“A wife entirely preoccupied with her affection for her husband, a mother entirely preoccupied with her affection for her children, may be all very well in a book (for people who like that kind of book) but in actual life she is a nuisance.”
-GEORGE BERNARD SHAW
AUDREY HEPBURN WAS HAUNTED BY THE TRAUMA OF HER FIRST marital breakup and almost fanatically determined to avoid another one. In sadder but wiser hindsight, she assessed the situation as follows:
“I decided that if and when there was a second marriage, I would not let my fame or anything at all get in the way of personal happiness—for myself, for him, for my son and for the second child I hoped for. [Andrea] and I had what you could call an open arrangement. It’s inevitable, when the man is younger. I wanted the relationship—the marriage—to last. Not just for our own sake, but for that of the son we had together.... I still believe the child has to come first. 1
“[Divorce is] one of the worst experiences a human being can go through. I tried desperately to avoid it.... I hung on in both marriages very hard, as long as I could, for the children’s sake, and out of respect for marriage. You always hope that if you love somebody enough, everything will be all right—but it isn’t always true.”2
It was time to act on a statement of principles she had made four years earlier to journalist Curtis Bill Pepper:
“Marriage should be only one thing: Two people decide they love each other so much that they want to stay together.... So, if in some way I don’t fulfill what he needs in a woman—emotionally, physically, sexually, or whatever it is—and if he needs somebody else, then I could not stick around. I’m not the kind to stay and make scenes.”3
Audrey, says Anna Cataldi, “behaved fantastically. She even stayed in Rome after they separated because she wanted Luca not to be split between his father and mother.”4
Dr. Dotti would later tell a People magazine reporter, “I was no angel—Italian husbands have never been famous for being faithful. But she was jealous of other women even from the beginning.”5 Hepburn would later come to a less Italian conclusion. “Those open marriages don’t work,” she said. “If there’s love, unfaithfulness is impossible.”6
“THE DIFFICULTY with stars,” says Billy Wilder, “is, what do they do at fifty or fifty-five?”7
It struck Audrey—as it had stricken the critics and millions of her fans--that Bloodline was no proper way to end such a grand film career. Her next picture, if she ever made one, might well be her last and had better be good. Among those clamoring for her film presence was director Peter Bogdanovich, who flew her to Los Angeles in January 1980 and instantly charmed her with his personality and with a script idea.
The title They All Laughed was borrowed from a Gershwin song composed for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Shall We Dance (1937). The story was a quirky romance-suspense caper concerning four private detectives in New York whose love lives get mixed up with their sleuthing.
Barbra Streisand, after working with Bogdanovich in the hilarious What’s Up, Doc?, called him “a horny bastard but brilliant.” He had been in a slump since the poorly received Daisy Miller (1974) and At Long Last Love (1975)—starring his paramour, Cybill Shepherd. He spent the next three years breaking up with her, and then made SaintJack (1979), Paul Theroux’s novel of a Singapore pimp, starring Ben Gazzara.
“Benny couldn’t get a job in a feature to save his life then,” Bogdanovich recalls. “None of the majors wanted him. I said, ‘Fuck it,’ I was fed up with the whole system, so I went to Roger Corman and we made Saint Jack for under $2 million. When I screened it for Barry Diller and Michael Eisner in my projection room in Bel Air, they both flipped over Ben, and the next day—literally—they cast him in Bloodline.”
Thenceforth, Gazzara was an unsolicited hotline of information. During Bloodline, Bogdanovich recalls, “he was constantly calling me about Audrey.... ‘Is she wonderful? Oh, Jesus, an angel come down from heaven!’ They fell in love, he said. But Benny was going through a very bad time. His divorce was about to start. He would tell me these things candidly.
“So I wrote They All Laughed for Audrey, knowing what I knew because Ben had told me. I wrote those things into the script, and she knew it when she read it. It was what she was going through, an unhappy marriage, ten-year-old kid—all written for her based on what was happening in her life.
“The original idea of the detectives getting involved with their own clients was much like movie people who get involved romantically during their movies. It’s an occupational hazard. So it was really a thinly veiled picture of our own lives.”8
Cinema à clef. David Susskind bought the first draft of the script, but by the time it got to production, “it was totally different—almost unrecognizable except for the title,” says the director, “and Susskind was going crazy.” The project was sold to Time-Life Films, a new arm of the media conglomerate, which was looking for its first big hit and felt Audrey was the star to launch it. If They All Laughed even approached the success of Paper Moon or What’s Up, Doc?, everyone would be in clover.
The first version of the script was melancholy. In it, the detective played by John Ritter was still getting over a girl based on Shepherd. “It was going to be just Cybill’s photograph,” says Bogdanovich. “That was the joke. She and I had just broken up. But in November , I met Dorothy, and she and I fell madly in love. Her original part was just one scene. But I decided to stretch her story out into a happy ending, and I rewrote the whole thing from the middle on.”9
Gorgeous Dorothy Stratten, a twenty-year-old Canadian model, was Playboy’s 1980 Playmate of the Year. When Bogdanovich met her at a Hugh Hefner party, all thoughts of Cybill Shepherd vanished from his mind. Stratten’s previous film work consisted of one unreleased film and one that should have remained unreleased——Galaxina (1980), a kind of Star Wars spoof in which she played a robot. But Bogdanovich was smitten and determined to make her a star. He also wanted to marry her, but she was already married to (though separated from) a small-time Los Angeles hustler named Paul Snider. While Stratten was shooting in New York, Snider was enraged by press stories of her affair with the director. He bought a shotgun and told friends, “I’m going to kill Bogdanovich,” but nobody paid attention to his threats.
Another marriage was breaking up, as well. The Dottis had begun divorce proceedings by the time Hepburn arrived in New York City in mid-1980 to begin filming They All Laughed. She was depressed about that, and her life in general. Gazzara’s casting had been reason for her acceptance of the film: She was happy to be reunited with him, though she was distressed by the new round of tabloid stories blaming her for Gazzara’s divorce from Janice Rule. That subject was avoided in a New York Times interview with Michiko Kakutani on June 4, 1980, at the Cafe Pierre, where she sounded her “family values” theme once again but otherwise limited the discussion to her role.
She would be playing a Euro-millionaire’s wife in search of a Manhattan escapade—“witty and fragile and strong,” said Bogdanovich. “What I think is interesting is bringing an actor and character together so you don’t know where one leaves off and the other begins.” Audrey went along with it. “You have to refer to your own experience,” she told Kakutani. “What else have you got?” That—and her directors, whom she credited, as always, for her film success :
“I’m not trying to be coy. I really am a product of those men. I’m no Laurence Olivier, no virtuoso talent. I’m basically rather inhibited and I find it dif ficult to do things in front of people. What my directors have had in common is that they’ve made me feel secure, made me feel loved. I depend terribly on them. I was a dancer and they managed to do something with me as an actress that was pleasing to the public.”10
She still tried to control her wardrobe, at least. But in the case at hand, Bogdanovich recalls, “I came up to her room one day at the Pierre, laid out all her clothes, and said, ‘I like this shirt, these pants, this scarf.’ She said, ‘Fine.’ No Givenchy. Blue jeans, a pea coat, a silk shirt. Everything she wore in the movie was what she walked around in normally.”
Several scenes in the film were shot on Fifth Avenue in the middle of the day, and the actors had to mill around in the stores during the setups. There were no luxury trailers for the stars, but “Audrey complied without a sigh,” says Bogdanovich, and “never threw her weight around. Everyone knew her, of course, so after ten minutes, she would come out of a shop beaming: ‘Just look at what they gave me, Pete-ah. Look at this lovely umbrella! This wonderful handkerchief!’ I told her, ‘You can work the other side of the street tomorrow.”’
As she never asked for special treatment, she also never asked for any of her lines to be changed. Instead, says the director, if she didn’t like her dialogue, “What she’d do in her own sweet way [was] simply change the line. She’d say, ‘Oh! Terribly sorry, Pete-ah. I thought that was the line.’11...
“I caught onto it after a while. I’d say, ‘That’s not the line.’ She’d say, ‘Oh, isn’t it? I’m so sorry. I’ll say the line—what was it?’ I’d say, ‘No, yours was better.’ She’d say, ‘Oh, no, no. Are you sure?’ I’d say, ‘Yes, darling ... ”’12
Bogdanovich did her other favors during production, not least of which concerned her son Sean. The previous year, at nineteen, he had decided that one semester at the University of Geneva was enough and that he’d rather go to work—in films. With his mother’s intercession, he was hired as an assistant director on the Terence Young film Inchon, a Korean war epic produced by the Reverend Sung Myung Moon’s Unification Church, starring a deeply uncomfortable Laurence Olivier as General Douglas MacArthur (and, coincidentally, Ben Gazzara in a supporting role). On one of Sean’s first days on the Korean set, an extra was killed in a crowd scene, and it fell to young Ferrer to collect the body.
“Audrey worried so much and wanted Sean to banish it from his mind,” recalls Rob Wolders. “But it was the school of hard knocks. He really wanted to make his own way.”
Before production of They All Laughed began, Audrey invited Bogdanovich to an intimate family dinner. It was clear that he was not just to have supper but also to see if a place for Sean might be found on the picture:
“It was love at first sight. I sat next to him and you looked into his eyes and you wanted to hug him. He was the most adorable kid you’ve ever seen. I thought, ‘I’d like to look at him every day,’ so I asked if he wanted to be my assistant. He said yes, and that was it. He carried my script, my cigars, woke me up at six o’clock, made omelets for me on a hot plate—he’s a brilliant cook—drove me, whatever I had to do. He was my guy.
