Shallow Not Stupid

I’m more into bracelets at Tiffany’s than breakfasts. Holly Golightly can keep that croissant. Of course, in real life the Audrey Hepburn diet was a boiled egg, two bits of toast, and a martini a day to keep the fat police away. And don’t go spoiling it by adding a 29-calorie olive when a citrus twist is easier on the eye as well as the waistline.

Hepburn, the face that launched a million haircuts, is immortalized in dead-glamorous stills by Angus McBean, Richard Avedon, and Irving Penn, among other iconic photographers, which can currently be seen in Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon at the National Portrait Gallery in London (through October 18, 2015).

Audrey seems to have a makeover in every movie she stars in, transforming her back into herself. There’s that cute crop in Roman Holiday, when her faux ponytail is snipped as she goes from thwarted princess to paparazzo Greg Peck’s girl. In Funny Face she changes from gamine to glamorous with help from a fashion editor allegedly based on Diana Vreeland, but more like Dolores Umbridge. Audrey’s monochrome glamour was undercut with a sex appeal more spiritual than slutty, her kohled eyes staring mysteriously as the key light transforms her into a chiaroscuro angel.

Her dancer’s legs are chunkier than you’d expect from a girl who grew up hungry in Nazi-occupied Holland, a few streets from Anne Frank scribbling away in her attic. “I’m fake thin,” she confided to her son, “don’t tell anyone.” But those fat legs — and her Nazi parents who went on a road trip to Germany with Hitler’s fan club, the Mitford sisters — were cleverly concealed by the Hollywood myth machine under Givenchy skirts and a camera addicted to her cutthroat cheekbones.

Audrey had trouble with her mother — don’t we all? — who was practically her pimp when she was a chorus girl in London, trying to get her married off to anyone with a title who could support them both. But Audrey went west, sailing away on a transatlantic liner to star as Gigi on Broadway, getting plump on puddings before she reached New York. Colette, the author, was horrified that her Gigi had turned into a porker. Thus the famous diet was born, and Hepburn stayed slender until she died of cancer at only 63.

Truman Capote famously didn’t want Audrey as Holly Golightly, preferring Marilyn Monroe. But Audrey had dated Jack Kennedy before Marilyn, and sang Happy Birthday Mr. President after. She got the part and made it her own with a little help from a cigarette holder and a hairpiece.

While filming Sabrina, virginal Audrey had a secret affair with aged and married slut William Holden, breaking a golden rule: never date a man with jugs bigger than yours. Broody Auds dumped old Willie after finding out he’d had a vasectomy and fled to the rebound arms of Mel Ferrer, who gave up his own career to manage hers. Probs not much of a sacrifice for a man who was out-acted by Audrey’s false eyelashes.

Ferrer sent his wife to bed alone for her beauty sleep at 9 pm and gave her a warning look if she tried to guzzle a second martini. After their divorce, Audrey married a psychiatrist and went to live in Rome. She gave up the movies, content to push her son’s stroller with no help from a nanny, wearing bad wigs and cool sunglasses.

Hepburn works better in monochrome than color and though her comeback movies — Bloodline, Always, Love Among Thieves — didn’t have the same success, this didn’t harm her image, which was already immortalized in Kodak. Living out her last years in Switzerland, she hooked up with Merle Oberon’s boy toy, and worked as an ambassador for UNICEF, sometimes allowing herself to eat chocolate.

Despite her apparent frailty, Audrey was a survivor whose discipline and dignity deepened the bone structure of her beauty. She walked the tightrope between decadence and self-denial and made it look like a string of pearls.

Audrey at a dance recital, age 13

Costume test for Sabrina (1953)

Audrey with her pet fawn, Pippin

Photo by Cecil Beaton (1954)

During the filming of Monte Carlo Baby

Photo by Angus McBean (1950)

Audrey at 9 years old

In Rome, photo by Cecil Beaton (1960)

On location in Africa for The Nun’s Story, photo by Leo Fuchs (1958)

In London, photo by Bert Hardy (1950)

After the liberation of Holland (1946)

For My Fair Lady, photo by Cecil Beaton (1964)

Photo by Yousuf Karsh (1956)

In Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

Audrey in Givenchy, photo by Norman Parkinson (1955)

In Roman Holiday

Photo by Bud Fraker (1954)

On the set of How to Steal a Million

Photo by Bud Fraker (1954)

In New York, photo by George Douglas (1952)

Audrey in 1979

Listen to Vivien Lash read from her evil twin’s audio book, Spying on Strange Men