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).
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.
However, her work with UNICEF lives on through the Audrey Hepburn Memorial Children’s Fund, the organization created by her sons, Sean Ferrer and Luca Dotti in 1994 to continue their mother’s humanitarian efforts (Sally & Clara). As of 2006, “The Audrey Hepburn Memorial Fund at UNICEF has raised over $1 million dollars for educational programs in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Sudan and Somalia” (Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund). It is undeniable that Audrey Hepburn made her mark in U. S. history through her work as an actress during the 1950’s and 1960’s.
Despite her humble beginnings, Hepburn managed to become one of America’s most beloved actresses and fashion icons of the twentieth century. However, it was her humble beginnings that eventually led her to leave her acting career and devote her life to bringing aid to children in need. Although she will always be adored for her work on Broadway and in cinema, it is her humanitarian work with UNICEF that has left the most significant impact on the world.