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Audrey Hepburn (ca. 1935-37, perhaps in Brussels, age 6-8)

Audrey Hepburn (ca. 1935-37, perhaps in Brussels, age 6-8)

It was May 9, 1940, and Audrey Kathleen Hepburn (Ruston) had just turned eleven years old. She was living in Holland with her mother, her two older brothers, and other relatives. Her father lived in London. Her parents were divorced.

To celebrate Audrey’s birthday, her mother, Dutch Baroness Ella van Heemstra Ruston, had bought tickets for her and Audrey to see a performance by the great English dance troupe, The Sadler’s Wells Ballet. The company was touring Holland, France, and Belgium. Audrey’s town of Arnhem was to be one of their stops.

Audrey (1929-1993) had been living in Holland for only nine months. Previously, she had been in boarding school in England. But, in September 1939, Hitler invaded Poland. All at once, England was no longer a safe place for a little girl, as it had declared war on Germany. At her mother’s request, Audrey’s father scooped up Audrey from her school and put her on a big orange plane to Holland (also known as the Netherlands), where her mother’s family lived. Holland intended to stay neutral in the war with Germany and was considered a safe place for riding out the conflict.

Audrey Hepburn and her mother Ella, Baroness van Heemstra Hepburn-Ruston, ca. 1936.

Audrey Hepburn and her mother Ella, Baroness van Heemstra Hepburn-Ruston, ca. 1936.

Audrey had not seen her dad since that day at the airport. She missed him so! Her parents’ divorce had left an aching hole in her heart. But on this particular May day, Audrey was not sad. She was looking forward to the ballet! Her mother had given her more than one reason to smile:

My mother had our little dressmaker make me a long taffeta dress. It went all the way to the ground, and it rustled. There was a little round collar, a little bow here, and a little button in front. The reason she got me this, at great expense, was that I was to present a bouquet of flowers at the end of the performance to…the director of the company.”

The evening finally arrived. Audrey wore her beautiful new long dress and got to see the famous Margot Fonteyn dance in “Horoscope” and “Façade” by choreographer Frederick Ashton. It was marvelous.

Margot Fonteyn in the Polka from Ashton's Facade, 1940. Fonteyn was the principal dancer of the Royal Ballet Company for 20 years.

Margot Fonteyn as the Polka from Ashton’s Facade, 1940. Fonteyn was the principal dancer of the Royal Ballet Company (originally the Sadler’s Wells) for 20 years.

Afterwards, Audrey’s mother took the stage and gave a formal thanks to the troupe first in Dutch, then in English. Next was Audrey’s big moment. To her surprise, her bouquet of tulips and roses was hurriedly accepted. A quick supper followed, as the dancers hustled about afterward, gathering up their props and costumes, to get on their bus to leave Arnhem that very evening. According to the British consul, there was suspicious German military activity nearby. The dancers didn’t want to get stuck in Holland if the Germans did attack and closed off the borders.

As Audrey’s head lay on the pillow that night, the Germans invaded Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg. The Dutch were totally shocked. They never dreamed Hitler would attack them, his “Dutch cousins”! Just the night before, matter of fact, Hitler had made a radio broadcast, promising to all who listened that he had no plans whatsoever of attacking Holland. For five days, the Germans came down on the Dutch with the force of Hell. They never bothered issuing a formal declaration of war either.

 German parachutists invading the Netherlands, May 10-15, 1940

This is the city center of Rotterdam, Holland, following the German Blitz of May 14, 1940. A ceasefire was already in progress but the Nazis bombed anyway.

They blasted the city of Rotterdam with an air attack that killed 1,000 Dutch civilians and left 85,000 homeless (accounts vary as to the exact number).

Incendiary bombs were dropped on the Hague. Nazi troops tore through Audrey’s town of Arnhem, looting and despoiling as they pleased. The Germans threatened to bomb every Dutch city until they were demolished until Holland surrendered. The Dutch military, though terribly outnumbered, fought back anyway, but they were no match for the conquering horde, and were forced to surrender. After five days, Holland capitulated. It would be occupied by the Nazis for five very long years. The Germans wanted to take over the world and destroy the Jewish population.