“And then I wrote him into the picture. There was a Latin guy named José, and I said, ‘Why don’t we have Sean play it? He’d be great.’ Sean said, ‘I don’t think I can act.’ But he became that part, got so many laughs based on his attitude—totally Sean. At one point, he’s walking with Colleen Camp and she says, ‘You’re very rich,’ and he says, ‘Rich? Oh, a little ...’ A nothing line. I don’t think it was even in the script. But the way he delivered it was fabulous.” 13bl
The four private eyes in the film are played by Gazzara, Ritter, Blaine Novak and George Morfogen, who all work for the Odyssey Detective Agency and fall in love with the women they’re trying to follow. The audience, for its part, must try to follow a plot with more twists and turns than the Pacific Coast Highway.
Ritter was then regarded as a hot property from his Three’s Company TV series, but his physical-shtick comedy in They All Laughed is unfunny and progressively more annoying, providing an example of Bogdanovich’s weakness for choosing actors on the basis of looks. But on the other hand, his casting of the unknown Blaine Novak (as dope-smoking Arthur) and George Morfogen (as the boss detective, Mr. Leondopoulos) was inspired. Morfogen and Novak were coproducers as well as costars of the film, as Bogdanovich recalls:
“George Morfogen was an old friend of mine. In What’s Up, Doc?, he had a small part but got big laughs as the wine steward in the banquet scene.... I’m for having the actors get involved. George was particularly good with scripts, and we were rewriting as we were shooting. We would all sit around—George, Benny, me—and then we added Blaine, who had worked for [John] Cassavetes on the distribution of Woman Under the Influence.
“Blaine was a long-haired, weird kind of hippie-radical kid, and so was his character in the film. In real life, he had six or seven girlfriends all the time—in this macho, fucking-around scene that I’d never been a part of. It was new to me, but I was getting into it. The film reflected that scene.”14
During They All Laughed shooting, Novak and Sean Ferrer became close friends. As Sean always called his mother “Mutti,” Novak started to call Audrey “Mutti,” too. “She didn’t mind at all,” says Bogdanovich. “She thought Blaine was funny.”15bm
Blaine was funny—in life and in They All Laughed—but the film, overall, was not. Its few good flashes of comedy called for Madeline Kahn and Ryan O’Neal, rather than Colleen Camp and John Ritter, while the Gazzara-Hepburn romance element of the story was Grade B Two for the Road,at best.
Years later, the question still remains: What was the sex appeal of Ben Gazzara ? On- and offscreen, why were beautiful women so eager to jump into bed with him? He seems so devoid of charm, so wooden, so unjustifiably smug.
“You see more of his charisma in Saint Jack than in They All Laughed because of his sad character,” says Bogdanovich, “but Audrey helped supply what he was missing. She knew how to pick up on the weak point of another actor and compensate for it without destroying her own performance.”16
But there was too much art imitating too much life. To an intimate new friend, she confided that Gazzara was just “walking through” his part, giving her nothing to work with. In the end, even Bogdanovich knew that Gazzara and Hepburn didn’t click. “Ben was going through his divorce,” he says, “and had started an affair with another woman he ended up marrying later.bn I think when Audrey realized all that, she was very disappointed.”
Gazzara felt Hepburn was pursuing him, and was alarmed. She was “the marryin’ kind,” and marriage was the last thing he wanted at that point. “I’d work with her anytime, anywhere, anyhow,” he said. “She’s a beautiful, sexy, talented woman.“17 But there would be no new romance between them, if indeed there had ever been one in the past.
Hepburn’s “rejection” by Gazzara, however, was a blessing in disguise. While They All Laughed was still shooting in New York, another man would not only console her but would eventually provide her with the happiest and most stable relationship of her life. Everyone assumed his name was Bogdanovich.
“The newspapers hinted there was something going on between Audrey and me,” says the director today with a chuckle. “Audrey and I kidded about it because something was going on with her, and Audrey knew that something was going on with Dorothy and me. So when it appeared that we were having an affair, we kind of encouraged it with some intimate photos taken when we were shooting on Second Avenue—me sitting in my chair, her sitting in my lap—that made it into the papers. We were very huggy and kissy. I absolutely adored her. Our relationship was very close, but of course it never got near an affair.”18 Bogdanovich was in love with her, all right—professionally:
I’ve never seen anybody change so much in front of a camera as Audrey. In life, you’d think, ‘How is she going to get through the day or even the hour?’ Her hands are shaking, she’s smoking too much, she’s worried, she’s being kind of desperately nice to everybody, she’s so fragile—how the fuck can she survive? But between the time she stepped in front of the camera and you said ‘Action!,’ something happened. She pulled it together. A kind of strength through vulnerability—strength like an iron butterfly. You couldn’t possibly get her to be any righter. You could only say, ‘a little faster, a little slower.’ The performance was true, never weak, always strong and clear. It was an amazing thing to watch, this professional completely in charge of her instrument without even thinking about it. I think it was all second nature. 19
Bogdanovich’s personal, as opposed to professional, love was reserved for Dorothy Stratten, whom he encouraged to watch and learn from Audrey Hepburn on the set. Stratten did so and was fascinated by Audrey’s discipline. There were reports that the two women became very close.
“Not at all true, unfortunately,” says Bogdanovich. “I don’t think Dorothy and Audrey ever spoke. Dorothy was extraordinarily shy and awed by Audrey. They passed in one scene on Fifth Avenue—the only time you see them together. Dorothy looked like she wanted to talk to her, but it didn’t happen.”
Back in California in August 1980, a few weeks after shooting on They All Laughed was completed, Stratten was staying with Bogdanovich in Bel Air when she decided to pay a visit to her estranged husband for the purpose of expediting their divorce. Bogdanovich was later criticized for letting her go alone, but that was with the advantage of hindsight: Deranged and wildly jealous, Paul Snider terrorized her at gunpoint before blasting her in the face and then killing himself as well.
Actor Tony Curtis, who knew Stratten from Hefner’s Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles, remembers her as “very naive about the profession she was getting into and easily manipulated by any guy who made an overture—and in those days everybody made overtures to everybody. She’s the perfect example of a tragedy that didn’t need to happen.”20
Hepburn was extremely supportive after the murder and described her as a very sweet kind of angel, says Bogdanovich, who quoted Audrey in his book about Stratten, The Killing of the Unicorn: “It’s as though she just came down long enough to make this picture, and then she was gone.”21
“It broke my heart,” he says.
The murdered Stratten thus became the tragic star of They All Laughed, and the film itself an object of morbid curiosity instead of a pleasant romp. “When Dorothy was killed, the picture was killed,” Bogdanovich says. “The melancholy story of Audrey was supposed to be juxtaposed with the happy story of Dorothy, but now there was no way to look at it without it being almost unbearable.”bo
Even morbid curiosity failed to generate much attendance, and neither did the reviews. “It’s aggressive in its ineptitude,” wrote Vincent Canby. “It grates on the nerves like a 78 rpm record played at 33 rpm.” Newsweek called it “an aimless bust, unencumbered by a visual or structural scheme. It wanders through a series of boîtes, boutiques and hotel lobbies in the vagrant hope of witnessing a privileged moment.... At 52, the eternal gamine has become a figure of icy chic.”
“They all laughed, but you won’t,” said the Providence Journal, griping that Hepburn “can’t have had more than 10 pages of dialogue” in the film.22
Bogdanovich pleads nolo contendere:
“If I had not been struck by a terrible calamity, I think I would have edited it better. The director’s cut is clearer.... I lost $5 million of my own money on that picture, which was why I went bankrupt in 1985. We never could get it booked. You can’t fight the majors. I was so shellshocked—I went into therapy after that and found I was trying to destroy myself.”23
Bogdanovich is hard on himself and the film, but in fact it was acclaimed in such prestigious quarters as the Venice Film Festival and in Variety, which called it “probably Bogdanovich’s best film to date.” One of the most appreciative critics was Bill Cosford in The Miami Herald:
“Imagine Woody Allen’s Manhattan without the angst. [They All Laughed] recalls Manhattan just a little because it is a romantic comedy not just about people but about the city of New York, which always makes a good costar when properly handled.... This one should have been a hit.... For a flop, this is one interesting film.”24
The Atlanta Journal reviewer called it “oddly disjointed” but concluded, “I can probably forgive a movie almost anything if it allows me even a glimpse of Audrey Hepburn.”25
The next-to-the-last glimpse on film, as it turned out. Bogdanovich sums up the They All Laughed experience—and Audrey—with brutal candor:
If it hadn’t had been for Audrey, we couldn’t have done it. And she didn’t want to do it that badly. Finally when I said, “Audrey, I wrote the whole picture for you!”, she said, “Oh, all right.” Even when I decided to use Sean, it wasn’t definite that she was going to do it....
She understood how to marshal everything she had. It was an extraordinary mechanism. Maybe she got tired of moving that mountain. She was very insecure. She was also so hurt. I noticed that she was somebody who had been wounded many times, and when you’re wounded in the same area, you grow scar tissue. She was a survivor, but it was painful. There was a sense of lost gaiety around Audrey that she could never quite recapture. I felt it was from all the guys that had treated her badly....
