“Success is like reaching an important birthday and finding you’re exactly the same.”
Well. Audrey Hepburn, who died at 63, would be celebrating a birthday today <born may 4th 1929 in Belgium>. I decided to talk about Ms. Hepburn because, well, people are complex yet we like to view them in simple ways. Most people know Hepburn for Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but after her movie career she was an active ambassador for UNICEF. Regardless of her career, and life, or age, Hepburn exuded elegance.
Anyway. I am writing today never having known the woman. I didn’t particularly like any of her movies, but yet I know that every time I see a picture of her I stop, not just to look at her, but because she makes me think. Saying that you’ll have to forgive me because whatever it is about her that makes me think it is something I struggle to put a thought or finger on.
Its there, and it is always there, just on the tip of my tongue or the edge of my mind or sometimes even something that seems to slip in and out of the side of my vision.
She is an amalgamation of imperfections and flaws wrapped up in what appeared to be a sincerely relentless strength of character.
I can honestly say she is one of the few people from the past who I think I would have liked to have met. I think I would have not only liked her, but I think I would have respected her. I think she would have lived up to the bar of expectations — the sometimes absurd level of hope & expectations we place on famous people.
“She had everything I was looking for: charm, innocence, and talent. She also was very funny. She was absolutely enchanting.”
producer for the play GiGi
She seemed lovely, adorable, sweet and charming and spoke multiple languages (English, French, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, and German). And if a true test of character is what a child says about their parents … you should read or hear whatever her son says about her.
Ah. Character. Which leads me to Breakfast at Tiffany’s and my favorite Hepburn story. Apparently Truman Capote <whose writings Breakfast is based on> thought that Hepburn was ‘grossly miscast’ as Holly Golightly <he was correct because the Hepburn’s portrayal of Holly Golightly was adapted from the original>.
“Because I can’t play a hooker” she admitted to the producer of the film.
But her character bled into her appearance. If you look closely, she was stunningly attractive – in an imperfect way.
Hepburn’s iconic look was what she thought of as “a good mixture of defects.” She thought she had a big nose and big feet, and she was too skinny and not enough breast. She would look in the mirror and say, ‘I don’t understand why people see me as beautiful.’
Audrey Hepburn’s son Luca Dotti
I think it should remind us that imperfections, well embraced, exude character.
Imperfections well used exude character and elegance <not awkwardness>.
Imperfections well accepted become perfections.
I’d also note that within all of this imperfect perfectness she also somehow exuded humanness. Maybe the better word is some sense of being relatable. She never seemed to step down from the unattainable clouds to bless us with her presence, somehow she seemed to be already among us.
In one interview Hepburn spoke about growing up during World War 2:
“I have memories. More than once I was at the station seeing trainloads of Jews being transported, seeing all these faces over the top of the wagon. I remember, very sharply, one little boy standing with his parents on the platform, very pale, very blond, wearing a coat that was much too big for him, and he stepped on to the train. I was a child observing a child.”
She also occasionally acted as a courier for the resistance delivering messages and packages. And during the war Hepburn, who was a talented ballet dancer, secretly danced for groups of people to collect money for the Dutch resistance.
“The best audience I ever had made not a single sound at the end of my performances.”
Well. This is from a woman who at the pinnacle of her fame was applauded on the streets. Ladies & gentlemen readers — this is called ‘perspective.’
Fame has a tendency to warp perspective. It didn’t seem like it did for her.
She said she lived life unconditionally. And she did and didn’t. Her love life certainly wasn’t perfect and through her own admission her own self esteem seemed to wander into some dark places on occasion.
She just did it. My sense is she always showed up, she always did things, always did what she thought was right and let the chips fall as they may.
I apologize because I typically try and make some point when I share my thoughts. But even though I am writing about things that I think should matter to us I still haven’t figured out the elusive ‘thought’ that Audrey Hepburn seems to capture.
I admit I loved her attitude toward life:
“I decided, very early on, just to accept life unconditionally; I never expected it to do anything special for me, yet I seemed to accomplish far more than I had ever hoped. Most of the time it just happened to me without my ever seeking it.”
I admit I loved the blend of her style and her demeanor.
I admit I loved her attitude with regard to appearance because she embraced a fantastic sense of tomboyishness lady elegance <yikes … figure out how to do that ladies>.
I admit that I loved what I perceived she had, which seems lacking in the world today, a combination of classy accessibleness. Maybe it all comes down to this – she felt above us and yet among us.
I admit I loved the fact she found a worthy career outside the glamor of the movie business.
I admit that whatever it was … whatever she ‘had’ … she exuded it.
I struggle to believe we ever <and on this I truly mean ever> see the likes of the tomboyishly elegantly lovely Audrey Hepburn again. And that is surely our loss.
Happy birthday Ms. Hepburn.
After her death … Gregory Peck went on camera and recited her favorite poem “Unending Love” by Rabindranath Tagore. It is a truly perfectly lovely poem for an imperfectly lovely lady.
“If my world were to cave in tomorrow, I would look back on all the pleasures, excitements and worthwhilenesses I have been lucky enough to have had. Not the sadness, not my miscarriages or my father leaving home, but the joy of everything else. It will have been enough.”
I seem to have loved you in numberless forms, numberless times…
In life after life, in age after age, forever.
My spellbound heart has made and remade the necklace of songs,
That you take as a gift, wear round your neck in your many forms,
In life after life, in age after age, forever.
Whenever I hear old chronicles of love, its age-old pain,
Its ancient tale of being apart or together.
As I stare on and on into the past, in the end you emerge,
Clad in the light of a pole-star piercing the darkness of time:
You become an image of what is remembered forever.
You and I have floated here on the stream that brings from the fount.
At the heart of time, love of one for another.
We have played along side millions of lovers, shared in the same
Shy sweetness of meeting, the same distressful tears of farewell-
Old love but in shapes that renew and renew forever.
Today it is heaped at your feet, it has found its end in you
The love of all man’s days both past and forever:
Universal joy, universal sorrow, universal life.
The memories of all loves merging with this one love of ours –