Biographies & Memoirs


Huckleberry Friend (1958-1962)

“Marilyn [Monroe] was my first choice to play Holly Golightly. I thought she would be perfect. Holly had to have something touching about her ... unfinished. [But] Paramount double-crossed me in every way and cast Audrey.”


FROM NYMPH TO NUN, SAID THE WAGS.1 MAKING THE NUN’S STORY was a daring decision both for Audrey Hepburn and for Warner Brothers in the year 1958. The narrative seemed better suited to documentary than to big-feature treatment. Moreover, the complex spiritual problems of its heroine were sure to disturb the Roman Catholic Church and many of the faithful. Some ecclesiastical officials charged that Hulme’s novel exaggerated and sensationalized such aspects of convent life as flagellation and that its “negative” ending reflected pejoratively on all nuns.

Two things were essential to pulling the film off: a director of great finesse, and the presence of Hepburn. She was the only major star with sufficiently credible “purity,” untainted by any scandalous behavior on- or offscreen.

Director Fred Zinnemann (High Noon, From Here To Eternity, Oklahoma!) would provide the finesse. The book had been sent to him by Gary Cooper, “who thought I might find it interesting. He was right. Unhappily, my enthusiasm was not shared by any of the studios.... But when Audrey said she wanted to do it the studios suddenly became intensely interested.”2 The only other candidate, Zinnemann revealed, had been Ingrid Bergman—but she failed the purity test.

Reports that Hepburn had hesitated due to the lack of a part for Mel Ferrer were false. Ferrer, in fact, had read The Nun’s Story first and recommended it with enthusiasm. “I particularly admired Fred Zinnemann,” he recalls, “and urged Audrey to play the nun, which changed the direction of her creative life.”3 Forever criticized, Mel never got credit for this instance—among others—of his positive career advice. His attitude was all the more generous considering that her casting in Nun’s Story complicated his own ambitious project with her, Green Mansions. The schedule was so tight that Audrey would have no break between two demanding productions in tropical locales, for which she was now taking an assortment of twelve shots against a host of diseases.

The previous great “Catholic film”—The Song of Bernadette, fifteen years earlier—had been uplifting and devoid of controversy. Kathryn C. Hulme’s Nun’s Story, on the other hand, was a bestselling novel that treated its religious material with respect but also with severe realism and a sad ending.

It was the true story of Belgian nun Marie-Louise Habets (“Sister Luke”), whose devotion is ever at war with her vow of obedience. She is sent to work as a nurse in the Belgian Congo, where her inner struggle unfolds through a series of medical crises and an intense relationship with the surgeon she serves. The backdrop is World War II and her moral dilemma is compounded by the question of whether to assist the Resistance after her father is killed by the Nazis.

The film, like the book, had to work simultaneously on multiple levels—dramatic, spiritual, political—with a disturbing relevance to Hepburn’s own war experience. Author and subject had met in 1945 at a UNRRA camp for displaced persons in Germany. One day, Hulme remarked on the long hours Habets spent at her nursing work. “You’re a saint, Marie-Lou,” she said, to which Habets reacted with great upset. “I was a nun once,” she later confided to Hulme, “but a nun who failed her vows.”

The two women became soul mates as well as housemates. Habets came to the United States in 1951, moved in with Hulme and worked in a Santa Fe Railroad hospital in Los Angeles, caring for Navajo track walkers, brakemen and porters. Nun’s Story had sold three million copies and been translated into twelve languages by the time film production began, when Zinnemann arranged for Audrey to meet the real-life Sister Luke at Hulme’s home near Los Angeles.

“She didn’t really want to meet me,” Habets later said. “She felt the story was too much of my private life. She just sat there and looked at me and didn’t ask any questions.”4

On subsequent visits, Hepburn got less tongue-tied and ended up working so closely with Hulme and Habets that people referred to them collectively as “The 3-H Club.” Audrey consulted the ex-nun on every detail of her character—from the proper donning of a habit to the correct kissing of a crucifix. Habets also familiarized her with an operating room and helped demystify the world of microscopes and Bunsen burners in a medical laboratory.

The presence of Hepburn allayed Jack Warner’s fears but not necessarily those of the Catholic church. She was not, after all, a Catholic herself, and the church was still sufficiently powerful in 1958 to hold up a multimillion-dollar production over a single line of dialogue, as Zinnemann recalled:

Two things about the project worried them. One was the fact that a professed nun would leave her order after seventeen years—it was not good for recruiting, as one Monsignor put it. The other problem was that we might be tempted to exploit the implicit attraction between the nun and the worldly, cynical, charming Dr. Fortunati....

All film companies approaching the Catholic Church for assistance are [assigned] someone—often a Dominican priest—to work with them. The Dominican Order ... is strong on dogma and not particularly flexible. In our case they were extremely thorough in scrutinizing our shooting script. They went through it line by line and objected, for instance, to a speech by Edith Evans: “The life of a nun is a life against nature.” Our advisers said, “You mustn’t say that. You have to say, ‘... a life above nature....”’ More than two hours were spent in discussion of that one word. We went back and forth without making progress until a Jesuit friend ... said, “Why can’t you say, ‘in many ways, it’s a life against nature’?” and so, with the Jesuitical addition of “in many ways,” into the screenplay it went.5

Zinnemann also needed to secure permission for Audrey to do more “homework”—and for the company to shoot—inside an actual nunnery. The bishop of Bruges had refused permission to film at Habets’s own Sisters of Charity convent in Ghent, but Warner agents negotiated the use of a similar French convent belonging to the Sisters of the Oblates d’Assomption, at Froyennes—in exchange for some hard, Hollywood cash. The mother superior also agreed to let Audrey stay there briefly for observation purposes.

Casting, by then, had been completed. Audrey had hinted that Ferrer could play Dr. Fortunati, says Warren Harris, but “Zinnemann pretended not to hear.”6 Several other candidates, including Yves Montand, declined the part on the grounds that it was too small. Zinnemann settled wisely on Australian actor Peter Finch, whose name and fee were smaller. Dame Edith Evans was perfectly cast as Mother Emmanuel, Sister Luke’s mother general in Belgium. Dame Peggy Ashcroft, Mildred Dunnock and Beatrice Straight would play the other key roles among the nuns.

Never before or after were the logistics of a film—far-flung locations in France, Italy and the Congo—so difficult for Audrey. From Day One, she fretted that delays in Nun’s Story’s shooting schedule would run into Mel’s start-up date for Green Mansions, and she couldn’t get a straight answer out of the studio. With the clock ticking, Zinnemann sent a red-flag cable to Warners: “We are courting disaster if Audrey left unaware of finishing date much longer. Will decline all responsibility for picture unless Audrey fully aware of true situation. Find myself increasingly unable to cope with endless uncertainty.”

Matters were complicated by various sublime and ridiculous snags. It was reported that Hepburn insisted a bidet be airmailed to her in Rome and thence to Africa. (She denied it: “How and where would you hook it up?”) What she wanted much more than a bidet was her dog Famous: The Italians were willing to fudge their quarantine rules, but the Congolese were not. Cables flew back and forth among officials on three continents, until Famous finally got his canine visa. Audrey hugged and kissed and fussed over him, and took him everywhere. Once when a car nearly ran over him, “she went crazy, screaming and crying,” recalls costar (and later film-biographer par excellence) Patricia Bosworth. “After her outburst, she locked herself in her dressing room until she had herself under control.”7 Fred Zinnemann thought the dog was an obvious child-substitute.

Actress Rosalie Crutchley, who played Sister Eleanor, remembered a chat she and Hepburn had after Crutchley’s young son and daughter visited the studio. “How fortunate you are,” Audrey said wistfully. “I do terribly want to have a child—more than anything else in the world. How have you managed to have children and maintain a career?” Crutchley’s reply was rather brusk: “unlike you, I am not a globe-trotting film star.”8

The real globe-trotting for Nun’s Scory had not yet begun. The “studio” was not in Hollywood but in Rome, where most of the interior photography would be done. In the Cinecittà Studios’ Experimental Center, set wizard Alexander Trauner designed an historically correct convent and chapel and perfect replicas of an early Michelangelo “Pieta” and other statues in Bruges. One advantage to filming in Rome related to obtaining the many other nuns required for Nun’s Story, as Zinnemann explained:

“As it was understood that real nuns were not to be photographed, we needed to find extras for the large complicated ceremonial scenes of walking in procession, kneeling, bowing and prostrating themselves—all more or less on cue; these women had to have special training. In the end, twenty dancers were borrowed from the ballet corps of the Rome Opera and were drilled by two Dominican nuns, one of them a university professor.”

Zinnemann took scrupulous care to see that all convent rituals were accurately rendered—literally “choreographed,” with the help of those dancers, in the chapel scenes.

“For the nuns’ close-ups,” he said, “faces of great character and personality were needed. We found them mostly among the embassies and the Roman ‘black’ aristocracy: a lot of principessas and contessas would turn up in their Rolls-Royces or Mercedes at five a.m. Dressed as nuns they looked marvelous.”

As of two weeks before shooting began, all the on-screen nuns were ordered to stay out of the sun, and makeup supervisor Alberto de Rossi emphasized the paleness of their skin and lips. His wife Grazia, again serving as Audrey’s hairdresser, was cleverly engaged to play the nun who cuts off Sister Luke’s hair at the beginning of her novitiate. (Contrary to legend, the hair she lops off is not Audrey’s own, but a wig.)9

Otherwise, Zinnemann chose not to cast many Roman Catholics in the film. “It seemed important to keep an objective approach to the work, without the emotional involvement a faithful believer would bring to it,” he said, and none of the leads relied on religion to create their roles. Most fascinating was Edith Evans’s approach to her part. She told Zinnemann she took the character of the Reverend Mother from a single sentence in the book: “Her back never touched the back of the chair in which she was sitting.” Evans held herself absolutely straight to show the gap between the chair’s back and her own, and built her whole character from that one physical trait.10

Audrey, by contrast, was building her character from the inside out. She began a regimen of simple, convent-type meals and a policy of not looking at herself in mirrors, which were forbidden to real-life nuns. When a makeup man turned on a phonograph one day during a break in shooting, she asked him to turn it off as “Sister Luke wouldn’t be allowed to listen to it.” The inward essence concerned her deeply. “There’s a man in the Congo I want to see, if I possibly can,” she told a reporter just before leaving Rome for Africa. “Albert Schweitzer.” 11

ON JANUARY 23, 1958, Hepburn, Zinnemann, Finch and company flew to the Belgian Congo in high spirits. In that pre-jet age, it took fourteen hours to get to Stanleyville, their headquarters for the next two months. Once they arrived, said Zinnemann, “Except for the occasional snakes in unexpected places, such as under breakfast tables, we lived quite comfortably in the Sabena Guest House on food flown in from Brussels twice a week.”12

What would Mel eat in her absence? Audrey—dutiful wife as well as dutiful actress—had not failed to take care of that. Before leaving for Africa, she had written out daily menus for the cook to prepare for him—breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even midnight snacks—during the months she would be away.13

Audrey’s own needs and demands were few. Other than the dog, “The only thing she requested in the Congo was an air conditioner,” says Zinnemann. “It was promptly sent from the studio in Burbank but did not seem to do much good. On closer inspection it turned out to be a humidifier.”14

Audrey recalled that “in the Congo, a cool day was 100, and the weather was often 130. [But] I didn’t swelter in my nun’s habit.... Actually, all that covering keeps the heat out.”15 Perhaps being thin also made the heat less oppressive for her than for others; Dame Peggy was out for two days with heat stroke. In any case, Zinnemann said he had “never seen anyone more disciplined, more gracious or more dedicated to her work than Audrey. There was no ego.... There was the greatest consideration for her coworkers.” She was taking on the characteristics of an actual nun—albeit Hollywood-style.

“Our ‘nuns’ carried make-up cases and smoked cigarettes between setups,” said Zinnemann. “The blacks who came to watch the shooting could not believe their eyes. Then someone said, ‘Of course, these are American nuns.’ And the blacks said, ‘Ah, yes, now we understand.’” 16

Highlight of the filming was the four days they spent with the celebrated British missionary Dr. Stanley Browne, shooting a sequence in his leper colony on an island in the middle of the Congo river. “Naturally,” said Zinnemann, “we asked [Dr. Browne] about the risks involved. ‘You have less risk of getting leprosy here than catching a cold in the New York subway,’ he said. After we had finished shooting he added, ‘Of course you have to understand that the incubation period for leprosy is seventeen years.”’ Dr. Browne was using the new sulfone drugs to stop the spread of, though not cure, leprosy. “Each year they were able to release a small number of people who were declared safe and were returned to their villages after a most moving ceremony which ended with everyone singing an anthem in their own language: English, French, Lingala and Swahili.”17 The tune to which they all sang their own words was the “Ode to Joy” of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, and when Audrey heard it, she wept.

Equally dramatic was the planned sequence in which three men are caught in quicksand on the banks of a raging river during a rainstorm. People along the water’s edge were to watch in horror as the men disappeared under the mud, Zinnemann recalled:

A good river was soon found, but the set—with three built-in lifts to show the men slowly sinking out of sight—would cost $40,000. In 1958 this was a staggering sum; Jack Warner wouldn’t hear of giving his okay. Finally, [producer Henry Blanke] had to fly with me all the way from the Congo to Hollywood, in order to persuade Warner of the enormous excitement of this scene....

On the day before shooting, we rehearsed the entire sequence, complete with lifts, wind machines and rainbirds. It all worked to perfection. But during the night the river fell by two feet; all the chicken-wire and cement holding together the “quicksand” was glaringly exposed.18

It was the $40,000 scene-that-was-never-shot. But of greater concern was the worsening political situation in the Congo, which was coming to the end of nearly a century of bitter Belgian colonialism. Racial tensions were palpable in Stanleyville, where a postal clerk named Patrice Lumumba would soon become premier—and soon after be murdered.

