Audrey Hepburn – from humble beginnings

Audrey Hepburn is a Hollywood legend.  Her career, however, started on the London Stage as a chorus girl.

65 years ago on 27 April 1950 she was appearing in the revue Sauce Piquante, her third and last West End show.  The next year she opened on Broadway in the title role of Gigi  in which she later toured.  Hollywood called and she was chosen as the female lead in Roman Holiday (1953) opposite Gregory Peck and won the Oscar.   Next year she won the Tony Award for Best performance by a leading Actress in the play Ondine.

Born on  4 May 1929 in Brussels, Belgium, her father was a British subject of Austrian descent and her mother a Dutch aristocrat.  Her parents separated and Mother and daughter came to England only to return to Holland where they lived during the war.  Audrey had started ballet lessons at 5 and continued after the war making her first film in Holland.  She moved back to England and joined the Ballet Rambert and worked as a model.  She was not considered strong enough to become a leading ballerina and so concentrated on acting.

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In December 1948 she joined the chorus of American import High Button Shoes which ran for 291 performances.  She transferred to the revue Sauce Tartare opening 18 May 1949 followed by Sauce Piquante the next year at the same Theatre, the Cambridge.

Sauce Tartare

 

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Sauce Tartare sounded a little more sophisticated that it actually was.  It played twice a night on the premise of ingredients for the ‘sauce’.  Muriel Smith, the American singer who had been seen in the original Broadway production of Carmen Jones brought the ‘spice’ and the exotic singing ingredient.  One of her splendidly set interludes was ‘A smile from a stranger’, a love ballet which she accompanied and in which Audrey Hepburn featured.  There was little else to make her shine.

Miss Hepburn left the show before it closed and came under contract to ABC films appearing, albeit briefly, over the next couple of years in Ealing One comedies such as The Lavender Hill Mob.  However, she joined the cast of Cecil Landeau’s follow-up to Sauce Tartare called Sauce Piquante.

Sauce Piquante

 

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It was billed as ‘the latest “sauce” show’ and it turned out to be the last.  Of the original Tartare stars only Muriel Smith remained (the new included a young hopeful by the name of Norman Wisdom).  Audrey Hepburn had moved up the ladder to become a chorus girl with ‘parts’.  Which was enough for her to be spotted by the writer Colette as a perfect Gigi for Broadway, and stardom was almost immediate.  Lucky indeed as Sauce Piquante was not as good as its predecessor and became the biggest flop of the year and lasted only six weeks.  The reviews were not good but, in trying to find something positive to say the alert Stage critic discovered Audrey Hepburn.  He recognised her as ‘an attractive artist’ who was ‘one of those performers who in a small part or a bigger one you cannot help noticing, so vital is her work’.  This would later be described as charisma.

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All illustrations come from the Trust’s archives.