Audrey Hepburn

“For Attractive lips, speak words of kindness.
 For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people.
 For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry.
 For beautiful hair, let a child run their fingers through it once a day.
 For poise, walk with the knowledge that you never walk alone.
 People, more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed. Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of each of your arms.
 As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself and the other for helping others.”
Audrey Hepburn

We adored her as Eliza Doolittle and Sabrina.  She starred opposite some of Hollywood’s top notch leading men–Gregory Peck, Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, Humphrey Bogart, Burt Lancaster, Fred Astaire, Henry Fonda and William Holden.  There was a sweet, endearing quality about her and such grace.   She was a delight to watch.

She had such a lovely British accent.  However, I learned that she was not born in England.  She was born in Ixelles, Belgium.  She was the only child of an English banker of Irish descent and his second wife, a baroness and Dutch aristocrat.

Audrey spent her childhood chiefly in the Netherlands, including German-occupied Arnhem, Netherlands, during the Second World War. Her parents divorced when her father, a Nazi sympathiser, left the family.  Hepburn referred to her father’s abandonment as the most traumatic moment of her life. Years later, she located him in Dublin, Ireland, through the Red Cross. Although he remained emotionally detached, 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 in the Netherlands, believing 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.

In 1940, the Germans invaded the Netherlands. During the German occupation, Hepburn adopted the pseudonym Edda van Heemstra, modifying her mother’s documents because an “English sounding” name was considered dangerous, with her mother feeling that “Audrey” might indicate her British roots too strongly. Being English in the occupied Netherlands was not an asset; it could have attracted the attention of the occupying German forces and resulted in confinement or even deportation. Edda was never her legal name, also it was a version of her mother’s name Ella.

Audrey studied ballet in Arnhem and then moved to London in 1948, where she continued to train in ballet and worked as a photographer’s model. She appeared in several European films before starring in the 1951 Broadway play Gigi.

She starred opposite Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday for which she won the Academy Award  That was the first movie I saw her in with her short, sophisticated hairstyle.  I loved the part where Gregory Peck’s character put his hand in the mouth of the statue, La Bocca della Verità (in English, “the Mouth of Truth”) and when he pulled it out, it looked like he had lost it and Audrey’s character screamed.  He then popped his hand out of his sleeve and laughed. It turned that Audrey’s scream was real.Gregory Peck decided to pull a gag he had once seen Red Skelton do, and did not tell Audrey beforehand.  The gag worked and for me it was one of the most memorable moments of the movie.  When my sister and I visited La Bocca, I couldn’t help but think about that scene.

What I admired about Audrey Hepburn was  her work with UNICEF.  Her war-time experiences inspired her passion for humanitarian work and, although she had worked for UNICEF since the 1950s, during her later life she dedicated much of her time and energy to the organization. From 1988 until 1992, she worked in some of the most profoundly disadvantaged communities of Africa, South America and Asia. In 1992, Hepburn was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of her work as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. 

Audrey was grateful for her own good fortune after enduring the German occupation as a child and for this reason she dedicated the remainder of her life to helping impoverished children in the poorest nations. Hepburn’s travels were made easier by her wide knowledge of languages; besides being naturally bilingual in English and Dutch, Audrey also was fluent in French, Italian, Spanish, and German.

Her first field mission was to Ethiopia in 1988. She visited an orphanage in Mek’ele that housed 500 starving children and had UNICEF send food. Of the trip, she said, “I have a broken heart. I feel desperate. I can’t stand the idea that two million people are in imminent danger of starving to death, many of them children, [and] [sic] not because there isn’t tons of food sitting in the northern port of Shoa. It can’t be distributed. Last spring, Red Cross and UNICEF workers were ordered out of the northern provinces because of two simultaneous civil wars… I went into rebel country and saw mothers and their children who had walked for ten days, even three weeks, looking for food, settling onto the desert floor into makeshift camps where they may die. Horrible. That image is too much for me. The ‘Third World’ is a term I don’t like very much, because we’re all one world. I want people to know that the largest part of humanity is suffering”. (Wikipedia). 