“There was a curfew for the blacks, who were not allowed in the European area after sunset,” Zinnemann recalled. “[One year later,] the Belgians would be driven out [and] very many of these extraordinary people were dead—killed in the revolution.”19

Exterior filming in the Congo was completed early in March 1958, but equally tricky were the interior sexual subtleties of the story—namely, the relationship between Sister Luke and the atheist doctor for whom she works. “He’s a genius—also a bachelor and an unbeliever,” she is warned in advance. “Don’t ever think for an instant that your habit will protect you.”

There could be no hint of a physical affair between the doctor and the nun, but Zinnemann felt Finch had the sex appeal to make audiences feel a powerful attraction anyway. Soon enough, there were rumors of a Hepburn-Finch affair—as there were rumors of an affair between Finch and every actress he ever worked with, including Vivien Leigh in Elephant Walk. Confirmed, rather than rumored, were his heavy drinking habits, cultivated from an early age in Australia. Audrey’s piety, in and out of her role, had nothing in common with Finch’s wild, womanizing ways—but made for a perfect complement to him on screen.

“His public image was no myth,” said Yolande Finch, his second wife. “He was a piss-pot and a hell-raiser, but he was also a happy drunk, a gigglebum and very, very good company.”20

Typical of Finch’s attachments was one formed on the Sabena airliner en route to the Congo: He was suddenly afflicted by a fear of flying to rival Erica Jong’s, finding relief only in close contact with a beautiful, six-foot Belgian stewardess named Lucienne Van Loop.21 She was regularly assigned to that flight, and they saw a lot of each other during Nun’s Story shooting. Finch said the reason for her frequent visits was “dental treatment,” although Stanleyville was not known to be a mecca of dentistry. Audrey, in one of her rare and charming off-color remarks, observed that, “If she keeps up at the present rate, she’ll be giving her Finchy a very gummy smile.”22

Finch, however, was always respectful of Hepburn. A certain Magistra monkey, on the other hand, was not. It was supposed to be Sister Luke’s beloved pet, but it gave Audrey a nasty bite on the right arm. Otherwise, location injuries were minimal.

Audrey’s serious medical trouble happened not in Africa but after the company returned to Italy for the conclusion of the marathon 132-day shoot. One midnight at the Hotel Hassler in Rome, she began to feel excruciating back pains, accompanied by vomiting and a urinary obstruction. Stoic as ever, she refused to call anyone she knew for help, not even Zinnemann and his wife, who were on the floor below. “We learned of her illness only the next morning,” said Mrs. Zinnemann. “She had telephoned the hotel doctor rather than disturb our sleep.”23

Partly due to dehydration in the Congo, she had a severe case of kidney stones. Her mother and husband immediately flew to be with her—Ella from London and Mel from Venezuela, where he’d been scouting Green Mansions locations. In an effort to avoid surgery, the doctors prescribed drugs and ordered bed rest. Filming continued around her until the treatment achieved its results—successfully—without requiring an operation.

“Someone said that kidney ailments are even more painful than childbirth,” said Audrey at the time. “Now I’m perfectly prepared to have a dozen children.” 24

Zinnemann shielded her from the bombardment he was getting from Warner production chief Steve Trilling, who thought Audrey was dogging her recovery and who kept cracking the whip for work to resume—in the same Roman studio where Ben-Hur was being shot on an adjacent sound At any rate, by April, Hepburn was back on the Nun’s Story set in good shape.

The film’s most shocking scenes take place in a grim, Marat-Sade type of insane asylum in Belgium—groaning women in cells and bathtubs, shot in semi-documentary fashion. There, Sister Luke is nearly killed when she disobeys orders and opens the cell of a patient who yanks her inside and attacks her. It’s a fierce struggle, and Audrey was only recently over a debilitating illness. “We’d provided a double for that fight,” Zinnemann says, “but she wouldn’t hear of it.”25 Hepburn insisted on playing the scene herself and took instruction from the double in how to wrestle without tearing a ligament—in full nun’s robes. The credible violence of that sequence is riveting.

Credibility was important to Zinnemann in every way, particularly in his visual aspirations for the film:

“I dearly wanted to shoot the European parts in black and white and then, when Sister Luke arrives in the Belgian Congo, to burst out into all the hot, vivid, stirring colors of Central Africa. Jack Warner vetoed it; he thought it was too tricky and too far ahead of [the] popular imagination.”26

The director’s consolation was Austrian cinematographer Franz Planer, who had photographed Audrey in Roman Holiday and whose style was perfectly suited to the somber formality of The Nun’s Story. Planer’s splendid ethnographic footage of Congo village life much enhanced the production.

Zinnemann had lost the black-and-white visual battle, but he would win a major audio victory. There was great internal studio dispute over composer Franz Waxman’s score:

What I didn’t know was that Waxman had a strong dislike of the Catholic Church. When we listened to his music it sounded like the background for the dungeons of The Count of Monte Cristo. I decided not to use very much of it. Franz was outraged and complained to Jack Warner. The wrangle centered on my wish to have absolute silence at the end of the film as the nun changes into her civilian clothes and walks out of the convent door....

“Why don’t you want music at the end?” Warner asked. I answered, “Why do you want music at the end?” “Because every Warner Brothers picture has music at the end,” replied Jack. I said, “If you have festive music you are saying to the audience, ‘Warner Brothers congratulates the nun on quitting the convent.’ If the music is heavy, the audience will be depressed; I don’t see how you can win.” Audrey was allowed to make her exit in silence.27

In that chilling final scene, which contains not a word of dialogue, Luke removes her robes, a buzzer pops open a door, and she leaves the convent without ceremony or farewell of any kind. She is being cast out literally, and through the open door, the camera tracks her slow trek down a brick lane and the moment’s hesitation before she makes a right turn. It is a sad, stark, beautiful downer of an ending, devoid of any false hope.

The ending was silent, but Warner music executive Rudy Fehr, who accompanied Audrey to the first sneak preview of The Nun’s Story in San Francisco, remembers the overall resolution of the sound-of-music controversy a bit differently:

Franz Waxman had researched Bach and Handel and recorded a beautiful score. At the preview, little did he know that 80 percent of the music was out of the picture. He was furious. We had a meeting at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco with Steve Sterling, who represented Jack Warner, and Franz was shaking. He said, “I protest! I’ve never been treated so badly. I worked so hard on this!” Then all of a sudden, the head of the publicity department walks in with the preview cards, where people write down their reactions. He went right up to Franz and said, “Franzie, where was the fucking music?” [Later,] Jack Warner said, “Rudy, I leave it in your hands. Put in what you think is right.” I put all but 15 percent of it back in. A beautiful score.28

Indeed, the stark, melancholy Waxman music merged with all the other elements of Nun’s Story to perfect effect, and chief among those elements was Audrey Hepburn. During six months of shooting, she seemed to be living out her selfless role whether the cameras were rolling or not. Once, when water finally arrived after the cast was stranded for hours in the broiling sun, she poured out cupfuls for thirty natives, leaving none for herself. But not everyone was favorably impressed.

“It’s that princess bit again—be a shining example to the populace,” said one observer on the set. “Having chosen her noble role, [she] plays it to the hilt, as any superb actress should. Yet her determination to carry it off—even to the extent of suffering unnecessary personal pain—causes one to wonder why she does it.”29 Audrey’s explanation was disarmingly honest: “I’m afraid that my strenuous advance preparation is part of my obsessive worry that I won’t be ready.”30

She was ready enough in the opinion of Marie-Louise Habets and Kathryn Hulme, who saw an uncut version that ran nearly four hours. “It was too overwhelming,” said Habets. “I’m never going to see it again because if I do I’m going to run right back to the convent.... I could just sit there and cry my eyes out, not with regret, but because of the beauty of it. It is a beautiful life, the religious life, if you ... can accept it without murmuring all the time.”31

It was said that no matter how outwardly serene a nun might be, her soul remained a battleground until she died. The Nun’s Story chronicled such a battle with restraint and compassion. American Film called it “among the most transcendent of films.” 32 Britain’s Films & Filming cited the “wisdom” of Audrey’s performance as “more profound than that of any other character Hepburn has played.”33 The story of Sister Luke was “not a crisis of faith, but a crisis of worthiness,” said Zinnemann, who marveled at “the fine, firm line of development” of Audrey’s portrayal. He compared her favorably with that other beautiful, fragile actress he loved, Grace Kelly—the strength of Hepburn’s self-possession versus the weakness of Kelly’s self-doubt.

“I think Audrey was much more comfortable with Sister Luke than with other parts,” says Rob Wolders. “It was the story of a woman who investigated life, who was constantly on a search, as Audrey was.” It was not about “a woman who wants to be herself,” said critic Stephen Whitty, but about “a woman who wants to be a saint. Whether she’s holy, or wholly neurotic, is up to you.”34

Her husband was her biggest fan. Mel Ferrer is still awed, today, at the way she accomplished it “with very little of her face showing ... by showing so little.” 35 She had no big-name leading man or high-fashion designers to help her out, and precious few speeches. With her hands and body hidden for most of the film, she had to rely almost entirely on her eyes. “Large and luminous, they become a window to her doubt,” wrote Whitty. “They draw us so completely into her world, and to her character, that her self-torture becomes wrenching.”

The increasingly dark circles under those eyes seemed etched by pain, not makeup, so much so that it’s a shock at the end when Sister Luke becomes Gabrielle again, removing her habit to reveal her hair for the first time since the story began—but not quite enough of a shock, in the director’s opinion:

“In retrospect I can see this is where I slipped up. When Audrey takes off her nun’s habit, the passage of seventeen years is not clearly enough suggested. [There is] hardly a strand of gray hair when she shakes it free from the confining wimple.”36

Zinnemann was being polite: Such an important detail had not, in fact, slipped his mind. He had wanted her hair to be streaked with more gray, but Audrey opposed the idea—and won.

The studio was jittery about the picture’s release for a plethora of reasons and not at all certain of its success. “To say that Warners were not entirely happy with the film would be an understatement,” said Zinnemann. “They thought it would flop. Well, they said, maybe Audrey [would bring] some people in.”37

She did, indeed. Nun’s Story opened at Radio City Music Hall on July 18, 1959, and made more money for Warners than any of its previous films. It cost $3.5 million and grossed more than $6 million then—and much more since. Hepburn was named Best Actress of 1959 by the New York Film Critics and its British equivalent. “Her performance will forever silence those who have thought her less an actress than a symbol of the sophisticated child/woman,”11 said Films in Review. “Her portrayal of Sister Luke is one of the great performances of the screen.”38

Nun’s Story won none of the eight Oscars for which it was nominated. Audrey was a candidate for Best Actress (her third nomination in six pictures) as was Katharine Hepburn for Suddenly Last Summer-rival nominees for the first time. Both Hepburns lost to Simone Signoret for Room at the Top, and MGM’s epic Ben-Hur swept away the competition in virtually every other category.

Zinnemann later proposed a flippant alternate title: “I Kicked My Habit.” But Audrey always maintained a respectful tone about the film. At the moment, she was issuing carefully phrased denials to reports that she was converting to Roman Catholicism. “I have been educated in the Protestant faith and shall remain Protestant even though I have great respect for those who profess the Catholic faith,” she told the (highly disappointed) Italian news agency Italia.39

Sister Luke in Nun’s Story was the subliminal genesis of a real-life role she would play in Africa three decades later. “After looking inside an insane asylum, visiting a leper colony, talking to missionary workers, and watching operations, I felt very enriched,” she said. “I developed a new kind of inner peacefulness. A calmness. Things that once seemed so important weren’t important any longer.”40

SHE WOULD NEED all the inner peace and external energy she could muster for the next project, which came so fast on the heels of Nun’s Story that it ended up in front of it: Green Mansions-either the great disaster or the “lost masterpiece” of the Ferrers’ joint efforts in film.

Zinnemann very much wanted to work with Audrey again. He offered her the lead in a proposed movie of James Michener’s epic Hawaii.an41 But in June, before the Nun’s Story set was cold, she and Mel flew from Rome to Hollywood for their “leftover” commitment from Funny Face: For loaning out that musical property and certain key artists to Paramount, MGM was owed an Audrey Hepburn picture—with Mel Ferrer as director.

It was one of the shrewdest bargains the Ferrers ever struck. Though his three previous efforts had not been hits, Mel still longed for success as a director. But the vehicle he chose had some inherent rust: a turn-of-the-century utopian novel by W. H. Hudson, Green Mansions: A Romance of the Tropical Forest. It was the tragic romance of Rima, mysterious “bird girl” of the South American forest, and the adventurer who invades her world.

When Ferrer first read it at Princeton, it made a profound impression on him. For years he had dreamed of turning it into a film, more so since marrying Audrey, who conformed to his own and Hudson’s vision: Rima was the feminine symbol of innocence, a victim of male greed and lust. She was much like Ondine, only from the jungle instead of the sea—a delicate Tarzana. But she faced a long, hard journey from the page to the screen.

RKO had bought the screen rights to Green Mansions a quarter century earlier, hoping to ape the success of King Kong. Dolores Del Rio was to star, but the plan fell through and the rights were acquired by MGM in 1945 for a proposed musical version starring Yma Sumac. In 1953, Alan Jay Lerner was asked to prepare a Green Mansions script as a vehicle for Liz Taylor, to be directed by Vincente Minnelli, but it never materialized.

The film that did materialize, in 1959, opens with an unusual advance thank-you to the governments of British Guiana and Venezuela, where Mel and a unit of thirty spent several months filming background exteriors while Audrey finished Nun’s Story. Ferrer and his crew traveled 25,000 miles through pristine fog forests—and shipped back 250 tons of props, plants, tree-bark canoes, blowguns, and live snakes.

Totally enchanted, Ferrer wanted to shoot all the exteriors in those green and misty mansions of South America, but had to settle for Hollywood, where art director Preston Ames recreated an Indian village on twenty-five MGM studio acres. The reason was partly budgetary and partly due to Audrey’s health: Just after tough duty on Nun’s Story in Africa, it was too soon to hustle her straight back into the jungle on an even more remote continent.