I sensed this would be her last film, which is why I did the ending as a montage of all those shots of her. I felt it was a farewell to that Audrey Hepburn. As the helicopter took her away, I thought, ‘The world is taking her away.’ I had a strong sense that she didn’t really enjoy making pictures anymore. The fun had gone out of it for her. She didn’t think it was important anymore.26
Hepburn and Bogdanovich “almost” made another picture together. In 1991, “I tempted her with Noises Off,” says the director. “She thought about it for a while, but then she said no.” The part went to Carol Burnett.
AUDREY WAS decidedly “down” during much of They All Laughed shooting, Peter Bogdanovich recalls, but “it became a happy thing. It started to happen for her, toward the end of shooting, when she met Robbie.”27
Robert Wolders, seven years younger than Hepburn, had been a costar of the popular television western series Laredo, and the fourth husband of the recently deceased Merle Oberon.
“I happened to be in New York when Audrey was doing the Bogdanovich movie,” says Anna Cataldi, “and she was very mysterious about this new man. When I went back to Italy, Andrea told me, ‘Audrey has found somebody!’ He was terrible about it. Everybody assumed it was either Bogdanovich or Ben Gazzara.”28
The fateful meeting of Hepburn and Wolders came about through Connie Wald, widow of the celebrated producer-writer Jerry Wald. She was Audrey’s closest friend and regular hostess in Los Angeles. Hepburn loved her beautiful but unpretentious stone house in Beverly Hills, with its wood-paneled library and state-of-the-art screening room full of Jerry’s film memorabilia, including his 1948 Irving Thalberg Award.
Connie had also been a good friend of Merle Oberon, and of Rob Wolders, for more than a decade. She was struck then, and still is, by his “intense caring and devotion to Merle,” especially after Oberon had open-heart surgery.
“Merle and I used to go to Connie’s often,” Wolders recalls. “Merle had died about two months earlier, and Connie felt I should be with friends because I had been keeping to myself. She said, ‘Come to the house for dinner. It’s just family.”’
Wolders arrived to find that the “family” included Billy and Audrey Wilder, William Wyler—and Audrey Hepburn, Connie’s current houseguest. (“We always had Billy and Willie together when Audrey came,” she says. “It was a love fest.”29) Also present were Kurt Frings, Lenny Gershe and Sean Ferrer.
Some claim that Connie was actively matchmaking. “Heavens no,” she says today. “That never works.” In any case, Wolders recalls, “Audrey was extraordinarily sweet with me that night. We spoke Dutch and talked about Merle a great deal. Sean was wonderful with me, too. Later he said he remembered that I seemed to be hiding behind a certain chair. Connie took a picture of the two Audreys on either side of me [see photo 45]. That evening helped me considerably.”
Audrey later told interviewer Glenn Plaskin, “I was charmed with him that night, but he didn’t register that much. He was getting over the death of Merle, [and] it was the worst period of my life, one of the low ebbs. We both cried into our beers.”30
Four months later, Wolders had to go to New York and Connie said, “Audrey’s doing a picture there—you should call her.”
He did so.
“She seemed pleased to hear from me but when I asked her to dinner, she said they were doing night shooting and it would be impossible,” he says. “I thought it was a gentle, subtle way of rebuffing me. But I was in New York two more weeks and, on my last night there, I was dressing to go to a small party with some friends when the phone rang. It was Audrey, saying she wasn’t shooting that night and would I like to have dinner? I said I had another commitment and asked if she’d like to join us. She said, ‘No, thank you, but would you like to come by for a drink?’ I said, ‘Great.’ I wanted to see her again.
“So I met her at the Cafe Pierre, we sat down for a drink, and before I knew it, an hour had passed. Audrey said, ‘Do you mind if I have some pasta?’ I said no, of course. So she had a huge plate of pasta. An hour and three quarters passed, and I realized I was quite late. I joined my friends and had to leave early the next morning for Los Angeles. But after that, we spoke almost every day and got to know each other on the telephone.”
Those conversations in the beginning, he says, “were not romantic tête-à-têtes. She was counseling and advising me and then gradually, she started to talk about her own life and began to seek my counsel. I was the one calling her, but then one day, she called me, which gave me an entirely different feeling about her. It meant that she cared enough to speak to me, whereas, up to then, I thought perhaps she was just ‘accommodating’ me. That’s when I went back to New York and we began a kind of clandestine relationship, which she went into very reluctantly.”
Her main concern was for Luca, not Andrea. When she returned to Rome, Dotti said, rather flippantly, “You look very beautiful—you must be in love.” She replied, rather daringly, “I am!” Their marriage was by then irreparable, but it wasn’t entirely Andrea’s fault. To Rob, she confided an example of the problems caused by her own emotionalism a few years earlier:
“She was extraordinarily close to her makeup man, Alberto de Rossi, and to his wife, Grazia. When he died, Audrey was destroyed—not only for Grazia. Her own pain was so intense that Andrea thought it excessive. He could not comprehend the depth of her sorrow, and that contributed to their rift; Audrey’s melancholia was so intense that it became difficult for Andrea to deal with, and he criticized her, she told me. Without making herself the victim and him the villain, she was investigating where she might have failed. I think she was also keen to find out what had made Merle’s and my marriage so successful.”
ROBERT WOLDERS was born on September 28, 1936, in Rotterdam, the son of a KLM airline executive. He was four years old during the Nazi destruction of Rotterdam, after which a farmer friend of his mother’s said, “You can bring your children here.” Dutch people in those days used to take their china and silver into the countryside to trade with the farmers for food. Rob and his sister spent the terrible Hongerwinter of 1944 with that farm family in a tiny village near Zwolle, just ten miles from Arnhem.
“There is a great irony in the fact that Audrey and I were so close to each other then,” he says. Later, in discussing the impact of the war on their childhood, they found that they both shared the odd feeling that “this was the way things had to be. An occupation wasn’t anything unusual. I thought everybody lived like that. We thought America was someplace up in heaven—it didn’t really exist. Audrey frequently pointed out, and I experienced it, too, how close families grew to each other and the humor we found in everything—her mother’s extraordinary dedication to her and her grandfather and her aunts. She said those were, in a sense, among the best years of her life.”31
After the war, several members of his family emigrated to Rochester, New York. Rob joined them in 1959, with a goal of becoming an actor. He enrolled at the University of Rochester, where he founded an avant-garde theatrical group called “Experiment ’60.” He was much praised for his production of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame and for his bold direction of Ghelderode’s Escuriel-a “triumph that should elevate him to professional echelons,” wrote one Rochester critic. On the strength of three successful seasons as the leading figure and guiding spirit of that group, Wolders was accepted by the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, where he studied for two years. He was then engaged, in July 1963, as a novice at the Spoleto Festival, where he directed (and played “Greeneyes” in) a much-admired production of Jean Genet’s Deathwatch, supervised by Jerome Robbins.
By 1966, Wolders was costarring with Neville Brand and Philip Carey in the NBC-TV series Laredo, where his appearance in some fifty episodes drew raves. Variety hailed him as “a very suave addition to the Texas Rangers.” The Hollywood Reporter said he set a record “for authoritative audacity” on the Show.32
Soon enough, he got a movie contract. “Handsome Dutch Import Groomed as Star,” read one headline. Said Monique James, a talent scout for Universal: “We have started a momentum for him by introducing him importantly in Beau Geste and following it up with a good role in the forthcoming Tobruk. I have no doubt that his face will register immediately with the movie public, but we want him to be an experienced, knowing actor.”33
Sadly for Wolders, neither film lived up to expectations. Beau Geste (1966), costarring Rob with Telly Savalas, Guy Stockwell, Doug McClure and Leslie Nielsen, was the least successful version of that French Foreign Legion adventure. Tobruk (1967), directed by Arthur Hiller, costarred Wolders with Rock Hudson and George Peppard in a World War II action tale of the destruction of Rommel’s fuel supply in the Sahara. It was better than Beau Geste but sabotaged by its slow pace.
In 1970, at thirty-four, Wolders met and became involved with the veteran star Merle Oberon, then fifty-nine. Soon after, she emerged from retirement to produce and costar with him in her final film-a steamy “vanity picture” called Interval (1973).
Shot in and around the Mayan ruins of Chichen-Itza, Mexico, Interval was the tale of a globetrotting older woman, on the run from her past, who finds true love with a much younger man—Rob Wolders. Their common bond is purely existential: both are caught in the “interval between being born and dying.” Oberon looks nowhere near her sixty-two years, and hunky Wolders makes a noble effort to be fascinated by her; their modestly undraped love scenes are tasteful enough (see photo 43). Oberon and screenwriter Gavin Lambert deserved credit for at least trying to address the age issue.
“You’ve been very kind to me these last few days,” she says to Rob at one point, “but surely you want to be with young people.”
“Are you afraid of the past?” he asks.
“Not at all,” she replies. “I’m faced with it. Most of it’s not worth remembering.”
As tearjerkers go, Interval was no Intermezzo or even Interlude, and the critics were brutal. But the film’s failure did not diminish the offscreen ardor of its costars. Oberon and Wolders were married two years later, in 1975, and took their places in the international jet set, where Rob thenceforth tended to her and her career instead of his own.
