Although Audrey Hepburn always said that the role she felt was most her own was in The Nun's Story (1959), it was undoubtedly Rome Holiday (1953) that marked her film career and life staff The title of William Wyler, which exactly seventy years ago today, opened the doors of Hollywood wide open for him and also discovered the city that for more than twenty years he would call home. "My mother became an icon of a different and joyful Romanity that goes around the world on a Vespa", wrote Luca Dotti in the prologue that introduces Audrey Hepburn to Rome. In the book, he explains that it was also during the filming of this film, made in the iconic Roman studios Cinecittà (War and Peace, Cleopatra), where he met the De Rossi couple, she a hairdresser and he a make-up artist and creator of the marked gull-wing shaped eyebrows that accompanied the actress on the big screen and in the hundreds of fashion magazine covers she starred in over the years.
How Hepburn came to the role of Princess Anne is one of those divine curiosities that magnify her career. At first, the role was supposed to go to Elisabeth Taylor, who would share the screen with the stellar Cary Grant as Joe Broadley. But Wyler found a recorded audition of an unknown and beautiful British woman of Belgian origin in whom he discovered all the traits that his rebellious European princess needed: sophisticated movements but a joyful and innocent character. At that audition the camera continued to roll after Hepburn recited her lines and, unbeknownst to her, the naturalness she demonstrated then won over the filmmaker. The role was his but Cary Grant refused to co-star in it and the studio turned to the kind and seductive Gregory Peck. The actor quipped that he would always be offered the roles that Grant turned down, but once filming began he put the self-pity aside. There he met Hepburn, with whom he would develop a strong friendship, and it was also on that shoot, during an interview, that he fell madly in love with the journalist Veronique Passini, whom he would marry in December 1955, one day after divorcing by Greta Kukkonen. Putting her troubles aside, Peck found Hepburn a lifelong friend and co-star with a promising future ahead of her. So much so that the actor asked the studios to include the actress' name next to his in the end credits, since in theory she shouldn't appear because she was unknown to the American public. It was obvious to him: he would become a great star and win the Oscar. Peck was not wrong.
Vacations in Rome was the springboard that propelled the Belgian actress to the top of Hollywood. The title earned her the Oscar and made her the first performer to win a Tony in the same year, for Ondine. The suddenly consecrated revelation artist would get his chance to validate himself with titles such as Sabrina (1995), Esmorzar amb diamants (1961), Charada (1963) or My fair lady (1964). But that is another story.
Vacations in Rome is one of those films that have aged well and today still arouse interest. In fact, one of its mysteries, actually a public domain secret, took 58 years to clear up. The screenwriters' union acknowledged in 2012 that the script had actually been written by Dalton Trumbo, who could not sign it because it appeared on the blacklist of American cinema, pushed by Senator McCarthy during his notorious witch hunt.
Audrey Hepburn's elegance and Gregory Peck's pose are timeless, eternal on the big screen and in people's imaginations. Wyler sensed this and therefore decided to give them all the focus, even above the eternal city that gives the film its name, dyed in black and white to let the stellar duo shine.
The perfectionist director – it is said that he made Hepburn repeat the scene of the ice cream on the staircase for five days – sought realism in every detail of this film that has now become a classic. Thus, the film had the participation of members of the Italian aristocracy and also journalists, one of them from this same medium: "Moriones, from La Vanguardia de Barcelona", says the correspondent of our head during the fifties and until the end of the seventies, Julio Moriones, to a dazzling Audrey Hepburn dressed by the iconic stylist Edith Head. It is these kinds of details, the lights and shadows behind the filming, that have helped to grow the legend of Vacations in Rome. A classic that, although the years are adding up, is eternal.