In the beloved romantic comedy Sabrina, William Holden sweeps Audrey Hepburn passionately into his arms and murmurs: “Where have you been all my life?” Audrey, who plays the chauffeur’s daughter, cooly replies: “Over the garage.”
On the set of director Billy Wilder’s 1954 film classic, Audrey, then 24, thought she had found her real-life soulmate in William, 36, calling him “the most handsome man I’d ever met.” Despite their intense connection, the relationship ended unhappily.
“All she wanted was to be married to a decent guy and have children,” explains Barry Paris, author of Audrey Hepburn. He believes that William’s reluctance to leave his wife and his inability to have more children due to a vasectomy drove Audrey to break it off.
With roles in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Roman Holiday and Funny Face, Audrey established herself as a new type of Hollywood actress in the 1950s as her elegant bearing and elfin beauty set her apart from the voluptuous bombshells of the day. Yet for all of her charm, Audrey suffered a lifetime of heartbreak, two regrettable marriages and several rumored affairs — and only found a devoted companion in her later years.
Overcoming a difficult childhood in which she was abandoned by her father and nearly starved to death in Nazi-occupied Holland during World War II, Audrey dreamed of becoming a ballerina but emerged as Hollywood’s newest sensation with a breakout role in 1953’s Roman Holiday, opposite Gregory Peck.
“You have to be a little bit in love with your leading man and vice versa,” Audrey has said, who was rumored to have really fallen for Gregory on the set. “If you’re going to portray love, you have to feel it. You can’t do it any other way.”
Later that year, Gregory introduced her to Mel Ferrer at a party. Ignoring the warning signs, the actress dove headfirst into a romance with the twice-divorced father of five, who was still married to his third wife. They wed a year later, but the union spelled trouble from the start. “Mel was an unpleasant, difficult, controlling person,” says Paris. “He was jealous of Audrey’s fame.”
More than a movie star, Audrey earned to become a mother. She suffered a miscarriage in 1955 and another in 1959 after she fell off a horse and broke her back while filming The Unforgiven. Despite her serious injuries, the selfless actress “worried about how Mel would react” to the miscarriage, notes Paris.
Audrey finally got her wish when her son Sean Hepburn Ferrer was born in 1960. In a letter to a friend, she gushed that her baby was “truly a dream and I find it hard to believe he is really ours to keep.”
She continued to make movies — Breakfast at Tiffany’s was filmed a year after Sean’s birth — but motherhood became her true passion. “The greatest gift she gave us was a normal upbringing,” Sean exclusively tells Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now. “She fetched me at school, took me out to buy socks and got me ready for soccer practice and judo class.”
Yet even as she delighted in motherhood, she and Mel were drifting in different directions. “You always hope that if you love somebody enough, everything will be all right, but it isn’t always true,” Audrey has said.
Still, she resisted William Holden, who was still carrying a torch, when they reunited on the set of Paris When It Sizzles in 1964. This time, Audrey only felt pity that her ex-lover’s drinking problem had become worse and rebuffed his advances. “Audrey was the love of my life,” William once confessed before his death in 1981.
In 1968, after 14 years of marriage, Audrey divorced Mel. A short time later, she wed Andrea Dotti, an Italian psychiatrist — a man as outgoing and charming as Mel had been controlling and taciturn. “I think she loved Andrea very much but soon realized that he was very young,” Sean confides about his stepfather, who was nine years Audrey’s junior. “He still wanted to run around and have a good time.”
Andrea’s infidelities even tarnished Audrey’s joy over the birth of her second son, Luca Dotti, in 1970. “Andrea was unfaithful and open about it,” says Paris. “They were always snapping photos of him at nightclubs and he didn’t try to keep it a secret.”
Audrey worked sporadically during this period but connected with Ben Gazzara when they costarred in 1979’s Bloodline. “Audrey was unhappy in her marriage and hurting. I was unhappy in my marriage and hurting, and we gave solace to each other and we fell in love,” Ben has said. However, when the filming wrapped, they went home to their spouses. “She told others, not me, that I broke her heart,” said Ben.
In 1980, Audrey met Dutch actor and businessman Robert Wolders, who shared her background and made her laugh. “He was completely devoted to her,” says Paris, noting that “Robbie” never pressed Audrey to marry him because he didn’t want to be accused of trying to trade on her fame. “He accompanied her on all of the trips she made to Africa and Central America for UNICEF,” says Paris. “They had an almost idyllic life together” for 13 years.
Audrey called this period the happiest of her life. “It took a while, but I got here,” she once joked four years before her death at age 63. “I am sort of married to Robert — we are always together. In fact, maybe this way it’s a little more romantic.”
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