Thursday, September 26, 2013
ENCHANTMENT: THE LIFE OF AUDREY HEPBURN Donald Spoto
Spoto doesn't spend too much time detailing the terrible childhood and awful privations Belgium-born Hepburn suffered during the Nazi occupation of Arnhem before we're off exploring her rapid rise to stardom and her many memorable film roles. Originally trained to be a dancer, Hepburn's deportment and good looks earned her the title role in the play Gigi and many accolades from the critics of the day, although Hepburn thought she was still learning how to act throughout the lengthy run. [Whether or not she was disappointed that the role of Gigi went to Leslie Caron in the big-screen musical adaptation, Spoto doesn't say.] She had already had a good role in the British film Secret People, but now found herself working with such famed directors as William Wyler and Billy Wilder and such actors as William Holden, with whom she had a brief affair, and Humphrey Bogart and Fred Astaire, who were not always easy to work with. She was most often paired with much, much older men, such as Gary Cooper and Gregory Peck, and later, Cary Grant in Charade. She won an Oscar, had what she considered her greatest role in The Nun's Story [befriending the real-life nun and the book's author, who apparently were a long-time lesbian couple], and "stole" the role of Eliza Doolittle from Julie Andrews in My Fair Lady where she spent hours on singing lessons only to learn Marni Nixon had already dubbed all of her songs. Although Hepburn wasn't much different from other actresses in that she had affairs even while married to actor Mel Ferrer [who directed her in Green Mansions and appeared in such films as Born to Be Bad and Eaten Alive, not to mention a solid role on Falcon Crest], Spoto treads lightly, as if not wanting to spoil her image; he's very tough on Ferrer, however. Hepburn left films to become a full-time wife and mother, made a few movies of varying quality some years later [Robin and Marian; Bloodline], then had perhaps her most fulfilling role as a hands-on goodwill ambassador for Unicef, flying on military planes to such desperately hungry nations as Ethiopia and witnessing the starvation and its effects first-hand. She had two disappointing marriages, but found some happiness with companion Robert Wolders in her final years before succumbing to cancer. Enchantment is a good read, fast-paced, well-researched, and makes it clear that movie stardom is not always a recipe for lasting happiness.
Verdict: Solid and very readable biography. ***.