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Although her film career came to an end in the late 1980’s, Audrey Hepburn is considered to be one of the most long-lasting on-screen icons of all time. During her 41 year acting career, Hepburn won several awards including an Academy Award for Best Actress in 1953, and was ranked third on the American Film Institute’s list, “50 Greatest Screen Legends” (Jackson). In addition, Hepburn has been widely acknowledged as a timeless beauty and fashion icon. Several years after her death, her image continues to be used in advertising campaigns.
Most recently, a clip of Hepburn dancing from the film “Funny Face” was used in a 2006 Gap commercial to advertise the company’s black pant (Msnbc). However, it is undeniably the actress’s later work with UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, that has had the greatest impact on society. Audrey Hepburn was born in Brussels, Belgium on May 4, 1929. Although she experienced great success later in her life, Hepburn faced much adversity as a child growing up in Europe during World War II.
In 1939, four years after her father’s abandonment, Hepburn, her mother, and her two half-brothers moved to the Netherlands as the threat of a Nazi attack continued to increase (Pettinger). However, one year later, Germany gained control of the country and the living conditions of its people began to deteriorate rapidly. During the Dutch Famine of 1944, in which much of the country’s food and fuel was confiscated by the Germans, Hepburn, along with many other people, suffered from severe malnutrition and faced starvation.
Hepburn and many others resorted to making flour out of tulip bulbs to bake cakes and biscuits” (Wikipedia). Adding to her suffering, Hepburn witnessed the brutality of the Nazi’s first-hand on several occasions.
Most traumatic was the shooting of her uncle and cousin for their participation in the Resistance of the Nazi party. She also witnessed the murders of several strangers by the Nazi’s, as well as the collection of Jews for concentration camps. She later stated, “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” (Wikipedia). These memories remained with her for the rest of her life. Despite the hardships that Hepburn and her family faced, she was still able to attend school at the Arnhem Conservatory, and soon became a talented ballerina. She continued her ballet lessons after the war ended in 1945; however, with her family still struggling financially, Hepburn soon decided to pursue a career in acting. She explained, “I needed the money; it paid ? 3 more than ballet jobs” (Nichols).
Her acting career began in 1948 with a small role in the European educational film “Dutch in Seven Lessons. ” She continued to play minor roles in several other films and motion pictures, and in 1951, the actress moved to New York to star in the successful Broadway play “Gigi” (Biography. com). “Roman Holiday” was Hepburn’s first starring role outside of Broadway. The role made Hepburn an almost instant celebrity and landed her on the cover of TIME magazine in 1953. In addition, she received both a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Actress and an Academy Award for her role in the film (Wikipedia).
Hepburn went on to co-star in many celebrated films, such as “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “My Fair Lady,” and “Charade” with world renowned actors including Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, and Gary Cooper. In 1967, after starring in the thriller, “Wait Until Dark,” which earned her an Academy Award nomination, Hepburn decided to slow down her career, acting only occasionally. She divorced her husband, actor Mel Ferrer, with whom she had one son, and soon remarried to the Italian psychiatrist, Dr. Andrea Dotti. Hepburn and Dotti also had one son together before their divorce in the early 1980’s (Biography. om). In the final years of her career as an actress, Hepburn co-starred in the 1987 made-for-television movie “Love Among Thieves,” and had a cameo appearance in Stephen Spielberg’s 1988 film Always (Wikipedia).
After the film’s completion, the fifty-nine year old Hepburn voluntarily ended her acting career and devoted all of her time to the UNICEF organization, bringing aid to children in need. Much of Hepburn’s desire to join UNICEF and the fight against poverty stemmed from her own experiences with famine and poverty during World War II. As a starving child in Holland after Word War II, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, forerunner of UNICEF, brought her much-needed food, medicine, and clothing” (Sally ; Clara). As Hepburn stated, “There is a moral obligation that those who have should give to those who don’t” (Sally & Clara). In the late 1980’s, Hepburn was appointed as the Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF. The beloved actress not only functioned as the organization’s figurehead, but also traveled to the world’s poorest nations, bringing aid directly to thousands of impoverished children.
Throughout her five years of service with UNICEF, Hepburn traveled to several countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. While in these countries, it was her responsibility to attract attention to the serious issues facing them. During her trip to Ethiopia, Hepburn stated, “I’m glad I’ve got a name, because I’m using it for what it’s worth. It’s like a bonus that my career has given me” (Sally ; Clara). Hepburn participated in numerous press conferences in the United States and other wealthy nations, reporting on her experiences in the third-world countries to create awareness about the dire situations facing each.
In addition to acting as a spokesperson, Hepburn also worked in the field, delivering food, immunizations, medicine, and emotional support to the children in need. During her short career with UNICEF, Hepburn made over fifty field visits to countries including Sudan, Ecuador, Honduras, and Thailand. In 1991, President George Bush presented the actress with Presidential Medal of Freedom, the “highest honor any individual can receive in the United States,” in return for her work with UNICEF (Sally ; Clara). Shortly after receiving the award, Hepburn died of colon cancer at the age of sixty-three.
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