview with Audrey, [everyone] showed such love and such respect. The crew lined up afterward and she went down the line shaking hands. I’ve never seen anything like it. Those hardened men and women almost wept. It was as if they knew they would never see her again.”107
Shortly afterward, the United States military went into Somalia in full force. “She was very glad when they did,” says Christa Roth. “I think that was something she prompted.”
NEVER BEFORE in film history had so great a star lent herself so vigorously to such an urgent crusade. But the toll was enormous. “She suffered terribly inside,” said Elizabeth Taylor. When she saw the things she did in Somalia, “she didn’t reflect that to the children,” says Roger Moore. “She hid from them what was going on inside her. It doesn’t do to show a person who is suffering that you’re terribly upset by it.”108
She spoke of that agonizing problem herself:
“There’s this curious—embarrassment or timidity that comes over one when you walk into a feeding center like that. I feel I shouldn’t be there. I think I should leave them alone. It’s like walking into somebody’s room who is dying, and only the family should be there. [You long] to pick up one of those children and give it some kind of warmth.... They’re so frail that I worry I am going to break their little body and—and it’s unbearable. It just is so totally unacceptable to see small children die in front of your eyes.”
Somalia was the worst. “She came back and said, ‘I’ve been to hell,’” says her son Sean, “and every time she spoke about it, she had to relive it. Nothing ever prepared her for going to a camp and meeting a little kid and coming back the next day and he wasn’t there anymore. You’re supposed to go back to your hotel room and drink bottled water? Get on a plane and go back to your regular life? It throws your whole world out of balance.”
In the end, says Anna Cataldi, “she had this rage. The more she saw, the more rage she had. In Somalia, she was really furious with what she constantly was seeing.”109
Audrey used the same word: “I’m filled with a rage at ourselves. I don’t believe in collective guilt, but I do believe in collective responsibility.”110 Buckminster Fuller, the great philosopher-inventor, once said, “Politics is simply a function of the inequitable distribution of food and other basic life necessities.” It was Hepburn’s principle as well.
“Taking care of children has nothing to do with politics,” she would say. “Politics has nothing to do with one’s helping a dying child. Survival, that’s what it’s about.111 ... I think perhaps with time, instead of there being a politicization of humanitarian aid, there will be a humanization of politics.”
She and Rob were “closet politicians” in many ways. During the Gulf War, while most Americans were tying yellow ribbons on their mailboxes and celebrating the fact that only seventy-five Americans died, Hepburn and Wolders were concerned about the enormous brutality and the real statistics—concealed by both Saddam Hussein and George Bush—that 150,000 Iraqis, mostly civilians and many of them children, were killed in the American bombings.
A week after that conflict began, Audrey and Rob attended a meeting of the UNICEF national committees in Geneva, where Jim Grant spoke optimistically about what could be done for Iraqi children once the war was over.
“He didn’t talk about the horror of the war or what the overall results might be from a historical perspective,” Wolders recalls. “We were aghast. It was as if he were talking about Grenada. Audrey was as close to depression as I’d seen her over the whole situation, and when it came her turn to speak, she said it was UNICEF’s duty to speak out against the injustices that caused such misery, and not simply to help out after the damage was done. There wasn’t a single person who didn’t come up to thank her. They thought there was something wrong with Jim for making no mention of the significance of the war, which we felt was going to interfere immensely with UNICEF’s work.”
In 1992, when asked to identify UNICEF’s single greatest problem, Hepburn’s one-word answer was, “War.” Currently, she said, “the developing countries spend about $150 billion on arms each year. Meanwhile, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council sell 90 percent of the world’s arms.”112
She was no figurehead ambassador. “The work Audrey does for UNICEF is imperative for us,” said Lawrence E. Bruce, Jr., the president of the United States Committee for UNICEF. Under Bruce’s leadership, the U.S. Committee had more than doubled its fund-raising revenue, from $18 million in 1985 to $46 million in 1992. Audrey was extremely fond of him.113
“He was very warm and generous,” says Jill Rembar, who worked for him for four years. “He had much to do at UNICEF, but Audrey always came first with him because she was so important to fund-raising, and because, personally, he just adored her.”
Bruce died at forty-seven, on Christmas Eve 1992, of AIDS.
Rembar remembers the video footage of Audrey’s first UNICEF trip with Bruce, to Ethiopia: “Audrey was walking around the refugee camps, reaching out to people. Emaciated babies, flies on their eyes. She’s picking them up, kissing them, without knowing what diseases they might have. I said to Rob, ‘It looks like Audrey didn’t care what was the matter with them. She had no thought for herself.’ Rob said, ‘Well, you’d be the same.’ A chill went through me. I thought, ‘I don’t think so.’ But that’s how he was—and that’s how she was, too.”114
THE HORROR OF SOMALIA was indelible. But, even so, it would be wrong to think that Audrey Hepburn saw only misery in her last years. “It wasn’t all heartache,” says Rob. “We weren’t endlessly traveling for UNICEF. We’d always come back to the haven at home. UNICEF took over a certain part of our lives, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t time for the other things we enjoyed. In the last year, we spent a great deal of time in Gstaad in the mountains, where Audrey had a small condominium-chalet. We had missed going there for a few years, but during that summer, Audrey was bursting with energy and we took walks that we had planned to take for years.”