I always have the image of her with African children and the way she was loving and playful with them.  You could see that her heart was in what she was doing and that being there made her happy.

What a classy lady Audrey was.  She was a true leading lady not only on screen but in real life. 

Eleanor Roosevelt

Earlier this month when I was reading about African American women who made a difference so that I could feature them in the special issue of Notes to Women newsletter, one name kept popping up–Eleanor Roosevelt.  I promised myself that I would do a little writeup on her.  And here we are.

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world” (http://www.udhr.org/history/biographies/bioer.htm).

She basically believed that charity begins at home.  And she reminds me of something a friend once said to me.  “The difficulty in following Jesus’ command is that we often pick and choose who we decide is our neighbour. We see our neighbour as the starving, AIDS infected person in the Third World or the orphan in a war torn country, needing our love and care but often perceive the homeless in our community as undeserving of our love.”

Eleanor’s childhood was a dreadfully unhappy one.  Her father was an alcoholic who was disowned by his family. Her mother, renowned for her beauty, was distant from her daughter whom she nicknamed “Granny” because she seemed to her old-fashioned. After Anna Roosevelt died of diphtheria in 1892, Eleanor, age eight, was raised by her maternal grandmother. She rarely saw her father thereafter, and he died of drink in 1894 when she was ten. These traumatic experiences affected Eleanor for life and she would harbor a constant yearning for unconditional love (http://www.lkwdpl.org/wihohio/roos-elex.htm). 

Life didn’t improve much when when Eleanor married Franklin, a distant cousin and they had six children.  Eleanor had to deal with her overbearing mother-in-law who apparently told her grandchildren that their mother only bore them.  She tried to control Eleanor, making her daughter-in-law feel utterly dependent.  

Then Eleanor found out that Franklin was having an affair with Lucy Mercer, her secretary.  She offered him a divorce, but he declined for the sake of his political career and because his mother threatened to disinherit him if he did.  He and Eleanor never shared a bedroom after that, but their working relationship was respectful, for the time (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/FranklinDRoosevelt).

Eleanor Roosevelt was the first First Lady to be more politically active, involving herself in causes like Civil Rights.  Perhaps it was because there was lack of charity in her own home that made Eleanor want to reach out to her community.   From early adulthood Eleanor Roosevelt dedicated herself to liberty, justice, and compassion for all.

Racial injustice came to her attention only after she reached the White House.   By that time, she was already active in promoting other groups’ causes. Before she married Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1905, she worked with the immigrants at the Rivington Street Settlement House. During World War I she helped improve conditions for US servicemen.When Franklin fell ill, leaving him crippled, she once again found herself standing up for someone whose value to society was doubted, this time her own husband. The 1921 experience deepened her concern for society’s unaccepted. Later the same decade she began her work promoting women’s causes. Women had just gained the right to vote, and Eleanor encouraged them to make the most of that right and run for office. 

After leaving the White House, Mrs. Roosevelt found herself more free than ever to promote equal rights for African Americans. During her final years she continued fighting as hard and fearlessly as ever. On at least one occassion, the Secret Service warned her not to keep a speaking engagement on civil disobedience. The Ku Klux Klan had put a price on her head and the Secret Service said they could not guarantee her safety. Undeterred, she traveled with another lady and her revolver. Such was her determination, independence, and courage right up to the year she died.

Mrs. Roosevelt was not always successful, even despairing at times of making any progress at all. And not every one of the causes she championed, such as the United Nations, turned out to be all that she hoped. But she used every ounce of her influence, charisma, and political capital for the causes in which she believed. Right or wrong, she fought zealously and courageously, and in most cases the world is a better place because of those fights. This zealous First Lady’s support moved African Americans’ cause ahead by decades
 (http://www.blackhistoryreview.com/biography/ERoosevelt.php).

Eleanor Roosevelt came a long way from being an unhappy child and dependent woman to becoming a champion for women’s and civil rights.  She was committed to what she believed in.  

Be inspired by this remarkable woman who endured so much but in the end gave so much because she cared about the rights of others. 

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one

Eleanor Roosevelt

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