Apr 13, 2015

Book Review: Audrey and Bill

When I saw that a book had been written about the affair between Audrey Hepburn and William Holden, I wondered if there was enough to say about their brief romance to fill a book. It turns out, it doesn't even fill half a book, but this dual biography, while not essential, is an entertaining read.

Audrey and Bill canoodle in Sabrina (1954)
Audrey Hepburn and William Holden were both beautiful, insecure and blessed with natural talents that they developed into real acting chops. It's no surprise that these tender-hearted stars were so enchanted by each other. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two is that Holden possessed a streak of self-destruction, while Hepburn was already so damaged by the starvation she experienced during World War II that she spent the rest of her life trying to heal.

The pair met on the set of Sabrina (1954), which was directed by Billy Wilder and co-starred Humphrey Bogart. Hepburn was fresh off her Oscar-winning breakthrough in Roman Holiday (1953). Holden was much more seasoned as an actor. He'd had several successes, including the also Wilder-directed Sunset Blvd. (1950), and still had some of his best roles ahead of him. Audrey had just broken off her engagement with a British millionaire. Bill was married with children.

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Audrey and Bill documents the instant attraction between the two actors and how their affair played out. The Sabrina shoot was notoriously difficult, with a very grumpy Bogart clashing with his costars and director. Holden comforted the sensitive Hepburn and things became electric between them quickly.

The Hepburn/Holden romance would likely have led to marriage, but Bill's inability to have children was reportedly too much for Audrey to bear, as she wanted a family of her own more than anything. They eventually parted, though Holden was still clearly pining for Hepburn when they co-starred again in Paris When it Sizzles (1964), ten years after Sabrina. The pair did not see much of each other after making the film, so the final half of the book falls into a dual biography of the pair, comparing their lives and loves.

Audrey and Bill goes down with a slurp, its action whipping by quickly and smoothly. While a lot of the stories and rumors here are familiar, they are endlessly entertaining and make for an addictive read.

I was disturbed by the lack of notes to directly support the claims made in book, especially when it came to the numerous quotes made by associates of Epstein. It is perhaps best taken as the memories of a well-connected man, amusingly told in the back booth of a dimly-lit restaurant. It's probably not all true, maybe mostly true, but it's definitely good storytelling.

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The one thing I couldn't take was when Epstein got too creative, like when he writes dialogue for a private conversation between Holden and Wilder, or makes assumptions about what Holden's wife Ardis thought about his latest affair. I found these things to be distractions and not necessary to enhance an already fascinating story.

Overall, I relished reading about Audrey and Bill together. I know that their best times were private, and quite happy that those memories will stay that way, but I loved getting a glimpse of the connection they made. It's wonderful to imagine the story behind the photos of the pair in the book. They are clearly images of people who have forgotten film stardom, and all the worries and details of their lives, because they are lost in their own world together.

Many thanks to Running Press for providing a copy of the book for review.

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