Screenwriter Dorothy (Pal Joey) Kingsley stuck close to the novel: Abel (Anthony Perkins) escapes into the interior from the Caracas revolution in which his family has just been massacred. Ignoring his Indian guides, he enters a “forbidden” village with revenge and gold-lust in his heart. There, Chief Runi (Sessue Hayakawa) and brave Kua-ko (Henry Silva) test Abel’s courage, as he tests theirs by nearly talking them to death in a language they don’t understand. (An ongoing linguistic suspension of disbelief is required by this film. No accent is like any other; all, of course, are speaking the lingua franca of Hollywoodese.)

Abel regards the Indians with fine racist contempt: “However friendly they might be towards one of a superior race, there was always in their relations with him a low cunning.” But one day in the forest, he hears “a low strain of exquisite bird-melody, wonderfully pure,” unlike any sound he has ever heard. He spies a girl—“small, in figure slim, with delicate hands and feet.”

She is Rima the Bird Girl, a jungle princess who thwarts the native hunters by roaming the woods to warn the animals. The resentful Indians plot to kill her and enlist Abel’s help. But he reconsiders when she saves him from a poisonous snakebite and takes him to the hut where she lives with her grandfather (Lee J. Cobb). There, she nurses his body and libido back to health. Rima is always near, yet elusive. Whenever Abel touches her, she becomes silent and constrained. He is intrigued by the idea that she might be one of an undiscovered race. Theirs is an innocent love, like that of Peleas and Melisande.

But when Abel mentions the precipitous mountains of Riolama, Rima is afire: “That is the place I am seeking!” It was the home of her dead mother, and she begs to be taken there. Her grandfather begs not to be taken: “Have mercy on me! It is so far—and I am old and should meet my death!” But Rima needs him as a guide and forces him, in a ferocious speech:

“Would he die—old grandfather? Then we could cover him up with palm leaves in the forest and leave him.... Shall you die? Not until you have shown me the way to Riolama.... Then you may die, and ... the children and the grandchildren and cousins and friends of all the animals you have slain and fed on shall know that you are dead and be glad at your death.”

Hepburn lacks true ferocity but looks great through all the perils and hardships and shrunken heads on the way to Riolama. Scampering about in her bare feet, she manages to keep her single forest frock clean and pressed the whole time. This is surely the lowest costume budget for a Hepburn film ever.

At Riolama, Abel steals a kiss from her unconscious lips, thus ending her illusions by opening her heart to love. But however much he might love her, he can never fully understand her. She goes off alone and is tracked down by her Indian enemies and chased into a tree—which the natives set aflame. It is an apotheosis and martyrdom like Joan of Arc’s: Director Ferrer elevates her, once and for all, from princess to goddess.

Depending on one’s mind set, this was either a beautiful morality tale or the most bizarre, idealized malarkey. Mel thought the former. Audrey not only agreed with him but also “lived” the part of the pantheistic nature girl. Animal lover that she was, her favorite costar was the dappled fawn that accompanies Rima everywhere. But fawns are temperamental and nervous. Producer Edmund Grainger conferred with Clarence Brown, director of The Yearling, who said the only way to handle one was for the actress to adopt it right after birth and raise it as her own baby. Soon enough it would believe Audrey to be its mother.

MGM duly bought a four-week-old fawn at Jungleland, a children’s outdoor zoo in Los Angeles. When it arrived, with its huge eyes and skinny legs, everyone thought it looked remarkably like Audrey. From then on, everywhere that Audrey went, the fawn was sure to go—including the supermarket and beauty parlor. It had to be bottle-fed every two hours, and Audrey often had to interrupt a scene or a conference to rush off and give a bottle of warmed goat’s milk to “Ip”—so named by Audrey because of the “ip ip” sounds he made when hungry.

Ip and Famous, her Yorkshire terrier, soon formed a working partnership: Ip would take the laces out of shoes and give Famous the leather to chew on. Ip also had a fondness for electrical cords, and to keep him from electrocuting himself, Mel and Audrey had to disconnect all their lamps.42

“For two and a half months it lived in our house,” said Mel (see photo 27). “It ate its bowl of pabulum with us in the dining room, and at night it slept in our bathroom. It got so it actually thought Audrey was its mother; professional animal trainers were amazed at the way it followed her around.”43

Professional viewers were amazed at the way the camera followed Audrey around—and how it rendered her face: Green Mansions and Ben-Hur were the first two movies to be filmed in Panavision, a new wide-screen process devised to one-up CinemaScope, Todd-AO and VistaVision. Hepburn had disliked the way CinemaScope exaggerated her angular features. Panavision fixed that by means of an anamorphic lens, and soon outpaced CinemaScope as the industry’s standard. Its inventor, Robert E. Gottschalk, recalled the excitement at the first rushes: “The people in the projection room—Audrey and Mel among them—all broke out in spontaneous applause.”44 Gottschalk, ever after, would credit Audrey’s “square face” for Panavision’s success.

Many had predicted trouble on the set between Mr. and Mrs. Ferrer, working together as director and star for the first time. But Audrey’s sheer professionalism disappointed the naysayers. It was lights-out at ten, said a friend, “and more frequently than not she is in bed by eighty-thirty or nine p.m. reading until her ten o’clock curfew”—Dr. Zhivago, at the time. She also made it clear that she “knew her place” from the start.

“Mel won’t have any trouble with me,” she said. “I like being directed. I don’t know what to do myself. Of course, there are certain things on the set that I have an instinct about. What I do worry about is that I might hesitate to suggest something because I wouldn’t want him to think that I’m interfering. Any contribution of mine would be minimal, but sometimes one does think of something, you know.”45

It sounds painfully servile now, but it was how she truly felt then. Throughout the making of the film, she was as conscientious a wife at the studio as she was at home, according to photographer Bob Willoughby, who shot her at both places: “If the prop man forgot to bring Mel his morning orange juice, she brought it herself. In the afternoon she’d bring him tea and cookies. I think she’s the wife of every man’s dreams.”46

Some members of the crew were so unhappy with Ferrer’s direction that they threatened to walk off the set. Audrey, on the other hand, “often did things she knew were wrong just because he told her to,” says Willoughby. “No matter how idiotic the directions that Mel would give her, while all the other people on the set were rolling their eyes, she would carry them out perfectly, beautifully, without a hint of disagreement, in an effort to help him save face.”47

One friend said her desire to win admiration from her husband was part of her desire to win admiration from everyone; she was too good to be true: “Someday she’ll prove it by finally revealing herself to be like the rest of the human race, both good and bad. When she does, there may be an explosion, but she’ll be a lot happier than she is now.”48

Maybe, maybe not. In any event, she certainly won admiration from her choreographer. Mel hired brilliant Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos to create the score for Green Mansions and the great Katherine Dunham to stage its dances—and to coach Audrey.

“I taught her a number of things to help her get into the atmosphere,” recalls Dunham. “She had such a wonderful sense of her body and movement. Technique is a way of life—it’s holistic—and she was a holistic person. That film allowed her to have a lot of exposure in a natural setting, and she fit into it practically without direction. I remember feeling that I’d love to have had her as a dancer to handle.”49

Dunham’s main choreographic task in the film involved a rite-of-passage ceremony with Henry Silva and the other “Indian” men: Silva’s chest is covered with honey and he must wear a “vest” of stinging bees to prove his manliness. That sado-masochistic ritual ends with one of Dunham’s most orgiastic male dances—a kind of aboriginal, aberrational bachelor party.

“It was a very exotic film for its day,” she says today. “I wasn’t terribly happy with the director, but it was none of my business. As in other films that I did, the director seemed to feel competitive about the dance sequences because they were out of his control to some extent. It happened also on The Bible: I thought John Huston and I were in agreement about things, but somehow, a lot of the dance was left out.”

Dunham thought Hepburn had a hard time working under Ferrer: “I felt that he was not terribly sympathetic to her.” But Audrey herself declared otherwise : “Before we began, many friends asked me how such an artistically touchy situation would turn out.... I can say it was pleasantly uncomplicated. I found that being directed by Mel was as natural as brushing my teeth.”50

She also professed delight with Anthony Perkins as her leading man—the first of her film career to be close to her own age (he was three years younger). Perkins was one of Hollywood’s rising new male stars in the wake of his fine performances in Friendly Persuasion (1956) and Fear Strikes Out (1957). Forced to sing “The Song of Green Mansions” (accompanying himself on the guitar), he did well enough. But his sexual ambivalence—on—and offscreen—did not make for passionate celluloid. Perkins was too quirky and high-strung—as if anticipating Norman Bates in Psychothe next year—to be a convincing lover opposite such an ethereal sprite as Hepburn.

How did it feel to have her husband tell another man how to make love to her?

“Uninhibited,” said Audrey. “For the first time in my career, I’ve lost my shyness.... Love scenes have always been difficult for me. But with Mel directing and leading Tony and me through the emotional passages, everything’s fallen into place.”51 Indeed, regardless of the film’s ultimate success or failure, only under Mel’s direct view could she feel free enough to let herself go and attempt a “new,” sexier Audrey Hepburn.

Green Mansions was completed in November 1958 and premiered at Radio City Music Hall in Easter Week of 1959—before Nun’s Story, which had wrapped much earlier but was not released until July. Much to the Ferrers’ distress, Mansions did not pan out with either the critics or the public—and Mel . got the blame.

“If Miss Hepburn won’t change husbands, or directors,” said one critic who particularly hated the color photography of Joseph Ruttenberg, “she at least owes it to her public to change her brand of toothpaste. In Ferrer’s fiasco, she looks as if she had been given an overdose of chlorophyll.... The whole thing has an appalling greenish patina that makes it look as if it had been filmed in a decaying parsley patch.”52

Variety said it was “likely to confuse those who haven’t read the book and irritate those who have.” Cue thought it “a mawkishly absurd burlesque of a jungle alfresco romance.”

But a significant minority was favorable. “Hepburn’s doe-like grace probably comes closer to a real-life Rima than we have any reason to expect,” wrote Arthur Knight in Saturday Review. British critic Simon Brett was positively rhapsodic, ranking it as something of a lost masterpiece:

“It is remarkable that it came to be made at all in the year Hollywood produced I Want to Live, The Big Country and Gigi. [Ferrer has] a control, of space and of movement in space, and a taut skill in telling the story in terms of action with the minimum of dialogue. Audrey Hepburn is Rima in the same way that she was Ondine.” Brett felt it marked the end of the first phase of her career: “Rima was her most complete, indeed an almost abstract, symbol of innocence, and in a sense her last.”53

The “maligned masterpiece” view, however, is disputed by Audrey’s later friend and Lincoln Center Film Society director Wendy Keys: “It was obviously a gesture to please Mel Ferrer, and she put all the effort into it that she put into everything. But Green Mansions does nothing to make me believe he had a sense of anything as a director. It’s a miserable piece of work.”54

Green Mansions failed to recoup its $3 million investment and put an end to the professional teaming of Audrey Hepburn and Mel Ferrer once and for all. In a way, it was fortunate to have been eclipsed quickly by the much better and more ballyhooed Nun’s Story, whose delayed release by Warners helped limit the damage. But Mansions’ failure was a bitter blow to Mel—the last nail in his coffin as a director-producer. He never directed another Hollywood film.

For all that and the lumps he took, Ferrer is gracious about it today: “Directing Audrey was a delight. It was more a matter of trying to present Audrey at her grave and touching best than directing her. She knew what she felt. Revealing it was my job. Perhaps I did not do it well. But Rima remains alive for me, and the film was a creative effort we were all glad we tried.”55

MEL WAS ALWAYS keenly interested in his wife’s personal as well as professional welfare. Her extreme slimness was a career asset but also a concern: Though generally healthy, she was ten or fifteen pounds underweight and tired easily—not for lack of nutrition, she insisted. She ate what she wished and did not preserve her figure by dieting, said Audrey.

Yet with food, as all else, she practiced strict discipline and in a sense dieted every day of her life. It would later be claimed that she suffered from anorexia or bulimia (see Chapter 9, pp. 303-4), but Mel Ferrer categorically denies it:

“Audrey never had an eating disorder. She was always very careful about her diet, did not drink alcohol except an occasional glass of wine with dinner, and avoided desserts. She chose her diet as a dancer would: plenty of protein and lots of vegetables and salads. She ate sparingly and rarely splurged. But we did have a yearly feast of caviar in a baked potato.”56

When cooking for guests, she could turn out such gourmet treats as egg in aspic, rolled stuffed veal or a Dutch apple torte. But her private diet was indeed simple, as the press’s obsessive coverage of her at the time confirms. “She always eats the same breakfast,” reported Good Housekeeping in 1959, going on to itemize “two boiled eggs, one piece of seven-grain whole-wheat toast from a health-food store, and three or four cups of coffee laced with hot milk. Her lunch consists of cottage cheese and fruit salad or of yoghurt with raw vegetables. For dinner, she has meat and several cooked vegetables.”57

Five years of near-starvation in Holland left her with a passion for sweets that she still had to fight. “I have seen her resist the most tempting dessert to guard against one inch more on her extraordinary size eight,” said her friend Radie Harris.58 Said Audrey herself: “I’m glad I like sweet things—I expect I’d be tubercular if I didn’t. But if I ate all I wanted, it just wouldn’t do. I’m getting better. Now if I get a box of good chocolates, it will last awhile, maybe for two hours. I used to eat them all without stopping until every last one was gone.... I guess it’s a basic form of insecurity.”59

There was clearly a deep ambivalence in her attitude toward food, stemming from her childhood. “When you have had the strength to survive starvation,” she would say, “you never again send back a steak simply because it’s under-done.”

These days, under Mel’s watchful eye, Audrey’s life was as prudent and safe as possible, though he could not insulate her from every danger. After years of reluctance, she now decided to learn how to drive. But soon after getting her license, she crashed into a parked car containing actress-dancer Joan Lora, twenty-two, who suffered neck and back injuries and sued her for $45,000. Reports that Audrey had been drinking or driving on the wrong side of the road were false and, in the end, Lora was awarded just a tenth of what she asked—$4,500. But Audrey was bitterly upset and vowed never to get behind the wheel of a car again.

A much worse accident was in the offing.

