I love Audrey, but…

… there is this beatification of her happening that doesn’t sit so well with me. Let me start with a Netflix documentary on Audrey Hepburn that is not available yet in The Netherlands but that I do intend to watch.

When they say in the trailer that the biggest secret to Audrey is that she wanted to be loved, I roll my eyes because that is hardly a secret (and doesn’t everybody?). Also, those dramatized little interludes in the trailer of a little girl dancing already annoy me. And yet, I won’t be able to help myself and I will watch this, I just hope it won’t be too gushy.

Apparently, there’s also a TV series coming about her and I am already tensing up at the thought of that as well. There was a TV movie made in 2000 called The Audrey Hepburn Story that I watched at the time and remembered as cringe-worthy. I recently watched part of it again because I now realize that a young Gabriel Macht was in it, playing the actor William Holden whom Audrey had briefly been smitten with (and he with her).

I wasn’t able to actually watch the whole thing again as it still is cringe-worthy; it is really difficult to portray a good Audrey Hepburn after all. She had a unique way of moving and diction that Jennifer Love Hewitt tried to capture but she ended up giving her a really strange accent and a pinched way of speaking. Brave attempt but she doesn’t capture Audrey at all for me, she’s too focussed on getting looks and mannerisms down and the characterization (also due to the writing) is very flat. Audrey didn’t feel real in that and I really wonder whether they will be able to ‘capture’ her in this new planned TV series.

I also read that Robert Matzen has written another book about Audrey, this time about her final years working for Unicef. I am still annoyed by his embellishments and the holes in his research of the first book (Dutch Girl) that he wrote about Audrey’s childhood and I fear the second book won’t fare any better. Already the term ‘battle-hardened badass’ that is used for Audrey suggests something more mythical than real. I don’t think I will be spending any money on that.

Yes, Audrey was awesome and yes, I love her, but this hero-worship of her annoys me. She is this adored icon but somehow, despite of all the thousands of words written about her and almost as many images shown of her, she feels illusory. I’m not interested in a scandal or her being brought down or anything, I’m just interested in a realistic portrayal. I know her sons cooperate on these things and want to protect her image (rightly so) but I just wish all the things written and shown about her felt more real and less ethereal. Even her ‘faults’ and her hurt seem glorified. Someone once made a spoofy Audrey flipping the finger gif…

… and I think I want to see more of that.

I love my acting (and music) heroes such as Richard Armitage and Gregory Peck and Colin Firth and David Bowie and Audrey Hepburn and many more men and women but I don’t like the hero-worship for any of them. None of them are ‘perfection’, what would a perfect human being even be like? I feel that even Audrey herself in interviews resisted the idea of perfection, not seeing herself as that either. She was a woman of flesh and blood, like any one of us, I just wish for people who write about her and make films and documentaries about her to make her more real. I wonder if that will ever happen in my lifetime.

22 thoughts on “I love Audrey, but…

  1. This is a great post about being genuine showing flaws and the antithesis of perfection ( a word I really dislike as well as perfectionist because what does that make the rest of us struggling to find space in this world) and everyone has quirks and idiosyncrasies that make them unique. I gravitate to your posts about your family because they are real. You also don’t put RIchard or Colin or Yannick on a pedestal rather that they are human and their quirks make them likable. ❤️🤗

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I love loving my actors and what they do but I won’t hero-worship them. Sometimes I’ll be a little annoyed with them but that’s OK and I’ll still love them (they are only human after all). 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You make a great point, Esther. I wonder if there are any biographers who have succeeded in capturing a more realistic portrait of the complex woman that she surely was. Sometimes people want a hero, and I think they have chosen Audrey for this role, yet it does reduce her humanity and make her seem distant.


    1. This saintliness is sickening. She had quite a tough life in many ways, from a war torn childhood, abandoned by her father, to various affairs, miscarriages, failed marriages, depression (she is said to have considered or maybe even attempted suicide) – yet all of this is often skipped over and is made to seem like she was always the victim. That just isn’t realistic.
      I just came across this more critical piece of her from 10 years ago: http://thisrecording.com/today/2011/2/9/in-which-nothing-about-audrey-hepburns-ex-husband-interests.html which also questions why she has always been seen as so sacred when her life in many ways had just as much tragedy as say Marilyn Monroe’s.
      I haven’t read many biographies of Audrey but what I have read has rarely felt very balanced.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks, great read. I love the story about her going to the Congo and demanding that a bidet be installed for her–but also repeatedly visiting a leper colony and refusing to wear gloves. The fact that she slept with William Holden while he was married brings the angel down to earth. But my heart really broke at the idea that she never felt thin enough. Audrey Hepburn, “fat”???!!!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I knew the William Holden thing (he was a serial womanizer even before Audrey), there is even a whole book dedicated to the affair, which I never read and fear is more gossipy than anything else. But it does seem to be true that they were quite serious about each other for the brief time they were together and he does seem to have said in later life that she was the love of his life.
          Yes, and the weight thing has always had me wondering. On the one hand Audrey used to say she was so thin because of the health effects of hunger during the war but on the other hand before Hollywood she did have more weight on her (though never ever fat).

