[Theater Thursday] PopCultHQ Presents: ‘Roman Holiday’ – Audrey Hepburn’s Big Break

“I don’t know how to say goodbye. I can’t think of any words.” – Princess Ann.

Every star in Hollywood has always had to get a big break. Whether it’s an actor, musician, etc. everyone starts somewhere. Audrey Hepburn has and always will be a bright star in the Hollywood skyline. For her, the big break came about in a film that is regarded as one of the great classics of 1953, which was a monumental year. Dwight Eisenhower was sworn in as the 34th President of the United States and for the first time ever the Academy Awards were broadcast on television. For the movie world, a great wave crashed over it when Roman Holiday debuted, launching the career of one of its great ladies of the silver screen.

William (left) and Audrey (right)

With William Wyler directing the picture, it’s no wonder things worked out as they did for Audrey’s career. After seeing her screen test, William cast her as Princess Ann over Elizabeth Taylor, a bold move considering Audrey was still relatively unknown. Remarking some years later on the decision, She had everything I was looking for: charm, innocence, and talent. She also was very funny. She was absolutely enchanting and we said, ‘That’s the girl!’” This decision would prove to be a prosperous one indeed, for himself, Hollywood and for Audrey.

Audrey at this point in time was still relatively unknown to the movie industry. Despite having starred in other pictures as smaller parts, the chance to be a leading role was no doubt terrifying and exciting. As Princess Ann, Audrey played a role that was complex. Being a royal who wants to live a normal life and then spends time gallivanting about Rome with Gregory Peck, meant that the Ann character was given freedom to be expressive and get to experience the world beyond parties and formal affairs. Her interactions with Peck, a big name already within the industry, show that despite the freshness of her screen abilities, she takes to every scene with energy and those famous smiles that have charmed generations of fans. One of the lasting impacts wasn’t just Audrey and her performance, but the kindness dealt to her by Gregory Peck.

Gregory Peck is one of the classic Hollywood males, a star who had good looks and great acting ability. He was also a generous soul, and of those great moments of generosity came during his time on Roman Holiday. When the title cards were being made up for the film, the original decision was for his name to be the largest and Audrey’s to be smaller. Peck told Wyler You’ve got to change that because she’ll be a big star and I’ll look like a big jerk.” That, coupled with Wyler’s decision to cast Audrey, showcases how much people were willing to take a chance by giving her the leading lady role.

Everything proved to be a smashing success. Not only did the picture do well at the box office (earning $12 million total), Audrey landed two incredible awards. At the 1954 Academy Awards, this brand new star in Hollywood took home the statue for Best Actress. During the Golden Globes ceremony that year she was awarded the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Drama. Both of these wins and the sterling review that was given, shot her up the ladder of success.

Reviews are in many cases what can help make or break a movie, and critics words on actors and actresses will either endure them to the public or vilify them. Many lucky stars shone on Audrey during the time of working on Roman Holiday, and it was reflected in her work on camera, and in A. H. Weiler’s review of her performance:

Although she is not precisely a newcomer to films Audrey Hepburn, the British actress who is being starred for the first time as Princess Anne, is a slender, elfin and wistful beauty, alternately regal and childlike in her profound appreciation of newly-found, simple pleasures and love. Although she bravely smiles her acknowledgment of the end of that affair, she remains a pitifully lonely figure facing a stuffy future.

Today is Thanksgiving, a time for being with family and giving thanks for all the great things of life. After food, there is always the inevitable watching of either a football game or some holiday special or a movie. For those who would prefer a movie to sports or Thanksgiving specials, make this the choice for visual relaxation at the end of the day. This entire month has been devoted to Audrey Hepburn, her career as an actress and some of finest roles. What better way to kick back after a day of food, family and travel than with the film that jump-started her career. So as thanks are given for the many wonders that have come about this year, perhaps a small thanks is in order for Roman Holiday. Without it, without William Wyler and Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn may not have been the great star she is hailed as. That’s a pretty swell thing to give thanks for today.