Audrey Hepburn, born Audrey Kathleen Ruston in 1929, is known most notoriously for her work as a British actress, dancer, and model. What many of her fans do not realize is that Audrey retired in the prime of her career and quickly became an ambassador with UNICEF, a humanitarian agency providing resources to underprivileged children in third-world countries (UNICEF).
The Early Years
Audrey was born on May 4, 1929 to Baroness Ella van Heemstra and Joseph Victor Anthony Ruston in Ixelles, Brussels. Baroness was a Dutch noblewoman and Joseph a Bohemian native.
After her parents divorce, Audrey and her mother to London and later Netherlands to attend private school. While in the Netherlands, Hitler's army took over their town of Arnheim (IMDb).
World War II
Audrey and her mother lived under the Nazi regime throughout World War II and although they were not Jewish, they still felt the backlash from the intense political climate.
Audrey was a skilled dancer and had studied the art of ballet for many years. During the war, many forms of art were banned unless being performed or created by Nazi sympathizers.
In response to the ban on arts and theatre, many underground showings began to emerge. In Audrey's case, she and her mother attended the zwarte avonden, or “black evenings,” which were invitation-only dance events created to raise money for the Resistance.
Audrey's viewing quickly escalated to participation, and despite suffering from malnutrition and depression, she began performing at these dances to help fund the Dutch Resistance. Audrey's illegal dancing began at the age of 14 (Time).
Actor and dancer Audrey Hepburn rehearsing at the barre, circa 1950. Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
After the liberation, Audrey moved to London and began studying ballet on scholarship. Quickly after, she began her modeling career and it did not take long for the film producers to begin seeking her out as well.
Audrey's first contract film was Dutch in Seven Lessons in 1948, which later led to a speaking role in the 1951 film Young Wives' Tale.
Audrey thoroughly enjoyed her newfound career and journeyed to America to excel her film career. Her American debut was in the 1953 film Roman Holiday, for which she won an Oscar for Best Actress.
From there her acting career only grew, receiving an additional Academy Award and multiple nominations from 1954-1967 (IMDb).
At the pinnacle of her career, Audrey made the decision to retire in 1967. In 1969 she remarried to Dr. Andrea Dotti and the two welcomed a son in 1970, 10 years after Audrey welcomed her first son with former husband Mel Ferrer (Women's World).
"Taking care of children has nothing to do with politics. I think perhaps with time, instead of there being a politicization of humanitarian aid, there will be a humanization of politics." -Audrey Hepburn
Audrey Hepburn was remembered as having a strong love for children and actually suffered several miscarriages in an attempt to grow her family (Women's World). Despite this tragedy, Audrey devoted the end of her life to helping children all around the world as an ambassador with UNICEF from 1988 until her passing in 1993.
Audrey visited project areas in countries such as Ethiopia, Turkey, Venezuela, Ecuador, Thailand, Vietnam, Sudan, and more. She was very committed to her work and unafraid to be hands-on in the field. Audrey was very vocal about the humanitarian efforts of UNICEF, the conditions of the countries she visited, and how governments could help. She was said to participate in up to 15 interviews a day while touring with the media throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe.
"Audrey worked fervently for UNICEF. She testified before the US Congress, took part in the World Summit for Children, launched UNICEF's State of the World's Children reports, hosted Danny Kaye International Children's Award ceremonies, designed fundraising cards, participated in benefit concert tours and gave many speeches and interviews promoting UNICEF's work. (UNICEF)"
During Audrey's last year with UNICEF, she was in the last stages of appendicular cancer and grew excruciatingly ill. Audrey worked through her illness and continued her work with the agency, travelling to many countries throughout Europe, Africa, and the United States. She was awarded the high civilian honor for her endless efforts to advance the lives of children: the Presidential Medal of Freedom (UNICEF).
Audrey's continued work for the children of countries around the world is at the least inspiring. She is an impeccable role model in the world of children's advocates, youth social servants, and even parents.
If Audrey taught us anything from her short life of beauty, grace, resilience, and service, it is that a love for others is something worth fighting for.
Audrey Hepburn. UNICEF. (2022, November 9). Retrieved January 11, 2023, from https://www.unicef.org/goodwill-ambassadors/audrey-hepburn
IMDb.com. (n.d.). Audrey Hepburn. IMDb. Retrieved January 11, 2023, from https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000030/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm
Matzen, R. (2019, May 3). How Audrey Hepburn Helped the Dutch Resistance during WWII. Time. Retrieved January 11, 2023, from https://time.com/5582729/audrey-hepburn-world-war-ii/
Anglis, J. (2020, September 16). Rare photos of Audrey Hepburn with Her Children. Woman's World. Retrieved January 11, 2023, from https://www.womansworld.com/gallery/entertainment/audrey-hepburn-children-169794