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Eyes With A Face – The M Files

  4. Servetus

    We had talked about all the attempts to obscure and/or clarify what she was actually doing toward the end of WWII when you posted about “Dutch Girl” (which I also read b/c of you, and which I thought was not very good). What bugs me about this most as a historian is all the stories people tell ultimately make it very hard to determine what actually happened. But (and I think we have also talked about this before) usually what actually happened fails to conform to our ex post facto moral categories, which tends to increase people’s attempts to hide the truth.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “all the stories people tell ultimately make it very hard to determine what actually happened.” – yes, especially if all the glorifying stories get repeated over and over again! There are very few others out there who are sanctified in such a way, I think. It may also have to do with her sons protecting her legacy. In comparison, I also really like Ingrid Bergman and what I like about her daughters is that they will say critical things about their mother but there is also always love and it’s never bad, just a statement of how Ingrid did things differently and sometimes had other priorities that were not always considered seemly. That feels more honest to me.


      1. Servetus

        I’m sure her sons play a role. And I’ve also noticed recently how much people feel obliged to defend their pleasures (even when those turn out in retrospect to have been problematic). There was a lot of emotional investment in her when she was alive and a celebrity, and I don’t think it’s gone away at all. She’s still an icon.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Servetus

    I watched this. Plus point for me: something like a fifth of it is devoted to the last years of her life and her UNICEF ambassadorship. But it’s pretty hagiographical (esp in the war years section) and her one son plays a prominent role. Let me know if/when you watch it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Her younger son Luca? He also wrote the foreword to ‘Dutch Girl’ which isn’t the best book and also made her look almost saintly during the war years. I find I need to be in the mood for such a hagiographical Audrey piece and I’m not in the mood for it yet.


      1. Servetus

        It was Sean. I’ll wait to say anything more about it until you’ve seen it as I don’t want to prejudice your viewing.


  6. Something you love, yes, then of course you are biased, in this case, Audrey Hepburn! Her life, her career, her legacy over the years, always ready to throw herself up for good, Unicef ​​and so on. Who wouldn’t love her. To make her look bad, you have to have matter, and it just isn’t there! The past of her parents has of course been a valid reason not to put those things in the spotlight! That’s why a plus from Luca, I don’t have to be distant about this anymore, but in the end I got more respect, more, than ever before. How does Pollyanna say that again, ‘if you look for the bad, you will also find it, but if you look for the good, that makes a person happy’. Greetings from Belgium.


    1. Hello Harry, thanks for taking the time to read and comment.
      Just a few responses from me.

      1. I’m not sure how you think I am ‘biased’. Audrey is one of my favourite actresses, I absolutely love her. I love her movies, her acting, her work for Unicef, the love she exuded for her sons, the way she spoke and presented herself. All of that is, however, only a public image of her.

      2. Loving Audrey doesn’t mean I want to be blind to any ‘faults’ she may have. We, each and everyone of us, have ‘faults’. Loving her makes me want to know her better, warts and all. I want to know about the real her and what inward factors made her have such an outward appeal.

      3. All these stories beatifying her make her become some sort of mythical angel. I am not looking for scandals or ‘for the bad’, I’m just looking for an honest and balanced view of who she was as a person. I’m looking for whatever it is the family does not want to talk about. I want to truly understand who she was and what her true character behind closed doors was like.

      To summarize in short: I know the mythical Audrey, I want to know the real Audrey and I know I won’t love her less for it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Esther, sorry for taking my time to reply. I am certainly happy with your response, because we are actually somewhat on the same line of thought. I would also definitely like to get to know the real Audrey, and as you showed the respect for Ingrid Bergman’s daughter for her critical view of her mother’s life, I also think about Luca Dotti. When the war museum in Arnhem mentioned an exhibition about the past of Audrey Hepburn’s parents, reading the slogans about the announcements about this, I was first of all very alarmed. It was a comfort to me to find out that her sons or son, in this case Luca (who was present with his son) were behind this disclosure. Although I don’t think he would have agreed with some of the slogans that were very questionable and negative. I found the initiative of Robert Matzen to be a balanced counterweight to what was brought to light in the Airborne Museum. To put it bluntly, they assumed, what cannot be proven may not have happened. Her testimonies were a counterweight in Matzen’s book, which I found very human. I had the honor of meeting Luca and Robert Matzen in 2019 during the unveiling of Robert’s Dutch translation of Dutch Girl and the unveiling of the sculpture as a ballerina the Velp by Arnhem. Can only say, two wonderful people, whom I thought it an honor to shake hands with. I’m also a little proud that I myself may have had a tiny part in the impetus for his new topic ‘Warrior’. I used a section in my group about her, which mainly concerned her commitment to charity and ultimately UNICEF. I was asked to exchange data that I had already collected myself. So I secretly hope he managed to use it as well. I could consider it an honor for myself. Reason for my reaction where I wanted to talk about it is that things quickly escalate to the negative! My reaction mainly had to do with the critical statements of others . I am already very happy with the publications of Dutch Girl and Warrior. PS did you know that after her passing in 1993, there were people in Italy who wanted her canonized, literally. Obviously a bit of an exaggeration! But so you see.
        Nice to get to know you, greetings.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I’m sure Matzen is a lovely man but I have a very iffy relationship with his first book about Audrey that I won’t go into here (I linked to my thoughts on that book in the blog post above), so I’m not sure I will read the second book he wrote.

          It is always nice to see that Audrey, so many years after her passing, is still so loved. I visited her grave once many years ago and I have walked around Arnhem, finding the houses she lived in (in case you’re interested: https://bookesther.wordpress.com/2019/08/03/audrey-hepburn-pilgrimage-arnhem/).

          You mention that you have a group dedicated to her. May I ask what group?


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