Tuesday, 26 January 2016

The Life and Work of Audrey Hepburn: Early Life

by Hermione Barrick


An insight into the life and work of Audrey Hepburn: Early life

Audrey Hepburn as a girl
Audrey Hepburn, born Audrey Kathleen Ruston, was born on the 4th May 1929, in Brussels Belgium, and died on the 20th January 1993. Her father was a man named Joseph Victor Anthony Ruston, and her mother, Baroness Ella van Heemstra.  Her parents married in the Dutch-Colonial Batavia in 1926.  They then moved to Europe, where Audrey Hepburn was born.  Hepburn held British citzenship through her father, who was himself a British subject.  As a result of her multinational background and through travelling with her family, due to her father's job, she learned to speak five languages: Dutch and English from her parents, and then later French, Spanish and Italian.

Hepburn's father became a Nazi sympathiser in the 1930s, then her parents' marriage began to fail in the mid-1930s.  When her mother found her father in bed with the nanny of the children, Hepburn's father left the family abruptly. Her father then settled in London after the divorce, with Audrey Hepburn only locating him again in the 1960s through the Red Cross, and although he remained emotionally detached Hepburn supported him financially until his death

In 1937, Ella and Audrey moved to Kent, South East England, where Hepburn was educated at a small independent school in Elham, run by two sisters known as "The Mesdemoiselles Smith". In September 1939, when Britain declared war on Germany, Hepburn's mother relocated with her daughter back to Arnhem in the hope that, just as they had done during World War One, the Netherlands would remain neutral and be spared a German attack. While there, Hepburn trained in ballet with Winja Marova, in addition to the standard school curriculum. After the Germans invaded the Netherlands in 1940, Hepburn adopted the name Edda van Heemstra because an "English sounding" name was considered dangerous during the German occupation.

In 1942, Hepburn's uncle, Otto van Limburg Stirum was executed, while Hepburn's half brother Ian was deported to Berlin to work in a German labour camp. Hepburn's other half-brother Alex went into hiding to avoid the same fate.

"We saw young men put against the wall and shot, and they'd close the street and then open it and you could pass by again...Don't discount anything awful you hear or read about the Nazis. It's worse than you could ever imagine."


After this, Ella, Miesje (her mother's sister) and Hepburn moved in with Baron Aarnoud van Heemstra in nearby Velp.  At the time, Hepburn suffered from malnutrition, developed acute anæmia, respiratory problems, and edema, (an excess of watery fluids collecting in the cavities and tissues of the body.)

Hepburn, in an interview, commented, "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."

Later in her career, Hepburn was asked to play Holocaust victim Anne Frank in both the Broadway and film adaptations of Frank's life. Hepburn, however, who was born the same year as Frank, found herself "emotionally incapable" of the task, and at almost 30 years old at the time, too old.

By 1944, Hepburn had become a proficient ballet dancer and she had 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", she remarked.

She also occasionally acted as a courier for the resistance, delivering messages and packages. After the Allied landing on D-Day, living conditions grew worse and Arnhem was subsequently destroyed.


During the Dutch famine that followed in the winter of 1944, the Germans blocked the resupply routes of the Dutch's already-limited food and fuel supplies as retaliation for railway strikes that were held to hinder German occupation. People starved and froze to death in the streets; Hepburn and many others resorted to making flour out of tulip bulbs to bake cakes and biscuits. One way young Audrey passed the time was by drawing; some of her childhood artwork can be seen today. When the country was liberated, United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration trucks followed.Hepburn said in an interview that she fell ill from putting too much sugar in her porridge and eating an entire can of condensed milk.Hepburn's war-time experiences sparked her devotion to UNICEF, an international humanitarian organisation, in her later career.


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