‘Lady of the Arab screen’ Faten Hamama appeared in almost 100 films and worked with masters of Egypt’s film industry.
More than 80 photographs have been assembled, from Audrey Hepburn as a 9-year-old girl in her official uniform at an English boarding school, to Audrey Hepburn not long before she died travelling the world to help sick children as a UNICEF ambassador.
Then there’s everything in between – some intimate shots never before seen in public and others instantly recognizable: the fashion icon with a fantastic flair and style.
Advance ticket sales have been brisk for the show which runs until October.
Co-curator Terence Pepper said every new generation that comes along discovers Hepburn, one of the ‘’most popular people around.’’
“So many bloggers aged 16-22 are discovering her for the first time,’’ Pepper said. ‘’There’s a trans-generational appeal.’’
One wall is devoted to magazine covers documenting Hepburn’s meteoric rise from chorus girl dancing in a line on the London stage to Hollywood star and the highest paid actress at the time.
The first cover is a Dutch magazine, 1948 – when Hepburn was 19.
‘Always the same person’
Despite her fame, Hepburn’s son Luca Dotti said there was very little difference between her private and public persona.
‘’What people love about my mother is what I love about my mother: she was always the same person, always a young girl who never expected anything,’’ Dotti said.
“It took me a long time to realise she was the same at home,’’ he said. ‘’Women look at the her style and they see a sincerity in her ways.’’
Hepburn grew up in the Netherlands under Nazi occupation and her personality was forged during World War Two.
Dotti said the experience ensured that his mother never became arrogant or felt entitled. But it did mean that she was a hoarder.
“Some people in her family lost everything in the war so she kept everything,’’ said Dotti, who had to comb through 5-thousand photographs at home to find the particular images he loaned to the exhibition.
After the war Hepburn and her family received food and medical relief from UNICEF; a debt she was determined to repay.
From 1988 until her death in 1993 at age 63 Hepburn served as a tireless UNICEF ambassador, visiting sick and needy children in 20 countries.
‘’She didn’t just lend her image she got very involved with all her missions,’’ said Dotti, who lives in Rome and travelled to London for the exhibition opening.
There are plenty of spectacular movie star shots: the enormous brown eyes on set in Italy to film Roman Holiday, wearing the original Little Black Dress in Sabrina, the gamine figure in a black turtleneck in Funny Face.
The pre-Hollywood period on the London stage where Hepburn was discovered and plucked from the chorus line is chronicled. She doesn’t have the signature haircut or style yet, but the eyes and the cheekbones are unmistakable.
“My mother would be truly honoured and surprise,” by all the attention, Dotti said.
“It’s a very touching exhibition. She would be very touched to see so many people here and she wouldn’t believe that she was at the National Portrait Gallery.’’