Copyright © 2008 Ed Bagley Like a lot of shoppers at supermarkets, I look at the magazine displays while waiting in line to check out. Recently I was thrilled to see a recent edition to LIFE's Great Photographers Series: "Remembering Audrey 15 Years Later" with photographs by Bob Willoughby. In my review of "Breakfast at Tiffany's" I posed this question: Was there ever an actress who combined these four timeless qualities—beauty, fashion, grace and humility—better than Audrey Hepburn? My answer was simply, I think not. You better believe I bought a copy of Remembering Audrey faster than a single heartbeat, and remain a better person for having done so. Willoughby was born in Los Angeles—the city of the stars—and began taking pictures when he was 12. He was good, very good, and best described as a prodigy.
In 1953, when he was 26, he would be assigned to photograph an upcoming soon to be actress, Audrey Hepburn. The result of their meeting would produce one of his most positive relationships, both as a photographer and a friend. Willoughby pioneered the role of the "special" photographer to take formal publicity shots and candids of the stars Hollywood's publicity departments wanted to promote. He was credited by Popular Photography magazine as the man "who virtually invented the photojournalistic motion-picture still." The images that you remember of James Dean, Frank Sinatra, Richard Burton, Peter O'Toole and Audrey Hepburn among dozens of others were mostly the work of Bob Willoughby.
All of the major magazines of the day—LIFE, Look, Saturday Evening Post and Harper's Bazaar—published his work. Willoughby's creations grace the exhibits in more than 500 museums in more than 50 countries around the world. When first meeting Audrey, Willoughby said, "She took my hand and dazzled me with a smile that God designed to melt mortal men's hearts.
"The amazing instant contact she always made was a remarkable gift, and I know from talking to others that it was felt by all who met her." Audrey had made a big impression with the studio brass in the 1953 William Wyler film "Roman Holiday". She won an Oscar for Best Actress as Princess Ann in her film debut playing opposite Gregory Peck. In the next 15 years, she would be nominated for 4 Best Actress Oscars for her work as Sabrina Fairchild in "Sabrina" (1954), Sister Luke in "The Nun's Story" (1959), Holly Golightly in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1961), and Susy Hendrix in "Wait Until Dark" (1967). She also won a Golden Globe for Best Drama Actress in Roman Holiday and had an additional 6 Golden Globe nominations as Best Actress. Lesser known is the fact that Audrey was one of the few entertainers to have won an Emmy, a Grammy and a Tony Award as well as an Oscar.
Bob Willoughby's formal and candid photographs of Audrey Hepburn will stand the test of time as some of the greatest ever taken of a woman and an actress. He said that Audrey never took a bad photograph, or even a mediocre one. "She could sit next to an old ladder on the set and look terrific," said Willoughby. With designs by Hubert de Givenchy, the world's most smashing woman wore the world's most smashing fashions. She became the most charming, disarming, altogether friendly and charismatic superstar ever to grace a Hollywood production.
According to Willoughby, everyone liked Audrey and remained loyal to her. The best directors and the world's greatest designers sought to work with her. It was said that all of her leading men fell in love with her, including Gregory Peck, William Holden, Anthony Perkins, Rex Harrison and Albert Finney. When making "My Fair Lady" Audrey would not be recognized for her role as Eliza Doolittle. She had been promised that she could sing her songs in the film, but Marni Nixon was ultimately contracted to perform Eliza's vocals.
Julie Andrews had played the role of Eliza in the stage production of the Lerner and Loewe musical, but she lost the role to Audrey in the film. It was perhaps no accident that the Best Actress Oscar that year went to Julie Andrews for her role as Mary Poppins. My Fair Lady cost $17 million to make in 1964, an astounding investment in its day. It became Warner Brothers highest-grossing film at the time, and would go on to earn 12 Oscar nominations and win 8 Oscars. Many film historians consider My Fair Lady to be the last great musical of Hollywood's studio era. Audrey would marry twice and have a son by both Mel Ferrer, the actor/director, and Andrea Dotti, an Italian psychiatrist.
She suffered 4 miscarriages during her 13-year marriage to Mel Ferrer. In her early life, Audrey's parents would divorce and her mother took her and her two stepbrothers to London and then to the Netherlands, where her mother was a bona fide Dutch baroness. In 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands and the horror of war would surround her. She danced in clandestine locations to raise money for the Dutch Resistance. One of her stepbrothers was sent to a German labor camp, and her uncle and one of her mother's cousins were shot and killed for participating in the Resistance.
The Germans seized food and fuel when the Netherlands was already suffering a winter famine. Audrey would suffer malnutrition, anemia and frequent bouts of depression. She was 10 years old when World War II started and remained fragile her entire life as a result of her wartime experience. Some believe her final act in life was her best when she was named UNICEF's International Goodwill Ambassador in 1988. Audrey would travel around the world on 50+ missions to bring attention to the world's suffering children.
The sight of children dying from hunger in distant lands was devastating; she had once been one of those children and survived. "I want people to know that the largest part of humanity is suffering," said Audrey. Despite being terribly ill herself, she continued to go on missions.
She would die of colon cancer in 1993, four months before her 64th birthday. When she died, the world lost a great human being. Bob Willoughby said it best: "She left those who came into contact with her better for having known her.
I miss her to this day." Amen, Bob, amen.
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