One of Oberon’s closest friends was Mignon Winans, who often stayed with her in Acapulco during those years and watched the progress of her relationship with Wolders:
“He’s such a kind, serious person, and Merle thought he was just wonderful. He understood women—the tender side of women. Some do and some don’t. They were certainly a happy couple. More than any of her marriages, this was the one that made her the happiest. His refinement is what she was very much attracted to. There aren’t too many men who have that quality, that aura. He gave her a lot.”34
Rob was ever gentle, says Eleanor Lambert, who was also a friend of Oberon’s. “In a way, when he was with Merle, he was her slave. Not a slave of passion, but her adorer. If she had something within reach, she’d ask him to cross the room and hand it to her. That’s how courtly he always was.”35
Now and then, the words “gold digger” came up; some assumed Wolders married Oberon for her money. The truth was otherwise. “Because Merle was married to a wealthy industrialist, the presumption was that she was very wealthy, which was not the case,” says Wolders. “When she left Bruno Pagliai, a man she loved a great deal, she did not ask for a major settlement.”bp
Merle Oberon died on Thanksgiving Day 1979. Five months later, her legendary jewel collection netted $2,446,000 at a Christie’s auction. Some $1.4 million of that was divided into equal trust funds for her adopted daughter and son, Francesca and Bruno Pagliai, Jr. The remaining $1 million was bequeathed to the Motion Picture Country Home and Hospital. Wolders got not a penny of it—by his own request, five years earlier, at the time Oberon made out her will. He was left only with the Malibu beach house which they had purchased jointly. It was reported that, shortly before her death, Merle had instructed him to find and marry someone else and not spend the rest of his life alone.
“This thing about ‘instructions’ ... ,” says Wolders, shaking his head. “I had told close friends that when I said to Merle she couldn’t leave me because my life would be ruined, she became perturbed with me. She expected me to have more courage. She said, ‘You owe it to me to be happy, to restart your life.’ But instructions to find another woman to marry? No.”
But it was true, he says, that Merle and Audrey had known and much liked one another:
“Audrey talked to me a great deal about Merle. Once while Audrey was married to Mel and not having a very positive attitude, she saw Merle at Doris Brynner’s house. Audrey said she spent most of that day with Merle and it turned her around. One of the reasons why she extended herself to me so much at our first meeting was because of her admiration for Merle.”
It was a curious coincidence that both women had played the same role in The Children’s Hour for William Wyler, but Wolders says they never commented on each other’s performances: “Neither Merle nor Audrey talked very much about their film work, but what struck me was the openness and vulnerability in both of their faces in that part. They both had a similar type of naturalnessand innocence.” To some extent, they even looked alike, with their high cheekbones and exotic, slightly slanted eyes.
The early stage of the Wolders-Hepburn match was complicated by the Hepburn-Gazzara gossip. “Her family was together at Christmas when those stories surfaced,” says Wolders, and despite the fact that the divorce was well along, “Andrea was consumed by jealousy. She resented that very much at the time. But we could laugh afterwards over her supposedly having an affair with Gazzara, when she and I were well into our relationship by then.”
A few months later, he began to visit her in Rome, where he rented an apartment because “Audrey and I, for Luca’s sake, didn’t consider it quite right to live openly together.” Audrey’s fondest wish was that Luca and Rob would like each other, which was inevitably the case. Except for Mel Ferrer and Andrea Dotti, no one in or out of Hepburn’s family ever disliked Rob.
“Robert made Audrey so happy,” said their friend, the late Eva Gabor. “She and I both chose very badly as far as men are concerned, as most actors do, because one doesn’t have time to give it a chance. But Robert was wonderful, very European and genteel—a true gentleman in every way.”36
Wolders’ integrity and devotion were a revelation to Hepburn: Here, after so many years, was a gentle spirit who had no interest in dominating her, only in taking care of her and accepting her wishes. She had, says Wolders, “almost a child’s need or capacity to trust and to entrust herself to someone. Once she trusted someone, she would give them her life.”37
Audrey felt like a new woman with new enthusiasm. There were things to do and places to go with a wholly sympathetic companion who would help her come to terms with the loose ends of her life, while retaining his own life and independence. They decided from the start to avoid the legal entanglements of marriage and to keep their finances completely separate. After years of Andrea’s tricks, she now had a Dutch treat.
CHIEF AMONG Audrey’s “loose ends” was her kinfolk. During her ten years of marriage to Dotti, she had been preoccupied with him and Luca to the extent of neglecting her own relatives in favor of his. Now, with Rob’s stolid Dutch support, she once again turned her attention to them. Wolders has described Audrey’s mother as “a superior woman” but “biased and intolerant and critical of most everyone, including Audrey. She did, fortunately, have extremely demonstrative aunts.”38
Her favorite was Miesje, widow of Otto, who was shot during the war. Miesje never hesitated to embrace and give her physical affection, says Wolders, and “Audrey regarded her almost as more her mother than Ella.” When Miesje moved to Switzerland in her seventies, Audrey and Rob visited her often and, when she became ill, went to see her daily. They got her into a special nursing home in Morges, where she died—in Audrey’s arms—in 1986.
She was equally attentive to her youngest aunt, Jacqueline, the former lady-in-waiting to Princess Juliana. “It’s amazing what Audrey did for her aunts,” says her cousin, Hako Sixma van Heemstra, in the Netherlands. Audrey looked after Jacqueline until her death in 1990 and made her last years livable.
Infinitely more complex, however, was Audrey’s relationship with Joseph Hepburn-Ruston—her father. Rob Wolders has a strong opinion on the subject:
It’s not true Audrey was trying to hide the truth about him over the years, or that she thought of him as a skeleton in the closet. If it was important at all to her career, it was from about 1948 to 1952. After Roman Holiday, you could have had it on the front page and it would not have hurt her. With me, she seemed eager to talk about it and get my feelings, perhaps in part to explain why she couldn not love her parents as unconditionally as I or others loved theirs. But it didn’t wreck her life; it made her more just and fair. Audrey fought the tendencies to reject her parents. She was extremely good to both of them.39
The melodramatic story that she never saw her father after he abandoned her in the 1930s has been shown to be untrue. It is known that, after the war, Audrey learned through the Red Cross that he was alive and eventually mustered the courage to see him in Dublin in 1959. Unknown is the fact that he came to visit her in Switzerland in the late sixties and that, ever after, she kept a photo of him and herself from that visit in her dressing room.
In October 1980, when Hepburn received word that her father was gravely ill, she desperately wanted to see him again but was full of trepidation. She asked Rob to come with her.
“We flew to Dublin, and it was an amazing experience,” Wolders recalls. “He reached out to me with the knowledge—I’m convinced—that what he conveyed to me, I would convey to Audrey. He said extraordinary things about her and about his regrets for not having given her more in her childhood, for not showing his love for her.”
Joseph Hepburn-Ruston died the next day, October 16, 1980, at the age of ninety. The funeral was private, and there were no obituaries. His fascist past would be buried with him.
“What’s important,” says Wolders, “is that she had no bitterness toward him. She felt a certain pity for his having been simplistic enough to believe in fascism, but her anger was directed toward the movement, not him.... I regret that Audrey chose not to do an autobiography. I wish the public would have known her feelings about her father. She didn’t hate him for his fascism, but she became what she was in reaction to it.”
During an interview ten years later, Phil Donahue observed that at least her father “died knowing you loved him.”
“Yes,” she replied, “and I knew that he loved me. It’s always better late than never.”40
THE PROBLEM with her mother was entirely different.
“She taught me to stand straight, sit erect, use discipline with wine and sweets, and to smoke only six cigarettes a day,” was Audrey’s wry summary. “She opposed both my marriages, maybe knowing neither man was going to be totally good to me. But I must say, she adored Robbie.”41
Ella was bedridden during most of the time Wolders knew her, but they spoke a lot of Dutch together, he recalls, and as with Audrey’s father, “I had the satisfaction of knowing that I was a sort of conduit between her and [Audrey]. Her mother, I think, suffered a great deal because she was unable to show her sentimentality. But Audrey’s father’s second wife, after his death, forwarded to us a series of letters her mother had written to him, talking of her extreme pride in Audrey. They were able to express it to one another, but not to Audrey.”
The greatest insight into Ella van Heemstra comes from an unlikely source—Funny Face author Leonard Gershe:
“I met her when we were shooting the musical numbers in Paris. The two most unnecessary things on a set are the star’s mother and the writer, not in that order, so the two of us would go off and have a Dubonnet in a café. That’s how our friendship began, and it flowered from there.
“She stayed with me in Los Angeles when she was trying to decide where to settle out here in the early sixties. I didn’t know the Greg Pecks then—they’re good friends of mine now, but this was a long time ago—and one day, Ella got a call from Véronique Peck. ‘She wants to take me to lunch tomorrow,’ Ella said. ‘Will you tell her how to get here?’ I got on and gave her directions —second right, then the first left, etc....”
The next afternoon, when Gershe asked Ella how her luncheon had gone, she said Véronique had been almost an hour late to pick her up, and then supplied the details:
Véronique made a wrong turn and went to the wrong house. A housewife in her apron answered, and Véronique said, “Hello, I’m Mrs. Gregory Peck,” and the woman invited her in. She sat down. The woman said, “Would you like something?” Véronique said, “Are you going to have something? All right.” The woman told her how much she liked Gregory Peck, and they chatted about his pictures. Finally, the woman said, “Mrs. Peck, are you here about some charity?” “No,” she said, “I’m waiting for Baroness van Heemstra.” The woman said, “Oh, is she coming, too?”42
Ella found it hilarious. “She had great humor and so did Audrey,” says Gershe, “but unfortunately they didn’t have it together—they didn’t share laughs. I adored her mother, but Audrey did not like her very much. She told me Ella had been a fascist, had gone along with her husband, and when she got rid of him, she got rid of that, too, and was ashamed of him. I was always perplexed about that. If Audrey said it, it was true. Audrey did not lie. But the Ella I knew was nothing like that.”
