Audrey Hepburn wanted to keep her wedding to Ondine costar Mel Ferrer a "dark secret" from the press

By Phil Boucher
Updated June 14, 2016 04:15 PM
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A collection of 10 handwritten letters by screen icon Audrey Hepburn reveal the lengths that she went to keep her 1954 wedding to Mel Ferrer a secret from the press.

“How dearly we would love you to be with us on our wedding day,” Hepburn wrote to her close friend, British actor Sir Felix Aylmer, in one of the letters to be auctioned by his family at Bonhams in London on June 29.

The 10 letters were penned between 1951 and 1960 to her acting coach and lifelong friend Aylmer – and are expected to sell for up to $6,000.

“We will have the car take you up to our mountain peak, Friday, for a gathering in our chalet of our nearest and dearest!… Saturday will be the wedding… We want to keep it a dark secret in order to have it without the ‘press.’ ” (Unfortunately, Aylmer was unable to attend the wedding.)

Still, she would later gush to Aylmer about her son with Ferrer, Sean. “Sean is truly a dream and I find it hard to believe he is really ours to keep,” she wrote to Aylmer in a note dated Aug. 17, 1960, in unusual turquoise blue ink. “I long to show him to you. We all three send all our love.”

But while Hepburn went through great lengths to preserve the privacy of her relationship with Ferrer, not everyone was quite so enamored with her new husband – whom she met on the set of the Broadway play Ondine.

In a separate letter to Aylmer, Hepburn’s mother, Ella van Heemstra, described the New Jersey-born actor as a “frog faced delinquent with the spindly legs”.

She added that Ferrer – who married five times before his June 2008 death – had caused “sufficient havoc to last a long time.” In a foreshadowing of the tension that eventually drove Hepburn and Ferrer to divorce in 1968 after 14 years of marriage, van Heemstra sniped “I believe that Audrey is getting rather sick of the neurotic side to him!”

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Hepburn’s previous relationship with British businessman James Hanson is also shown to have taken a heavy toll on the actress, according to the letters. In note sent from Chicago’s Whitehall Hotel, Hepburn tells Aylmer of how she struggled to make their yearlong engagement work before eventually deciding to break things off.

“It is with a heavy heart I am writing to tell you James Hanson and I are no longer engaged,” she wrote to Aylmer. “For a year I thought it possible to make our combined lives and careers work out… It is all very unhappy making but I am sure it is the only sensible dicision [sic].”

Thankfully, it’s not all sad news. In a postcard dated 1951, a then-22-year-old Hepburn wrote of the joy she felt in having started her Hollywood career on the set of Monte Carlo Baby, which the nascent starlet described as “the best thing that’s happened to me.”

“Would you believe it,” she added. “I’m in Monte Carlo working on the French and English version of a French Picture… this place is heavenly.”