The ‘Lilly’ and the ‘Lily of the valley’ – two flowers with almost similar names. Do they belong to the same family? No. Lily is the true lily, whereas Lily-of-the-valley (let’s call it LOV) is the namesake. The ordinary similarity is that of the name, which starts and ends with their names, and once we are done ruminating over their names, we are left with these two majestic flowers to enjoy their enigmatic beauty. Both the flowers have their own unique identities – whereas Lily is a large and sturdy flower, LOV is a frail and tiny nodding-bell shaped flower’tin. But I will bait my ass over one thing – both darlings emit fragrances that hail directly from the Garden of Eden.
I will be damned if I go on talking about flowers. Let’s give these flowers a human form and see what happens. Should we?
Harry, wave your wand and… Transformosa…
Oh my! Look what the spell brought us! It transformed the lilies into the Hepburns – the Lily into Katherine and the LOV into Audrey. Classic Hollywood was the era of volatile passion, scandals, beauty, charm, and pure enigma. Things or people don’t get any more dramatic and awe-inspiring than they did back then. The Hepburns personify this era at its glorious best.
While Katherine – the unprecedented Hepburn – was known for her strong, fierce, and independent personality; Audrey – the follow-up Hepburn – was as delicate, gentle, and loving as the LOV. Whereas Katherine continuously refused to give interviews, talk to her fans, or reveal anything of her reclusive life; Audrey was pretty much a people’s person, so much so that her later life was dedicated to being the UNICEF goodwill ambassador. Where Katherine married just once but after divorce went on to have a 26 years long relationship with Spencer Tracy; Audrey married and divorced twice and went on to have a 13 years long relationship with Robert Walders. Katherine, in those days, was panned as well as noted for audaciously dressing up like a man with trousers and shirts; and Audrey was a universally celebrated fashion icon. Two great ladies of the classic Hollywood – similar yet different – let’s see what it means to be The Hepburns.
Katherine descended from a blue-blooded American family, as the daughter of a urologist father and a staunch feminist mother. She was raised in a progressive environment where she was taught to exercise freedom-of-speech, debate on issues she believed in, and was actively involved in the causes meant to bring social change. No wonder she grew up to posses anything and everything under the sun that would set her apart from everyone and make her an unconventional woman – the woman with her own independent spirit and her own mind.
This zeal and fearlessness was absolutely prevalent in her on-screen persona. She often appeared in screwball comedies – a genre that was most popular from early 30’s to the early 40’s, in which the female dominates the relationship with the male protagonist and challenges his masculinity thereby engaging into a humorous battle of the sexes. This theme is unmistakable in her films, such as The Philadelphia Story, The African Queen, Adam’s Rib, and Bringing Up Baby.
While visiting NYC in 1921, at the age of 14, Katharine found her older brother, Tom, mysteriously hanging on a beam. This event is said to have made this future legend very nervous, moody, and wary of people for the rest of her life. In 1928 she began her struggle as a theatre actress with this attitude, which, as you can guess, must not be easy – it wasn’t. She was endlessly panned for her lack of acting skills, stiff body, and shrill voice. It was not until the summer of 1931, when she landed the lead role in ‘The Warrior’s Husband’, she started receiving critical acclaim. It was this role that bagged her the first starring role of her silver-screen career in the film ‘A Bill of Divorcement’. The film was directed by George Cukor, who was to be her frequent collaborator and a lifelong friend.
The film stardom continued through two years – including her first (of total four) Oscars – before her films suddenly started bombing at the box office, earning her the nickname ‘Box Office Poison’. After four ‘poisonous’ years, she headed back to the stage and decided to act in a play called ‘The Philadelphia Story’ – the role that was specially written for her. Katharine’s then romantic partner, Howard Hughes, sensed the play could be turned into a successful movie and he bought Katharine the film rights of the play even before the play could debut. Katharine then masterminded her comeback. She desired to have Clark gable and Spencer Tracy as the male leads but since both were engaged in other projects, she chose Cary Grant (promising him the top billing) and James Stewart. The movie was a smashing hit, restoring Katharine to her glorious position that she would go on to chair for the long years to come.
Katharine starred in many films that are today considered classics, such as Little Women, Bringing Up Baby, Adam’s Rib, Woman of the Year, The African Queen, Suddenly, Last Summer; and won Oscars for Morning Glory, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, The Lion in Winter, and On Golden Pond. Despite bearing the crown of the highest Oscar-wins Katharine wasn’t an intuitive actor. She preferred to study her roles in depth, rehearsed as much as possible before the shots, and – as opposed to today’s One-Take actors – didn’t hesitate to take multiple takes for a single shot/scene. She insisted on performing her own stunts. Her swimming pool dive in The Philadelphia Story was the talk of the ‘Hollywood’ town. She was known to remember not only her dialogues but that of her costars’ as well. She actively involved herself in the production of her movies, she made script suggestions, stated her strong opinions on everything from costumes, casting, to lights and camera framing.
