the "hollywood on the tiber" era -- 6/26/17

Today's selection -- from Audrey Hepburn: A Charmed Life by Robyn Karney. In 1953, a 24-year-old actress named Audrey Hepburn burst onto the scene as star of the worldwide hit movie Roman Holiday. The film was made in the so-called "Hollywood on the Tiber" era, when American studios filmed movies abroad both to take advantage of low costs and to use "frozen funds" -- profits from American films that foreign governments barred from export. Filmed on location in Rome with co-star Gregory Peck, Hepburn stars as a young British princess on a tour of Europe who longs to escape the stifling regimen of her duties. But making the movie was difficult, with temperatures reaching 104 degrees and the director sometimes requiring 60 takes of a single scene:

"Signed at a fee of $12,500, ... Hepburn left for Rome and a baptism of what seemed literally fire in the intense August heat. ...[For director William] Wyler ... it was a case of the company being one big happy family, having a wonderful time amidst the architectural glories of the city, with the director relishing the fluidity of location work. And, indeed, the respect and affection that prevailed among the protagonists did make for a happy shoot, with Peck, famously, contacting his agent to insist that Audrey be given equal billing. It was a well-judged generosity on the part of a mega-star, and the beginning of a lifelong friendship throughout which Peck remained devoted to his one-time leading lady. ...

Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck on the set of Roman Holiday

"But if enthusiasm for the film was high, the mechanics of making it were something of an ordeal. As actors and crew threaded their way along the banks of the Tiber, in and out of sidewalk cafes, up and down the Spanish Steps and to set-ups that included the Forum, the Castel Sant' Angelo and the Colosseum, they had to contend with Roman traffic, Roman street sounds, and hordes of voluble and enthusiastic Roman spectators...

"For Peck the difficulties of filming were compounded by the fact that he was in the throes of marital crisis. Although he, his wife Greta, and their sons were together in a rented villa for a good deal of the time, the couple would part soon after the completion of the film. A professional to his fingertips, and a gentleman, he did not allow his private problems to intrude on his work or to affect his seemingly effortless performance, which marked a long-desired excursion into comedy.

Spanish Steps Colosseum

"But above all other problems, it was the heat -- relentless, burning, stifling -- that turned the summer months into a survival course. Make-up melted and ran down the actors' faces, requiring them to be washed down frequently; in the scene where Princess Anne awakes, the temperature in the palace boudoir rose to an intolerable 104 degrees, melting the candles in the wall brackets. For Audrey, thin, fragile, and accustomed to cooler northern climates, it was a nightmare. She, who could ill afford lack of nourishment, ate little. More often than not, shooting began at first light and continued through to midnight or beyond. Nothing, however, daunted Wyler, who, conditions and the fatigue of his stars nothwithstanding, wielded the whip in his usual manner, demanding take after take, sometimes as many as sixty in an afternoon. ...

"His efforts, coupled with Audrey's inner qualities, quick intelligence and hard work, paid off. When the director saw the rushes, he had 'that rare gut feeling that I was witnessing something very special indeed. She was a princess ... But she was also every eager young girl who has ever come to Rome for the first time, and she reacted with so natural and spontaneous an eagerness that I, crusty veteran that I was, felt tears in my eyes watching her ... I knew that very soon the entire world would fall in love with her, as all of us on the picture did.' "



Robyn Karney


Audrey Hepburn: A Charmed Life


Arcade Publishing


Copyright 1993, 2012 by Robyn Karney


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