THE UNFORGIVEN was Audrey Hepburn’s first and last Western—and one of the darkest and most peculiar of all time. It was a product of Hecht-Hill-Lancaster Productions (an independent company co-owned by actor Burt Lancaster, producer Harold Hecht and writer James Hill), which had a growing reputation for bold, socially relevant pictures. Their Marty, a few years before, had swept the Oscars for Best Picture, Director and Screenplay.

The Unforgiven, under John Huston’s direction, was expected to be in that league. It concerned the deep, mindless prejudice against Indians in frontier Texas, and Huston wanted to make a major statement. This was, after all, the early heyday of the American civil-rights movement. But United Artists and Burt Lancaster just wanted a box-office hit.

“I thought I saw in [Ben] Maddow’s script the potential for a more serious—and better—film than either he or Hecht-Hill-Lancaster had originally contemplated,” said Huston. “I wanted to turn it into the story of racial intolerance in a frontier town, a comment on the real nature of community ‘morality.’ [But] what they wanted was what I had unfortunately signed on to make in the first place—a swashbuckler.... This difference of intention did not become an issue until we were very close to shooting time, and quite mistakenly I agreed to stick it out, thus violating my own conviction that a picture-maker should undertake nothing but what he believes in.... From that moment, the entire picture turned sour. Everything went to hell.”60

Huston never confirmed or denied the claim that he took on The Unforgiven to fill the time while Arthur Miller polished up the script for his next (and more important) film, The Misfits. In any case, The Unforgiven had a huge budget for a Western—nearly $6 million. Three hundred thousand dollars alone went into the construction of an 1860 pioneer sod home replica that might have cost $150 originally. Audrey’s salary was $200,000, and not everyone thought she deserved it. “She is not an actress, she is a model, with her stiff meager body and her blank face full of good bone structure,” wrote Dwight MacDonald at the time. “She has the model’s narcissism, not the actress’ introversion.”

Her director disagreed. “She’s as good as the other Hepburn,” Huston declared. This was drama, not melodrama. Audrey’s role in The Unforgiven, in fact, represented a big departure from her previous princesses and saints: an adopted Indian girl entangled not only in the violence and racial nightmares of frontier Texas but, simultaneously, in an incestuous relationship with her brother (Lancaster).

Since Texas no longer resembled itself in the 1860s, Huston decided to film in Durango, Mexico, which retained the primitive look of the early Lone Star panhandle. But at Durango’s Casablanca Hotel, where the cast was ensconced, there was some tension. Audrey got along with everybody, but Lillian Gish, playing her mother, developed an intense dislike for costar Audie Murphy. He was then under a serious charge of cattle rustling that required studio influence and the full manipulation of Murphy’s World War II hero status to overcome. He also nearly drowned one day in a boating accident on a nearby lake.

Murphy had escaped disaster by inches. Audrey did not. On January 28, 1959, she attempted to ride bareback on a white stallion, aptly named Diablo and formerly owned by Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Determined to do all her own riding in the film, she had firmly rejected the idea of a stand-in, despite her lack of equestrian experience. For hours, she practiced riding around a corral and did well enough for Huston to make some preliminary shots. Mel Ferrer takes up the account from there:

“[As she was] cantering toward the cameras, they decided to retake the scene and stopped the cameras. A horseman was sent out to tell her to ride back slowly. Arabian stallions are very fiery animals. This one saw the other horse coming, stopped short and threw his head down. Audrey had nothing to hold on to and was pitched over the stallion’s head.”61

She landed on her back, before the horrified eyes of the company, including Huston and Lancaster, who rushed toward her with three wranglers to get the horses under control. Before fainting, she had the presence of mind to joke to Lancaster, “I had to do something to get out of this hellhole.”62

She was sure her back was broken but was far more concerned about her unborn baby—as yet a secret from the world—and about Mel’s reaction. He was doing promotional appearances in New York for Green Mansions and a guest shot on What’s My Line? When informed, he immediately flew to Durango, where he found her in capable hands at the local hospital but horribly afraid she might be paralyzed. “I’d hate to see her become another Susan Peters,” said Burt Lancaster, with some lack of tact—referring to the rising young film actress who was injured in a 1944 hunting accident and never walked again.63

Mel sent for Dr. Howard Mendelson, Audrey’s Hollywood physician, who confirmed what the X rays showed: four broken vertebrae, torn muscles in her lower back, and a badly sprained foot. Dr. Mendelson arrived with none other than Marie-Louise Habets—the real-life Sister Luke—who took personal nursing charge of Audrey. “Sister Lou” persuaded her to return on an ambulance plane to California on February 2 and nursed her for the next month, tending to her injuries and salving her conscience for holding up production of the film.

“In thirty years of experience, I never before had a patient like her,” said Habets. “She refused all narcotics and sedatives, and despite her pain she never once complained.”64

Audrey bore her recuperation with regal stoicism indeed. She wrote more than one hundred thank-you notes to her well-wishers in the first two weeks alone, prompting journalist Eleanor Harris to elaborate on the theme of her need for admiration: “Throughout each day, she strives ... to be a shining example of good character and good manners.” One friend provided an illustrative account of visiting her in the hospital:

She lay propped up in an immaculate bed in her immaculate bedroom.... She wore a snow-white Victorian high-necked nightgown. Her hair was pulled back mirror-smooth into a pony tail and tied with white ribbon to match the white ribbon on her beautifully groomed little Yorkshire terrier. Around the room stood white Limoges vases with white tulips and orchids.

I noticed that whenever she smoked a cigarette, she stubbed it out in a tiny white ashtray, then put the butt into a wastebasket beside her bed, wiped out the ashtray with a Kleenex, and dropped that too into the basket. Then she replaced the clean ashtray on her bedside table near the framed pictures of her husband, her four stepchildren, and, believe it or not, the horse that threw her. That picture, in a white leather frame, had the front position!65

Her attitude toward the stallion was typically benevolent. In her first phone conversation with Mel after the accident, she had said, ‘“Don’t get angry at the horse! It wasn’t the horse’s fault,”’ Ferrer recalled.66

The doctors assured them there was no danger of paralysis. Though there was some hemorrhaging, the fractures were clean breaks, no surgery was needed and there was little to do but let the hemorrhages drain and the fractures heal. She would have to complete the final work on the picture in an orthopedic brace.

She returned to Durango as she left it—on a stretcher—and was back on the set by March 10. Huston welcomed her with fireworks and a mariachi band, and together they reorchestrated her remaining scenes. There was no getting around the fact that, to match the shots made before the accident, she had to ride Diablo once more. But this time he was sedated, she was properly secured, and all went well.

Thirty-five years later, shortly before his death, costar Doug McClure (who played Audrey’s younger brother in the film) recalled being mesmerized by her on the set:

Audrey Hepburn as an Indian girl raised by a frontier family? It was odd because she had that slight English accent. But so many wonderful things were going on inside her, and she looked like such a little girl in Lancaster’s arms. I thought she played it very realistically. There was a lot of rewriting; between Hecht, Lancaster and John, I don’t think they ever really agreed on the ending....

I played chess with Audrey once. She asked me to come to her trailer. She didn’t have makeup on, and I hadn’t seen her without makeup—but those eyes! We played chess, and she didn’t really know how. We talked about her war experience, and she opened up a lot. I was twenty-three, with a bunch of very big stars. I never matched it later.67

Hepburn’s opening line of dialogue in the film requires her to say “ain‘t” for the first time on screen—or probably in her life. Chekhov’s Three Sisters longed for Moscow; Audrey and her Three Brothers long for Wichita—the symbol of civilization. Director Huston seems to be preparing for The Misfits: The violent horse-breaking scenes harbinger those of Clark Gable a year later. Here, the “code of the West” supplies an analogy for the sixties, and the film overall is so shocking as to be almost—but not quite—politically correct. “Red niggers, all of ‘em!” screams one character. Gish has a stunning “mad scene” in which she beats the horse out from under a lynching victim, for having revealed her adopted daughter’s Indian origin. And in the chilling climax, Lancaster orders McClure, his brother, to “Kill one!”, meaning an Indian—any Indian—deliberately provoking a massacre and the death of his own mother.

In the midst of the final siege, Audrey asks Burt if he would “fancy her” if he weren’t her brother. His answer takes the form of a passionate kiss. Her next move is to shoot and kill her real Indian brother outside.

When released in April 1960, The Unforgiven was compared by some to George Stevens’s Shane-a sincere “adult Western” delving into miscegenation. But it was mostly panned. Lillian Gish, who rarely uttered a critical word, would say “Audrey’s talent was never used properly in the film.” Stanley Kauffmann said it more brutally: “That Huston cannot get a good performance out of Burt Lancaster can hardly be held against him, but he has achieved here what no other director has ever managed: to get a really bad performance out of the lovely Audrey Hepburn.”

Huston felt that all the performances but Burt Lancaster’s were doomed from the outset. “Some of my pictures I don’t care for,” he said, “but The Unforgiven is the only one I actually dislike.... The overall tone is bombastic and overinflated. Everybody in it is bigger than life. I watched it on television one night recently, and after about half a reel I had to turn the damned thing off. I couldn’t bear it.”68

Many years later, Audrey privately confided that she took the picture seriously and was “very disappointed that Huston did not, and that he showed disdain for it.”69ao In any case, film historian Molly Haskell feels its erotic and emotional subtexts exemplified the Freudian implications of Audrey’s oeuvre overall:

In Hepburn’s films, a romantically overlaid incest theme, injecting a note of melancholy and unease, crops up over and over in the feverishly heightened love of father- and brother-surrogates. [In The Unforgiven), she and Burt Lancaster are raised as brother and sister only to discover that she is actually an Indian, brought up as white, so they are now free to love and marry, thus sealing an attraction that has been felt subliminally throughout the film.... Her frequent pairing with older men was a pattern that [many] were baffled by. She was fated, as Richard Corliss put it, “to be courted by most of Hollywood’s durable ... senior citizens.” The matching vulnerability was the point: where these stars might have looked ridiculous with lustier females, Hepburn rescued them romantically, both within the film and as stars on the decline....

This was the romantic heroine’s traditional vocation—to melt the man’s inhibitions, urge him on to a discovery of the forgotten parts of himself, including an awakening to love. But Hepburn’s compulsion to idealize involves an identification with the man bordering on the morbid.70

IN REAL LIFE, there was no such dark subtext with Audrey’s own two half brothers, who adored their glamorous little sister and kept in regular touch. Elder brother Alexander, his wife, Miep, and their children, Michael and Evelyn, traveled extensively for Bataafsche Petroleum (Shell), moving from Indonesia to Japan, then Holland, later Brunei and back to Japan again, remaining with Shell until his retirement in 1970. Currently, Alexander had a new two-year assignment to Congo-Leopoldville.

Brother Ian, too, was a one-company man for life. He, his wife Yvonne and their daughter, “Audrey II,” lived in Holland, where Unilever’s fast-growing personal-products division now included Pepsodent, Elizabeth Arden, Calvin Klein and Helene Curtis cosmetics, and various perfumes. Ian and family had recently paid a surprise visit to The Nun’s Story set in Rome, during which “Audrey I” made a big fuss over “Audrey II.”

There was never a problem with her brothers. But there was the complex, ongoing dilemma of her father. Around this time, her mother wrote her to say she had heard that Ruston died. “I was so distraught,” Audrey recalled. “I realized how much I cared.... I just couldn’t bear the idea that I wouldn’t see him again. Mel said, ‘Maybe it’s not true.’ ... He went about finding him, and discovered that he was still living in Dublin.”71

The joy and the pain of that news were about equal. “He had never tried to reach me, nor did he ever want to see me,” she said. “It is hard for children who are dumped. It tortures a child beyond measure.... I never saw him from the time he left when I was six. [But] at age thirty, I had this great need [and] I traveled to Dublin with Mel. My father was living in a tiny apartment, just two rooms.... He looked the way I remembered him. Older, yes, but much the same. Slim and tall. He was married to a woman some thirty-odd years his junior, almost my age.”72

Ruston would turn 75 that November. Audrey attributed their long separation to “his sense of discretion” and fear that his fascist politics and imprisonment might hurt her reputation. He was up to date on her fame and unsympathetic about her riding accident on The Unforgiven: “He had been a great horseman in his youth, and he said to me, ‘Of course you were a fool to ride a gray stallion.’ He was cross with me for riding a horse that I should have known was likely to throw me.”

From then on, she sent him a monthly check and took care of his every need for two decades, until he died in his nineties. “It helped me to lay the ghost [to rest],” she said.73

Audrey and Mel’s own little family now occupied her mind: She was a happily pregnant woman and, after completion of The Unforgiven, returned to Burgenstock for the duration of her term. But soon after, she miscarried again. “I blamed God,” Audrey recalled. “I blamed myself. I blamed John Huston. I was a bundle of anger and recrimination. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t have children. Mel and I were so much in love.”74

Ferrer called it “a tragedy” and said, “It has broken her heart and mine.” Audrey went into a deep depression. Her weight fell to ninety-eight pounds, and she was smoking three packs a day. In an effort to snap her out of it, Mel made her keep a commitment to do a six-city tour for the European release of The Nun’s Story in October 1959. After London, Stockholm and Paris, they went to Amsterdam, where her reception was more subdued than the 1954 mob scene that greeted her. Reporters found her looking tired from the heavy schedule, but she rose to the occasion and gave “clean Dutch answers” to various weighty questions, while Mel stood by and smiled uncomprehendingly.

Was it true that she cried in Stockholm because the authorities would not let her dog enter Sweden?

No, she hadn’t.

Was she afraid of a maniac in England who was said to be stalking her there?

No, she wasn’t.

Was she going to do another movie directed by her husband?

No, again.

The Nun’s Story premiere in Amsterdam was a benefit for the Dutch war-veterans alliance she had long supported. The last and most poignant event on her Netherlands agenda was a side trip the next morning to Doorn, site of the van Heemstras’ erstwhile “castle,” where one of the town’s streets was to be renamed “Audrey Hepburnlaan” in her honor. Amid much pomp and mountains of red roses, she “unveiled” the road that would bear her name. Veterans Alliance president W C. J. M. van Lanschot said it was originally to have been called “Audrey Hepburn Way,” but “way” seemed too modest and they upgraded it to “lane.”

