May 4th would have been Audrey Hepburn’s 90th birthday, so now’s the perfect time to celebrate her remarkable life. (When isn’t it, really?) We all know Audrey for her classic movie roles (ROMAN HOLIDAY, MY FAIR LADY, WAIT UNTIL DARK, CHARADE) and iconic fashion moments (the little black dresses in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S, the post-Paris ball gown in SABRINA, The lace eye mask and sparkly eyeshadow in HOW TO STEAL OF MILLION, the entirety of FUNNY FACE), but she was so much more than that.
Though she never thought much of herself, Audrey Hepburn was a woman of compassion, courage, humility, selflessness, intelligence and gentleness. She enjoyed her acting career, but throughout her life she was most passionate about children – both her own two sons and the impoverished children she advocated for through her work with UNICEF (The United Nations Children’s Fund). Audrey spent the last years of her life tirelessly traveling the globe to meet with, serve, and fight on behalf of suffering children.
Because I loved MY FAIR LADY, I wrote a report on Audrey my sophomore year of high school, and I was blown away by her goodness. Ever since, I’ve been joking that I’ll find a way to become her best friend in the afterlife. In addition to watching her films, I’ve read a number of books about her inspiring life over the years. Here are a few of my favorites:
AUDREY HEPBURN, AN ELEGANT SPIRIT
By Sean Ferrer
This biography, written by Audrey’s son Sean, is the one I most often recommend. It features personal memories and gorgeous family photographs that reveal her love for gardening, ballet, animals (she adored her dogs), motherhood, and a quiet life at her home in Switzerland. It also discusses her insecurities and the heartache she experienced when her father left the family and when she experienced miscarriages as an adult. Ferrer makes a special point to emphasize his mother’s work as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador in her later life, and he donated proceeds from the book to the Audrey Hepburn’s Children Fund.
AUDREY AT HOME: MEMORIES OF MY MOTHER’S KITCHEN
By Luca Dotti
Audrey’s younger son, Luca, compiled this collection of memories, recipes, letters, and hundreds of previously unpublished photographs. It feels more like a scrapbook than a biography, which is why I recommend starting with Ferrer’s book first if you only know Audrey from a movie or two. If you’re already familiar with her backstory, though, AUDREY AT HOME is charming. I love how intimate it feels, particularly in sharing Audrey’s favorite recipes like Penna alla Vodka. I’m grateful that Audrey’s sons have been so generous in sharing their private memories with the loving fans who miss her.
DUTCH GIRL: AUDREY HEPBURN AND WORLD WAR II
By Robert Matzen
Though other biographies discuss Hepburn’s experiences living through the Nazi occupation of Holland as a teen, this is the first book to cover those years of her life in depth. Though her father and initially her mother were Nazi sympathizers, an uncle helped lead the resistance in the Netherlands, and as a teen Audrey carried messages for the underground movement and raised funds through secret ballet performances. Matzen reveals that Audrey and her mother even sheltered a downed English pilot for a time. Later in life, the memory of food and medical relief at the end of the war fueled Audrey’s passionate work on behalf of children. Matzen’s new book offers a fascinating glimpse at this formative time in Audrey’s life.
AUDREY AND GIVENCHY: A FASHION LOVE AFFAIR
By Cindy De La Hoz
If you idolize Audrey for her fashion sense, it’s important to know the man behind many of her most iconic looks: Hubert de Givenchy. When Audrey, a Hollywood newcomer, first went to meet the young designer in the 1950s, he famously expected a different Miss Hepburn at the appointment. That mishap led to a forty-year friendship and collaborative working relationship, however. AUDREY AND GIVENCHY provides wonderful insight into their personal bond and the designs they made famous.
JUST BEING AUDREY
By Margaret Cardillo
Illustrated by Julia Denos
This sweet picture book provides a lovely overview of Audrey’s life, career, and charity work, and the beautiful illustrations by Julia Denos perfectly capture Hepburn’s personality and charm. Readers of all ages are sure to draw inspiration from JUST BEING AUDREY.
Bonus: GARDENS OF THE WORLD WITH AUDREY HEPBURN
Directed by Bruce Franchini
This emmy-winning documentary series helped make Audrey one of only fifteen EGOT winners in history. She was a passionate gardener, in part because of the deprivation she experienced during World War II; her son Luca said “Her garden in Switzerland which has fruit trees was proof of this – it was beauty in the form of protecting your family.” GARDENS OF THE WORLD reflects her love for the topic. Beautiful shots of roses, tulips, and famous gardens combine with Audrey’s lilting voice for a very relaxing viewing experience. It’s practically ASMR.