At first, Audrey’s family was allowed to remain at their regal ancestral home, Castle Zypendaal (or Zijpendaal). Audrey Hepburn’s mother’s family was of Dutch nobility.

Audrey Hepburn's mother's family was of Dutch nobility. This is one of their homes, the Castle Zypendaal in Arnhem.

Audrey Hepburn’s mother’s family was of Dutch nobility. This is one of their homes, the Castle Zypendaal in Arnhem.

Over the next ten months, the van Heemstra bank accounts, securities, and jewelry would be confiscated by the Nazis. Rations were imposed on food and fuel which were soon in short supply for the suffering Dutch people. Food became completely nonexistent during the Hunger Winter of 1944 as the Germans cut off all imports of foods to punish the Dutch Resistance (secret group that fought back against the Nazis from inside Holland). During that time, Audrey confessed to eating bread made from flour from tulip bulbs and grass to keep from starving to death like 20,000 other Dutch citizens did that winter.

The Hunger Winter, 1944-45. Wood is taken from the tram rail in Holland to burn as fuel.

The Hunger Winter, 1944-45. Wood is taken from the tram rail in Holland to burn as fuel.

The German occupiers spread anti-English sentiment, banning the import of British jams and biscuits and outlawing the Girl and Boy Scouts. The Germans hoped they could whip the Dutch into a hatred for the English and recruit them in the battle against Britain.

Audrey Hepburn-Ruston was an English name and Audrey spoke English. She carried a British passport. With the Nazis cracking down on the English, the Baroness was worried. Quickly, Audrey’s mother gave Audrey a new identity as a little Dutch girl. For the war years, the Baroness changed her daughter’s name to Edda van Heemstra. Audrey – now Edda – took Dutch language lessons so she could pass as Dutch and not be arrested for being English. Audrey did not risk speaking English for the rest of the war.

Audrey Hepburn at a dance recital, 1944, Arnhem Conservatory, Holland (age 15)

Audrey Hepburn at a dance recital, 1944, Arnhem Conservatory, Holland (age 15)

Audrey was keen to be a famous ballet dancer and her mother was the quintessential stage mom. In 1941, Ella sent Audrey to the Arnhem Conservatory to study dance. It was then that Audrey decided that she wanted to grow up to become a ballerina. Her dream was to

“wear a tutu and dance at Covent Garden.”

Her mother made her ballet slippers from scraps of felt, as materials became scarcer and scarcer, since the Nazis took the best for themselves, always.

As a child of war, Audrey learned to cope with hunger, fear, and deprivation through art, music, and dance. Soon, though, she and some other dancers began staging private, secret dance shows to raise money for the Dutch Resistance.

I designed the dances myself. I had a friend that played the piano, and my mother made the costumes. They were very amateurish attempt – but…it amused people.”

The recitals were given in houses with windows and doors closed, and no one outside knew what was going on. Afterward, money was collected and turned over to the Dutch Resistance. To keep from being discovered, the audiences did not clap.

“The best audience I ever had made not a single sound at the end of my performance.”

Audrey Hepburn during a dance recital in Arnhem, Holland, 1944

Audrey Hepburn during a dance recital in Arnhem, Holland, 1944

Sometimes at these “black performances,” resistance workers attended. They gave the young performers money and folded messages to be stuffed into the children’s shoes and transported the next day to resistance workers. The children risked death to save the lives of resistance workers and Audrey was one of these children.

One winter day, Audrey was walking along a city street when three truckloads full of German soldiers toting rifles stopped suddenly. The soldiers ordered all the girls in their sight to line up and get in the trucks. Audrey did as she was told. As the trucks drove off, Audrey kept saying the Lord’s Prayer to herself in Dutch. Then the convoy stopped unexpectedly. Some soldiers jumped out and began abusing some Jews. Audrey said:

“I remember hearing the dull sound of a rifle butt hitting a man’s face. And I jumped down, dropped to my knees, and rolled under the truck. I then skittered out, hoping the driver would not notice me – and he didn’t.”

Audrey with father, preNazi Occupation, ca. 1934-35, age 5-6

Audrey with father, preNazi Occupation, ca. 1934-35, age 5-6

And where was Audrey’s father all this time? He was arrested in England and accused of peddling Nazi propaganda for the notorious leader of the British Union of Fascists, Sir Oswald Mosley. He remained under house arrest for the duration of the war on the Isle of Man with other suspected Nazi sympathizers.

