Chic waif who was always a class act

AUDREY HEPBURN was one of the more uncommon stars to emerge in the Fifties, writes Sheila Johnston.

At a time when fluffy, voluptuous blondes (Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Diana Dors, Brigitte Bardot) were the order of the day, Hepburn was a petite cropped brunette: 'gamine' was always the favoured description. In retrospect she seems more like a creature of the Sixties, presaging the pert, waif-like look of Jean Seberg and Anna Karina.

She was always a class act. She won an Oscar for her first major film, Roman Holiday (1953), in which she was a lonely princess with whom Gregory Peck fell in love. On her next film, Sabrina (1954), the writer Ernest Lehman recalls locking horns with the director Billy Wilder over whether Hepburn, a chauffeur's daughter courted by two rich ne'er-do- wells, should go to bed with one of them (Humphrey Bogart). Lehman won and she did not.

But most people must remember her from Funny Face (1957). Hepburn played a slip of a girl whisked by Fred Astaire from a Greenwich Village bookstore to the world of Paris haute couture. Fashion then was still dominated by Christian Dior's 1947 New Look, which dictated an hour- glass figure. In elegant basic black, Hepburn was a template of sleek, down-stated chic - and clever with it (her character frequented existentialist cafes).

Hepburn's quality factor was to work against her. Many critics found her too fey as the winsome call-girl in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), which Truman Capote, author of the original novel, dismissed as a 'mawkish valentine to Audrey Hepburn' (he had wanted Monroe). And in My Fair Lady (1964), chosen over Julie Andrews, she was great as the lady, less convincing as the thick- tongued Cockney flower girl.

She made two last films, Two for the Road (1966) and Wait Until Dark (1967), before going into semi-retirement.