The other day, I was watching the surprisingly entertaining, but not as weepy as you’d expect, movie “Me Before You.” In a nutshell, it treads the same territory as the 1991 Julia Roberts–Campbell Scott film “Dying Young.” (Inexperienced, life-loving young woman is hired to be the caretaker of a handsome, brooding young man who has been cut down in his prime.) In this more contemporary retelling, it stars the current It girl — Emilia Clarke, aka Mother of Dragons — and a rather innocuous male lead. (Sam Claflin is fine in the part, but one never really warms up to his character.)
I was viewing it with my daughter, who is 12 years old, and she was asking me about Clarke’s other roles. She couldn’t wrap her head around the fact that this brunette actress was the peroxide-blond queen who flies on the backs of dragons and incinerates her foes below! I mentioned that Clarke had been on Broadway briefly in the stage version of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” and that got me thinking about how hard it is to step into an iconic role connected to a major, more famous star.
Even though Truman Capote always insisted — and he should know, he wrote the novella — that Holly Golightly was fashioned after Marilyn Monroe, film fans will always connect Audrey Hepburn with that indomitable and fashionable playgirl. (Censors didn’t permit the terms call girl or escort to be used about the character, especially one embodied by Miss Hepburn, in 1961.)
Audrey Hepburn is a tough act to follow, because she had an inner glow that lit her up onscreen, and her private life overflowed with moments of selflessness and charitable crusading. She was a tireless advocate for the rights of children, worked closely with UNICEF as a goodwill ambassador, raised money to end hunger in Africa, and donated generously to animal shelters and preserves.
Over the years, the image of Audrey has remained perennially fresh and contemporary. A stalwart supporter of the LBD (little black dress), Audrey had that rare ability to look of her times, as well as beyond it. Discover any photo of Audrey floating around on the Internet today — there are thousands of Pinterest boards, chat rooms, fashion forums, and celebrity sites — and you’ll have to admit that a majority of her costumes and her everyday outfits could be paraded across magazine layouts today.
I love the fact that a mere accessory, like a cigarette holder (which is the height of pretension) or a simple-knotted scarf, can be worn by Audrey and suddenly they become a must-have staple to appear cool, calm, and collected. Her first Oscar-winning role was also her first big breakout movie in Hollywood. (It would be akin to Julia Roberts snagging the Academy Award for “Pretty Woman” in 1990 rather than in 2001 for “Erin Brockovich.”) Audrey managed to accomplish that feat, getting the top acting honor for her maiden big-budget motion picture.
As a princess who goes on the lam, slumming around Rome with a cynical news reporter (Gregory Peck), she plays a charming and smart young woman who wants a fling before she has to devote herself to the oppressive demands of a royal life. “Roman Holiday” gives moviegoers the classic image of Audrey on a Vespa, scooting around with Peck mugging, grimacing, and chortling for the camera. She is impish and endearing with her school-uniform white cotton blouse and the kerchief jauntily tied around her neck. It is a look that has influenced stylists, costumers, and designers forevermore.
Beyond the roles that she has played, Audrey has had scads of “quotable quotes” attributed to her. It’s difficult to say whether she really did say everything she is said to have said — a paraphrase of the Yogi Berra comment — but Audrey was a voluminous letter writer and did give encouragement to directors, writers, and fellow actors. Speaking of reaching out to other members of her profession, Hepburn watched Julia Roberts’s ascension to the Mount Olympus of Who’s Who in Tinseltown. She wrote a note to Julia right after the premiere of “Pretty Woman,” telling her not to lose sight of who she actually was, and not to fall prey to the pitfalls of the West Coast wonderland. The two women struck up a friendship, and in 1993, when Hepburn was too ill to receive her Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors’ Guild, she requested Roberts show up to accept on her behalf.
The 25-year-old Roberts did indeed do that, and paid tribute to her absent 63-year-old role model and mentor. Audrey Hepburn died 10 days later, but before she passed away, she sent an enormous bouquet of yellow roses to Roberts and made a point to send a personal note, thanking the young woman for her help and her assistance.
It is stories like this that show how Audrey Hepburn had “It,” and her “It” was a blending of good looks, good manners, and good deeds. Solidifying herself with folks who love their pets and all other critters, too, Hepburn opened her home and her heart to all kinds of four-legged creatures. Of course, she embraced the traditional dogs, cats, and birds (okay, two-legged creatures as well), but she also had a pet fawn named Pippin.
When she was cast in the role of Rima, the mystical and magical “bird girl” of the Amazonian jungles — a forerunner to Emilia Clarke’s mystical and magical “dragon mother” — Audrey had to work with a rain forest’s worth of animals. She was encouraged to become hands-on with the critters that would be sharing her scenes. One of the animals that she developed a close bond with was the young deer named Pippin. The deer became a houseguest at the home she was sharing with her husband/director Mel Ferrer. After the shoot, Pippin stopped being a guest. He became a member of the Hepburn-Ferrer household.
So, it’s not surprising, then, that the Audrey Hepburn aura continues to sparkle, even today, nearly 25 years after her death. Whether it is an intentional homage or an accidentally inspired one, artwork and fashion still owe a nod of gratitude to this legendary star. Because she has remained so timeless, there is no time stamp or expiration date for her flair and finesse.
My daughter and I still like to watch her old films, and I do get a kick out of spotting Audrey-isms in modern personalities and creations. Audrey Hepburn has remained relevant because she poured herself and her soul into each role she assumed. She made her characters share her personal character. That is a great talent, indeed!