Audrey’s fantastic figure: How this famous actress exercises (1959)
Audrey Hepburn diets sensibly, enjoys active sports, and especially likes to exercise by “feeling” like an animal. It gives her muscular control and relaxation she gets no other way. Try these exercises yourself and see.
By Joyce Waldman / Photos by Bob Willoughby – Cosmopolitan, June 1959
It is hard to believe that Audrey Hepburn’s lithe figure could ever have been “as swollen and unattractive as a balloon.” It was, it seems, when Audrey was in her teens. After surviving five food-scarce years of war in Nazi-occupied Holland, subsisting at one time on only husks and beans, she “began to overcompensate” as soon as the war was over “by eating everything in sight.”
The image of a plump young Audrey is a memory to few, however — the handful of observant residents of the London locality where she lived with her mother after leaving the war-scarred Netherlands.
When a part in a London ballet chorus was plunked on the scale of Audrey’s future as counterbalance to her excess pounds, the balloon-like teenager, with the determination that has become almost her trademark, “sacrificed” in favor of her future by losing thirty pounds in less than two months. This she accomplished “by merely watching my diet and cutting out all starches and sweets.”
Today, though Audrey no longer has a weight problem — dancing, exercise, sports, and hours of hard work on a movie set take care of that — she is still impressed with the importance of health and physical appearance. “You have to look at yourself objectively,” she says, “as if you were some kind of tool, and then decide exactly what you must do.”
One thing Audrey does is watch her diet, keeping it up in proteins, down in starches. Her likes tend toward simple foods: steak, chicken, chops, few herbs, no spices — onions and garlic are taboo. When she cooks a meal for guests, she quells her simple tastes in favor of her creative urge and turns out unique menus like egg in aspic, rolled stuffed veal, and a palate-tempting Dutch apple torte.
Audrey and her husband, actor-director Mel Ferrer, rent a home in Hollywood’s celebrity-pocked hills. Though they are known as having no particular roots, they have dug into Los Angeles deeply enough to enjoy a few of the sports the area has to offer.
Like most California homes, the Ferrers’ comes equipped with a backyard swimming pool. Audrey, who believes that “fun and health go together,” swims as the mood strikes her, but tries to make certain it strikes her often.
Mel is the better swimmer. In fact, the actress who so superbly portrayed the role of the fish-netted water-nymph Ondine on the Broadway stage is no more than “just an average California social swimmer.”
While Audrey says long quiet walks and horseback riding are two of her favorite sports, tennis is the one she really enjoys most. Audrey and Mel, who have no court of their own, play at the homes of fellow tennis addicts Doris Day and her husband Marty Melcher, and Billy and Audrey Wilder (Billy was her director in War and Peace).
Audrey sleeps as hard as she plays. She confesses she needs a lot of sleep and is inclined to look dangerously fatigued and dark under the eyes when she doesn’t get it. Her same “willful habit of approaching everything with total concentration” applies also to her sleep habits — she snoozes like a hibernating bear.
When she’s working, lights-out is at ten, and more frequently than not, she is in bed by 8:30 or 9 p.m.. reading — popular novels (“I’m in the throes of Dr. Zhivago”), classics — until her ten o’clock curfew. She’s up at 5 a.m. or earlier to begin her ten- to twelve-hour workday.
When a film assignment is completed, she turns off her phone, relaxes, reads, listens to records — Frank Sinatra, Paul Weston — and allows herself to get up as late as eight or nine in the morning. An added boon to her is cat-napping during the day. A friend explains, “It’s her one-tracked way. When Audrey works, she works; when she sleeps, she sleeps.”
On the set, she’s intensely wrapped up in her work, gives no interviews, indulges in no casual chitchat. She believes, “It’s impossible to be effective if you shoot off in six different directions.”
“She operates like an engineer with a slide rule,” according to one producer, “Charts each day’s schedule like a timetable, so there will be no wasted minutes or energies.” She even restricts her lunches to milk, fruit, cottage cheese — sometimes yogurt.
