Enchantment: The Life of Audrey Hepburn by Donald Spoto

December 29, 2011

Summary (from the publisher): Her name is synonymous with elegance, style and grace. Over the course of her extraordinary life and career, Audrey Hepburn captured hearts around the world and created a public image that stands as one of the most recognizable and beloved in recent memory. But despite her international fame and her tireless efforts on behalf of UNICEF, Audrey was also known for her intense privacy. With unprecedented access to studio archives, friends and colleagues who knew and loved Audrey, bestselling author Donald Spoto provides an intimate and moving account of this beautiful, elusive and talented woman.
Tracing her astonishing rise to stardom, from her harrowing childhood in Nazi-controlled Holland during World War II to her years as a struggling ballet dancer in London and her Tony Award–winning Broadway debut in Gigi, Spoto illuminates the origins of Audrey’s tenacious spirit and fiercely passionate nature.

She would go on to star in some of the most popular movies of the twentieth century, including Roman Holiday, Sabrina, Funny Face, The Nun’s Story, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and My Fair Lady. A friend and inspiration to renowned designer Hubert de Givenchy, Audrey emerged as a fashion icon as well as a film legend, her influence on women’s fashion virtually unparalleled to this day.

But behind the glamorous public persona, Audrey Hepburn was both a different and a deeper person and a woman who craved love and affection. Donald Spoto offers remarkable insights into her professional and personal relationships with her two husbands, and with celebrities such as Gregory Peck, William Holden, Fred Astaire, Gary Cooper, Robert Anderson, Cary Grant, Peter O’Toole, Albert Finney and Ben Gazzara. The turbulent romances of her youth, her profound sympathy for the plight of hungry children, and the thrills and terrors of motherhood prepared Audrey for the final chapter in her life, as she devoted herself entirely to the charity efforts of an organization that had once come to her rescue at the end of the war: UNICEF.

Donald Spoto has written a poignant, funny and deeply moving biography of an unforgettable woman. At last, Enchantment reveals the private Audrey Hepburn—and invites readers to fall in love with her all over again.

Liked:

  • As far as “old-time” actresses go, Audrey Hepburn has always been one of my favorites (though I’ve only seen a fraction of her films). I absolutely loved her in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Roman Holiday, and My Fair Lady, and also appreciated Funny Face and The Children’s Hour. I never knew anything about her private life, though, and was glad to finally read a biography about her.
  • Spoto’s book goes into great detail about the filming of many of her most famous movies. This was interesting to me because a lot of it was simply new information. Again, I’d never read anything about Audrey’s life before, so I didn’t know any behind-the-scenes gossip about these films.
  • It was great getting some insight into why Hepburn was such an avid promoter of UNICEF later in her life. I had no idea that she benefited from the Red Cross and similar relief efforts when she was a child, and that she was essentially “paying it forward” later on.
  • I can only imagine the heartbreak Audrey went through during her three miscarriages — especially since she so desperately wanted to be a mother. Yes, she did end up having two healthy sons, but I’m sure the miscarriages stuck with her for a long time.
  • Audrey sounded like such a kind, graceful person who rolled with everything that came her way, refused to hold grudges, and generally tried to be happy and make those around her happy. She was sooo NOT a diva, even though at the height of her popularity she certainly could have been. And she didn’t let major disappointments, such as not getting to sing in My Fair Lady (after having been told that they would use her voice) bring her down for long. It seemed like she had a fantastic attitude.
  • I loved reading about her relationship with Givenchy. Again, I knew that Audrey was linked with the brand, but I didn’t know there was a genuine friendship between her and Hubert de Givenchy that lasted until she died.
  • There were tons of footnotes in the book, which indicates that the author did a lot of research. That doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is correct and that the conjectures he put forth are accurate, but at least there’s an opportunity for readers to cross-reference anything they feel like delving into a bit deeper.

Disliked:

  • I didn’t really care to read about Audrey’s various affairs with her leading men. I get that this was a part of her life and all that, but it kind of changed my views of her a little bit. As naive as this sounds, she always seemed so fresh and innocent on screen, and I don’t like having that image tarnished.
  • Ditto about her smoking 3 packs of cigarettes per day. Wow. No cause was given for the rare cancer that began in her appendix and ended up killing her, but no doubt the smoking would have eventually caught up with her too.
  • Spoto could have been a bit more balanced in the presentation. It seemed like he spent an inordinate amount of time describing some films (Funny Face, The Nun’s Story), while briefly glossing over others. I understand he had to limit himself and probably didn’t have the same amount of source material available for each movie, but the imbalance was strikingly noticeable.

Rating:

I thought Enchantment was a very good biography of Audrey Hepburn. Granted, it’s the only one I’ve ever read, but it did what I wanted it to do. Namely, the book gave me interesting insight into her private life and acting career, and allowed me to see some of the humanity behind the public persona. Although Audrey wasn’t perfect, she comes off very well in Spoto’s account and is definitely worthy of my admiration. I give this book 4 stars out of 5.

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