She talked to the veterans a bit and then left. “Everybody was very emotional and happy,” said the local paper.75


EVERYBODY WAS HAPPY except Audrey. In the wake of the miscarriage, family and children were on her mind more than ever. “From the earliest time I can remember, the thing I most wanted was babies,” she said later. “My miscarriages were more painful to me than anything ever, including my parents’ divorce and the disappearance of my father.76 ... If and when [a baby] comes along, it will be the greatest thing in my life.”

In the meantime, she told a friend that Christmas, “I must work to forget. Only work can help me; holidays give me time to think, and that’s bad for me.”77 Almost in desperation, she turned back to her work. The Unforgiven had not helped her career, but neither had it inflicted any great damage. Living in the Swiss Alps left her relatively insulated from Hollywood’s self-absorbed obsession with the hits and failures of the moment.

For some time, negotiations had been under way for her to costar with Laurence Harvey in the forthcoming Alfred Hitchcock film, No Bail for the Judge. She would play a London barrister whose magistrate-father is wrongly accused of a murder she sets out to solve herself. Contracts had been drawn up and casting announced in the press, based on her approval of the initial script she had read. But late in the day, she learned that a new scene called for her to be dragged into Hyde Park and raped. It was typical of Hitchcock to humiliate the “pure” heroine—he would do it often, with Grace Kelly, Doris Day, Janet Leigh, Eva Marie Saint and Tippi Hedren. But Hepburn was notoriously squeamish about violence: She had been unable to watch Susan Hayward’s execution scene in I Want To Live and had allegedly fainted at the premiere of A Farewell to Arms during the scene in which Jennifer Jones dies in childbirth.78

“I think the reason I did not do the Hitchcock picture was there was another picture that was conflicting,” Audrey told Larry King years later.79 But that was a polite lie.

“Audrey didn’t even like to watch Hitchcock films,” says Rob Wolders. “She thought they were too cynical. When I asked her about this once, she said she had no recollection at all of any joint project. It seems to have been something her agent, Kurt Frings, was arranging on his own that got leaked prematurely.”

No Bail for the judge was first postponed and then canceled entirely, Hitchcock losing $200,000 in the process. By some accounts, he held Audrey responsible for backing out of the project and hated her for it. It was further said that his resentment against her was what motivated him to cast no major stars at all in his next film—a low-budget thing called Psycho that became the biggest box-office hit of his career.

Audrey declined some other historic film parts in 1959: The title role in Cleopatra eventually went to another Kurt Frings client, Elizabeth Taylor— perhaps luckily for Hepburn—while the female leads in Otto Preminger’s The Cardinal and Robert Wise’s West Side Story were taken by Carol Lynley and Natalie Wood. It had nothing to do with the roles: Audrey was pregnant again—and this time, no film work would jeopardize the child.

“Audrey is a mental wreck,” said a friend, even as she was ecstatically knitting baby clothes. Though refusing all picture deals, she did accompany Mel to Rome for the making of Roger Vadim’s campy horror yarn, Blood and Roses (1961), which had the look and feel of an Ed Wood film. Elsa Martinelli and Annette Vadim both try to seduce handsome Ferrer, who has precious little to work with in a vampire film without bite. Hepburn also joined Mel in France while he made The Hands of Orlac (costarring her old acting coach, Felix Aylmer), but otherwise stayed close to home, awaiting the birth of her baby.

His arrival came on January 17, 1960, at Lucerne’s Municipal Maternity Clinic. According to a delivery-room nurse, the thirty-year-old Audrey cried out, “Let me see my baby, let me see it at once. Is it all right? Is it really all right?” When told yes, she uttered a cry of relief and then promptly passed out. At nine and a half pounds, he was a big boy for such a diminutive mama. His parents named him Sean, an Irish form of Ian, meaning “Gift of God,” in honor of Audrey’s brother, who—with Mel’s sister, Terry—served as godparents. He was his father’s fifth child.

Sean was baptized in the same Bürgenstock chapel and by the same Pastor Maurice Eindiguer who had married Audrey and Mel six years earlier. The baby yelled heartily at that event, prompting Grandma Ella van Heemstra to quote the Dutch maxim, “A good cry at the christening lets the devil out!” Mother and son were then beautifully photographed by Richard Avedon in their Givenchy-designed christening clothes, and the U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, Henry Taylor, Jr., presented the baby with an American passport and a brand new fifty-star American flag.

“Like all new mothers, I couldn’t believe at first he was really for me, and I could really keep him,” Audrey said to a reporter from Look at the time. “I’m still filled with the wonder of his being, to be able to go out and come back and find that he’s still there.... I would like to mix Sean with all kinds of people in all countries, so that he will learn what the world is all about. He should take his own small part in making the world a better place. ”80

When he read those sentiments back in Hollywood, Alfred Hitchcock responded with icy irony: “Every word she said was pregnant with meaning.”81

Audrey’s joy was mixed with anxiety. She fretted about kidnapping and even about the effect the baby would have on her dog: “This may sound silly, but I took special pains to soften the blow to Famous’s self-esteem.” Mel’s self-esteem concerned her, too—if somewhat as an afterthought. “With the baby I felt I had everything a wife could wish for,” she said. “But it’s not enough for a man. It was not enough for Mel. He couldn’t live with himself just being Audrey Hepburn’s husband.”82

FOR MANY, the role Audrey Hepburn was “born to play” most of all was Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Years later, in her oddly restrained way, she called it “the one I feel least uncomfortable watching. But the two things I always think of when I see it are ( 1 ) how could I have abandoned my cat? and (2) Truman Capote really wanted Marilyn Monroe for the part.”83

Capote confirmed it:

“Marilyn was my first choice to play the girl, Holly Golightly. I had seen her in a film and thought she would be perfect for the part. Holly had to have something touching about her ... unfinished. Marilyn had that.”84

Capote had sold the film rights for $65,000 to producers Martin Jurow and Richard Shepherd for Paramount, and they hired George Axelrod to tailor the screenplay for Monroe. “She wanted it so badly,” said Capote, “that she worked up two whole scenes all by herself to play for me. She was terrifically good.” But Monroe’s dramatic advisor, Paula Strasberg, declared “that she would not have her play a lady of the evening.” After Monroe’s elimination, “Paramount double-crossed me in every way and cast Audrey,” said Capote. “She was just wrong for that part.”85

Holly was a latter-day Manhattan version of Sally Bowles—a cross, said Time, “between a grown-up Lolita and a teen-age Auntie Mame.” Holly’s agent calls her “a phony, all right—but a real phony!” She was really a hooker, but Axelrod converted her into a whimsical ingenue and Audrey found her “irresistible.” In October 1960, she left Sean in Bürgenstock with her mother and a nanny and flew to New York to begin filming. There, on Fifth Avenue, in her beehive hairdo, Givenchy gown and evening gloves, Holly sipped coffee from a plastic cup, munched a Danish, and broke the hearts of audiences around the world.ap

Director Blake Edwards’s big casting mistake was Mickey Rooney as Holly’s Japanese neighbor Mr. Yunioshi, complete with buck teeth—a portrayal worthy of the worst World War II racial stereotypes. But George Peppardwas an attractive Paul, the aspiring novelist with whom Holly falls in love, and Patricia Neal was superb as Paul’s “patroness” and Holly’s rival. Neal has piquant memories of making the film:

I had only one scene with Audrey, but she was quite friendly and even invited me to her house for supper. Mel was very strict with her during production, so it was one drink, a light meal and good night. I don’t think the sun had set by the time I got home. I’d never seen anything so fast in my life. But I sure knew how she kept her looks.

I was a little pissed off because I’d worked at the Actors Studio with [Peppard], and we got along fabulously—he had a crush on me. So I thought, good, I’m happy to be doing this with him. But my God, he had gotten so big-headed. My character was a society matron known only as 2-E, the apartment she keeps for the writer. I dominated him in the original story, and he didn’t want to be seen in that way. He and Blake almost had a fistfight. Unfortunately, I said, ‘Let’s talk about this,’ and Blake gave in and shot it his way. I could have killed myself for getting involved. I had fantastic lines, but they wrote my part down [for] gorgeous George. I always felt that had Blake stood his ground, the film would have been stronger.86

Audrey, too, found it difficult to work with Peppard, who was then considered a potential new James Dean. Peppard’s reliance on Lee Strasberg’s version of “The Method” was the opposite of Hepburn’s technique—which was no method at all. But in the end, Peppard’s significance was minimal. Of far greater impact was a song by Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini that won the Oscar that year and inspired ninety-seven subsequent recordings.

“Without Audrey, there‘d’ve been no ‘Moon River,’” Mancini told documentarist Gene Feldman. “It was one of the hardest songs I ever had to write, because I couldn’t figure out what this lady would be singing up there on the fire escape. Would she sing a pop tune? Would she sing something with a blues thing in it? It took me almost a month to figure it out.... Without Audrey there would have been no ‘huckleberry friend.’ She sang that song with an honesty and such a dedication to the words. She knew what she was doing. She knew what the words were.”87

“Moon River,” Mancini said, was written to explain that Holly was really just a yearning country girl: “One night after dinner, it hit me that it should be very, very simple ... a ‘sophisticated country song.’ You can play it all on the white keys. You can throw the black keys away and still play it, which is a trick that I wasn’t aware of—it just happened.”

Mancini’s wife Ginny recalls that he “agonized over it for a long time and wanted it to be true to the scene and appropriate for the character. So although it took him a month to figure it out, once he knew where he was going, it only took maybe twenty minutes. He had listened any number of times to her version of ‘How Long Has This Been Going On’ [in Funny Face] and knew she could handle anything within that range.”88

Asked later if the song’s astounding popularity surprised him, Mancini said, “It was the kind of a song that had [success] written all over it, but Johnny Mercer didn’t think so. When we were in recording and Audrey sang it with the guitar, Johnny said, ‘Boy, that’s pretty, but let’s get on to something that’s going to make some money here!”’

Its first recording was by black singer Jerry Butler. “Andy Williams grabbed it only because he was asked to do the Academy Awards that year,” said Mancini. “Columbia Records knew the song and picture were successful, got geared up and put ‘Moon River’ as title of the album. Tuesday [after the Monday Oscars], it was all over the country and became number one in a matter of weeks.”

In a fabulous career of film compositions, “Moon River” was Mancini’s biggest hit—“the one that will go down in history as a true folk song,” says his wife. “It gets to the heart of the matter and touches people all over the world. It’s a haunting melody, plus Johnny’s lyrics—that phrase, ‘huckleberry friend.’ I never look at a full moon on the water anywhere that I don’t see a moon river.” But amazingly enough, “Moon River” nearly ended up on the cutting-room floor.

“We previewed the movie in San Francisco and went to a nearby hotel to discuss [the] very good audience reaction,” Mancini recalled. “We all deferred to Paramount’s new president, who paced the room puffing a cigar and whose first utterance was, ‘Well, I can tell you one thing, we can get rid of that song.’ Audrey shot right up out of her chair and said, ‘Over my dead body!’ Mel had to put his hand on her arm to restrain her. That’s the closest I ever saw her come to losing control.”89

As in Funny Face, Hepburn’s singing voice in Tiffany’s was intimate, evocative and affecting. Its delicate, breathy quality was perfect for the ballad at hand, though technically a weakness that would plague her down the line. But for now, “Moon River” was the song, and Holly the role, through which she became and remained a huckleberry friend to millions.

There are dissenters, of course. “While it may be the archetypical Audrey Hepburn film,” says Frank Thompson, “it’s nowhere near her best. Blake Edwards’s notion of life in the early sixties is stunningly unauthentic—his idea of a swinging party animal is Martin Balsam.”90 Critic Herbert Feinstein at the time dared to compare Hepburn’s latest film with that of Brigitte Bardot, La Véerité:

Two gorgeous girls, Brigitte Bardot and Audrey Hepburn, trot down the run-way of life as Beat anti-heroines. Hepburn [is] violently, pathologically miscast as [Holly]. Blake Edwards has learned a lot—too much—from his television series Peter Gunn and Mr. Lucky. He has allowed her to eke out a ballad, “Moon River,” shot in a phony, oblique angle down an East Side fire escape. And he has encouraged her worst tendencies [to be] charming....

Here we have two crashing beauties, two personalities of around 30 who have been great at playing themselves for a decade, who now have been convinced by their agents and other film cognoscenti that they can act. Worse, the two have convinced themselves and presently aim for art....

Why is it deeply sad to see two accomplished screen personalities essay the Beat girl? ... Dominique and Holly lie undulating on their night and day beds, lunging after man after man, really from fantasy to fantasy, dragging along their never comforting, never to be comforted, bodies. After a time, nobody wants them. Nobody gets them. There is no need: they get themselves.91

Audrey’s own initial misgivings about the role, actually, were quite similar to Feinstein’s. “Holly,” she told Kurt Frings, “is so contrary to me. She frightens me. This part called for an extroverted character. I am an introvert.”92 But Frings had convinced her that it was the role she needed precisely because it was so out of character. “When Audrey saw the finished print,” he said, “she made no bones about being proud of herself. She said to me, ‘This is the best thing I’ve ever done, because it was the hardest.’ ”93

Years later, she made a rare statement of self-approval to Rob Wolders when they watched Tiffany’s one night on TV: “She liked the bit when they come out of the shop wearing the animal masks. She laughed at it and said, ‘That’s rather good!”’

Breakfast at Tiffany’s in film form was Truman Capote’s greatest commercial success, but he couldn’t stand it: “The book was really rather bitter.... The film became a mawkish valentine to New York City and Holly and, as a result, was thin and pretty, whereas it should have been rich and ugly. It bore as much resemblance to my work as the Rockettes do to Ulanova.”94

He always missed Monroe in the role, but most did not. In the novella, Holly says she’s “only had eleven lovers—not counting anything that happened before I was thirteen.” One could believe that of Monroe, but never of Hepburn. When asked about it, Audrey said, “I don’t think Holly really has known as many men as she pretends. It’s just a jazzy facade she creates, because basically she’s a small-town girl who’s out of her depth.”

