If there were two stars who seemed destined to be co-stars-- celebrity soul mates-- it was Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. No other actors or actresses were as synonymous with "style," nor was anyone a better representative of "class" for their sex. Quickly after Audrey's appearance in Hollywood, studios were already scrambling for a project that would contain the killer combo of Grant and Hepburn, yet it would take awhile before that cinematic dream would come true.
Cary was first offered the role of "Linus Larrabee" in Billy Wilder's Sabrina, but he turned the role down, perhaps because he didn't want to go toe to toe with William Holden, who would be playing the "better looking," younger brother, "David." Instead, the plum part went to Humphrey Bogart. The film probably wouldn't have been as unpredictable had Audrey wandered off into Cary's arms at the end. Everyone would have seen that one coming. Bogie's macho attitude and antipathy toward love actually created the proper amount of surprise and transformation needed to add a little depth to the role. Yet, audiences were still longing for the Cary-Audrey pairing, which is why Cary was next offered the role of "Frank Flannagan" in Love in the Afternoon, again to be directed by Billy Wilder. Nay! He turned it down again! He believed himself too old to play Audrey's romantic leading man. So, this time, Gary Cooper would fill the shoes of Audrey's befuddled, elder romancer, which of course, he did quite nicely. Still, Cary's uncanny business sense was correct. Gary, though still handsome and alluring, was a wee bit too old for the part, which resulted in Billy's strategic, shadowed lighting. Also, I don't know if Coop chose to play this role as chronically drunk, or if he really was, but to me it kind of works. He is a hoot in it, and it is unlike any other role he played. It is also nice to see the girl leading the guy in romantic circles for a change, which is why this is one of my favorite Hepburn roles. (The duo do their famous goodbye/hello at the film's end, left).
Finally, 6 years after the last offer, Cary and Audrey would come together at long last in Charade. Yet, even this gem was almost missed! Cary was still reticent about playing a creepy old man-- ironic, considering that he is the only man in the universe would could pull off that courtship and still seem so very Cary. So, while he kicked the idea around, the film was considered as a vehicle for Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood. Eek. I love both of the latter performers, but the film needed a classic vibe to work, and the fresh faces of Warren and Natalie would've been the wrong ingredients. Paul Newman was also considered for the lead, but his rate was too high. So, Cary came up with a compromise. He would take on the part, if the script were changed so that Audrey would be chasing him, and not the other way around. Agreed! Despite an unfortunate first meeting, in which a humiliated Audrey spilled wine all over Cary's perfectly tailored suit-- no worries, he sent her flowers the next day-- the two got on swimmingly. Thus, we are left with one of the funniest crime-spoof-capers in film history. (Audrey administers some TLC to Cary's Peter Joshua/Carson Dyle/Whatever his name is).
The chemistry between Audrey and Cary was just as wonderful as anyone could have dreamed. Clearly, Cary was kicking himself for not working with Audrey sooner, because as soon as production ended, and he was asked what his next goal was, he answered that he wanted to "make another movie with Audrey Hepburn!" He tried to get her for Father Goose, in fact, but Audrey was more interested in obtaining the lead in My Fair Lady. The role of "Catherine," therefore, went to Audrey's equally stunning pal, Leslie Caron (left). "Grantburn," as we'll call them, was sadly never to work together again, although there was one last chance: Cary was offered the role of "Henry Higgins" in My Fair Lady!!! However, Cary refused the role, saying that it belonged to Rex Harrison, who had brought it to life on stage. So certain was he that Rex deserved the part, that he told George Cukor that he would not even go to see the movie if he cast anyone else! Still, Rock Hudson, Peter O'Toole, and Laurence Olivier were all considered before Rex won that argument! Rock Hudson as Henry Higgins?!?!?!
Back to Audrey: The Children's Hour remains a fascinating piece of filmmaking. Risque in its day, William Wyler explored themes of homosexuality in ways that few directors had yet been bold enough to attempt. Indeed, he had made the film before in 1936 with Merle Oberon in the role of "Karen," Miriam Hopkins in the role of "Martha," and Joel McCrea as "Joseph," (the role that would later belong to James Garner). Titled These Three, the film was unfortunately subjected to censorship restraints, meaning that all hints of lesbianism were erased from the plot, unceremoniously turning it into the typical, love triangle film. Nonetheless, perhaps hoping to give the former actresses a glorious piece of the later 1961 version, Wyler asked them to take on the roles of "Mrs. Lily Mortar" and "Mrs. Amelia Tilford." Only Miriam agreed to sign on as Aunt Lily, performing at her usual, hysterical best. (It was perhaps fortuitous that Merle didn't sign on, since she and Audrey would, in time, share the love of their lives in Robert Wolders).
Audrey almost didn't get a chance to be in The Children's Hour, since one of the original pitches was to have Doris Day and Katharine Hepburn in the two leads. Now, I love me some Doris and Kate, but imagining the film without the deeply tortured and heartbreaking performance of Shirley MacLaine is unthinkable (see left)! Audrey too proved to be the perfect counterpoint to Shirley's highly nervous Martha, giving her own portrayal of Karen a believable blend of cool intelligence and wounded naivete. Both are lost souls in their own way whose lives are torn assunder by an outrageous lie that proves to be half true. A good movie makes you feel, a great one makes you think, a perfect one does both. As with most Audrey films, this one safely falls into the perfect category.