Here's What You Never Knew About Audrey Hepburn

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Elegant. Iconic. Humanitarian. Superstar. These are all descriptors of Hollywood star Audrey Hepburn. But there was much more to her than a glamorous, doe-eyed, pixie celebrity.

While she would later become a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom for that work in 1992 from President George H.W. Bush (via "Today"), as well as the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the Academy Awards after her death, her call to activism began early in life. Her father had abandoned them when she was young, Marie Claire notes, and grew up primarily with her mother, Baroness Ella van Heemstra, a Dutch aristocrat. Her mother supported the Nazi cause, and in 1935 even had a private meeting with Adolf Hitler

However, Audrey was on the side of the Allies. She put her ballet skills to good use and started to dance at Resistance fundraisers called zwarte avonden ("black evenings"), notes Time. She also hand-delivered newsletters on her bike (via The New York Post), and when Allied pilots were shot down behind Axis lines, the English-speaking Hepburn was recruited to bring them food and pass messages.

Ballet was one of her greatest loves. After the war, she moved to London to pursue her passion of becoming a prima ballerina, reports The New York Post, but at 5 feet, 7 inches, she was taller than the traditional maximum height for a ballerina of approximately 5-foot-5, according to Dance Informa Magazine. With no height restrictions in theater, she began auditioning for West End musicals in London. 

Cooking and food were an important part of her life

Audrey Hepburn was actually a very accomplished chef. Her granddaughter Emma Ferrer recently sat with "Today" to talk about her famous grandmother, and she recalled, "Working on set, she would use her lunch break to cook lunch for the whole crew." Her son Luca Dotti recently released a cookbook, "Audrey at Home," based on his memories of growing up watching her cook. She cooked everything, from fancy recipes she collected in the '50s to casual home cooking, reports Bon Appétit, and relished family meals and evenings with friends.

And despite her diminutive size, she loved eating almost as much as cooking. "She was crazy for pasta," Dotti recounted to Bon Appétit. "All of her girlfriends were impressed that she would have two dishes in a row."

During World War II, Hepburn and her mother were often starving, with the Netherlands suffering significant food shortages near the end of the war (via The New York Post). Ironically, when they were liberated, supplies were brought in by the now-named UNICEF, which would inform her later decision to become involved with them, notes PBS. UNICEF itself quotes her saying, "I can testify what UNICEF means to children because I was among those who received food and medical relief right after World War II. There's a big difference between dying of starvation and malnutrition, of course, but I was very, very undernourished."

The fashion icon that loved to dress down

While many people associate Audrey Hepburn with Tiffany's, her real fashion love was her close personal friend Hubert de Givenchy. They met, The New York Times notes, before either of them had become famous and remained close friends for over 40 years. It was Givenchy who designed her dress when she won the Oscar for "Roman Holiday" in 1954, as well as her iconic "Breakfast at Tiffany's" wardrobe. "Givenchy's clothes are the only ones in which I feel myself. He is more than a designer, he is a creator of personality," The Guardian quotes her as saying.

Audrey knew fashion and what worked for her personally. Givenchy stated to The New York Times, "Audrey was someone who knew perfectly how to dress, and knew perfectly what she should wear." And his influence on her was just as important. "Fashion came into my life when I had my very, very first couture dress made by Hubert de Givenchy," Vogue UK quotes Hepburn as stating.

However, in her own life, she adopted a much more casual style. Recalls Dotti to Bon Appétit, "During her working years, she had all of these Valentino and Givenchy clothes on set, but after that, she was so happy to be in jeans and a T-shirt." Indeed, notes Vogue UK, few things are more iconic to Audrey Hepburn than the casual elegance of simple ballet flats, trim trousers ,and a simple white shirt or black turtleneck.

Her kindness and charitable works are a significant part of her legacy

While most know Audrey Hepburn's life in Hollywood, it is her generosity, of both time and money, that those who knew her most remember. For one, she took wonderful care of her guests. Ferrer notes to "Today," "She would bring breakfast in bed if you were staying at her house. [She] just did these little things that make her seem like she was just the best, the nicest person."

UNICEF also regularly recognizes others who exemplify Hepburn's passion for humanitarian work by awarding them the Audrey Hepburn Humanitarian Award. Awards are given out at their annual Snowflake Ball. Katy Perry received the award in 2016 for her own commitment to bettering the lives of children as a goodwill ambassador, reports BBC. 

If anything could be considered a motto by which Hepburn lived her life, it would be this. "There is just no question that there is a moral obligation for those who have, to give to those who have nothing," she stated, via UNICEF. Her commitment to the underprivileged, especially children, would go on to be just as great an enduring legacy of her life as her career in Hollywood.