“As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.” – Audrey Hepburn
My mother is much on my mind today, so I thought I’d celebrate someone she loved. Audrey Hepburn was my mother’s favorite actress, and early in my life, she became mine as well. We loved her so much and spoke of her so often, she felt like a member of the family. Of course, physically, she was beyond lovely, but that wasn’t what drew us to her. She had a stillness, a sweetness, a fragility about her that had you instantly on her side whenever she was onscreen. But she also managed to communicate great strength, even in her most vulnerable scenes. If you had to sum her up in a word, you would have to describe her first and foremost as a lady, but in the very best sense of the word. She always seemed poised and gracious, but I always got the distinct feeling she also didn’t take any shit. (Sorry, Mom. I know you hate it when I curse.)
As wonderful as her film career was, when she shifted her focus away from Hollywood and onto charitable works in the second half of her life, she became even more of an idol in our house. Unlike spokespeople today, she didn’t just stand around in a TV studio, making impassioned pleas to a camera. Audrey was famous for her tireless, on-the-ground work with UNICEF. When the charity was started in 1946, the acronym stood for the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund. By 1953, the charity had expanded its reach to include and mostly focus its efforts on developing third world countries, and dear Audrey got right in there and did her part.
Her films still have the ability to comfort me, no matter how badly things are going, but it’s her generous spirit that I’ll always remember.
So, onto photography. Although he took may iconic, well-known photos and shot hundreds of huge Hollywood stars, photographer Bob Willoughby always said Audrey was his favorite subject, and his luminous photos certainly illustrate why. The photographer never forgot the first time he met her, when he was called in to take photos of a new starlet in 1953. As soon as they met, he was instantly charmed by the young actress.
“She took my hand like… well a princess, and dazzled me with that smile that God designed to melt mortal men’s hearts.”
Willoughby called her “A forest creature who, before one’s eyes, could transform herself into a princess.” That may be the most vivid, endearing description of a person I’ve ever heard. Also to his credit, I think he came closer to capturing her inner loveliness with his photos than any other photographer I’ve seen. I hope you get as big a kick out of these adorable, somehow personal photos as I did.
Miss you, Mom!
Photos © Bob Willoughby/ TASCHEN.