The British actress was born on May 4, 1929, in Ixelles, Belgium, and christened Audrey Kathleen Ruston. Her parents were Joseph Victor Anthony Ruston, a British banker, and Ella Van Heemstra, the former Baroness Ellas. Her father was a Nazi sympathizer, and when her parents divorced in 1935, he left the family. Hepburn, her mother, and half-brothers moved to the Netherlands, thinking it was safe from German attack. This turned out not to be true, and the Germans invaded the Netherlands in 1940. After D-Day, the Allies landed in the Netherlands, and the city of Arnhem was badly damaged by fighting. The Dutch famine of 1944 was brutal; Germans blocked the resupply routes and many people starved or froze to death. Audrey suffered from malnutrition, anemia, and several other health problems. This searing experience never left her and was the impetus for her volunteer work with UNICEF late in life.
Hepburn received her big break when she was chosen to play the lead in Gigi, a Broadway play. Her performance won her a Theatre World Award. Her first starring film role was in the 1953 production of Roman Holiday, opposite Gregory Peck. She and Peck became lifelong friends, and Hepburn won the Academy Award for Best Actress. She went on to star in a number of critically acclaimed and popular films, including Sabrina, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Funny Face, My Fair Lady, and Charade. Her leading men were some of the most sought after, handsome, and popular actors of the day, including Humphrey Bogart, Fred Astaire, Cary Grant, and Gary Cooper. Hepburn was an accomplished enough dancer that she often did her own dancing scenes; and while she was not a singer of professional quality, she also did her own singing in several films.
Hepburn was as much a fashion icon as First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. Like Mrs. Kennedy, Hepburn stood five feet, seven inches tall and weighed less than 120 pounds. She had exquisite posture from her years of studying ballet. Rather than rely on the trends of the day, she bought and wore clothing that suited her figure and what she thought of as its flaws. Again like Mrs. Kennedy, her clothing choices represesented a simplicity to which many women could aspire and copy: slender capri pants; turtleneck sweaters; the little black dress; straight skirts with short, boxy jackets and bracelet sleeves; and ballet flats. The black evening gown she wore in Breakfast at Tiffany's is one of the most recognizable film costumes of the twentieth century. The French designer Hubert Givenchy designed her wardrobe for the film Sabrina. They bonded immediately and were close until her death. Givenchy often spoke of Hepburn as his muse.
Hepburn was made a goodwill ambassador to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in the 1980s. For the rest of her life she made grueling trips to the poorest parts of the world, effectively advocating for children. In 1992, then-president George H. W. Bush awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom; that same year, she was given the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The Sustainable Style Foundation created the Style & Substance Award, which is given to a person who has worked to improve the quality of life for children around the world, and Hepburn was given the award posthumously in 2006.
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