Audrey Hepburn was born as Audrey Kathleen Ruston in Brussels on 4th May 1929. She was the only child of the Englishman Joseph Victor Anthony Ruston and his second wife, the former Baroness Ella van Heemstra, a Dutch aristocrat who was a daughter of a former governor of Dutch Guiana. The future actress's father later appended the surname of his maternal grandmother Kathleen Hepburn to the family's, and her surname became Hepburn-Ruston. She had two half-brothers, Jonkheer Arnoud Robert Alexander "Alex" Quarles van Ufford and Jonkheer Ian Edgar Bruce Quarles van Ufford, by her mother's first marriage to a Dutch nobleman.
Hepburn's father's job with a British insurance company meant that the family travelled often between Brussels, England, and The Netherlands. From 1935 to 1938, Hepburn attended a private academy for girls in Kent. In 1935, her parents divorced and her father, a Nazi sympathizer, left the family. She later called this the most traumatic moment of her life. Years later, she located him in Dublin through the Red Cross. She stayed in contact with him and supported him financially until his death. In 1939, her mother moved her and her two half-brothers to their grandfather's home in Arnhem, Netherlands. Ella believed the Netherlands would be safe from German attack. Hepburn attended the Arnhem Conservatory from 1939 to 1945 where she trained in ballet, along with the standard school curriculum.
During the war, Hepburn adopted the pseudonym Edda van Heemstra, modifying her mother's documents, because an "English-sounding" name was considered dangerous. This was never her legal name. The name Edda was a version of her mother's name, Ella.
By 1944, Hepburn had become a proficient ballerina. She secretly danced for groups of people to collect money for the underground movement. She later said, "the best audience I ever had made not a single sound at the end of my performance.
After the landing of the Allied Forces on D-Day, things grew worse under the German occupiers. During the Dutch famine over the winter of 1944, the Germans confiscated the Dutch people's limited food and fuel supply for themselves. Without heat in their homes or food to eat, people starved and froze to death in the streets. Hepburn and many others resorted to making flour out of tulip bulbs to bake cakes and biscuits. Arnhem was devastated during allied bombing raids that were part of Operation Market-Garden. Hepburn's uncle and a cousin of her mother's were shot in front of Hepburn for being part of the Resistance. Hepburn's half-brother Ian van Ufford spent time in a German labor camp. Suffering from malnutrition, Hepburn developed acute anemia, respiratory problems, and edema-a swelling of the limbs.
In 1945, after the war, Hepburn left the Arnhem Conservatory and moved to Amsterdam, where she took ballet lessons with Sonia Gaskell. In 1948, Hepburn went to London and took dancing lessons with the renowned Marie Rambert, teacher of Vaslav Nijinsky. Hepburn eventually asked Rambert about her future. Rambert assured her that she could continue to work there and have a great career, but that her height (5' 7") coupled with her poor nutrition during the war would keep her from becoming a prima ballerina. Hepburn trusted Rambert's assessment and decided to pursue acting, a career in which she at least had a chance to excel.
Her acting career started with the educational film, "Dutch in Seven Lessons". She then played in musical theatre in productions such as "High Button Shoes" and "Sauce Piquante". Hepburn's first role in a motion picture was in the British film "One Wild Oat", in which she played a hotel receptionist. Then she played several more minor roles.
At this time she was engaged to the young James Hanson. Audrey called it "love at first sight" however, after having her wedding dress fitted and the date set, she decided the marriage would not work, because of the demands of their careers that would keep them apart most of the time.
During the filming of Monte Carlo Baby, Hepburn was chosen to play the lead character in the Broadway play Gigi that opened on 24 November 1951.
Her first significant film performance was in the 1952 film "Secret People", in which she played a prodigy ballerina. Naturally, Hepburn did all of her own dancing scenes. Hepburn's first starring role and first American film was opposite Gregory Peck in the Hollywood motion picture "Roman Holiday". After filming the movie for four months, Hepburn went back to New York and did eight months of "Gigi". The play was performed in Los Angeles and San Francisco in its last month. She was given a seven-picture contract with Paramount with twelve months in between films to allow her time for stage work.
(c) 2003-2007, http://hepburn.low-desert.org, copyright by rainne.