Michael Tilson Thomas remembers one such occasion, just three weeks before she left for Somalia, when he visited Audrey in between performances with the London Symphony Orchestra on its tour of Switzerland:
She took an immense delight in having a quiet dinner with friends and saying, ‘Oh, it’s still light, let’s go for a walk’—a walk which was off the roads, down the cow tracks, up and down, over and across everything, very swift. Not exactly a leisurely stroll. She liked to move, very much appreciating each environment she came to—the smell of the flowers, the wonderful disorder of a harvested field—and she got you to appreciate it as well.
Those walks were wonderful. She talked about her friends and her concern for them, for me—was I working too hard? She was aware of the enormous pressure that people in ‘the business’ are under. She felt that even people who seemed to be perfectly fine were in danger psychologically. She was always looking at everyone and thinking, “Are you okay? Is there any way I can help?”115
Perhaps due to Thomas’s influence, she had undertaken a recording project of Saint-Saëns’s Carnival of the Animals and Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite for Dove Audio Tapes in May 1992—her last professional endeavor. The result was Audrey Hepburn’s Enchanted Tales, conducted by Lalo Schifrin and hailed by Publishers Weekly as “a perfect introduction to classical music.”116 Its proceeds went to the ASPCA.
“Audrey was a great cutup—very impish and playful,” says Wolders. “It’s a quality you find in children and in puppies, which might explain why she was so drawn to animals—and perhaps had more trust in animals than in human beings. Sometimes when she would show a great deal of love for someone on whom I felt it was wasted, I’d say, ‘Don’t you expect something in return?’ She would say, ‘No. My love for them doesn’t mean I expect anything back. It’s like with an animal.’ ”117
John Isaac recalled that, “no matter where we went, even in Bangladesh, she would say, ‘Oh, look at those pooches!’ She’d be reminded of her puppies at home. She loved animals, people, trees—she basically just loved life.”
The catalyst for her involvement with Carnival of the Animals was Roger Caras, president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. He had met her in 1991 when she flew in to New York to attend an ASPCA fund-raiser. Later, pianist Mona Golabek asked if he would put her in touch with Audrey for the Carnival recording, and he did. It would win a Grammy award. Caras’s fondness for her is boundless:
Her desire for privacy was very real. She didn’t want to live like Madonna. Once I walked down a hallway at the St. Regis Hotel with her, and in all my years working with the press, I’d never been so blinded. I’d never seen photographers jump on someone as when Audrey Hepburn walked in that room in New York City. She was on my arm and I had to steady her. About five hundred flash bulbs went off in our faces. They went crazy. I never saw that kind of adulation.
She had a quality I found in Eleanor Roosevelt. When Audrey said to you, ‘How are you, dear?’ she looked in your eyes and wanted an answer. It was not a form of salutation. It was a question from someone who cared. It was that one-on-one quality that electrified everyone. When Audrey was talking or listening to you, you possessed her totally and she possessed you. There were differences between her and Eleanor, but they both built instant bridges to anyone they were with. What they wanted was your soul.118
By SOME ACCOUNTS, Audrey first started to suffer from abdominal pain and colitis in the summer of 1992—before leaving for Somalia—but refused to heed her Swiss doctors’ advice to go in for tests and, once in Somalia, “kept clutching her stomach and wincing in pain.”119 Rob Wolders denies it: “We had no idea Audrey was sick when we went to Somalia. There were no warning signs of illness until we’d been back several weeks.”
It is true that, in some of the photographs, Audrey looks almost as thin as the starving children she is holding. But in her subsequent European and American press conferences, she appeared to be fine and there seemed no cause for alarm.
With Somalia behind, she had returned to Switzerland with Rob for a few weeks before setting off again for the United States in October to honor two long-standing engagements, one at the George Eastman House in Rochester and the other in New York two days later. Following that, they planned to spend ten days in the Caribbean on a much-needed holiday.
As she wanted to see Sean, they flew first to California for a short stay with Connie Wald. “The pain became intense in Los Angeles,” Rob recalls. “We rushed her to the doctor and she underwent every conceivable test. But they couldn’t find anything and they said it would be all right to travel. They knew it was important to us. Perhaps it shouldn’t have been that important.”
The events in Rochester, October 24 and 25, 1992, were rather more grueling than either she or Rob had expected. On the first evening, she met with the press at six o’clock—looking pained during the photo session—and attended a long dinner and social afterward, which began at eight and was still going on when she and Rob left much later in the evening.
She rallied the next night for the presentation of the Eastman Award, following a screening of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Aware that she was in some pain, Eastman director James Enyeart had proposed limiting the postfilm question-and-answer session to half an hour. It was agreed that Rob would give Audrey a sign when the half hour was up. She looked frail in her somber black satin Givenchy gown. But she got caught up in the spirit of the event, buoyed by a pleasant surprise midway and then by a series of intelligent questions on Somalia. When Rob signaled her that the half hour was up, she didn’t want to stop and kept going.