Ella eventually picked San Francisco over Los Angeles as her residence through the early seventies. There, she did volunteer work and “came to all of us, including Audrey and me,” says Gershe, “to raise money for the boys coming back from Vietnam, who weren’t getting proper benefits because it was an undeclared war. The Ella I knew was working her ass off in a VA hospital.”
Once or twice a year, she came back to Los Angeles to visit her friend Mildred Knopf, wife of producer Edwin, and to be entertained by George Cukor, among others. “Ella was a very dignified and commanding presence,” recalls Connie Wald, “quite majestic.”43 Gershe was struck by the fact that both the mother and the daughter stuck rigorously to their roles:
Ella played the role of stern mother. She was a different person when she talked about Audrey—judgmental—and she took her role of Baroness quite seriously. She was proud, in the pejorative sense. You could tell by the way she walked into a room that she felt slightly superior to everyone else. It was not one of her endearing qualities, but there it was. It embarrassed Audrey, who was exactly the opposite, and that was another one of the walls between them.
On the other hand, Ella could be very silly when she wanted to be, and so could Audrey. But Audrey never knew that woman. They didn’t know they were really very alike. There was always that hand held up—“Don’t come any closer!” ... Ella thought Audrey was a wonderful actress, but she couldn’t tell her that. She was very proud of being the mother of Audrey Hepburn. That was even better than being a baroness. Ella once said to me, “When I was young, the three things I wanted most to be was thin, beautiful and an actress. Isn’t it ironic that I should have a daughter who’s all three?”
Audrey once told me she never felt loved by her mother, but Ella did love her, believe me. Often, people can’t tell the object of their love they love them; they’ll tell other people, instead. I probably would have hated Ella as a mother, but I loved her as a friend.
In the last letter she wrote to Gershe, from Tolochanaz in 1982, Ella enclosed a picture of herself and said, “We hope to see you over here after the snow leaves us. We shall have the garden in bloom and plenty of butterflies, and they should be free.”bq The letter ends with, “I love you, Lenny!”
“She never wrote that before,” says Gershe, “and I never heard from her again.”
Baroness Ella lived with her daughter at La Paisible in Tolochenaz for the last ten years of her life. She died there, on August 26, 1984.
YEARS LATER Hepburn was asked, “Since your marriage to Mel Ferrer in 1954, you’ve always lived with a man. What have you learned about them?”
“Nothing,” she replied. “What can one learn about them? They’re human beings, with all the frailties that women have. I think they’re more vulnerable than women. I really do. You can hurt a man so easily....
“I love Robbie very, very much. It’s not Romeo and Juliet; we’ve had our tiffs, but very few. It’s a wonderful friendship; we like each other.... He is solid in every way. I can trust him. I trust his love; I never fear I’m losing it. He reassures me. We like the same life, being in the country, the dogs, making trips together.... He’s absolutely there for me.”44
Said Wolders at the time: “It’s important that I convince Audrey that love is still possible, because I think she must have begun to feel that it’s not in the cards for her anymore.”
Rob had moved in with her at Tolochenaz much earlier, even though her divorce was not finalized at the time. Andrea had been dragging his feet, insisting that Luca remain in his custody in Rome while he continued to attend school there.
“I witnessed her pain during the process of the divorce, and it was heartwrenching,” says Wolders. Such was her hypersensitivity that she identified with Dotti’s pain as well.
“Audrey told me, ‘I suffered so much for Andrea,”’ says Anna Cataldi. “She used that exact phrase. For her, Andrea was so important. She said, ‘If Andrea would ask for my skin, I would give it to him.’ I never, never heard her say anything negative about him. I think she knew it was quite negative for Andrea’scareer to be with such a famous woman. He was a doctor, not a real-estate agent, after all. The publicity, he was looking for in the beginning, but he got more than he bargained for.“45
The divorce finally came through in 1982.br For all the depth of her relationship with Wolders, she was in no mood for another wedding. Journalists kept asking when she and Rob were going to get married, and if not, why?
“We’re happy as we are,” she said.
Wolders’s elaboration was wise: “Everyone knows how unhappy her marriage to Mel was, and the second, to Andrea, was even worse. It would be like asking someone who has just got out of an electric chair to sit back on it again.”46
THOUGH AUDREY was essentially retired these days, Eleanor Lambert thought she had a tempting little non-film offer that might appeal to her. Lambert was a prominent publicist, writer and consultant whom Hepburn credited with helping shape and promote her image in the very beginning.
“I’d known Audrey for a long time,” says Lambert, “and she was still a sort of symbol of Tiffany’s because of the film.” Lambert handled Tiffany’s publicity, and when the store expanded in 1981, she suggested Audrey as the perfect spokesperson and guest of honor at the opening of Tiffany’s new branches. “They thought it was a lovely idea,” says Lambert, and so did Audrey. Lambert sent her a detailed itinerary—press conferences, photo shoots, ribbon-cutting appearances—and Hepburn agreed.
“But suddenly, she changed her mind,” says Lambert. “She was traumatized about being photographed candidly. She would [only] pose for photographs. She was too timid to appear in a casual way—which she later did extensively [for UNICEF]. But that relaxed way of seeing herself must have come through years of thinking it over.”47
The bridge between her movie career and her next vocation would not be a commercial gig for Tiffany’s, although it did involve public appearances: a series of retrospectives for some dear friends in the film and fashion worlds. However nervous such affairs made her—and they did—it was time to pay back old favors in that most valuable currency, her presence.
First of the lot was the American Film Institute’s 1981 tribute to Cary Grant in Washington, for which she wrote and delivered a lyrical poem on friendship, dedicated to Grant, “a very special player who’s also been my friend.” Thrilled and moved by her appearance, Grant wept at the end of it, even as he traded hugs with Ron and Nancy Reagan.
Over the next five years, Audrey materialized at four separate testimonials for her favorite—Hubert—in New York, Tokyo, Los Angeles and San Francisco. She was honorary chairperson of the affair in Los Angeles, where Givenchy received the first California Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award at an event that raised a half million dollars for the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts.
In May 1983, she cochaired a Givenchy retrospective at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, where designer Jeffrey Banks, who had fallen in love with her at age eleven when he saw Funny Face, couldn’t wait to meet her. They were introduced by his friend John Rizzuto, President of Givenchy America, but the longed-for meeting fell short of Banks’s expectations:
I was a little disappointed. She was perfectly cordial but she seemed distant. It wasn’t the magical moment I had created in my head. John called me the next morning and explained that Audrey’s mother had fallen and hurt herself just before Audrey left Switzerland, and she really didn’t want to leave. She got up several times during the evening and called her. Every other time I saw her, she made you feel like you were the only person on earth. She was just totally preoccupied with her mother that night.48
The decline and death of her mother had been preceded by the 1979 death of her brother Alexander, at fifty-eight, in a freak domestic electrical accident in Spain.49 It was a time of milestones: She was distraught about David Niven, her old British pal and neighbor of the last twenty-five years. In happier days, they used to visit Noel Coward together in Paris. Now, she and Rob were making sickbed calls as he suffered through the final stages of Lou Gehrig’s disease. Niven died at seventy-four in the village of Chateau d’Oex, near Gstaad, in August 1983.
William Wyler had passed away two summers before. In 1985, at the request of his daughter Cathy, Hepburn went to New York to participate in a PBS documentary tribute to Wyler. There, she was interviewed by New York Post reporter Stephanie Mansfield at the Algonquin, on the condition she not be asked personal questions. But there was nothing to prevent Mansfield from reporting a Kodak moment she witnessed at the end of their chat:
“She leaves the suite, slings her purse over one bony shoulder, and meets Sean, a tall, handsome twenty-four. Standing in the elevator, she gazes at him with obvious pride. In the lobby, she links her arm through his and dons an enormous pair of Holly Golightly-style black sunglasses.”50
“Best friends” Audrey and Sean had always been close but now seemed to draw even closer. Sean’s career in film production was advancing. Later that year, he married Italian designer Marina Spadafora, daughter of the scion of a leading continental fashion company. The two twenty-five-year-olds were wed at St. Peter’s Church in Los Angeles, and both of the groom’s parents were present—the first time they’d been seen together since their divorce.bs Audrey’s wedding gift to the newlyweds was a $375,000 house in the Hollywood Hills, which they would not occupy together for very long.51 Sean and Marina were divorced in 1989.
The year 1986, for Audrey, held a new spate of high-profile galas, starting with her first appearance at the Academy Awards in some years. There to hand out the award for best costume design (to Emi Wada for Kurosawa’s Ran), she got a standing ovation and stole the show in her stunning, pink, sari-type Givenchy gown, edged in sparkling gold, offset by an audacious set of triple-tiered earrings.
A few weeks later, she hailed a beloved mentor at the American Film Institute’s “Salute to Billy Wilder.” She also appeared, in these years, at no fewer than four separate tributes to Gregory Peck.