Working in the motion-picture version of W. H. Hudson’s moving classic “Green Mansions” was a special treat for Audrey: her husband, Mel Ferrer, was its director. Much of the background for the movie was filmed in the almost impenetrable jungles of South America, the exotic habitat of such rare animals as the demoiselle crane, agouti, and muntjac deer (a mere nine inches).
Audrey’s favorite of the Green Mansions menagerie, however, was a dappled fawn raised in Jungleland, Hollywood, California. “Ip,” as Audrey dubbed her three-week-old acquisition, became the leading animal star of the production. In the film, he is Audrey’s constant companion in her role as a young girl brought up in a South American rain forest.
In order to provide complete authenticity, Ip lived with Audrey until the movie was finished, becoming a conspirator-in-mischief with Famous, a Yorkshire terrier who is Audrey’s usual constant companion. “At first Famous was jealous of Ip, but the two ended up romping together like a couple of clowns.”
For many years, Audrey, who is an animal lover, has been conscious of the innate beauty and fluidity of animal movements. and their similarity to the limberness, balance, and control exacted of a ballerina. While working on Green Mansions, she came up with the idea of putting her thoughts into practical expression — and of course, she did.
“Animals never have bad posture,” she said, “nor are they clumsy; we should learn from them.”
Donning a brilliant red leotard, she went out onto the natural grass lawns of the Green Mansions set and developed the series of animal-imitative exercises which appear on the following pages. “I’ve tried to incorporate what I’ve seen in animals,” she explains, “so the human body can benefit from them.”
Audrey Hepburn’s animal-inspired yoga poses
Baby monkeys pose
BABY MONKEYS from the jungles of South America who share the screen with Audrey in Green Mansions inspired this exercise with their frisky tree-hanging contortions. From a prone, outstretched position, bend the knees back, lift the upper part of the body as far off the ground as possible and grasp feet at insteps. Rocking back and forth in this position will improve the neck, straighten shoulders, and firm the stomach lines.
The Crane yoga pose
THE CRANE, exotic bird of the tropics, has such perfect balance it can stand with a stretched neck for hours. Audrey finds that holding a cranelike pose is beneficial for pulling spine and neck into a balanced line.
The Sloth pose
THE SLOTH hangs by all fours from limbs of trees. To mime sloth, minus tree, Audrey lies outstretched, then, feet together, knees and elbows locked, brings arms, legs up. Especially good for back-of-leg muscles.
The Panther pose
THE PANTHER prowls the forest for hours in search of prey. On all fours, with knees and arms rigid, arched body, head held high, Audrey does an exercise that stretches fust about every muscle of the body.
The Tiger yoga pose
THE TIGER. Audrey Hepburn turns the stretch of a waking tiger cub into an exercise intended to flatten the stomach and back, and straighten and limber the shoulder line. Starting from a kneeling position, Audrey squashes her hips back onto her heels and then, bending forward, forces her chin and chest to the ground. With her arms held straight out and her palms turned down, she gradually pulls forward to elongate her body.
The Deer pose
DEER, like “Ip,” the wide-eyed dappled fawn who romps after Audrey in her role as Rima the forest- maiden of Green Mansions, are able to hold graceful poses without moving for long periods of time. It’s their means of self-protection. Audrey recommends holding this straight-spined forward step for developing balance, strong thighs, and limber legs, and also for stretching the abdominal muscles, which tend to shorten with age.
The Lynx pose
THE LYNX has one of the most perfectly engineered bodies in the animal kingdom. Frequent stretching keeps it that way. Audrey pulls upper torso straight up to align shoulders and expand breathing capacity.
The Cat yoga pose
THE CAT has always been envied for her ability to relax. After completing her series of animal exercises, Audrey stretches out on the lawn of the “Green Mansions” set, pulls her body taut, and then relaxes completely.
Audrey finds that “the ability to relax is an important asset to keeping healthy. In bed by ten each night, she “snoozes like a hibernating bear,” admits she is one person who “needs plenty of time to unwind and refuel.”