Princess Anne in "Roman Holiday" to Eliza Doolittle
in "My Fair Lady," Audrey Hepburn seemed the epitome
of inner calm and self-reliance.
But to her son, she was a woman beset with sadness and self-doubt.
"She remembered vividly the fear she felt as a child when
the German troops invaded the city of Arnhem, in the Netherlands,
where she spent most of the war," writes Sean Hepburn Ferrer
in his new book, "Audrey Hepburn, an Elegant Spirit."
"She also told us about how her brothers ate dog biscuits
when there was nothing else to eat .... how the bread was green
because the only flour available was made from peas. She spent
the whole day in bed reading so as not to feel the hunger."
Hepburn also suffered the loss of her father - not from the war,
but by desertion. He left the family when war was declared, and
she didn't see him until 20 years later, when she was an international
Sean Ferrer, the only son of Audrey Hepburn and Mel Ferrer, was
interviewed at the offices of the Audrey Hepburn Children's Fund
in a venerable building a mile from the Pacific Ocean in Santa
The fund is virtually a one-man operation that stages exhibits
and events to benefit UNICEF, to which Hepburn devoted her final
years. Her son's proceeds from the book go to the fund.
About his mother's sadness, Ferrer commented: "I believe
that you can't know courage without conquering fear, and you can't
really know joy without knowing sadness."
explained the "screenplay" that was his mother's life
was divided into three acts: 1. pursuing a highly successful film
career; 2. raising her two sons (she has a son from her marriage
to Italian psychiatrist Andrea Dotti); 3. devoting herself to
UNICEF after the sons became adults.
"I think that emotional marks are made early on," Ferrer
said. "Even if you can rationalize them as you grow up, they
still leave that dank sadness you can never truly shake.
"That's why she believed that one of the priorities in our
society should be to address the children who are in need. Not
just for a cup of soup or another vitamin, but to see what war
does to children and protect them as much emotionally as we should
Sean Ferrer is a tall, husky 43-year-old whose dark hair bears
the beginnings of gray. His own professional life is divided among
conducting the work of the Audrey Hepburn Children's Fund, managing
his mother's legacy and pursuing his own career in films.
Having grown up in the movie world, Ferrer entered the field
not as an actor but in production. His efforts to produce his
own movies have been unsuccessful, mainly, he said, because he
refuses to appeal to commercial mediocrity.
Ferrer had just returned from a book signing tour that took him
to New York, Boston and Chicago. Like his parents, he had to answer
the same questions over and over again - such as, Why write the
book now, a decade after his mother's death?
"I didn't write the book now," he explained. "I
started thinking about it shortly after my mother passed away.
I didn't know if it was going to be a book, but I wanted to sit
down and write about this time in my life for my children."