ambern’s CBRIII Review #44: Enchantment: The Life of Audrey Hepburn by Donald Spoto

I picked up this book a few years ago and as soon as I did, a friend of mine said that I really didn’t need to read another Audrey Hepburn biography.  Him- “Really, her again?”  Me-“Yes, her again.”  I love Audrey Hepburn, she is one of my favorite actresses, as can be seen when you walk into my room and find a Roman Holiday poster over my bed.  Previously I borrowed my cousin’s copy of her son’s book about her, which was really sweet and interesting, but I wanted to read something about her that had a little less biased point of view.

The biography starts before Audrey’s birth in 1929 with a brief background on her parents, Baroness Ella von Heemstra and Joseph Ruston.  It was the second marriage for each of them and they seem to have had very similar and aloof personalities.  The marriage didn’t last long, with Ruston leaving for England when Audrey was 6, not to be seen again by his daughter for decades.  Both of her parents were fascists and even lunched with Hitler, but Ella moved away from fascism as the years went on (even helping the Dutch resistance during the war), while Joseph became more fanatical.  Her parents were never really outwardly affectionate to Audrey.  In fact, Ella was more critical of her than anyone, at least in front of Audrey; to others, Ella would speak warmly of her daughter and her talents.

During the war Audrey and her mother were in Holland (living close to Anne Frank) and endured starvation and suffering that effected Audrey’s outlook for the rest of her life.  The aid given to them from the UN after the war is one of the big reasons that Audrey later became an ambassador for UNICEF and devoted so much of her later years to the organization.  After WWII Audrey, who had always loved to dance, and her mother moved to England to finish her dance training and find employment.  But it seemed that all the training in the world would not secure her a career in dance, according to her teacher she was too tall and too old.  Audrey pressed on anyway, landing parts in theaters as a dancer and eventually being discovered by some people in the movie industry.  She had bit parts in a few, mostly forgettable movies, before being cast in the theater version of Gigi and then in Roman Holiday.  After that Audrey’s career took off fast and she worked almost nonstop for many years, until she decided to focus most of her time on her family.  The last part of the book details her time working with UNICEF and her eventual death from cancer.

The book is very easy to get through; the language is plain and Spoto doesn’t over-dramatize like I was afraid he would.  There are a lot of interesting stories about the production of her movies and how most of her coworkers adored her.  Her personal life was rocky at times, with two divorces, a few affairs, five miscarriages, and life long depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.  She was by all accounts a very loving person who really wanted to be a wife and mother more than she ever wanted to be a star.  I enjoyed the book and if you enjoy celebrity bios (which I normally don’t) or Audrey Hepburn, this is worth a read.  Now I’m going to sit back and watch Sabrina.

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