Humanitarian, Dutch Resistance Agent and Hollywood Star: Audrey Hepburn

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In terms of Hollywood Pictures, few people have been as iconic as the great, late Audrey Hepburn. Although her prime was definitely in the 1950’s and 1960’s, she is still seen often today. Her unique beauty and style has made to her the norm on women’s handbags, t-shirts and student binders. Although Audrey’s best work didn’t come from the pictures and didn’t shine through her physical beauty. Her life’s best work came before she was a Hollywood star and in her old age. We’re going to show the workings of a true icon.

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Audrey Hepburn came to be on May 4th 1929 in Brussels, Belgium. She was born into a wealthy family which makes her story even more endearing and she never had to take the risk that she did. Her father, Joseph Hepburn owned a loan company and her mother, Ella Van Heemstra was a Baroness. It’s no question that her early childhood was a very sheltered and privileged one.

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When the 1930’s rolled around, sadly at her father’s wishes, the family began working for the British Union of Fascist. Her father got so far into it that he vanished mysteriously in 1935. He ended up just moving to London so that he could become deeper involved in the movement. He pretty much cut off all contact with his family from that point on. Hepburn described that as being one of the most traumatic events in her life.

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In 1939 the British declared war on Germany. The bombs began to fall, lives were lost and overall times were tough. With the hopes that the Netherlands would be neutral as they were during the first World War, Hepburn’s mother decided that Arnhem would be the safest place for them. That wasn’t the case though. In 1940 Germany invaded the Netherlands and Hepburn’s family was greatly affected by it.

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Audrey being a very English name wasn’t going to work for her on Nazi occupied land. Having a name that sounded remotely English could have put her life in grave danger. She had to change her name to Edda. In 1942 her uncle was executed by the Nazi party for taking part in acts of resistance against German take over. One of her half brothers was taken to a concentration camp and another one went into hiding to avoid the same fate.

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She recalled well into her adult life, trains transporting jews passing the platform that she stood on to go where she had to go. She said that she would often see people being put up against a wall and shot. Life all around her seemed like it was falling apart. It was after her uncle’s execution that the family moved to Velp. It was during this time Audrey started getting involved with the Dutch Resistance.

Audrey Hepburn, 1960s

Although she was only a teen while the war was taking place, it didn’t stop her fighting against the occupying Nazi forces. Always into ballet, Audrey would hide messages for the Dutch Resistance in her ballet shoes. These messages were usually for British troops who’d parachute into the country. She’d meet them at certain locations. On top of that, she also helped raise money for the resistance by reciting at black performances. At one point she was rounded up by the SS but narrowly escaped by jumping out of the bed of a moving truck.

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After the war, her family lost their fortune. Everything they owned was flushed down the drain and Audrey’s mom had to take housekeeping jobs to support the family, though it didn’t take long for Audrey to step up. Due to her success in ballet she got a scholarship to London. Of course it didn’t take long for her ballet lessons to lead to her to musical theatre. That is eventually how she was discovered.

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In 1950 she started getting minor roles in films, but her career really took off with the theatre production of the play Gigi. It was based off the 1945 novel. Never having had any roles in an actual play, she had to get lessons and these lessons all paid off. She received raving reviews and praise. The people loved her. It was this play that would see her travel all around Europe and eventually even America. From there it was all Hollywood.

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When she retired from acting, she returned to her roots. She wasn’t living a glitz with the other retired stars in Hollywood, but she delved into humanitarian work. She went to a number of countries, some that were very dangerous. Those included Somalia, Sudan and Ethiopia. She’d help in delivering aid, constructing orphanages and bringing them food. She did this until she died of cancer in 1993.

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