Biographic Audrey(Ammonite Press, 98 pages) by Sophie Collins is less a biography of the actress Audrey Hepburn than a PowerPoint presentation about her — a deeply weird book of infographics (charts and maps and timelines and cartoon-colored illustrations) presenting her life and work and legacy, with an emphasis on statistics. In a two page spread full of charts and illustrations, we learn that Audrey Hepburn was shown smoking in seven of 28 movies (presented as a pie chart), and that she smoked 60 cigarettes a day (represented by a drawing of two rows of 30 cigarettes apiece) while Judy Garland smoked 80, Katharine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor both smoked 40, and Marilyn Monroe smoked 10 a day.
Even odder, a surprising number of the infographics don’t even really have anything to do with Audrey Hepburn, as if the author was simply looking for things to illustrate. There is a timeline of events happening in Hollywood in 1929, the year Audrey Hepburn was born (in Belgium); and a map of the Allied route during World War II in and around the Netherlands, where she lived as a child during the war years.
At the same time, though, in introductory paragraphs, and info bubbles, and quotations turned into graphic elements, we’re offered a terse but compelling glimpse into her childhood. Her parents, while living in England, recruited for the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s and met Hitler in Munich. But during the war Audrey, while living under Occupation in the Netherlands, worked for the Resistance; and the Nazis killed her brother Otto as part of a reprisal for “underground activities.” Wartime conditions were brutal, and Audrey nearly starved. “We ate nettles and everybody tried to cook grass, only I couldn’t stand it.”
Ultimately, the quirky approach of Biographic Audrey doesn’t feel completely out of place. The off-beat book uses icons for an iconic actress, one remembered as both off-beat and stylish in such roles as “Roman Holiday” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” While one can’t claim Biographic Audrey offers an in-depth Audrey, there’s substance here for the novice Audreyphile.
Take the two pages about “Gigi,” the first of the two Broadway shows in which she starred.
In it, we’re told what the show is about, how Audrey got the part (or at least the “myth” about how she got it), and how she almost lost it. that she was so inexperienced that she was fired (and rehired) three times. It’s also immediately clear visually that the part made her a star.
Now, sll sorts of off-the-wall info makes it into Biographic Audrey– the three flowers named after her (and then flowers named after 13 more stars, including Cary Grant and Tina Turner), the 15 people who have won EGOTs (Emmys, Grammys, Oscars and Tonys), a color-keyed timeline of Audrey’s lovers and husbands. Some of the pages reach into Ripley’s Believe It Or Not territory, both in look and in content, such as the fact that she appeared in a commercial for chocolate three decades after her death (“made from a combination of computer graphics, two body doubles, and literally millions of minute details copied from film showing the real 19-year-old Hepburn.”)
And I wouldn’t bet my house on the accuracy of all the information in the book. There is actually a fourth flower I know that’s named after Audrey Hepburn, and at different points, the number of movies in which she acted is listed as 27; in others, 28.
Still, every now and then, the infographic approach in Biographic Audrey suddenly pays off :