Audrey from backwater Texas? Not likely. But she took a Monroe role and successfully invested it with her own image—“as svelte as Jackie Kennedy,” said critic Michael Sragow. Holly and “Moon River” seemed an integral part of that short-lived Camelot, even as Hepburn’s sanitized hooker presented a whole new, minxlike concept of the cinematic slut. The obverse was a mind-boggling impossibility: Marilyn Monroe as Sister Luke?95

Breakfast at Tiffany’s did well, if not spectacularly, at the domestic box of fice ($4 million) and better abroad ($6 million). In France, it was called Diamants sur CanapéDiamonds on Toast. Hepburn was nominated for best actress but lost to Sophia Loren in Two Women. Of Tiffany’s nominations, only Mancini’s score and song came away with

But women around the world would be quoting Holly’s famous put-down line (“Quel beast!”), in an Audrey Hepburn cadence, for years. And there was one other sociological result of the film: Animal-rescue leagues and pet stores everywhere reported an unprecedented demand for orange cats.

FRIENDSHIP IN the film world is different from that in other occupational spheres—intense to the point of symbiosis during a production, only to terminate abruptly with the conclusion of shooting. Everyone in the film industry who worked with Audrey found her friendly, but very few came away from her with a real friendship. Among those few was beautiful Deborah Kerr, whose delicacy and vulnerability (in person and in persona) were much like Audrey’s. They lived near each other in Switzerland, and their real-life relationship was strong—if difficult to describe.

“To the world it might not have seemed that constant or deep an association,” says Deborah Kerr today, “but we became very close, even though we didn’t see each other much. I couldn’t say, ‘She was my best friend in my whole life.’ Yet in a way, perhaps she was.” Kerr and screenwriter Peter Viertel were married on July 23, 1960, and Audrey’s gift to Deborah is still fresh in her mind:

“It was a complete outfit from Givenchy. It had its panics because it was sent from Paris to Klosters and hadn’t yet arrived on the morning of the wedding. I recall it vividly—cyclamen pink—a fantastic present. It was so Audrey, the thoughtfulness of it. That sums up our relationship. really.”

AFTER FINISHING the Tiffany’s location work in New York, Audrey had gone to California to do the bulk of interior shooting in the studio. She and Mel rented a house in Coldwater Canyon, where—to her great relief—they were joined by Sean and Sean’s nanny for Christmas. Living there without her baby would have been unendurable. The older she got, the less she liked Hollywood, where her only close friends were Connie and Jerry Wald and, to some extent, the Pecks and the Wilders.96

Kurt Frings had tried to foster a friendship between Audrey and his other great star-client, Elizabeth Taylor, who had returned to Los Angeles to convalesce from a near-fatal bout with pneumonia in England. Taylor was then married to crooner Eddie Fisher, whose career was then on the skids as a result of public outrage for his dumping of the much-loved Debbie Reynolds to marry Liz. Mel helped Eddie pick and prepare material for his “comeback” nightclub act at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas.

The Ferrers and the Fishers saw a lot of each other in those days, perhaps partly because of a common dilemma between the men: fabulously beautiful wives whose success outshone their own. They had been together at the previous year’s Oscar ceremony, when Taylor was a sympathy winner for the inferior Butterfield 8, and the women remained fond of each other for life.

Just after New Year’s, on January 8, 1961, Audrey delivered a lovely original poem titled, “What is a Gary Cooper?”, at a Friars Club testimonial dinner in Hollywood for her old costar, whose terminal illness was not widely known. Cooper died of cancer, at sixty, the following May.

Otherwise, Hepburn rarely appeared in public or spoke to the press. But one day toward the end of Tiffany’s retakes on the Paramount lot, a reporter cornered her and asked what role she most wanted to play next. “That’s easy to answer,” she said. “I’d do anything to play Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady.”

IT WAS A BIT premature to be thinking about Eliza but never too soon to ponder the next film, even though she preferred her temporary retirement. For as long as possible, she held off a decision, accompanying Mel now and then to his own shootings in France and Yugoslavia, but turning down all offers for herself, reportedly including A Taste of Honey and In the Cool of the Day. But soon enough, instead, she accepted one of the most controversial roles of her career.

Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour, that playwright’s first major success, enjoyed a 601-performance Broadway run in 1934. It was loosely based on Scotsman William Roughhead’s story Bad Company, about two Edinburgh teachers accused of lesbianism in 1810 by a student whose grandmother spreads the gossip and ruins the school. In Hellman’s drama, Martha discovers her love for Karen only after the slander. In a final monologue, she cries, “I’m guilty! I’ve ruined your life, and I’ve ruined my own. I feel so damn sick and dirty I just can’t stand it anymore.” A scene of the play that never appeared on film makes clear that she commits suicide because she really is a lesbian: It is not the lie that destroys her, but the awful truth.97

The play’s first film rendering was the 1936 These Three, directed by William Wyler, starring Merle Oberon as Karen and Miriam Hopkins as Martha. Lesbianism being a taboo subject, the story was turned into a heterosexual triangle in which the one woman was accused of being in love with the other’s fiance. Hellman’s basic theme—that a lie had the power to destroy people’s lives—survived, but any mention of her “lesbian play” was forbidden by the censors. Said Variety: “It is verboten to ballyhoo the original source.”

Oberon and Hopkins both turned in fine performances in These Three, and so did Joel McCrea. But the film was stolen by fabulous Bonita Granville as evil little Mary. Just thirteen at the time, she won an Oscar nomination for her trouble—long before Patty McCormack’s similar work in The Bad Seed.

Exactly twenty-five years later, many were stunned by the news that Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine would star in a remake. The new version, like the original, would be directed by William Wyler, who wanted Oberon and Hopkins to return in the supporting roles of Mary’s grandmother and Martha’s aunt. Hopkins said yes. Oberon said no, and Fay Bainter took the grandmother’s part. Hellman began work on the new script but soon dropped out due to the terminal illness of her beloved Dashiell Hammett. She was replaced by John Michael Hayes, a Hitchcock favorite (Rear Window, To Catch a Thief), who worked hard to restore the lesbian angle and update the picture to the 1960s.

“When we made the picture the last time,” said Wyler, “what we put out was a watered version. We couldn’t put it on the way we wanted to because the public wasn’t ready for that sort of thing yet. Now, they are.”98

Wyler had initially toyed with the intriguing combination of Doris Day and Katharine Hepburn for his leads. In settling on the younger Hepburn and MacLaine, he cast two women who were both perceived more as comediennes than tragic heroines. To say the least, it was casting against type, especially for Audrey: The idea of lesbianism ran counter to her image in every way. “The reason I chose Audrey is that she is so clean and wholesome,” said Wyler. “I don’t want bosoms in this.” He had directed her great debut hit, Roman Holiday. “We are in [such] close communication we hardly have to talk,” said Audrey. “I know when he feels it’s wrong.” She trusted him implicitly to guide her in breaking this new and possibly dangerous ground.

Wyler and Otto Preminger were then engaged in a bitter battle within the industry. Censorship of scenes such as the Tony Curtis-Laurence Olivier bath sequence in Spartacus prompted protests from producers and directors in Hollywood that they could not compete with foreign films that dealt openly with homosexuality. In the summer of 1961, the Mirisch Company, co-producers of Children’s Hour, attacked the ban against “sex perversion” on screen. In September, Preminger announced he would shoot the Allen Drury novel Advise and Consent with its homosexual episodes intact. On October 3, 1961, the Motion Picture Association caved in and announced a change in its Code: “In keeping with the culture, the mores and the values of our time, homosexuality and other sexual aberrations may now be treated with care, discretion and restraint.”

In the early sixties, says Vito Russo in The Celluloid Closet, homosexuality was “the dirty secret exposed at the end of the last reel,” most often a false accusation against a heterosexual character. The Children’s Hour was the first film to receive an MPAA Code seal after the sexual rules were changed—but with bland results. Shirley MacLaine laid the blame on Wyler:

In the play, scenes were developed so that you could see Martha falling in love with Karen [but Wyler] thought they’d be too much for Middle America to take. I thought he was wrong, and I told him so, and Audrey was right behind me. But he was the director, and there was nothing we could do. Even so, I conceived my part as though those scenes were still there. I didn’t want it to suddenly just hit her when the child tells the lie that maybe she could really be a lesbian.... Lillian had written a slow examination of one woman’s personal growth in the area of falling in love with another woman. But Willie Wyler didn’t want that.99

Audrey was even more nervous than usual, insisting that both Sean and Famous be with her on the set every day. She and MacLaine had gone into the picture with great enthusiasm and confidence in a director they adored. But both were disappointed by the many nuances of their characters’ relationship that ended up on the cutting-room floor. Wyler, almost up to the picture’s release, wanted to tack on a semi-happy ending suggesting that, after MacLaine’s suicide, Hepburn and Garner get together.

Despite all its compromises, Children’s Hour was attacked for “condoning lesbianism, albeit surreptitiously,” even by such normally enlightened publications as Films in Review: “There is an explicit scene which asserts that those who choose to practice lesbianism are not destroyed by it—a claim disproved by the number of lesbians who become insane or commit suicide.”100

Young Karen Balkin as Mary did not measure up to Granville in These Three, though Miriam Hopkins was wonderful and Fay Bainter as the grandmother superb in this, her last role, for which she received an Oscar nomination. But the film suffered from the uninspired performance of James Garner, star of TV’s Maverick series and distinctly out of place here.

Time even attacked Audrey for giving “her standard, frail, indomitable characterization, which is to say that her eyes watered constantly (frailty) and her chin is forever cantilevered forward (indomitability).” MacLaine’s notices were better. A more versatile actress than Hepburn, she turned her climactic confrontation scene with Bainter and her final breakdown into a powerfully emotional tour-de-force.

Children’s Hour was nominated for five Oscars, all of which it lost. But they had dared to do it. A consolation for Hepburn lay in the personal experience with her costar—and vice versa:

“I had plenty of qualms about Audrey when we met for the first rehearsal,” said MacLaine, “but from then on, working with her was one big kick.... Audrey and I decided we’d throw a party for the cast and the crew when the picture was finished. We went all out, had it catered by Romanoff‘s—nothing but the best. In the middle of the party, Audrey sidled up to me, jabbed me with her elbow and said, out of the corner of her mouth, ‘Hey, Shirl-Girl, whattaya think the bruise is gonna be for this bash?’ ”101

NOT FOR NOTHING was Famous on “doggie downers”—tranquilizers to calm him down in general, but especially around automobiles and on canine social visits. “She was ga-ga over that dog,” remembers Billy Wilder. “She was ga-ga over all the dogs that she had, and she always had one.”

“Yippy, yappy, jumpy ones,” adds Audrey Wilder. “One day she brought Famous over to see my little female named ‘Fifty.’ She was much smaller than Famous—same breed, same year, a Yorkie. We had the same lady breeder in Paris, and she named them with the same letter of the alphabet each year. Audrey said, ‘Famous is absolutely perfectly behaved.’ So he came into our little apartment, took one look at Fifty, and peed on every single chair. She went crazy—‘Oh, my God, what are you doing?’ I put him out in our backyard, but Famous was strong. He pushed open that gate. I looked out and he was taking Fifty up and down Wilshire Boulevard, smelling all the bushes.”102

The Ferrers were then renting a place on Sunset Boulevard, and not long after his visit with Fifty, Famous escaped and ran into the street. Before he could be recaptured, he was hit by a car, to the horror of Audrey, who heard a commotion and ran out to find his mangled body stopping traffic.

Her devastation filled her with an even deeper aversion to Los Angeles, from which she was always looking to escape. She now took herself and Sean to Paris, where Mel presented her with the only thing that might dry her tears—a new Yorkshire terrier named Assam of Assam, who looked a lot like Famous and gradually came to replace him in her affection.

Mel would be in France for many months, working on The Longest Day (1962), one of the last great World War II epics—Darryl F. Zanuck’s $15 million rendering of the Allied invasion of Normandy. Ferrer, as Major General Robert Haines, shared billing with most of the major male film stars of the day: John Wayne, Rod Steiger, Robert Ryan, Robert Mitchum, Henry Fonda, Richard Burton, Sean Connery, Sal Mineo, Jeffrey Hunter, Roddy McDowall, Eddie Albert, Robert Wagner and Kurt Jurgens.

In view of Audrey’s skittishness about violent World War II films, she was not with him steadily and spent most of her time with Sean in Bürgenstock. Mostly, she wanted to relax after her two tiring, closely-spaced films of the previous year. She was less keen than ever on rushing into a new picture, but, as always, others were keen on her behalf.

“You have all the qualities of Peter Pan,” Fred Astaire had sung to her in Funny Face. Others thought so, too, including George Cukor, who wanted to make a Peter Pan with Audrey in the sixties. “Reliable reports” now claimed Audrey had agreed to appear opposite Peter Sellers as Captain Hook and Hayley Mills as Wendy. But there were legal problems on both sides of the Atlantic—with the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children in London, which owned the rights to the play, and with the Walt Disney company, whose 1953 cartoon version was still in release. Much as she wanted to assay the role, it was not in the cards.

Another report had it that Hitchcock was ready to forgive her for backing out on him previously and to cast her in his next frightful outing The Birds. But Audrey was averse to having her eyes pecked out, and the role went to Tippi Hedren.

From now on, Hepburn the mother was less inclined to make films in general, and when she did so, her decision was based as much on convenience and logistics as on the merits of the script. The proposed director and costars were important, of course, but the necessity for a tight shooting schedule and a European location were even more important. And if the location happened to be Paris, it was much easier to get her to say yes.