Below are some beautiful drawings Audrey made during the war.

Audrey Hepburn's childhood artwork

Audrey Hepburn’s childhood artwork

About a month before doctors amputated her right leg at the knee, Frida Kahlo drew a picture of her severed feet on a pedestal. It is one of many diary entries in which she expresses her anguish at the impending operation. In public, though, she acted lighthearted, saying playfully to friends, "Did you know they are going to cut off my paw?"

From Frida Kahlo’s diary, “Why do I need feet if I have wings to fly.”

About a month before doctors amputated her right leg at the knee, Mexican artist Frida Kahlo drew a picture of her severed feet on a pedestal. Instead of healthy veins protruding from the amputated feet, dead, thorny vines snake out. The flesh is yellow, anemic, and the page is stained with her blood.

This is one of many diary entries in which Frida explores her anguish over the impending operation. She knew that she had no other choice but to cut off her leg. In truth, her right leg was skinny, crippled, shriveled, and lame. It hung from her body as if it were broken. Two toes were missing from the foot. The leg was infected with gangrene. It hurt her terribly.

Her husband Mexican muralist Diego Rivera urged her to accept her fate and submit to yet another operation. Maybe she would be able to get a good prosthetic leg, he urged, and walk a little.

For Diego’s sake, she said to the doctors,

“Prepare me for the operation!”

Then, putting on a brave face for her friends, she asked them, 

“Did you know they are going to cut off my paw?”

For more on Frida Kahlo on this blog, click here.

Herrera, Hayden. Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1983.
The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait. Introduction by Carlos Fuentes. Essays by Sarah M. Lowe. New York: Abradale, 1995.

From ABC News/Univision

Frida Kahlo’s Closet is Opened After 58 Years

Frida Kahlo is seen smoking after a 1946 operation.

Frida Kahlo, wearing Chinese pajamas, is seen smoking after a 1946 operation.

“Imagine being in Frida Kahlo‘s childhood home and opening up a closet that has been locked for decades. Inside are hundreds of personal items – personal photographs, love letters, medications, jewelry, shoes, and clothing that still hold the smell of perfume and the last cigarette she smoked.

That is exactly what happened when Hilda Trujillo Soto, the director of the Frida Kahlo Museum opened the closets that had been locked since the Mexican artist’s death in 1954. Inside were over 300 items belonging to Frida Kahlo, and now, a wide array of what was found is on display at the Casa Azul, the Frida Kahlo Museum in the Coyoacán neighborhood of Mexico City.

The exterior of Frida Kahlo's home called Casa Azul outside Mexico City, 1952.

The exterior of Frida Kahlo’s home called Casa Azul outside Mexico City, 1952.

The exhibit, Appearances Can Be Deceiving: The Dresses of Frida Kahlo, a collaboration between the museum and Vogue Mexico, brings to an end an elaborate 50 year scheme to keep private the intimate details of Kahlo’s life. It started when she died in 1954, as a distraught Diego Rivera, the famous Mexican muralist and Frida Kahlo’s husband, locked the doors to her closet and never let anyone enter for fear that the contents would be mishandled and ruined.”

Kahlo contracted polio when she was six, leaving her right leg shorter and thinner than her left. Then, when she was 18, a metal tube pierced  through Frida’s abdomen during a bus crash, subjecting her to painful operations and  long periods of bed rest throughout her life.

In keeping with her flamboyance and ebullient spirit, Frida wore long, flowing tehuana skirts, lacy and colorful, that hid this affliction and celebrated her Mexican heritage.

frida-kahlo-dresses-on-display-exhibition-in-mexico-city

Frida Kahlo’s dresses in the Tehuantepec style are on exhibit in Mexico City at the Casa Azul, January 2013.

Frida Kahlo Self-Portrait, 1848, shows her dressed in traditional Tehuantepec costume.

Frida Kahlo Self-Portrait, 1848, shows her dressed in traditional Tehuantepec costume.

Later in life, Frida’s right leg had to be amputated. Included in the exhibit is a ornate red boot with the prosthetic leg Kahlo wore after the amputation.

