On How To Be Audrey, Part IV – Philosophy
I wasn’t quite sure what to label this last post, but I thought perhaps the word philosophy might cover it. This is the most important part of what made Audrey who she was, the most important thing about her that we could emulate. And I don’t think I can really do her justice with my words.
Yes, she had a good sense of style (um, except during the ’80s when it seems nobody had a good sense of style), she had healthy habits (except for smoking…), and good self-control, but the thing that impacted the people she met, and even those she didn’t, was her sense of compassion for others, and her calm and soothing presence.
“For me, Audrey is still here. She is someone you can never forget for a thousand reasons, not solely to do with her beauty, her excellent acting abilities or her talent. The key reason lies beyond all that. Above all, she was human, deeply viscerally human, as she demonstrated throughout her life…. she devoted incredible energy to changing the world.”
Hubert de Givenchy
I believe this sense of compassion was ingrained in her early in her life by her mother, who has been quoted as saying to her, “Others matter more than you do, so don’t fuss dear; get on with it.” Added to that, going through a war with her friends and family certainly must have instilled in her a sense of community and empathy that lasted throughout the rest of her life.
Words are going to fail me here, in this particular post, which is why I’ve procrastinated at writing it. I’m going to rely heavily on the words of those who knew her, such as her producer from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,”
“Everything you have read, heard or wished to be true about Audrey Hepburn doesn’t come close to how wonderful she was. There is not a human being on earth that was kinder, more gentle, more caring, more giving, brighter, and more modest than Audrey.”
I don’t think I will be able to do her justice, having not even once met her, admiring from afar and knowing her only through words on a page. But I have never read anything terrible about Audrey. 99.9% of the time she seemed to be present and focused on whomever was in front of her, attentive and compassionate. She made everyone feel important, welcome and greeted everyone as though they were old friends even if it was the first time they had met.
“She had a quality I found in Eleanor Roosevelt. When Audrey said to you, ‘How are you, dear?’ she looked in your eyes and wanted an answer. It was not a form of salutation. It was a question from someone who cared. It was that one-on-one quality that electrified everyone. When Audrey was talking or listening to you, you possessed her totally and she possessed you…”
Roger Caras, president of the ASPCA
And it was genuine…
“Audrey was the kind of person who when she saw someone else suffering, tried to take their pain on herself. She was a healer. She knew how to love. You didn’t have to be in constant contact with her to feel you had a friend. We always picked up right where we left off.”
She definitely had her moments of stubbornness, if I recall. She insisted her dog be an exception to the quarantine rules of Africa to join her while filming “The Nun’s Story.” I recently read somewhere (when I find it again I will edit this!) that when a hotel in Paris couldn’t make her drink right at the bar, she switched hotels. She tended to travel with her whole household in her luggage and request the same room in a hotel, even requesting some of the same furniture if it had been moved to another room (if anyone has the references for this, please let me know. I’m going off of memory right now). However, I am betting that all of these requests were made with the friendliest attitude, none of the irritated entitlement one would expect from a film star.
“She was so wonderfully easy to work with and so unfailingly kind and caring to everyone. Genuine, unique, compassionate, true to her beliefs, honest and without any artifice, she stood out of the conventional image of show business, glitz and glamour.”
She was very thoughtful and diplomatic in her interviews and interactions, I’ve noticed. She didn’t seem to want to offend anyone. She once stood in for Patricia Neal to present the Best Actress award at the Oscars, but due to her complicated situation of being overlooked for “My Fair Lady,” and presenting the award to Julie Andrews for “Mary Poppins,” she neglected to mention Patricia, was reminded, and apologized profusely. I’m sure she felt terribly guilty for ages.
After a tribute to her at the Lincoln Center in 1991, at a post-tribute dinner, the following occurred:
“She had to make sure that everyone who had come long distances sat close to her, but she couldn’t bear to decide who should or shouldn’t. So she had us make one tremendous table by pushing ten together into a giant oval that went on for miles. It was perfect. Nobody’s feelings were hurt. It never happened before or since at one of these events, because most people don’t care. But Audrey did.”
While living in Rome, she made many new friends but apparently never quite fit in, because she refused to engage in conversations about others.
“She never integrated because she was not a gossip.”
Anna Cataldi, friend
However, although she was kind and considerate, she was also withdrawn.
“She, in some mysterious way, kept me from being totally intimate… I longed to get closer, to get behind what was the invisible, but decidedly present, barrier between her and the rest of us more mortal human beings. Something… was there, holding me back from getting as close as I wanted.”
I believe that this was a mix of her mother’s teachings, and also a self-preservation method she adopted as an actress. I’m sure when she was younger she learned to hold back information to protect her privacy. But also, being a sensitive person, she may have held back parts of herself more frequently as she aged to protect herself from disappointments and betrayals.