“We wanted to interview her for a biography of Gregory Peck,” says documentary filmmaker Gene Feldman, “so I called her agent, Kurt Frings. A woman answered and said, ‘One moment, please.’ Well, it was fourteen or fifteen minutes that I waited. Finally, a voice came on and I could hardly distinguish it. Mr. Frings had had a stroke and could barely speak. But he was still her agent. In this cutthroat, miserable business, that was an insight into the unique kind of woman she was. People were telling her, ‘You must get a new agent.’ But she refused.”bt
For that shoot at the Pierre Hotel in New York, Audrey showed up at the appointed hour of ten a.m. but said, “Oh, Gene, I have a problem. I forgot earrings. One minute, I’ll be right back.” She returned a few minutes later, Feldman recalls, “and with her was a very burly man who I thought was some friend she had met on the elevator. He came in and stood there eyeballing her the whole time. She had gone down to Bulgari’s in the lobby and borrowed clip-ons worth $45,000, and they had sent up this man to guard her while she did the interview.”52
George Eastman House in Rochester held a tribute to Gregory Peck during a week in 1987 when Rob and Audrey were visiting Rob’s mother there. As a surprise, “we sneaked Audrey in through the back door,” says Wolders. The honoree beamed as she recalled the thrill of being “cast opposite Gregory Peck—the beautiful, quiet, gentle hero of countless marvelous movies. In my innocence I thought he’d be just like that in real life. He was.”
She was the honoree herself that October, in New York, at the annual benefit tribute of the Museum of Modern Art to raise money for its Film Preservation Fund. She had lost none of her drawing power: At $1,000 a ticket, a sellout crowd showed up for screenings of Roman Holiday, Sabrina, Funny Face, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, My Fair Lady and Robin and Marian.
The following April, 1988, she was back for the sixtieth annual Academy Awards to present the Oscars for Best Original Screenplay and Screenplay Adaptation (John Patrick Shanley for Moonstruck and Mark Peploe and Bernardo Bertolucci for The Last Emperor) in the company of Greg Peck.
“I hated going out to those black-tie things,” says Rob, “and so did Audrey, but they were obligations. We would steel ourselves to get through it and, when it was over, rush home and tear off the formal clothes. You’d be on your best behavior and then get the hell out of there. But Audrey knew it was usually her last opportunity to pay tribute to the colleagues she loved, people like Fred Astaire and Cary Grant. In a sense, it was fun and one looked forward to it—until you had to go.”
Much more fun than usual for both of them was a major festival in Holland, “Film and Fashion,” arranged by Leendert de Jong of The Hague’s Filmhouse, to honor film costume designers such as Yves St. Laurent, Edith Head and of course Givenchy.
“I wrote to her,” says de Jong, “and a week later, I got a call from a man who spoke Dutch and said, ‘We would like to know more.’ I thought he was her agent or something and forgot to ask his name. The next time he called, I said, ‘I’m sorry, but who the hell are you?’ He laughed and said, ‘Audrey and I have lived together for years.’ I blushed to the phone. After that, he was amazing. He organized everything with so much calm and humor.”53
Audrey opened the festival on November 18, 1988 and spent four days in The Hague with Rob. De Jong decided to kick off the series with Funny Face because “it is of course the best fashion film. Beforehand she said, ‘I hope you find a good print and that the colors are still bright.’ I said, ‘When was the last time you saw it?’ She said, ‘At the premiere.’ She hadn’t seen it since then, and Robert had never seen it! I was amazed.”
After Funny Face, the Filmhouse held an auction of couture dresses and a big bottle of Givenchy’s perfume, the money from which was given to UNICEF. A wide variety of Dutch film and political celebrities was present, and there was a tense moment when a woman showed up for the auction in the exact same Givenchy dress that Audrey was wearing. “Everyone said, ‘Oh my God, she’s got on the same dress!’ But Audrey just laughed and said, ‘Let’s take a picture.’ She told the other lady, ‘It suits you well.’ ”
The next day, she opened an exhibition titled Givenchy, Worn by Audrey Hepburn at the Municipal Museum of The Hague, to which she had contributed four suitcases of her own clothes.
When it was time to leave, de Jong drove Hepburn and Wolders to Schiphol International Airport and, on the way, got an unexpected insight into—of all things—Audrey’s late mother:
“As we neared Amsterdam, we saw a windmill, and it reminded Audrey about visiting Holland with her mother in the early ‘60s. Her mother had pointed and said, ‘Audrey, that is the last windmill in Holland.’ Audrey said, ‘No mother, there are a lot of windmills.’ She said, ‘No, you’re wrong. This is the very last one.’ She thought all the rest were destroyed.”54
There are, of course, hundreds of beautiful windmills remaining in Holland. But Ella van Heemstra believed otherwise, and no one could dissuade her from that conviction.
DOMINICK DUNNE in Vanity Fair told a fine anecdote from around this time: At one of Swifty and Mary Lazar’s famous Academy Award parties, Dunne watched Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor give each other a warm embrace, after which Audrey pointed to one of Elizabeth’s enormous jewels and asked, “Kenny Lane?”
“No, Richard Burton,” replied Taylor, and both stars screamed with laughter.55
Their friendship was nurtured by Doris Brynner, a good friend of Taylor’s. “We did a fund-raiser for AIDS in Basel,” says Brynner. “Elizabeth was cochairing it, and Audrey came because I asked her to, if I may take credit. Audrey and Elizabeth had tremendous respect and admiration for each other.”56 The following year, at an event honoring Taylor for her AIDS work, Audrey delivered a moving tribute:
“Never have I been more heartbroken than by [seeing] babies with AIDS. I will be haunted by the unspeakable suffering in the eyes of their mothers.” If and when a vaccine is found, it would be thanks to tireless researchers but “above all, to the determination and love of one woman, Elizabeth Taylor, who at a time when AIDS was spoken of only in whispers, had the courage to speak out with such force that we were obliged to listen.”57
When in Hollywood, says Doris Brynner, “Audrey might see Elizabeth or Billy and Audrey Wilder or the Jimmy Stewarts, whom she was very fond of, and have dinner with them. But she really wasn’t the Hollywood type. She worked there—rented a house, did the job—and then came back to Switzerland.” 58
These days, Audrey had no pressing financial need to work. Nevertheless, in February 1987 she agreed to make her first film in seven years and first TV film in thirty years—Love Among Thieves, directed by Roger Young. Some said she was motivated by the desire to let her aging, ailing agent Frings collect his commission on her $750,000 fee. But her costar Robert Wagner debunks the idea that she did it as an act of charity: “Kurt was pretty well financially set. Audrey was always in demand and would always have given the fee to Kurt, no matter what.”
Together with Jeffrey Hunter, Robert (“R.J.”) Wagner shared the “Prince of 20th Century-Fox” crown in the 1950s, playing a variety of juvenile roles. In the end, however, he was not well served by his studio, which seemed determined to keep him from developing into a full-fledged leading man. “I was left there,” he once said, “with a tennis racket in one hand and a beach ball in the other.”59 But he eventually found great success in several television series, It Takes a Thief ( 1968-70), Switch ( 1975-78) and—most of all—Hart to Hart ( 1979-84).
The last of those happened to be one of Audrey’s great favorites. “I love Hart to Hart,” she told a reporter, “and I’ve seen every episode on TV in Switzerland.” But why would she choose an ABC-TV film above all other proposals? It was because of executive producer Karen Mack, she said: “I wasn’t really all that keen to work. I’ve become very lazy. But I was tempted and said I would like to do something if it was going to be fun, something cheerful. Karen came up with [Love Among Thieves], and when she threw in R.J. Wagner, that did it.”60
They had long known each other, both in Hollywood and in Gstaad, where Wagner had a chalet and saw her on and off. But they had never worked together. Now, when he heard she wanted to appear with him, “I was very flattered. I read the script and said, ‘Show me where to go for makeup and let’s get started.’ Working with Audrey was one of the highlights of my career.”61
It was a mystery-heist story with elements of Charade and How to Steal a Million: Audrey, a baroness and concert pianist, is now also a thief—forced to steal some priceless Fabergé eggs and deliver them to ransom her kidnapped fiancé in Latin America. Wagner, her seatmate-from-hell on the airplane, is relentless with the wisecracks and the running gag of annoying Hepburn with his cigar. Their adventures take place in the fictional country of “Yaruba”; the actual location was a kingdom called Tucson.
“I’m not very elegant,” said Audrey of herself in the role. “I only have one dress, and it was filmed in Tucson, where it was 102 degrees.”62 Wagner, who had a home there, recalls “a lot of running around in cars in the heat. Audrey arrived every morning looking absolutely terrific, with her dogs.”63 But on film, she didn’t look quite so terrific in either of her two Givenchy creations—the black and white gown at the beginning (concert pianists do not wear hats!) or an unflattering red one at the end. She looked all fifty-eight of her years, in fact—but was none the less effective for that. Wagner most remembers the shooting of the finale in a government building in San Francisco:
“They brought in one hundred dress extras and at one a.m., when she came out to do her concert-pianist thing, they all stood and applauded her for three minutes. At that hour! She treated everybody so beautifully and created such a positive atmosphere around her. What you saw is what she was, in everything—my God, even her garden looked like her! I raise horses, and when she left to go back to Europe she gave me a wonderful painting of a horse, which I cherish and have hanging in my bedroom. She’s probably the most wonderful woman I ever met.”64
Contemporary critics were likewise enthralled with Hepburn but not with Thieves Like Us—a prototypical “TV-movie” shot mainly with commercial breaks in mind. By appearing in it, she was “stooping way down to conquer,” said Variety.65
“Audrey Hepburn can do no wrong,” wrote John Leonard in New York magazine. “She can, however, be done wrong [as in] War and Peace, which was Tolstoy for morons. In the thirty years since her last appearance in an original television production [Mayerling], nobody at Lorimar seems to have learned anything.... Love Among Thieves wants to be witty and just sits there with a drool.”66
R. J. Wagner sighs and says, “I thought the critics were rather harsh with the picture. They were going for the ratings on TV and put it up against some pretty heavy stuff. Maybe they expected too much from it.”67
“IF A WOMAN of fifty is very thin, she can pass for years younger,” said Audrey Hepburn around 1979.