She often (almost always) played strong, intelligent, and rich characters that either humble down or reveal their hidden vulnerability toward the end. This very fact led her critics to slam her for lack of versatility. Katharine herself didn’t take objection to this criticism, claiming she often played herself on the screen.
No matter what, this, one of the most celebrated actors of Hollywood, lived her life in the way that was exceptionally ahead of its time – it’s no wonder she symbolized the modern woman. She can be credited for popularizing trousers among women. She is the first Oscar winning actor whose cinematic portrayal turned into an Oscar winning role – Cate Blanchett for The Aviator.
As I unsuccessfully struggle to list the unending legends of this phenomenal legend, another legend is already peeping through the windows of my curious Hollywood crazy mind – the little Hepburn, Audrey.
The legend goes something like this – the then young French fashion designer, Hubert de Givenchy, who was just starting his fashion house, was hired as a costume designer for a new film, Sabrina, and he was told that “Miss Hepburn” would be visiting him for the fittings. Excited to meet the legendary and one-and-only “Miss Katharine Hepburn”, Givenchy was absolutely disappointed to see some skinny unknown girl, who went by the name Audrey Hepburn, standing at his door. However, as this initial wave of disappointment subsided, this skinny girl, just like she did with the millions of people worldwide, went on to win Givenchy’s heart and became his, not only a lifelong friend but also his muse. Givenchy, in turn, played a key part in making Audrey the universally recognized fashion icon.
Audrey belonged to an aristocratic family of British-Austrian father and Dutch baroness mother – no wonder she looked like a princess. Her real name was Audrey Kathleen Ruston and it’s amusing to know the reason why she became a Hepburn – the reason was nothing but just a misunderstanding. Her father mistakenly thought he was the descendent of James Hepburn, the third husband of Mary, Queen of Scots (also a cousin of the Queen Elizabeth I), and he changed his name to Hepburn-Ruston, thus making Audrey the Hepburn.
Audrey spent most of her childhood in a Nazi occupied European countries, as her family kept moving from place to place to avoid the Third Reich monstrosity. When Audrey was living in the Hitler occupied Netherlands she often witnessed trainloads of Jews being transported to the concentration camps. She particularly remembered one incident when she was 13 and she witnessed a little boy – “…standing with his parents on the platform, very pale, very blond, wearing an extremely oversized coat… and then he stepped on the train. I was a child observing a child.”
Could this – and probably many more like this – incident be the reason why Audrey’s heart was deeply instilled with compassion and she went on to dedicate her life for the betterment of unprivileged children in the developing countries? If the war had this endearing effect on Audrey, it also had a not-so-good effect on her – her famously thin and bony body frame is often attributed to her days during the Nazi Germany when she would go hungry for days at stretch, and, like many others, would survive on boiled grass, tulip bulbs, and water. She weighed on 39 kgs when she was 16. Her ballet dreams were crushed to the dust when her ballet trainer told her that despite her talent, her height and weak constitution (effect of war malnutrition) would make her dream to be a prima ballerina unattainable – also the reason why she thereafter chose to focus more on acting than on ballet.
After working as a chorus girl in West End musicals and doing small side roles – such as stewardess, cigarette girl, receptionist – in films, Audrey bagged her first starring role in ‘Roman Holiday’. Gregory Peck was a big star and at first it was decided that only his name would appear above the film title and Audrey’s name would appear in smaller fonts with “Introducing…” tag. However, at Gregory Peck’s insistence Audrey was given the equal billing and her name appeared alongside his. He later said, “She is going to be a huge star and when she does I will look like a fool for not giving her equal billing.” You see? Audrey was not born to be a star. She was born a star.
Later on she went on to star in many classics, such as Sabrina, War and Peace, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Charade, My Fair Lady, Wait Until Dark, and many more. Audrey married twice, first to an American stage actor Mel Ferrer with whom she had a son Sean, and then married to an Italian psychiatrist Andrea Dotti with whom she had another son Luca. Previously she had short-lived relationships with James Hanson, Michael Butler, William Holden, and Ben Gazzara; however it was only when she started dating Robert Walders she was said to have found love and peace. This relationship lasted until her death in 1993.
Between the two of these magnificent lilies, it would be hard to say who was more charming and who had better acting skills or who was a better person. But we are diverse race of humans with different opinions and we can definitely compare them with varying conclusions. And yet the ultimate fact would always remain the same – they both were as wonderful as the flowers they represented.