Those circumstances now dovetailed with the fact that her Paramount contract expired at the end of 1962 and she still owed the studio one more picture. So, by coincidence, did William Holden. Production head Martin Racklin, cognizant of the two stars’ mutual fondness, hit on the solution of teaming them in a to-be-announced script by George Axelrod, who recalls:

“I got a call one day from Paramount saying, ‘We have a problem here—we have Audrey and Bill Holden under old contracts and they both want to shoot in Paris next summer. Do you have something?’” He pauses for effect, then poses the rhetorical question: “What would you have said?”103

Thus was Axelrod, still basking in the success of his Tiffany’s screenplay, tapped to provide his magic touch again. Borrowing a phrase from Cole Porter’s “I Love Paris,” he called the script Paris When It Si013les. He borrowed the story, as well, from Julien Duvivier’s La Fête à Henriette (Holiday for Henrietta), a 1952 film starring Hildegard Knef. Paramount wanted Blake Edwards to direct, but he had prior commitments and recommended his close friend Richard Quine, who had directed Holden in The World of Su014ie Wong and knew how to control Holden’s heavy drinking—or so he thought.

Holden lived in Switzerland near Lausanne, where he was pursuing a fitful affair with French actress Capucine, a former high-fashion model and one of the great beauties of Europe. Born Germaine Lefebvre, she had fashioned her solo stage name on the French word for “nasturtium” and would play a role in Holden’s and Hepburn’s lives up to the tragic end of her own.

Holden agreed to Paris When It Si015les. It remained only to convince Audrey. Quine made the pilgrimage to Bürgenstock, where he found her jittery about several things. For one thing, Ferrer was preparing to leave for an extended shoot in Madrid, where he featured in yet another all-star epic, The Fall of the Roman Empire, with Sophia Loren, Alec Guinness and James Mason. But Audrey was most jittery about reuniting with Holden, who was said to be still wildly in love with her. In the end, Quine overcame her qualms with the lure of Paris and of the lavish expense-account perquisites she would enjoy.

Filming of Paris When It Si016les began in July 1962 at Studios de Boulogne in Paris, with a bad omen right off the bat. Just after she left for France, Audrey’s Bürgenstock chalet was burgled. The main items taken seemed to be her Roman Holiday Oscar and her underwear. The former was soon recovered in the nearby woods; the latter was never seen—at least by Audrey—again. The thief was a twenty-two-year-old science student named Jean-Claude Thouroude, who turned himself in and told the judge he was motivated by his passion for Audrey and the hope that he’d get to meet her at his trial. She stayed away in a proper huff. He got a fine and a suspended sentence from the avuncular magistrate, who opined, “Love is not a crime!,,104 All over Europe, people were amused by the outcome—the Ferrers not among them.

(It wasn’t the first or the last bizarre crime involving Audrey. The previous year, a thief in Australia broke into the Paramount Pictures vault in Sydney, ignored hundreds of more valuable films, and made off only with War and Peace, Funny Face, Sabrina and Roman Holiday. “It looks as though whoever stole the films had a wild crush on Audrey Hepburn,” speculated a Paramount spokesman, by way of the obvious.)105

Meanwhile on the set, there was some unanticipated sizzling over the choice of cinematographer. Audrey watched the first rushes and loathed what she considered the unflattering results by cameraman Claude Renoir, nephew of the great director Jean. She insisted he be replaced by Charles Lang.

“Audrey could be very, very critical of herself on screen,” Richard Quine recalled. “She just hated the way that she and Bill Holden looked, which wasn’t necessarily Claude Renoir’s fault, but I had no option but to discharge him. Of course, firing a Renoir is tantamount to treason in France, so the unions raised hell and threatened to go out on strike.”106

The lady got her way on that point. But her well-grounded fears on the subject of Holden were not so easily dismissed or resolved. “The day I arrived at Orly Airport to make Paris When It Si017les,” Holden told his friend Ryan O’Neal, “I could hear my footsteps echoing against the walls of the transit corridor, just like a condemned man walking the last mile. I realized I had to face Audrey again, and that I had to deal with my drinking, and I didn’t think I could handle either situation.”107

He was right. Holden’s casting opposite Hepburn was doomed from the start. He was tormented by being with her again, and by his own worsening inadequacies. Drinking more heavily than ever, he often arrived drunk on the set, flirting with dismissal. Axelrod remembered the night Holden climbed a tree by a wall leading up to Audrey’s room. Like Rapunzel, she came to her window and leaned out, whereupon Holden kissed her—and then slipped and plunged from the tree, landing atop a parked car below. His wife Ardis—“bitter and frustrated,” said Audrey Wilder—arrived on the scene and harangued him, to no effect. The coup de grace in Paris was his purchase of a new Ferrari that he promptly drove into a wall, further delaying the picture.

In the dubious Paris When It Si018les script, Holden was a screenwriter who can’t get his story right and keeps trying to reinvent it with the secretarial and romantic assistance of Audrey, who helps act out his fantasies. Director Quine was striving for a frothy kind of Cary Grant comedy, but Holden wasn’t up to it, and Hepburn seemed embarrassed most of the time.

The delays were costing a fortune and Paramount threatened to shut down the production by the time Quine finally persuaded Holden to enter the Château de Garche, an alcoholic recovery hospital, to dry out. He then imported a new guest star—Tony Curtis—who provides his own candid account:

The joke for years after that, when anybody asked how to account for a budget increase, was, “Charge it off to the profits of Paris When It Si019les.” I was in London when I got a call from Dick Quine: Bill Holden’s liver was really in bad shape. He’d gone out drinking in Paris, and now he couldn’t work. It was going to take him a week to recover. Paramount told Quine, “You don’t shoot, we shut down.”

So Dick said, “Tony, please come and do three or four days. They’ll let us run if you’ll do that.” I said okay and flew to Paris, and they put me up at the George Cinq and gave me some cash. Axelrod and Quine frantically wrote a couple of new scenes, and I worked with Audrey. I did about five or six days, and then finally Holden came back to work. They just needed to fill that time. They had to come up with something, and what they came up with was me. 108

In the end, several of the film’s few funny moments belonged to Curtis as a hip Hollywood heartthrob who keeps appearing when least expected. He’s a spoofed-up version of Curtis himself—a cool cat in tight pants, tossing off sixties jargon: “Like, bon jour, baby! Groovy! But I’m gonna have to split.” Thanks to Tony, the picture kept rolling, and so did the meter.

Poor Quine was besieged on all He had a male star who couldn’t stay sober and a female star who was racked by insecurities. Audrey these days had renewed an old obsession about her crooked front tooth and spoke constantly of having it fixed. Quine loved the singularity of the thing and threatened “to absolutely maim her if she changed that tooth.”109

In addition to Curtis, Quine was calling in every other “star chit” he had in an effort to salvage a very moribund affair. Marlene Dietrich and Noel Coward agreed to make cameo appearances, against their better judgment. Coward’s ego needed the gig more than Dietrich’s, as his 1962 diary entries suggest:

September 25: George Axelrod rang me up and asked me to play a small ... part in the movie he is doing with Audrey Hepburn and Bill Holden. He hurried the script to me and the scene is effective although tiny, but I am being paid $10,000 and all luxe expenses, and so I said yes. I think it will be rather fun. The part is that of a Hungarian movie producer (Alex Korda?) dressed in a Roman toga at a fancy dress party. I shall enjoy doing the accent....

October 1: George A said that they did not want me to play the part with an accent but to be super Noel Coward. This rather threw me; [but] it worked like a charm and I have never had such a fuss made.... Audrey H, unquestionably the nicest and most talented girl in the business, deluged me with praise and roses. Bill Holden, off the bottle and looking 15 years younger, absolutely charming to work with. We exchanged confidences and bottles of eau de cologne in the interminable waits.... George showed me about half of the rough-cut; it really is funny and Audrey and Bill are enchanting. So is Tony Curtis and so, apparently, am I.110

Hepburn didn’t share his enchantment. “She really hated it,” says her nephew Michael Quarles van Ufford, Ian’s son, who visited her then on the Si020les set. “She had to get up at four, the limousine would come and fetch her around six, and she would come back at eight at night, exhausted. She’d say, ‘All this was for five minutes of filming today.’ ”111

When finally completed, wildly overbudget, Paramount recognized it as a dud and shelved it for two years. It did not improve with age and got a disastrous reception when finally released in 1964 (two years after Hepburn’s subsequent film).

“Axelrod’s dialogue and Holden’s gift for comedy amply deserve each other,” wrote Stanley Kauffmann. “Noel Coward is briefly on hand at his most repellent.” Hollis Alpert in Saturday Review called it “a dreadfully expensive display of bad taste.” Judith Crist checked in with, “Paris When It Si021les? Strictly Hollywood when it fizzles.”

More ridicule was in store as a result of the on-screen credit, “Miss Hepburn’s wardrobe and perfume by Hubert de Givenchy.” The fragrance was L’Interdit, created for her by Givenchy in 1957. Hepburn chronicler Warren Harris observed it was “the first time since the 1960 Scent of Mystery(produced in the Smell-O-Vision process) that a movie left itself wide open for critical branding as a stinker.”

IF NOTHING ELSE, the embarrassment of such reviews was postponed for a couple of years. A more immediate embarrassment for Audrey was her fraying relationship with Mel. Ferrer was still working on The Fall of the Roman Empire in Madrid, where he was often seen out and about with such ladies as “the vivacious” Duchess of Quintanilla. The gossip columnists had plenty to work with: Hepburn was carrying on with Holden again, they said, “in retaliation.” Audrey was furious about the reports and—quite rare for her—lashed out publicly at the writer “who started all that talk while Mr. Holden and I were making Paris When It Si022les. The only thing that really happened was that Bill cracked up his expensive Ferrari one day and came around on crutches. And all I did was ‘mother’ him a little. Anyway, I’m glad that Capucine is now getting all the publicity.”112

Mel took it all in stride, stiffly preserving his dignity and exhibiting no special jealousy—which annoyed Audrey even more. In his view, they had survived a variety of marital strains, and would survive the current ones. But the separation and tensions between them were taking a greater toll on Audrey, who now relayed to him her feeling that they should consider divorce. Shocked into action, Mel flew home to talk things over, and the rift was patched up—for the moment.

Thirtysomething years later, the Wilders supply their own piquant view of Hepburn’s dilemma:

“I did not think Mel was the proper husband,” says Billy, “but then, who would have been the proper husband for her?”

It’s rhetorical but draws a reply from his wife.

“Well, Bill was a nice guy,” answers Audrey Wilder. “Bill would have been better—if he’d been sober.”113

THERE WAS A good reason why Audrey now suddenly extended her lease on the lovely old Bourbon chateau she was renting near Fontainebleu: A brand new Paris-based movie had materialized unexpectedly on the heels of Paris When It Si023les—a picture that, for once, she didn’t have to be coaxed into but very much wanted to do. It was the best of two worlds for her—a Hitchcock-style thriller without Hitchcock—and filming began exactly one day after Si024025les shooting ended.

The delicious soufflé was called Charade—a romantic comedy-thriller caper and landmark of its style. Stanley Donen, one of Hepburn’s true favorites, would direct in their first reteaming since Funny Face. Best of all for Audrey and posterity, Cary Grant would star. She had never worked with him and longed to do so. The script was a both a send-up and celebration of the genre and the great Hitchcock-Grant collaborations of the past.

“I always wanted to make a movie like one of my favorites, North by North-west,” said Donen. “What I admired most was the wonderful story of the mistaken identity of the leading man. They mistook him for somebody who didn’t exist; he could never prove he wasn’t somebody who wasn’t alive. I searched [for something with] the same idiom of adventure, suspense and humor.”114

What he found—and bought—was a short story, “The Unsuspecting Wife,” by Peter Stone and Marc Behn, published in Redbook. It was the tale of a beautiful widow who is hounded by a group of unsavory rogues looking for her dead husband’s hidden fortune. The structure and tone were full of smart dialogue, red herrings, single and double bluffs, and Parisian style.

“It was a wonderful piece of work,” says James Coburn, the superb character actor who gave one of his most wryly villainous performances in Charade. “Peter Stone knew Paris very well because he’d lived there as a writer on the Île de France, right by Notre Dame. Did you know that he wrote it specifically for Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn?”115

A lot of people wrote a lot of things specifically for Grant and Hepburn. But getting them to do something—separately, let alone jointly—was another matter.

Audrey said yes quickly, but “Cary thought he was going to do a picture with Howard Hawks called Man’s Favorite Sport? [and so he] said no to Charade,” Donen relates. “Columbia said get Paul Newman. Newman said yes, but Columbia wouldn’t pay his going rate. Then they said get Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood. So I got them and Columbia decided they couldn’t afford them or the picture. So I sold Charade to Universal. In the meantime, Cary had read Hawks’s script and didn’t like it. So he called me and said he would like to do Charade.”116

The project involved a lot of anniversaries for Grant: Charade was his seventieth film, 1962 was his thirtieth year in the film business, Audrey would be precisely his fiftieth leading lady, and he was just one year shy of sixty. He had been spotted in 1933 by Mae West, who was then casting She Done Him Wrong and said, “If he can talk, I’ll take him.” Soon after, on celluloid, she gave him that legendary invitation, “Come up and see me sometime.”

Nowadays, he was nervous about his image and afraid that, opposite Audrey, he might look like a dirty old man. He and Donen had Stone change the dynamic to make Audrey the aggressor who finally wears him down, instead of the usual reverse. Their age difference was turned into a running joke. But privately, he still worried, as a vignette described by biographers Charles Higham and Roy Moseley illustrates:

“At time of Charade, Grant decided to stay not in a hotel but in Barbara Hutton’s Paris apartment, whose secretary Mona Eldridge recalled him walking down the long central hall with glass-fronted display cases with priceless antique figurines, jade, etc., not examining contents but glancing from left to right to observe his reflection in the mirrored cabinet doors, fussing over his hair, fretting over wrinkles.”117

Hepburn and Grant had never met, and Donen couldn’t wait to introduce them. He arranged for dinner at “some terribly smart bistro,” Audrey recalled, where she and Donen arrived first. When Grant came in, Audrey rose and said,

“I’m so nervous,” to which Grant replied, “Don’t be.... I’m thrilled to know you. Here, sit down.... Put your hands on the table, palms up, put your head down and take a few deep breaths.” Donen had ordered a bottle of red wine, and when Audrey put her head down, “she hit the bottle, and the wine went all over Cary’s cream-colored suit,” the director recalls. “Audrey was humiliated. People at other tables were looking.... It was a horrendous moment.”