“I sensed a sort of reserve, a hesitancy in her relationship with people. She was always prepared to withdraw from any event or discussion – she could quickly, almost abruptly, bring it to an end. I’d give her an ‘A’ in closure! It made her not less but more interesting.”
Dr. Ron Glegg, Rob Wolder’s brother-in-law
“She was not chatty about her personal feelings. She was British in that way – friendly, kind, but with that reserve of ‘Don’t get too close to me.’ ”
Sergio Russo, her hairdresser in Rome
But she did trust a select few. Audrey had a very small circle of close friends. An older friend of mine was married to a screenwriter “back in the day,” who was working with a producer who was working with Audrey Hepburn. She has stories of so many celebrities she’s met in her life, but the one she wishes she would have been able to meet was Audrey. But “she was very insulated, and didn’t want to meet many new people,” she told me.
“She had almost a child’s need or capacity to trust and to entrust herself to someone. Once she trusted someone, she would give them her life.”
Although she seemed to keep only a very few number of people get close to her, she wasn’t afraid to show love, even if it wouldn’t be returned.
“Audrey was a great cutup – very impish and playful. It’s a quality you find in children and in puppies, which might explain why she was so drawn to animals – and perhaps had more trust in animals than in human beings. Sometimes when she would show a great deal of love for someone on whom I felt it was wasted, I’d say, ‘Don’t you expect something in return?’ She would say, ‘No. My love for them doesn’t mean I expect anything back. It’s like with an animal.”
Having lived in Hollywood for quite some time, I have to say that this quality should be practiced more often, especially in the film community! Los Angeles is a city where everybody wants something and they’re only nice to you until they’ve got it (or until they realize they’re not getting it). I love the fact that she would give love to anyone she thought needed or deserved it, without expecting anything from them.
“There is a moral obligation, that those who have should give to those who don’t.”
Always thinking of others…
Audrey never seemed to have any public displays of anger or ego, nor many private ones that I’ve heard of (I can’t imagine there weren’t any raised voices when struggling with romantic relationships). She had a tremendous amount of self-control…
“There are people who blow their tops, and people who don’t. I am told it is bad to bottle it all up inside you, but then if you blow you have to go around apologizing… I suppose I should just let it come out of my ears.”
However, it seemed she liked to keep more than herself under control, and perhaps wasn’t very spontaneous. From an interview with herself and her husband at the time, Andrea Dotti:
“It’s difficult to have both [security and love], especially for women, since security is based on a fixed social and economic situation, a status quo with prearranged agreements or contracts, while love is wild, unfixed, unpredictable… No doubt Audrey’s childhood experiences intensified these drives. She’s a perfectionist, with a strong need for security. She must have matters under control and she’s afraid of surprises. For example, if she has to go to Geneva next month, she buys the ticket now. I do it the day before, and maybe then I’ll change my mind and go to Sardinia.”
“No, love, you wouldn’t fly off anywhere, because for Sardinia there’s always a waiting list.”
Though she wasn’t stuck in her ways and still took joy in exploring life:
“I think Audrey was much more comfortable with Sister Luke than with other parts. It was the story of a woman who investigated life, who was constantly on a search. As Audrey was.”
Audrey didn’t talk much about her spiritual beliefs, but from what I gather, she was raised Christian Scientists, considered herself Protestant for a while, and later on in life seemed to be thinking more about the spiritual aspect of life. Around the time of “The Nun’s Story,” she was quoted as saying,
“I have been educated in the Protestant faith and shall remain Protestant even though I have great respect for those who profess the Catholic faith.”
In 1956 she mentioned religion in an interview with Phyllis Battelle:
“Two things I never talk about are salary and religion. I find them sort of intimate things, and besides, it [her salary] changes all the time… My religion has been the same for 27 years but I won’t tell anybody what it is. Not that I’m Mohammedan, or anything surprising. I just keep it to myself.”
Her son, Luca, stated,
“Mom thought that religious education was an important part of our cultural background and had great respect for all beliefs. Worship was something intimate and personal for her, that extended to every little action we make. She believed in the struggle between Good and Evil and had faith in Love as the single element that bonds everything.”
Stepping back a little to the self-discipline Audrey possessed, I have to say she impressed me very much with her work ethic, especially early on in her career. She certainly was hustling.
“[Landau] said one day that anyone who’d like to make an extra shilling could be in cabaret. So after Sauce Tartare, at 11:30 at night, I’d be at Ciro’s again at midnight, make up and do two shows. All dancing. I made £11 for the first show and £20 for the second. So I was doing 18 shows weekly and earning over £150 a week. I was completely nuts.”
Around Christmas, she added in children’s shows, playing a fairy, and doing eight matinees a week.
“I got home at 2am [from Ciro’s], slept and was up and in rehearsal at 10am. I was very ambitious and took every opportunity. I wanted to learn and I wanted to be seen. My voice was pitched so high that my mother said I sounded as though I were about to take off.”
