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Turnaway Crowd Honors Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn presided over a love-fest at Lincoln Center April 22 as the Film Society of Lincoln Center enjoyed its most successful spring fundraiser since it paid tribute to Charlie Chaplin in 1972.

Hepburn was honored with a tribute that encompassed not only her film career but her humanitarian efforts on behalf of Unicef. Harry Belafonte said, “We at Unicef have seen Audrey Hepburn giving her best performance.”

Wide-ranging film clips, chosen by FSLC’s Wendy Keys, chronicled Hepburn’s screen career including rare footage of her early appearances in the comedies “Young Wives’ Tale” and “Monte Carlo Baby.”

The sellout audience at Avery Fisher Hall (for the first time in its history FSLC had to return thousands of dollars worth of checks from donors who could not be accommodated with seats at the gala) loved the comedy and musical clips from such classics as “Funny Face” and “Breakfast At Tiffany’s,” while the romantic Billy Wilder films “Sabrina” and “Love In The Afternoon” as well as Hepburn’s Oscar-winner “Roman Holiday” were among the evening’s highlights.

Biggest surprise was the reaction to a lengthy excerpt from the climax of the thriller “Wait Until Dark”: frightened shrieks from the elegantly dressed crowd.

Hepburn’s co-star and terrorizer in the film, Alan Arkin, appeared following the clip and quipped “I’m the only person alive who has attacked Audrey Hepburn, and in public. I’ve tried to rub it out with a series of heartwarming performances on public tv.” In a more serious vein, Arkin paid tribute to Hepburn’s acting ability, noting “she has the ability to elevate every character she plays to a higher level than was originally conceived.”

Gala chairman Ralph Lauren set the evening’s tone by professing a lifelong adoration of Hepburn; director Stanley Donen topped the designer by noting, “My passion for her has lasted through four marriages – two of hers and two of mine.”

Billy Wilder related an anecdote about “Sabrina,” and Tony Perkins recalled that he had to give up the chance to co-star in Wilder’s “Some Like It Hot” to honor his commitment to make “Green Mansions” opposite Hepburn, but for the chance to meet and work with her, “I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.”

Gregory Peck followed up a film clip of the classic “mouth on the wall” Italian sculpture scene from William Wyler’s “Roman Holiday” with the revelation that he had improvised a slapstick bit of business faking a severed hand inside his cuff that generated Hepburn’s spontaneous reaction. “That was the only scene he [Wyler] ever did in one take.”

Peck movingly recalled: “It was my good luck to be the first of her cinema swains, to hold up my hand to help Audrey keep her balance in her spins and pirouettes. There will never be a sequel to ‘Roman Holiday’ but the princess has become a queen.”

Hepburn received an extended ovation at the climax of the evening, with Lauren presenting her with a trophy from the Film Society. She paid tribute to all her collaborators over the years, remarking “I’m proud to have been in a business that gives pleasure and awakens our conscience.”

Continental Corp. Foundation underwrote the gala for the fifth consecutive year. Keys, Tony Impavido and Joanne Koch produced the program.

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