Friday, 3 February 2023, 10:46
Beach picnics at the Marbella Club, partying at La Jacaranda nightclub, evenings spent with a former spy - the Countess of Romanones - and afternoons watching bullfights at La Malagueta: these marked the summers she spent on the Costa del Sol. And in her wardrobe, as well as designs by Givenchy, Dior and Rabanne, there were some fisherman-style trousers. She even made a film during her stays in Malaga, although her face did not appear in front of the camera and her name was not in the credits. But she brought glamour to that exotic Marbella of the 1960s, as Gunilla von Bismarck explained in a recent interview with SUR: "The press came here once they knew that Audrey Hepburn had bought a house," she said.
The house was a strategically located residence beside the iconic Marbella Club hotel run by Prince Alfonso de Hohenlohe, at a time when there were photographers rather than paparazzi. That is why we now have a collection of delicious photos of the legendary Sabrina during her own type of Roman Holiday, except it wasn't in Italy but somewhat further south-west, on the Costa del Sol, where she was able to enjoy life freely and incognito.
These images have now returned to mark 30 years since the early death of the actress at the age of 63, from cancer.
Audrey Hepburn had already played some of her most famous roles in Hollywood when Spain crossed her path. She came here through love, but not for Marbella, which she fell in love with later. No, it was her then husband, fellow actor Mel Ferrer, who she met in a theatre production in 1954 and married the same year. They went on to repeat the same roles on the big screen in War and Peace in 1956.
Although Ferrer was born in the USA, his father was Catalan and he spoke perfect Spanish, albeit with a foreign accent. The couple set up home in Switzerland and travelled from there to wherever they were filming. So while Audrey travelled to Paris with Cary Grant for Charade, her husband went to Madrid in 1963 when Samuel Bronston offered him a role in The Fall of the Roman Empire, giving him the opportunity to learn more about his roots.
A year later Mel and Audrey spent time in Marbella with their three-year-old son, Sean. The actress could be seen taking him on donkey rides, to the beach for a picnic and was photographed at La Malagueta in Malaga during the August fair. The couple shared a passion for bullfighting.
When Prince Alfonso de Hohenlohe showed them a plot of land by the beach next to the Marbella Club hotel, they decided to stay and they built Santa Catalina, a villa they designed themselves with views of the sea, a large lounge with fireplace, a porch so they could spend more time outside than inside and a garden with a pine forest reaching down to the sandy shore. Although Audrey actually preferred the calmer water of the swimming pool.
It was a summer house which ended up becoming something more. Their sunbathing on the Malaga coast convinced the couple that their Swiss home, beside the Alps, was too cold and they wanted to spend more time in the south. A winter in Malaga was much more pleasant and Sean Hepburn remembers spending a warm and sunny Christmas there.
"Santa Catalina was my parents' home until they separated," says the son of the beautiful actress, whose path to Marbella was followed by Deborah Kerr and scriptwriter Peter Viertel, Sean Connery, Stewart Granger and director Jean Negulesco, who was also a neighbour of the Ferrer-Hepburn household.
And while Audrey was filming My Fair Lady (1964), which cinemagoers in Spain later saw dubbed into Spanish with different words to 'The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain', Mel Ferrer's desire to become a director was boosted by producer José María Goyanes proposing that he direct a film featuring the biggest star in Spanish cinema at the time, Malaga's own child star, Marisol.
It seemed a very surreal confluence of Hollywood and Spanish cinema, and indeed it was. It was the Malaga-born actress' first flop on screen, due to the incompetence of the film-maker and the producer's insistence on prolonging the image of her as a child prodigy even though she no longer was and had kept asking for a change of on-screen persona.
Nevertheless the audiences still kept coming because Marisol was so famous. More than two million people saw Marisol disguised as a boy to fulfil her dream of becoming a bullfighter. The film, Cabriola, ran for five weeks in Malaga.
Audrey Hepburn is also said to have taken part in the film as an 'adviser' and she used to travel around the province with Ferrer to look for suitable locations to film in Marbella and Fuengirola. This enabled the couple to spend the nights at their home on what would become the Golden Mile.
There is nothing to show to what extent the star of The Nun's Story was involved in the film, but there is evidence of the advice that she gave to the young actress, whose real name was Pepa Flores, who everyone admired so much. Nobody was more in a position to understand her than Audrey.
"I knew her very well. In fact, she was the person who taught me to do my eye make-up for filming. She was a delightful woman and she even took me to her hairdresser, Alexandre, for a haircut. She was a warm, sensitive, very human person," Pepa Flores said about her, years ago. Her memories of Audrey's husband, who was her director at the time, are rather different.
"We had quite an unusual relationship because he used to demand things that couldn't be done. I had to be on horseback with the bulls, but of course there were shots where I wasn't needed but he used to insist that I was there. Away from filming he was just an actor like anyone else, but I wasn't close to him because he always kept his distance, not like his wife. She was completely the opposite," she said.
Audrey and Mel's greatest friends in Marbella were pianist Arthur Rubinstein and his wife Aniela, with whom they would often take tea or organise a musical evening. It was at one of those informal recitals that they first met a very young Daniel Barenboim.
Another of Audrey's great friends was the Countess of Romanones, American-born Aline Griffith, who she used to visit at her home in Los Monteros to plan which day they would go to Malaga Fair to watch a bullfight. The former spy for the CIA had a way of putting people at ease and Hepburn used to say she was straightforward, honest and had a great sense of humour, although she wasn't very sociable. She used to prefer small gatherings to crowds.
Interior designer Pepe Carleton remembers Audrey fitting in with the ambience of Marbella, wearing fisherman-type trousers which she combined with her usual hat, which would be the height of fashion again today. She wore a black pair of those trousers to the bullring in Marbella in August 1967 to see Mondeño, El Viti and El Cordobés in action.
That was one of the last photos taken of the actress in her sunny refuge from the world. By then she had finished filming Wait in the Dark, the title of which could also be used to describe her marriage. It was on its last legs.
Audrey left the house to Mel and never went back there. Santa Catalina still exists, but has changed hands now. And changed in style, too. In keeping with the times, it has now swapped the glamour of the film industry for that of the petro-dollars of an Arab sheikh.
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