But what about a woman of sixty?
“Audrey was so beautiful, of course,” says Audrey Wilder. “But when you get older and you’re that thin, it doesn’t usually become you.”68
“She was too, too skinny when I saw her at parties,” insists Zsa Zsa Gabor.69 She had always been thin, but some thought she was now looking almost emaciated. In any case, it wasn’t her look but her health that mattered. The “A”-word was bandied about privately—anorexia—and a more aggressive series of interviewers got close to saying it when they questioned her.
“Why are you so thin?” asked Barbara Walters in March 1989.
“I was born thin,” Audrey replied. “My grandmother on my father’s side—we have exactly the same figure. I eat very well and I eat everything I want....”
“And nothing puts the weight on?”
“May I ask what you weigh?”
“Fifty kilos. A hundred and ten pounds.”70
By current medical standards, a healthy woman of Audrey’s height (five-foot-seven) should weigh 127 pounds. She was thus only about 14 percent below “normal,” not enough to be clinically defined as anoretic.
“I don’t put on weight—it’s not part of my metabolism,” she told an Australian TV reporter in 1988.71 “I was just born this way,” she protested to another interviewer.72 Phil Donahue drew her feistiest responses to such personal probing in 1990:
DONAHUE: You never became an egomaniac?
HEPBURN: How do you know? ...
DONAHUE: You are sixty.
HEPBURN: Sixty, yes—not sixteen, no.
DONAHUE: And you’ve had no cosmetic surgery?
HEPBURN: Naturally—not. [Applause; she turns to address the audience.] They said he was so great and so friendly. He’s asked me about my age and cosmetic surgery, and we haven’t done two minutes yet!
DONAHUE: And you’ve never had a weight problem?
HEPBURN: No.... If I get nervous, I don’t eat. I like to eat. But I need not to be nervous to eat. I’m very nervous, you see. I’m nervous now.73
Leslie Caron thought she had, if not anorexia, at least some kind of eating disorder. “Shirley MacLaine told me that [during The Children’s Hour], all she had for lunch was a hard-boiled egg. I would think that at times, when she was very nervous, she was almost anorexic. I’ve had that throughout my life. In times of stress, I can become anorexic if I don’t counterattack.”74
Laurie Stone in the Village Voice had a feminist take. In the fifties and sixties, wrote Stone, “No one talked publicly about anorexia; no one, in describing Hepburn, discussed the impulse to escape [gender stereotypes] expressed in radical dieting.... Her image was fabricated to suppress evidence of struggle.”75
But Givenchy and virtually all her other friends maintain that Hepburn never adhered to any tyrannical diet. “Hubert told me she would make huge plates of spaghetti and eat it quite enthusiastically,” says Leslie Caron.76
“I know some people that eat nothing but salad and vinegar,” says Audrey Wilder. “But not her. She was always eating spaghetti or a version of it.” Billy nods in agreement, adding, “She was so thin because she was a dancer.”77
Some claimed that her problem was bulimia, evidenced by the frequent hoarseness of her voice. Others say no—she was merely a smoker, easily tired by interviews. “I never saw her jump up and run to the bathroom at dinner af fairs,” says Jeffrey Banks. “She was just one of these people who was blessed with being basically thin, and a lot of people were jealous of that.”78
Doris Brynner gets irate on the subject:
“How dare they say she was anorexic? She loved her food and her spaghetti and her ice cream. She was just lucky that she didn’t put on weight; we all do after a certain age, but she never did. She adored her food.”79
Eating disorders range widely, of course, and “anorexic” is a loaded cultural term when used loosely as an adjective. Its informal adjectival meaning is lack of appetite; almost everyone is “anorexic” when sick, for instance. Anorexia nervosa, on the other hand, is a serious psychological or personality disorder—an aversion to food and obsession with weight loss or body image, for reasons of vanity or self-denial. “There’s a fine line between ‘fashionably thin’ and neurotic,” says diet authority Marilynn Gump. “Audrey obviously chose to be thin, but that’s no evidence that she had any clinical inability to nurture herself or repulsion to food.”80
Later Hepburn chroniclers would make strong assertions of anorexia.81 But the fact was, Audrey’s eating pattern never really varied over the years, and neither did her weight.
“THE CITIES are not a place for you if you are famous,” she said. “With the paparazzi in Rome, there is no privacy.... It is because I live in the country in Switzerland that I can lead a totally unself-conscious life and be totally myself. 82 ... I have a delightful rose garden and I have an orchard and jams and jellies to preserve. Sean is grown and married now, but he’s still very much a part of my life. Luca attends boarding school in Switzerland but is home every weekend.”
She was very much “a citizen of the world,” says Doris Brynner, “but Switzerland was home, and for such a long time. She adored her house.”*
Tolochenaz is just forty minutes from Geneva by train—a little local that changes at Nyon. As it treks northward, a wide expanse of land unfolds before the sparkling lake; beyond that are the Swiss Alps with their snow-covered caps. Clusters of new apartments are interspersed with great stretches of carefully maintained grapevines and row upon row of meticulously espaliered fruit trees. It is agriculture très fin, indeed.
There is no “station” at Tolochenaz, just a small sign, a walkway up to the road, and no indication whether the town is off to the left or to the right. It’s to the left—a fifteen-minute walk—and on a typical Sunday, there’s not an open shop or a soul to be seen. Empty, quiet, shuttered. One passes straight through in a minute or two.
Off the main drag to the west, up a rigorous climb, is the first of several entrances to a stunning estate: On a stone herald, in a script muted by centuries of rain, are inscribed the words La Paisible. The house at first doesn’t seem charming, imposing or even caractéristique. It looks ordinary. Why would Audrey Hepburn choose a home so close to the road—perhaps fifty feet away—and such a busy road at that?83
The answer lay within and behind the rambling, 1730 vintage farmhouse, especially in its expansive orchard and gardens where the mistress of the manor could usually be found digging. “Wonderful therapy being down in the dirt,” she said. “I couldn’t bear to live a social life.84
“I can take long walks, as I understand Greta Garbo does, and no one interferes with my thoughts and tranquility. Come to think of it, the other day I was on Fifth Avenue [in New York] and I saw a woman who could very well have been Garbo; I was a bit tempted to go up to her, but then I thought, ‘My God, practice what you preach! If it is her, you’ll be intruding—just the thing you don’t like yourself.’ ”85
In her orchard, she declared proudly, “every fruit you can imagine grows. First it’s the cherries, then come the plums, the greengages, apples, pears and quinces. And the berries, too, the raspberries. It takes a lot of care.”86
Her gardener, Giovanni Orunesu, was a former shepherd and the brother of her housekeeper Giovanna, who served her through the years with Ferrer, Dotti and Wolders over two decades. “Audrey took him and his wife in after a terrible drought in the seventies when his whole herd died and he had no place to go and a child on the way,” says Wolders. “Audreybu and Giovanni worked closely together on the garden ever after.”
Inside, the house was comfortable, balanced and pleasing. “It was beautiful and spectacular, but it wasn’t for show,” says garden enthusiast (and PBS producer) Janis Blackschleger, who visited her in September 1989. “It was for use.”87
On the solid white walls in the main hall was a huge painting of her grandfather and his brother with their dogs. On a nearby bureau sat photos of Audrey hugging Sean, her father on horseback, her brothers as children, Colette, Connie Wald, and—the only solo portrait of herself—a signed Cecil Beaton shot. On the ground floor was a room containing nothing but baskets, where she arranged her flowers. Overall, the furnishings were sparse, but “she loved every piece of furniture there,” says Anna Cataldi. “She would say, ‘I bought this dining table when I got married,’ and then tell you about it. Everything was white and beautiful in that house....
“My daughter Giaccaranda was in a Swiss boarding school then and sometimes spent the weekend at Audrey’s. My other daughter was a manic depressive [in a clinic at] Lausanne. They asked, ‘In case of emergency, who is the person to contact first?’ The name was always Audrey. We all asked too much of her.”88
By then, Audrey had lived in Switzerland for more than a quarter of a century.
“I love it,” she told Dominick Dunne. “I love the country. I love our little town and going to the open market twice a week. And Robbie and I are potty about our dogs.... They are totally dependent on you, and therefore completely vulnerable. And this complete vulnerability is what enables you to open up your heart totally, which you rarely do to a human being. Except, perhaps, children. Who thinks you’re as fantastic as your dog?”89
She was also very fond of ducks, and had a great number of duck decoys scattered about the house, though she hated the idea of hunting. For that matter, she had no real interest in any sports, including—to the amazement of the Swiss—skiing. She and Rob shared not only interests but disinterests. “We talked about the fact that in our Dutch childhood, skiing was for the elite,” says Wolders, “and you had to have money—which we didn’t—to go to Austria or Switzerland to do it.”
She was much more interested in the quietude of her home and the people she cared about, one of whom was Leendert de Jong. When he took her and Rob to the airport at the end of the 1988 “Film and Fashion” festival in Holland, she had kissed him and said, “Leendert, you must visit us in Tolochenaz.” He thought she was just being polite but found out otherwise in 1989:
I called and said, “Audrey, my friend and I are going to the Venice film festival. Can we drop by?” She said, “You’re very welcome.” So we drove to Tolochenaz and stayed for four days. We just shared their daily routine—the market, shopping, meals together in the evening. We spoke about her mother and children ... personal things ...
