Warrior: Audrey Hepburn
by Robert Matzen
GoodKnight Books, 368 pp., $27.95 (hardcover), $14.99 (ebook)
Published Sept. 28, 2021
It’s been nearly 30 years since Audrey Hepburn died, yet her visage is still synonymous with Hollywood movies and glamour. It’s no accident that one of the first deepfake commercials used a doe-eyed Hepburn on the Italian Riviera. Who better to sell a smooth and delicious chocolate bar than Princess Ann in civvies?
Fascinatingly, Hepburn’s career in Hollywood was short-lived compared to her legacy: 41 years. And that’s including the 22 years she worked sporadically. Public adoration narrows those years more, preferring to zero in on Hepburn’s career between 1953’s Roman Holiday and 1967’s one-two punch of Two for the Road and Wait Until Dark.
Those are well-mined years for cineastes but not for Robert Matzen. His interest lies in the life Hepburn led before and after the cameras rolled. His previous book, Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II, published in 2019, tackles Hepburn’s youth in Holland and the horrific world events that would shape the person to come. Thoroughly researched, Dutch Girl brought Matzen in contact with Luca Dotti—Hepburn’s son with her second husband, Andrea Dotti—who gave Matzen more than a few kernels to build his second Hepburn book.
Warrior: Audrey Hepburn picks up with Hepburn exiting Hollywood and devoting her life to UNICEF (the United Nations Children Fund), the successor of the same organization that saved Hepburn as a child in war-torn Europe. Hepburn wanted to give back, and UNICEF wanted another famous face to help the cause. “UNICEF expected that Audrey Hepburn would be a pretty princess for them at galas,” Dotti told Matzen. “What they really got was a badass soldier.”
Badass doesn’t even cover it. As Matzen reconstructs in his book, Hepburn worked tirelessly to help as many children across the globe as humanly possible. To “give a voice to the voiceless.” Friends felt that trucking from one war site to the next, the countless exposure to disease and famine, is what brought an end to the 63-year-old actress (cancer was the real culprit). But Hepburn pushed on. Not for fame and fortune, but because she had to. “Throughout my childhood, every member of my family was doing something to help others,” Hepburn said in a 1989 French TV interview. “But we didn’t talk about it. It was actually embarrassing to receive compliments because it was our ethic; it all went without saying. It was natural to help.”
Much like Dutch Girl, Matzen digs deep into the story of Warrior and provides an overwhelming amount of research to back up events and off-handed comments. Warrior can read a little dense at times, but what comes through clearest is how well Hepburn levied her star power for the benefit of UNICEF. Whether it was a simple interview or a full-blown film festival, Hepburn ensured that her work with UNICEF would be a featured component, if not front and center. “For a decade and a half she’d been annoyed by paparazzi and now the cameramen and women were her allies,” Matzen writes. Because, “I am not here to be seen,” Hepburn would say, “but so the rest of the world can see others.”
Matzen also peppers his book with connections to Hepburn’s feature films, her private life, and the occasional bit of trivia: Hepburn was a life-long smoker because cigarettes were what the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration had to hand out on Liberation Day—“Kent was her preferred brand.” It brings texture to Warrior’s story, though probably not enough for those looking for a general overview of Hepburn’s life and career.
But there are plenty of books out there covering that territory. Matzen sticks to his guns and gives readers looking for something beyond the basic plenty to chew on. Audrey Hepburn died in 1993 at the age of 63. And with her wartime and UNICEF years lovingly documented by Matzen, I doubt there are many more nuggets that might give way to a third non-Hollywood Hepburn book. But, if there is, there is little doubt Matzen will be the one to find it.
Warrior: Audrey Hepburn is available now in hardcover and ebook from GoodKnight Books. Header photo: April 1989, Hepburn in Sudan during Operation Lifeline. (Photo by Jeremy Hartley; ©UNICEF/Jeremy Hartley)