"Both stars are charismatic screen personalities, favorites of mine, and I’d thought for a long time about writing a book on the largely untold story of their romance," Epstein, who is the author of numerous books on film subjects including Paul Newman, Clara Bow, and Marlon Brando, told The Committee Room. "As New York press contact for MCA/Universal, I worked with many people, over the years, who knew both Audrey and Bill, and who were familiar with the problems they faced and the pressures of the business they were in."
Today Hepburn is an icon recognizable even to those not so familiar with her film work. Holden, though he had a much longer career than Hepburn and his once tremendous box-office clout earned him the nickname "Golden Holden," has not been so well remembered.
|Bogart, Audrey and Bill in publicity shot for Sabrina (1954). |
Bogie seems left out.
|Audrey and Bill filming Sabrina on location in Manhattan, 1953.|
Hepburn, a twenty-four year old, Anglo-Dutch newcomer to Hollywood at the time of Sabrina, had recently shot to stardom in her first major film, Roman Holiday. At age thirty-five, the Illinois-born, California-bred Holden was an established, much in demand performer who, along with Gregory Peck and Marlon Brando, was in the top-tier of Hollywood's younger leading men
|Bill on the cover of Time in his "Golden Holden"|
days, with cast of Picnic, 1956. (Cover credit Boris Chaliapin)
Despite tension on the set, love blossomed between Hepburn and Holden. "It was obvious to observers...that their interest in each other was intense," Epstein writes in Audrey and Bill. To back this up, the book includes several candid photos of the dreamy eyed couple. By the completion of Sabrina, the two stars seemed headed for the altar. The fact that Holden was already married and had three children -- his wife was Brenda Marshall, a striking brunette who had been a contract player at Warner Bros in the 1940s -- was a complication and possible career threat that the movie star lovers were willing to face.
"[Hepburn] would have been labeled a 'homewrecker.' It would have been a scandal...but neither [Hepburn nor Holden] had gotten where they were by playing it safe." Epstein told TCR.
|Audrey on Life, 1953, the first of several Life covers|
for Audrey over the years.
In the spring of 1954, Hepburn and Holden both won Academy Awards for their work in the previous year -- she for best actress in Roman Holiday and he for best actor in Stalag 17. Their affair was over but they dutifully posed for photos together clutching their Oscars. Hepburn ignored Holden's efforts to win her back, including an affair with rival young beauty Grace Kelly that he hoped would provoke Hepburn's jealousy-driven return.
With the title subjects of Audrey and Bill breaking up about one-quarter of the way through the book, Epstein allows himself space to offer up a fast-paced but thorough examination of the separate trajectories of the personal and professional lives of these two megastars.
|Audrey with Mel Ferrer and their son, Sean, c. 1962.|
In the autumn of 1954, just as Sabrina was being released, Hepburn, still on the rebound from Holden, married actor and director Mel Ferrer. Serious-minded, Princeton-educated Ferrer appealed to Hepburn's careerist-side with visions of the two of them becoming a sophisticated husband and wife acting team in the manner of Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier. "He had big plans regarding work he planned to do with Audrey. In effect, he became her manager," Epstein said of Ferrer to TCR.
|Bill and wife Brenda Marshall, c.1950. Note the resemblance|
between Marshall and Audrey.
|Audrey and Bill in Paris When It Sizzles (1964). Bill|
is beginning to look worse for wear.
|A haggard Bill in his final film S.O.B. (1981)|
In the last two decades of his life Holden worked less than in earlier years. He devoted much time to African wildlife conservation and was in and out of substance abuse facilities trying in vain to get his drinking under control. In Audrey and Bill, Epstein mentions that in the late 1970s, Holden made the acquaintance of newly-minted star John Belushi at a posh California treatment center. The elegant, aging Holden and the coarse young comedy actor of Animal House fame were nothing alike as performers but, as Epstein writes "they were there for the same purpose -- to dry out."
The standouts among Holden's later films are The Wild Bunch (1969), director Sam Peckinpah's ultra-violent and critically-acclaimed New Hollywood-style Western, in which Holden leads a band of aging outlaws, and Network (1976), a supremely cynical look at television news, directed by Sidney Lumet. In Network Holden -- looking haggard and elderly even though he was still in his fifties -- plays a demoralized broadcasting executive. Network was a box office smash that represented a comeback for Holden. He earned an Oscar nomination for best actor but his characteristically low-key work lost out to the histrionics of his Network co-star Peter Finch.
|Audrey played a celestial barber in her final film Always (1989).|
Her private life was not running as smoothly. With her marriage to the overbearing but useful Ferrer ended, she took a break from her career. "To her consternation, she was on her own -- without a protector -- and she didn't like it," Epstein writes in Audrey and Bill,
|Bill and Audrey on the Sabrina set, 1953:|
"we will always have the romance."
Hepburn died of cancer in January 1993 at her home in Switzerland.
At the close of the irresistibly readable Audrey and Bill, Epstein writes that Hepburn and Holden "both possessed in abundance, 'that little something extra' that defines star quality. Although they both died relatively young, and their love story came to an end, thanks to Sabrina, we will always have the romance."