She liked to get up very early. She said, “I have some sins,” and one them was smoking. She was smoking cigarettes and answering letters in her white dressing gown with her hair loose, no makeup. She said, “I’m sorry, I don’t wear makeup at home.” I said, “Of course not.” She would take us to the kitchen and make breakfast.... One night at dinner when I asked her something about “stardom,” she said, “Oh, come on, I’m not a movie star. Liz Taylor is a movie star.” I think she really meant it. She said, “You chose to be in films as a programmer of an art house. I happened to be an actress. It was not my first choice, but I did my best to do it as well as I could. I became this, you became that, another person becomes a carpenter....” As a movie buff, I wanted to hear some stories, but she didn’t like to speak about that so much. My friend was a big Montgomery Clift fan and he said, “Did you ever meet Monty?” She said, “Oh, yes, a darling man.” And then she walked into the kitchen, and that was the end of the discussion....
On Sunday when we were leaving for Venice, she said, “I’ll make lunch so you can eat it on your way.” We said no, don’t bother. “No, no—what do you like on your bread?” I said cheese and butter, and my friend said, no butter. She gave us two Chanel bags and we thanked her, kissed goodbye. Halfway to Venice we stopped and opened the bags. There were real glasses inside and two pieces of paper, one with my name and one with my friend’s—with and without butter. She was always taking care of people.90
Swiss society and geography lent itself to a kind of selective intimacy. “Everybody respected everybody else’s privacy,” says Rob Wolders. “Even with someone like Hubert, a great friend of forty years, months went by when we wouldn’t see him. But then he and Audrey would pick up right where they left off. She had very strong friendships like that. The strongest was with Doris Brynner, though Doris used to be annoyed with us because she thought we were antisocial sticks-in-the-mud. But from the time Audrey and I met, we basically made time only for each other and didn’t go out much. We loved films and I got tapes of everything of any consequence, which we watched.”
Watching movies on TV was her favorite pastime, she told Wichita Eagle film writer Bob Curtwright at the time.91 She loved Gerard Depardieu’s Cyrano “because they kept it intimate,” and Spielberg’s ET, and “anything with Michelle Pfeiffer in it. I like to watch them in my bed—that’s the best place! I just saw Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons in The Mission and thought that was a lovely film. And I very much liked Prizzi’s Honor.”
When asked to name her favorite contemporary actresses, she cited Pfeif fer, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts and Cher (see Cher’s letter to Hepburn, Chapter 10, pp. 328-29.) “Cher has an enormous scale of emotions and total lack of inhibition, which I haven’t,” she said. “Meryl Streep is a phenomenon. She can make herself look any way she wants and become so many different people. She can do anything she wants. I can’t.”92
Wolders was fascinated by the way Audrey influenced people like Julia Roberts and Liza Minnelli. “Like so many of the younger actresses I saw with Audrey, she and Liza had this wonderful hugging thing—this trust.” Nastassia Kinski encountered Audrey for the first time in Paris, at the French Oscars. “I felt a tap on my shoulder,” says Rob, “and this demure little girl whispered, ‘Can I meet her?’ Audrey turned around at that moment and they recognized each other. Kinski took Audrey’s hands and, not quite knowing what to do, just held her hands to her face and kissed them like a child.”
On the few occasions when she went into Geneva, Rob or Doris would drive her. Doris had a boutique there. But something about Geneva did not appeal to her—perhaps its obsession with money. “C’est juste” is one of the most common expressions there, meaning “That’s right,” as when correct change is given. Like most things in Geneva, it implies an economic transaction. The better shop doors, with their POIGNÉE AUTOMATIQUE signs, open by themselves at your approach to make it easier to buy. In that haven of commercialism, it seems that few ideas and even fewer feelings are exchanged. Thousands of elderly women (“Greta Garbos,” some call them) walk around in fur coats, often talking to themselves. The great Swiss banking culture has created not only a prix fixe for everything but great social distance.93
In subtle ways, it reinforced Hepburn’s reluctance to go there more than necessary. Doris Brynner was better equipped and more adept at dealing with it, but even she understood the social and professional implications for her friend: “We were always pushing Audrey to make another movie,” Doris says, “but the only thing she really looked forward to was staying home.”
ROB WOLDERS looked forward to the same thing, bewitched by Audrey and everything about her—not least, conversing with her in their native tongue. “She was the only person I ever knew who made Dutch sound beautiful,” he says. They spoke it frequently “because there are Dutch expressions that just don’t exist in English. Audrey was able to do various Dutch accents very well, especially the more vulgar dialects, which amused her very much. She would break me up. Sometimes we used Dutch to say things we didn’t want anyone else to understand. Her Dutch was heavenly, the most palatable I ever heard—the kind spoken prior to the war, learned from her mother and grandfather.” Says Rob’s brother-in-law, Dr. Ronald Glegg: “When she went into Dutch, her sense of humor came through more. Her tone of voice changed, and she became more childlike and endearing.” But linguistics were only the most obvious of their many cultural and emotional ties.
“Robbie is totally Dutch,” she told Alan Riding of The New York Times Paris bureau. “The two of us discovered how much pride we had in our roots and the respect we have for the Dutch.... They’ve always had an immensely practical and courageous way of dealing with things. They’re not fussers, they’re solid and very liberal.... Rob has a lovely Dutch family—umpteen sisters and a wonderful mother. As you get older, it’s nice to feel you belong somewhere—having lived a rather circus life.”94
Audrey instantly connected with the Wolders clan, most of all with Rob’s mother, Cemelia, whom she would soon call “Mama.” They developed a strong, surrogate mother-daughter relationship, says Dr. Glegg, husband of Rob’s sister Grada: “The Wolders family is very tightly knit. Audrey recognized that and fit in closely on many warm occasions in Rochester around the dinner table with a dozen relatives.” Otherwise, her favorite place there was most unlikely: the huge, suburban Irondequoit Mall.
“It’s the most beautiful one I’ve ever seen!” she’d exclaim. “Can we go?” Glegg recalls her “teenager’s pleasure there—and she looked like a teenager, too, in her jeans and sweater.” He savors, even more, her visits with him and Grada at their home on Longboat Key in Florida: “She loved the pristine beauty, the birds, the barefoot walks in the sand. She tended to take charge of our kitchen, and that lady in the kitchen with no makeup and curlers in her hair didn’t mind being seen that way.”95
All of her life she had been searching for a man capable of returning her love unequivocally. In Rob, she had finally met “her spiritual twin, the man she wanted to grow old with.96 It took me a long time to find [him, but] it is better late than never. If I’d met him when I was eighteen, I wouldn’t have appreciated him. I would have thought, ‘That’s the way everyone is.’
“I still feel I could lose everything at any moment. But the greatest victory has been to be able to live with myself, to accept my shortcomings.... I’m a long way from the human being I’d like to be. But I’ve decided I’m not so bad after all.”97
Her need for the quiet life was fully in sync with his own, says Wolders: “Sometimes, Audrey would become exasperated because Doris or somebody would say, ‘What do you do all day?’ We found that the day would fly by because the things we were involved with took a lot of time—the market, and so forth. You cook a meal carefully, hours go into that. For our own sake, but mostly for the dogs, we’d go to the lake and take our walks there. On a Sunday afternoon, if the weather allowed, we would have a swim, take some sun—in— variably, at some point, Audrey would disappear and come back with a basket of fruit or vegetables.”
Wolders recalls the summer of 1990 when the huge, seventy-year-old willow tree outside their home keeled over and crashed to the ground—“this thing that we both loved. It was so big that even lying on its side, the branches were still higher than the house. Then Tuppy, our Jack Russell terrier, died.” Those events might strike others as trivial, “but they were tragedies for us. It’s amazing how such things become so important when you lead that kind of life. Luca once laughed his head off because adjacent to the house was the little village church, and its bell would sound on the hour and half hour. It was a major part of our lives, but they were doing some renovation and we missed those wonderful sounds. One day, the bells started to peal at noon and we both yelled. We were so delighted. Luca thought we were nuts. But it was a part of our lives that had been restored.”
Life in Tolochenaz, after all, was simple.
“We would go to town to shop,” Rob recalls, “which meant going to the dry-goods store, the stand where we bought our mushrooms, etc. Audrey loved shopping—and she was a maniac in a supermarket. She said it harked back to the starvation days when you needed a coupon to get an ounce of butter in Holland. The supermarket in Tolochenaz didn’t exist until about five years ago, but she loved it. She was like a child, and we would end up with a lot of stuff we didn’t need. In the smaller shops, she’d settle into a discussion with the owners, and I preferred those places because she wouldn’t go bananas.”
When asked what, for her, would constitute the perfect day, Audrey once replied, “It’s going to sound like a thumping bore, but my idea of heaven is [having] Robert and my two sons at home—I hate separations—and the dogs, a good movie, a wonderful meal and great television all coming together. I’m really blissful when that happens. [My goal] was not to have huge luxuries. As a child, I wanted a house with a garden, which I have today. This is what I dreamed of. I’d never worry about age if I knew I could go on being loved and having the possibility to love. If I’m old and my husband doesn’t want me, or my children think me ugly and do not want me—that would be a tragedy. So it isn’t age or even death that one fears, as much as loneliness and the lack of affection.” 98
There was no danger of her children rejecting her, and no lack of affection from Rob. Paradoxically, for not being her husband, she found she could count on him even more.