Grant just “nonchalantly removed his jacket,” said Audrey, “and pretended, very convincingly, that the stain would simply go away.... I felt terrible and kept apologizing, but Cary was so dear about it. The next day he sent me a box of caviar with a little note telling me not to feel bad.”118

James Coburn, just in from Munich after finishing The Great Escape, was also meeting Grant for the first time. “Cary was in one of those little dressing-room things on the set,” Coburn recalls. “I said, ‘Hi.’ He said, ‘Come on in.’ We were talking about the script when Walter [Matthau] came by and said, ‘Hey, Jim, how are you? Did you ever see anybody do a better impression of Cary Grant than this guy?’ And then walked away. It was the only time I ever saw Cary Grant off balance.”119

A charade is a guessing game full of tricks, a pantomimed secret to be deciphered in bits and pieces. So is Charade, beginning with its spectacular credits—a wild geometric charade in themselves. The names wind in and out of psychedelic mazes, heralding the upcoming game of illusion, set around Paris’s most charming landmarks: Les Halles, Notre Dame, the Palais Royale, the Champs Elysées—all lushly photographed by Charles Lang, Jr.

But the opening scenes take place around the swimming pool of Mont d’Arbois in Megeve, Switzerland, playground of the Euro ski-and-jet set of which Audrey was an honorary member.

Charade’s trickery begins with the very first shot: Audrey as Reggie (stunningly dressed by Givenchy) is the picture of tranquility as she suns herself on the terrace. Ominously, a gun emerges from a gloved hand and aims straight at her head. The tension mounts, the trigger is squeezed, and—SPLAT!—Hepburn’s ear is full of water from a bratty child’s water pistol. It’s the first of many cunning, unnerving shifts from suspense to humor.

Suddenly, a man named Peter Joshua (Cary Grant) approaches Reggie, initiating a lickety-split repartee that stokes up the scene through the sparring of the stars:

CG: Do we know each other?

AH: Why, do you think we’re going to?

CG: I don’t know, how would I know?

AH: Because I already know an awful lot of people and until one of them dies, I couldn’t possibly meet anyone else.

CG: Well, if anyone goes on the critical list, let me know.

AH: Quitter.

In things romantic, our sexy young widow is forceful. In things financial related to her murdered husband, Charles, she hasn’t a clue. Only slowly and painfully does she come to the realization that he was either a liar, a thief, a spy, or all three—and that his name wasn’t even Charles.

Non sequiturs pepper everyone’s discourse. As Hepburn and Grant walk along the Seine, mulling over the recent drowning of a thug named Scobie, she suddenly remarks, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could be like him?” Grant, in surprise, asks, “Scobie?” “No, Gene Kelly,” she replies. “Remember when he danced down here by the river without a care in the world in An American in Paris?”

Down at the morgue, a drawer—presumably Charles’s—is rudely yanked out and then slammed shut from the corpse’s-eye-view inside. More macabre hilarity follows at Charles’s funeral. Aside from the sorrowful widow, his mourners number a total of four very suspicious-looking characters. Grief is low on their agenda. Each has his own Grand Guignol entrance, approaching the coffin to inspect the body—and to become a suspect:

• Leopold Gideon (Ned Glass): chronic sneezer and milquetoast accountant.

• Tex (James Coburn): sticks mirror under the corpse’s nose, just to make sure.

• Herman (George Kennedy): has a steel claw instead of a right hand, and keeps a spare; sticks a hatpin deep into the corpse and, convinced by the lack of reaction, stomps out.

• Bartholomew (Walter Matthau): U.S. embassy official, master of lame jokes and slow delivery—“The last time I sent out a tie, only the spot came back.”

People get bumped off left and right, but in a rather quiet and civilized manner. Charade’s overall violence and villainy are of the stylized kind. “You can’t believe these guys could really do anything very bad,” says Coburn, “and yet they’re trying really hard and they’re getting killed for it.”

Of our four bad guys, Coburn has the most frightening scene of personal violence against Audrey. As maniacal Tex, he follows her to a garage where she makes the mistake of using a phone booth. He traps her when she tries to come out and subjects her to sadistic intimidation—lighting one match after another and tossing them on her clothes and in her face, all the while threatening worse to come. Cornered and hysterical, she cannot escape until he simply gets tired of monsterizing her.

“I felt really bad about burning Audrey,” recalls Coburn, with a gentleman’s lament in his voice. “It went against my nature. Of course, we had it down so it wouldn’t hurt her. She was wonderful in that. We didn’t discuss that scene beforehand at all, except the mechanics of how close we’d be, because you’re playing on her face with that flare going off.”

Coburn was enthralled with her, but it wasn’t until halfway through shooting that they sat down and talked, and she jolted him by asking, “Do you know how you got this role?”

Coburn said he didn’t.

“I saw you in The Magnificent Seven,” said Audrey, “and I told Stanley Donen—he’s our Tex!”

A third of a century later, Coburn still wonders, “How do you thank somebody for doing that? ‘Thanks, Baby.’ It was her suggestion. If it had been up to Stanley, he never would have hired me. He was a song-and-dance man. I don’t think Stanley ever gave me a direction. We secondary players were on our own out there. He didn’t really give us too much time. I got more help from Charlie Lang, the photographer.”120

But Donen gave plenty of time to Audrey, whom he cherished as a person and as an actress. They grew closer with each of their movies together. Audrey was fond of teasing him about his hopeless French, which, despite much moviemaking in France, he invariably butchered. On one trans-Atlantic flight to Paris together, she pointed to the NO SMOKING sign above their heads and reminded him, “See Stanley? No fuming!”

On New Year’s Eve 1963, the Ferrers held a dinner party at their rented chateau outside Paris for eight: Donen and his wife, Adele, Peter Stone and his wife, Mary, and Cary Grant and his twenty-five-year-old amour (and future wife) Dyan Cannon, who had flown to Paris to lick her wounds after the disastrous three-night stand of her Broadway play, The Fun Couple. It was formal and fancy. The servants wore white gloves while serving huge baked potatoes, into which the guests ladled sour cream and Russian caviar from a five-pound tin provided by Grant.

“It was as glamorous an evening as one can imagine,” recalled Stone, “but it was truly boring. It wasn’t anybody’s fault. Nobody there was boring. But it was just one of those terrible evenings where nobody ... was in great humor. Cary and Dyan were arguing a bit. Mel and Audrey were arguing a bit, and Stanley and Adele were arguing a bit. The only ones who remained happily married to each other were Mary and me.”121

But Cary Grant was Cary Grant, even on a bad day. As shooting progressed, James Coburn was ever more fascinated by Grant’s idiosyncrasies and firm views on everything from acting and fashion to the battle of the sexes:

“Cary Grant always did things three times. Every shot, every scene he would do big, small, and right in-between. He would find a dynamic that seemed to work, but he explored all the possibilities first. He was always looking for something.

“One night we were sitting around the pool in the Rothschilds’ hotel after work. The air was sparkling with little ice crystals. It was Cary’s fifty-ninth birthday, and we had just all come up from dinner. We started talking and suddenly he said he was a little nonplussed about Audrey’s film clothes: ‘She dresses like a kook!’ I said, ‘It’s Givenchy.’ He said, ‘Yes, but it’s too over-the-top. Too fashionable.’

“He was always looking for longevity in films. He always dressed right in the middle because he knew very early in his career that for a film to last, it can’t be too fashionable. Today, there’s no lasting fashion, no style, no nothing. It’s out the door, and on to video. So he was critical of Audrey’s clothes in that film, but never of Audrey—except that he thought she was much too young for him.”122

Audrey as the cool, unruffled Reggie in Charade thought otherwise. “You know what’s wrong with you?” she asks Grant as their romance builds, and answers herself: “Nothing.” Both of their performances were facilitated by Stone’s fine script, bubbling over with ironic twists and diabolical turns. Everyone in Charade lies constantly to everyone else and says “Trust me” all the while, right up to the suspenseful finale—a nighttime chase of Hepburn by Grant and Matthau in the shadowy colonnades of the Palais Royale. Trapped there, she’ll win or lose the game—and her life—by deciding which of two armed and dangerous liars might possibly be telling the truth.

HOLLYWOOD PUBLICIST-TO-THE-STARS Herb Sterne has a little light to shed, and a little cold water to throw, on the subject of Grant’s and Hepburn’s professional bliss during Charade:

“Cary wasn’t so particular about how he looked in a still, but he didn’t want Audrey to look as good as he did. Audrey didn’t want Cary to look as good as she did. So I said, ‘Let us have two sheets, so each star can kill a still and the other will not know which still they have killed.’ This went great until my secretary, who was busy kissing Audrey’s ass, sneaked out a print which Cary had killed and made sure it was published.”123

But aside from that minor bit of sabotage, there was hardly a ripple of discontent between the two stars, evidenced by the fact that Grant wanted to be reteamed with Audrey immediately in Father Goose, his next picture for which Peter Stone again wrote the script (and won an Oscar). Audrey demurred, and the part went to Leslie Caron, because her sights were now set on something much bigger. But for the rest of their lives, Grant and Hepburn traded valentines of mutual affection.

“Working with Cary is so easy,” said Audrey. “He does all the acting, and I just react.”124 Grant had touched her even more as a person than as a performer. Twenty-five years later, shortly after his death, she exhaled a long, dreamy sigh when asked about him and disclosed the kind of intimate details about their personal dynamic that she rarely shared in public:

“Cary—such a lovely souvenir in my life. Unlike some people might think, he was really a very reserved, very sensitive, very quiet person, very philosophical, rather mystic in some ways. And had enormous empathy for other people. He had me down flat the minute he met me. I mean, he knew what I was all about and whatever I was uptight about and was extremely helpful. Terribly helpful because I was quite inexperienced, really, when I worked with him.”125

The last part of the statement was quite untrue. She had made seventeen films before Charade and enjoyed major star status for a decade by then. But that’s how it—and Cary Grant—seemed in her mind. Later, she elaborated on his psychological insight:

I think he understood me better than I did myself. He was observant and had a penetrating knowledge of people. He would talk often about relaxing and getting rid of one’s fears.... But he never preached. If he helped me, he did it without my knowing, and with a gentleness which made me lose my sense of being intimidated....

Cary was a vulnerable man, and he recognized my own vulnerability. We had that in common.... He said one thing very important to me one day when I was probably twitching and being nervous. We were sitting next to each other waiting for the next shot. He laid his hand on my two hands and said, “You’ve got to learn to like yourself a little more.” I’ve often thought about that.126

James Coburn agrees with Hepburn’s assessment but adds that Grant had one advantage over Audrey and all other vulnerable people in the world: “He had ‘Cary Grant’ to protect him!”127

Though he rarely saw Audrey thereafter, Coburn happily admits being “wild about her” and coming away from their association with a distinct perception about her sexuality.

“Audrey was something else,” Coburn reflects, “—a real lady, and there are so few of them. It had to do with her upbringing and those negative experiences in the war, which I think made her become rather secretive. On the film just before, Paris When It Si026les, Bill Holden was having a strong romance with Capucine, who was also close to Audrey. But Audrey and Bill had a thing, too.... Underneath, Audrey was a very sexual creature, always secretive and goddesslike. It would take some kind of a godlike creature to bring her down—but she didn’t seem to be too unwilling. She was the gamine goddess.”128

ALL CHARADE had going for it was an exciting story, witty dialogue, the ideal cast, a top director, Parisian chic, and yet another Mancini-Mercer hit. Donen held his breath, hoping for a good reception, but Charade’s ecstatic reviews went beyond all his expectations.

“A Technicolored merry-go-round in which Grant, Hepburn and Paris never looked better,” raved Look. “An absolute delight,” said Newsweek. Pauline Kael in The New Yorker called it “probably the best American film” of the year.

Charade was popular with all segments of the public, but especially with that much-mocked subgroup known as philatelists, since a rare stamp figures as the key to its plot. The glorious and sorrowful mysteries of philately may seem absurd to those who don’t share the compulsion. But in 1963, Charade exalted and elevated stamp-collecting to the peak of its vogue.

It is arguably Stanley Donen’s best non-musical film but, ironically, many remember it most for its smooth, sexy title song. Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer had just won two best-song Oscars in a row, for “Moon River” and “The Days of Wine and Roses,” but the third time wasn’t a charm. “Charade” lost to “Call Me Irresponsible” from Papa’s Delicate Condition.

That minor disappointment was offset by its surprise bonanza at the box-office : Charade was Audrey’s biggest hit yet—and Donen’s biggest hit ever—breaking all records at Radio City in New York. It was the year’s fifth most profitable film, grossing $6.15 million and inspiring a flock of comic-thriller imitations with similar titles—Mirage, Caprice, Masquerade, Kaleidoscope, Blindfold—all of which lacked the charm of the original.

Among those who tried to imitate Donen’s magic formula was Donen himself in Arabesque (1966): “Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren asked me to find a movie for them,” he said. But that humorless duo turned out to be, in Donen biographer Joseph Caspar’s words, about “as exciting as Friday night in a Benedictine abbey.”129

Back in Hollywood, Grant’s delight with Charade was expressed in his comment to a reporter, “All I want for Christmas is another movie with Audrey Hepburn.“130 He didn’t really need anything else: His share of Operation Petticoat (1959) had netted him about $3 million, and he would earn $4 million in percentages from his previous hit, That Touch of Mink (1962). With no pressing need to rush immediately into Father Goose production, Grant the good liberal took time off for some volunteerism in Washington, lending his name and support to Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s campaign to curb high school dropouts.


A typical newspaper advertisement for The Children’s

Hour (1962): Director William Wyler’s original title was



Did Nature play an ugly trick and endow them with emotions

contrary to those of normal young women?”

He was not the only one with New Frontier connections. More than once, President John F. Kennedy had phoned Audrey Hepburn to compliment her on a film and to say she was his favorite actress. On May 29, 1963, she reciprocated at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York by singing “Happy Birthday, dear Jack” at the President’s forty-sixth-and last—birthday party. Audrey’s pretty little rendition caused much less stir than that of the previous year’s serenader, Marilyn Monroe.

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