The surprise took the form of an old pal. A woman in the audience stood up and asked if Audrey remembered the gentleman sitting next to her. Audrey stared in amazement: “Yes, absolutely! Of course I remember you! My God, you haven’t changed a bit! Nick Dana, ladies and gentlemen, a fabulous dancer! We danced together in High Button Shoes in 1948! ... You were awfully good, flipping across that stage at the Hippodrome!”
Dana recalls that “Rob was crouched down the whole time on the side of the organ, checking on her, waiting to see if she got too weak.” But her adrenaline was flowing, and she was determined to make everyone happy and answer all the questions she could—including a nasty one from a man demanding to know why she had left the previous night’s event so quickly.
“Forgive me for leaving early last night,” she said, “but I’m still very jet-lagged.”
That was partly true. “She didn’t want to say, ‘I’m also in great pain,’ ” says Rob. “Nobody knew how ill she was—how could they? I didn’t, either. It was quite heroic what she did that night. They never had such a turnout and couldn’t accommodate everyone in the [Dryden] Theater. They had to use the ballroom, with a closed-circuit TV, and Audrey made it a point at the end to go to the other hall and greet the people there as well.”
The next day, a call came from the doctors in Los Angeles saying that the test results indicated Audrey had an amoeba. She was given a prescription—essentially, a massive purge—which made her feel so terrible that she stopped taking it after the first few pills. They went on to New York City, where she did several more interviews and accepted a Maria Casita Award from Ralph Lauren at the Plaza Hotel. In just twenty-four hours, they were to leave for Antigua. But her pain became so intense during dinner that they canceled the holiday and decided to fly back to Los Angeles for urgent medical attention.
The following morning on their way to the airport, despite her pain, Audrey insisted on stopping first at Larry Bruce’s apartment for a brief visit. He was dying, and she knew it.
GUILT AND hindsight go hand in hand.
“People said Audrey knew she was ill, but I absolutely know she didn’t,” says Anna Cataldi. “She had a routine checkup in August in Geneva, including a colonoscopy, before the trip to Somalia, and they said she was okay.”
Cataldi had her own Somalia assignment for Epoca magazine in Milan, and for the rest of August, she and Audrey spoke frequently on the phone about what they had to do to prepare:
“Audrey did all the vaccinations—even meningitis. I did only yellow fever and tetanus, but she did everything. If a person knows she’s sick, she would not go through all those vaccinations. Audrey led a healthy life, lived in the country, went to bed early. She was very careful. We were not protective enough towards her because she was always so healthy. People didn’t think there was any reason to worry about her.”120
At the beginning of October, Cataldi stopped by Audrey’s room in Nairobi’s Intercontinental Hotel to say farewell before she left Africa for her press obligations in Europe. “When I hugged her,” Anna recalls, “I was scared. I had a shiver. She said, ‘War didn’t kill me, and this won’t either.’ But I had the feeling that sooner or later, war kills you. She was so skinny. I felt something was really wrong.”
In their last conversation there, Cataldi recalls, “She told me what shocked her more than anything was Kismayu, because every child was dead. She said, ‘I have nightmares. I cannot sleep. I’m crying all the time.’ She had seen a lot of terrible things with UNICEF, but she broke in Somalia. I went back in a state of shock myself.”121 John Isaac, too, felt “it took a heavy toll on somebody as sensitive as Audrey,” adding that “I’m still recovering from Rwanda. I had to go for therapy. I couldn’t function. I was totally stunned.”
Cataldi claims Audrey’s beloved maid Giovanna “hated UNICEF” for its harmful impact on Audrey’s health. “Andrea Dotti also felt it was UNICEF’s fault in a way,” Cataldi says, “because when Audrey started to look bad, everybody just said, ‘Oh, she looks terrible because she is emotionally stressed.’ Robert once asked me, ‘Do you think I made a mistake in letting her go?’ I told him, ‘You didn’t make her go. She had a need to go. She would have gone even if she had known that she had only a year to go.’ She told me, ‘I have this obsession because of the children.’ ”
In a dark corner of the New York restaurant where she is recounting those last days, Anna Cataldi kneads her handkerchief and takes a minute to compose herself before concluding:
“I witnessed a human being—the famous Audrey Hepburn—at the moment she had everything she wanted. She finally had the right man. She had a beautiful home. She said, ‘I would like to take a year and enjoy my garden, my house, Robbie, my children.... I worked since I was twelve years old. Now it’s time to rest.”’
Audrey Hepburn’s drawing of an Ethiopian mother and child, 1990 UNICEF card.
Doris Brynner expresses a similar view:
“She certainly did her job. She did get everything a human being could do for UNICEF. It was even more physically exhausting than making movies and much more emotionally involved. Whenever she came back here to Switzerland, all she wanted was to stay at home. She was going to give up the United Nations. She was tired—emotionally and physically drained.”122
To Alan Riding of The New York Times Paris bureau, Audrey said, “I decided to do as much as possible in the time that I’m still up to it. Because I’m running out of gas.... I’ve done it on a constant basis because I know I cannot keep it up for long.”123