Mexico Frida Fashion

A prostetic leg belonging to Mexican artist Frida Kahlo is on exhibit at the Casa Azul in Mexico City (Jan. 2013). Frida’s fashion sense combined both form and function – a red boot attached to an artificial leg. Frida Kahlo’s right leg was amputated in 1953 due to gangrene.

Also on view are three ornate corsets, one styled by Jean-Paul Gaultier in memory of Frida after her death. Frida had to wear plaster corsets to alleviate her excrutiating spine pain.

Frida Kahlo, 1941, displays her Communist sympathies with her therapeutic plaster chest cast

Frida Kahlo, 1941, displays her Communist sympathies with her therapeutic plaster chest cast

For more on Frida Kahlo on this blog, click here.

Natalie Wood (1938-1981) January 2013 autopsy report says death may not have been solely accidental

Natalie Wood (1938-1981) January 2013 autopsy report says death may not have been solely accidental

From the Daily Beast:

FOUL PLAY? Wood Autopsy Hints at Assault

“A year after the LAPD reopened the 1981 drowning case of Natalie Wood, a new autopsy report suggests the late actress may have been assaulted before she plunged into the Pacific Ocean. The coroner has amended Wood’s cause of death from accidental drowning to “drowning and other undetermined factors,” detailing bruises on her body that “appeared fresh” along with scratches down her legs. It remains unclear whether the abrasions resulted from falling off the dinghy, attempting to climb back on, or something potentially darker. There were also conflicting statements as to when Wood went missing and whether or not she had a confrontation with her husband, Robert Wagner.”

Read more from the Los Angeles Times.

For more on Natalie Wood on this blog, click here.

George VI (Albert Frederick Arthur George; 14 December 1895 – 6 February 1952) was King of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Commonwealth from 11 December 1936 until his death. He was the last Emperor of India, and the first Head of the Commonwealth.

George VI (Albert Frederick Arthur George; 14 December 1895 – 6 February 1952) was King of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Commonwealth from 11 December 1936 until his death. He was the last Emperor of India, and the first Head of the Commonwealth.

It was Christmas, 1939, and Great Britain was at war with Nazi Germany. Like his father before him, King George VI would continue the holiday tradition of addressing the British Empire in a live radio message. That year, he would broadcast from the royal country house at Sandringham, where he and his family would spend Christmas.

The Royal Residence at Sandringham, England

The Royal Residence at Sandringham, England

King George VI and his family leave Buckingham Palace, 1939, to spend Christmas at their country house at Sandringham. Pictured are the King and his wife Queen Elizabeth, daughters Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose. Princess Elizabeth would become Queen Elizabeth upon the death of her father in 1952.

King George VI and his family leave Buckingham Palace, 1939, to spend Christmas at their country house at Sandringham. Pictured are the King and his wife Queen Elizabeth, daughters Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose. Princess Elizabeth would become Queen Elizabeth upon the death of her father in 1952.

You will remember that King George VI was not a man comfortable with public speaking. His struggle to overcome a debilitating speech impediment – a stutter – was immortalized in the 2011 American Academy Award-winning film for Best Picture, “The King’s Speech.” A shy, nervous man, a heavy smoker and drinker (it would kill him at 56), King George VI would have preferred to have remained the Duke of York, living a quiet, out-of-the-public eye life with his sturdy wife and two rosy-cheeked daughters.

British Royal Princesses Elizabeth (l.) and Margaret Rose. February 1939, 7 months before the outbreak of WWII

British Royal Princesses Elizabeth (l.) and Margaret Rose. This photo was taken in February 1939, seven months before the outbreak of WWII.

King George VI – born Albert, called Bertie – never wanted to be king. He wasn’t supposed to be king. He was only king because his brother David had abdicated the throne in 1936 and he, Bertie, was next in line. Nevertheless, unwillingness aside, this unlikely monarch would rise to the occasion and be the very king the British people so sorely needed in a time of great trouble.

It was December 25, 1939, the day of the broadcast. Dressed in the uniform of the Admiral of the Fleet, the tall and too thin sovereign approached the table where two radio microphones were set up, taking his seat.

King George VI addresses his people on September 19, 1939, at the outbreak of WWII.

King George VI addresses his people on September 19, 1939, at the outbreak of WWII.

