She dazzled millions as Gigi. Eliza Doolittle. Holly Golightly. But to her most adoring fan, Audrey Hepburn was best known for her role as “Mummy.”
In this heartfelt tribute to his mother, Sean Hepburn Ferrer offers a rare and intimate glimpse into the life of one of Hollywood's brightest stars. Audrey Hepburn, An Elegant Spirit is a stunning compilation of nearly 300 photographs, many straight from the family album and never before published; archival documents, personal correspondence, and mementos; even paintings and illustrations from the actress herself.
Sean tells Audrey Hepburn's remarkable story, from her childhood in war-torn Holland to the height of her fame to her autumn years far from the camera and the crush of the paparazzi. Sean introduces us to someone whose grace, charm, and beauty were matched only by her insecurity about her appearance and talent, and who used her hard-won recognition as a means to help children less fortunate than her own. With this unique biography, Sean celebrates his mother's history and humanity—and continues her charitable work by donating proceeds from this book to the Audrey Hepburn Children's Fund.
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Read an Excerpt
Preface: The Secret
I am writing this preface almost nine years after Audrey Kathleen Hepburn-Ruston left us. She was or should I say, is my mother. I started writing this little book on January 21, 1993, the day after she passed away. It took me roughly four years to put the first words to paper.
The actual writing took maybe a few months. It's what happened before and in between that took some time. I am quite sure by now that everyone who loses a parent, as we all do sooner or later, could write a book. As it did for me, it might feel like the only book you'll ever write. Weeks, months, years may pass between writing sessions. You too may experience something that can no longer be called writer's block. You see, it's not about you. It is about the one person in the world who is more than you! And in my case, it is about someone who was most dear to me, the very person who brought me here and saved me time and time again, when I needed her for my survival. Yet she was someone whom I couldn't help or save in the end. So I find myself endlessly rolling these few words like pebbles in the river of my story so that the smooth stones that emerge will be worthy of your time and her spirit. I want you to know...what truly counts, yet in a way that won't ripple her peace.
As one theory has it, our organs have varying life expectancies. For example, our lungs, the meekest and the most useful, have the shortest life span: roughly 60 years. Our brain, of which we use less than 10 percent and therefore the least useful of our organs, as well as our greatest liability, has an expected life span of somewhere over 150 years. In writing this book, I have discovered something new and exciting:
My memory will outlive all of them.
Long after I'm dead, and long after my brain dies much later, of course (which is why I'm planning on being either cremated or buried with a chessboard), I will remember all this...and the scents. I close my eyes and remember, through the noise, her scent: powdery, elegant, safe, strong, the scent of unconditional love. I look down and see her delicate hands, their skin so thin I can faintly see their veins, her nails round, soft, and clear. Yet these are the hands that have held me, carried me, talked to me. They caressed me, they walked me to school, and I held on to them when I was scared. Oh, how I miss them! What I would give to feel them running through my hair...in my sleep, once more.
What happened? My head is still spinning. Wouldn't yours be if your mother was Audrey Hepburn? My mother died in 1993, and still...she's everywhere: on television all the time, at the video store, in magazines, in bookstores, on huge billboards in airports and on freeways, downtown on a bus stop shelter, in every conversation I have sooner or later with everyone, in my work and in my thoughts, especially since I started writing this book, and in my dreams...sometimes.
Talk about larger than life. She weighed 110 pounds and measured five feet seven.
How fortunate that our memories of her are good. They leave a gentle wake, like a sunny empty room that feels good. It's there, at times stronger, at times gentler the perfect combination of sweet and sad. The sweetness of her, the sadness of her.
I have thought much about this book endlessly agonized as to whether this should be revealed. After nine years I have come to terms with it. I am telling it to you because there is little to be ashamed of, and because it may be helpful to others.
My mother had a secret.
I don't think she would mind my saying it. We see things much more clearly...after. So here it is, the great secret.
She was sad.
Not that life treated her badly, and therefore she was sad. Life was tough but good. My mother was sad because of what she saw happening to the children of this world. I think we all made her a little bit sad. Yes, you did as well as I. Not because we were bad, but because we couldn't help. If she hadn't done the work for UNICEF at the end of her life, I wouldn't be so sure. I've now done some work for the children, and I'm sad too. So this book will have to be about this as well: sadness and children. Not a great combination, but there you have it. I think if you got the full picture, you would be sad too. So I'm not going to do that. I'll spare you the whole picture about sadness and children. But I'll give you a little bit of it, just enough.
Don't worry, you'll smile as well. A smile is the perfection of laughter. And you may cry a little too. But crying is good for your eyes and for your soul. It beautifies.
Copyright © 2003 by Sean Hepburn Ferrer