And throughout her career, she worked hard, studying her script at night and on the way to set, taking vocal coaching, dance and movement classes… she was a hard worker (although I did hear that she spent a lot of late nights out with her fiancé during rehearsals for Gigi and got scolded for her poor performances the day after!).
This has been a long post, hasn’t it?! Kind of rambling… there’s just so much to say about her, but I tried to keep focused on the wonderful attributes that she exhibited and that we can learn from. So now comes the part where I apply Audrey’s admirable qualities to my own life, in my effort to emulate her. As I said, the idea is to emulate her good qualities, the habits that would make a positive difference in my life. I’ve covered self-control when it comes to food and exercise, and have been examining my closet (and I’ll write an update on how all of this is going, later), but now I’ve added a focus on self-control when it comes to interactions with others, and self-discipline when it comes to work.
Having been raised differently than Audrey, and with different experiences behind me, I’ve always found it difficult to suppress when I am upset, displeased, or dissatisfied. And in the age of digital communication, it’s made it even more difficult! With email instead of letters, texting instead of calling… every interaction seems more intimate and casual than it used to be, or should be. I’ve been re-educating myself on the rules of communication, and figuring out how to retreat a little from the casualness with which I normally respond to things.
For in-person interactions, I would like to be a bit more proper, however it doesn’t come natural to me. I am always feeling nervous and insecure and unsure of how to address anyone, always in some way feeling insecure or inferior. When it’s my own party, for example, I feel much more relaxed and in control, but when I’m the outsider I don’t know what to do with myself! I suppose practice makes perfect. I’m also discovering, through a book on French-American cultural differences that I’ve been reading, how Americans communicate differently than the French. Now, I know Audrey wasn’t French, but she was not American and I wonder which communication habits she was more familiar with. Learning about my own culture from an outsider’s perspective has been interesting.
The biggest challenge for me is learning how to better express concern, appreciation, and attentiveness. I’m not very good at expressing anything with words, in my opinion, so this may take a long time to master. I think I need to find a lot of good examples, perhaps letters, to study. I do enjoy making others feel good, but I fail when it comes to finding the words to do so. I was not raised with parents who exhibited a natural skill with words, and never thought much of it until years later. So I have remained quite shy and quiet, which can be easily misunderstood. Working on this.
I feel as though I can look into the future by observing Audrey and how she handled her pain. I didn’t include text about that here, since I wanted to keep the focus on her good habits and not on the things I didn’t want to emulate. But after several relationships had ended, apparently she carried that grief with her for a while. I don’t want to end up with pain that others can see. I want to learn how to deal with it and not carry it with me. I haven’t quite figured out how yet…
As for worth ethic… I think sometimes I’m a hard, dedicated worker, and sometimes I’m not. As I get older, I have less patience for things that I have to do simply to make money, things that seem like a distraction from more important things, and things I just don’t like doing. I’ve been a bit spoiled, working online, though when that’s not going well, I do lock myself inside and work hard to pay my rent! In fact, I’m usually always working on something, though it doesn’t always lead to money. I could stand to have more focus and discipline with the things I say are important to me, though. I have to really narrow it down and prioritize, otherwise I just get into a state of overwhelm. I love to do so many things!
In short, really, to emulate Audrey I must be sensitive to others, learn to express happiness and gratitude and to deal with anger and frustrations gracefully. I mustn’t gossip, and I must give without expectations of receiving. I must be careful whom I open up to (and as an American with the tendency to talk to strangers more, that book I mentioned finally makes sense of why we may do that) but also find a way to deal with pain so that it doesn’t stick around later on and negatively impact me or my relationships.
I wish I could already be like Audrey in these ways, but it’s never too late to improve oneself. Nobody can be Audrey, just like nobody can be you, or me – we’re all unique and we all have something different to offer the world. But personally, I see room for improvement in my attitude and outlook and behaviour, and Audrey has been my measuring stick, as she is the embodiment of grace, tact, gratitude and love (to me). I want to leave the world better for having been in it, just like she did.
Help me, Audrey, to become the best version of myself I can be!!
“Again, that’s the element X that people have, or don’t have. You can meet somebody and you can be enchanted, and then you photograph them and it’s nothing. But she had it. And there will not be another. Today, there is Julia Roberts. She is quite capable, very funny. . . . I loved her instantly in Pretty Woman. But no actress should be expected to be Audrey Hepburn. That dress by Mr. Givenchy has already been filled.”
This is not quite the end of this little series… I’m going to post an update later, in case anybody is interested. I also am going to mention here (and in the next post) about my almost-secret project. I’ve been talking with two friends of mine about going on a grand Audrey adventure across Europe, and making a film about it. I will tell you more about it later, or you can just go to On How To Be Lovely and see what’s there. 😉 I’m really hoping to make it a reality! If you think you may be able to help us with it, please let me know!