Taking a few deep breaths, he began to speak, slowly yet solidly. Measuring his words carefully, he spoke from the heart:

“A new year is at hand. We cannot tell what it will bring. If it brings peace, how thankful we shall all be. If it brings us continued struggle we shall remain undaunted.”

Toward the end of his nine-minute broadcast, he said:

“I feel that we may all find a message of encouragement in the lines which, in my closing words, I would like to say to you:”

He then read from a poem given to him by his 13-year-old daughter, Princess Elizabeth,

I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year,
‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’
And he replied, ‘Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be better than light, and safer than a known way.’”*

He finished by saying,

“May that Almighty Hand guide and uphold us all.”

For a king not known for compelling speeches, this one would be a landmark. It united King and Country in common cause and inspired the people to hold fast. After all, at this point in history, no one knew that the Allies would triumph. Britain was to face five more years of war and brutal bombing by Hitler before the day of liberation would arrive. The end of 1939 was a shaky time and great leadership by King, Queen, and Prime Minister Winston Churchill would hold Britain steady against the Nazi aggressors.

Queen Elizabeth and King George VI of Great Britain stop at Vallence Road, Stepney, in the East End, London, to examine the debris following an air raid in the Second World War. October 4, 1945

Queen Elizabeth and King George VI of Great Britain stop at Vallence Road, Stepney, in the East End, London, to examine the debris following an air raid in the Second World War. October 4, 1945

King George VI pins a Distinguished Service Medal on Chief Petty Officer C.L.Baldwin in December 1939.

King George VI pins a Distinguished Service Medal on Chief Petty Officer C.L.Baldwin in December 1939.

Listen to the last four minutes of the King’s Christmas 1939 message here:

For more about the British Royal Family on this blog, click here.

Click here for the full text of the King’s 1939 Christmas Message plus The REAL austerity Christmas: How a nation gripped by fear kept calm and carried  on three months after outbreak of war in 1939

*“The Gate of the Year,” by Minnie Haskins (1908)

Whitney Houston talking to the audience before proceeding to perform "Saving All My Love for You" during the HBO-televised concert "Welcome Home Heroes with Whitney Houston" honoring the troops, who took part in Operation Desert Storm, their families, and military and government dignitaries, 1991.

from TMZ:

Whitney Houston‘s family was told by L.A. County Coroner officials … the singer did not die from drowning, but rather from what appears to be a combination of Xanax and other prescription drugs mixed with alcohol … this according to family sources.

We’re told Coroner’s officials informed the family there was not enough water in Whitney’s lungs to lead to the conclusion that she drowned.

Our sources say the family was told Whitney may well have died before her head became submerged.

And family sources tell us … it was actually Whitney’s aunt, Mary Jones, who discovered Whitney’s body in the bathtub. Mary had laid out Whitney’s dress for the evening on the bed and then left for about a half hour. When Whitney didn’t come out of the bathroom, Mary entered, pulled Whitney out of the tub and began administering CPR.

And we’re told … Whitney’s mom has arranged to have the singer’s body flown back to Atlanta, as early as tomorrow. The family was told the Coroner has no problem releasing the body because there is no evidence of foul play — and unless cops put a hold on the body, it can be flown back East.

Readers: For more on Whitney Houston here on Lisa’s History Room, click here.

An emergency medical team removes Whitney Houston's lifeless body from her 4th floor room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, L.A., on February 11, 2012.

TMZ reports that Whitney Houston may have drowned. Her body was initially found face down in the bathtub but had been removed by her bodyguards and staff before medical personnel arrived. Various pill bottles were found in her room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. An autopsy will be performed to discover whether Ms. Houston died from an overdose, drowning, or another cause.

A bathroom at the Beverly Hilton Hotel much like the one in which Whitney Houston died.

Family members said Houston had been taking Xanax, prescribed for anxiety. TMZ reported that, the night before she died, Whitney Houston had been drinking alcohol heavily. Had she mixed the two drugs, it would have had a strong sedative effect, perhaps causing her to fall asleep in the bathtub and drown.

Paparazzi swarm around a coroner's van transporting Whitney Houston's body from the Beverly Hilton Hotel to the L.A. County morque for an autopsy.

Readers: For more on Whitney Houston here on Lisa’s History Room, click here.