Homage to Hepburn
by Gail Mangold-Vine, Swiss News, December 2001
Audrey Hepburn was one of the most distinguished residents of Tolochenaz, the small village in Vaud whose authorities and inhabitants joined forces with the Audrey Hepburn Foundation to render homage to her life’s work.
A busload of Japenese tourists pulls away from the Pavillon Audrey Hepburn. “Arigato!” they call, waving to Franca Price, 57, the museum’s director. “Seventy to eighty percent of our visitors are from Japan,” Price tells me. She believes it is because “Audrey Hepburn incarnated a simple elegance that is a strong part of Japanese culture.”
Hepburn’s timeless beauty is still an icon, not just in Japan but virtually worldwide. At the moment there is a luxury watch campaign featuring her with the cigarette holder, black dress and long black gloves she wore in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Elegance is an attitude, we read in large letters alongside her image, which probably sums up Hepburn about as well as anything.
Who but Hepburn would have had sufficient cultural clout to convince the company to mention in the ad, albeit in small print, that it supports the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund. The ad could draw in some donations for the foundation, but its main income is from the little museum in Tolochenaz.
How did the project get started? After Audrey Hepburn died in 1993, just shy of her 63rd birthday, her son Sean Ferrer was approached by the mayor of Tolochenaz. The mayor’s office was getting a lot of phone enquiries about how to get to the village and what there was to visit. The whole thing was a bit more than they could cope with, especially as tourists were now arriving by the busload to see Hepburn’s house ‘La Paisible,’ on the rue du Centre. The house was never open to the public, but fans used to come just to see the outside, with its vines covering the façade, pale blue shutters, rose bushes flanking the entrance and a moss and ivy-covered stone wall surrounding the orchard out back. They would also visit her grave to pay their respects, leaving little angels, flowers, and notes. With the help of the Audrey Hepburn Foundation Switzerland the community of Tolochenaz started planning the Pavillon Audrey Hepburn, which opened in October 1996.
Franca Price lost no time signing up in 1995 when she read in the local paper that volunteers were being sought for the Pavillon. She was a great Hepburn fan but had met the actress once, when she was filming Two for the Road with Albert Finney in the south of France. “She was attentive and charming,” Price says. “For that moment she made me feel I was the only person in her life, and everybody I’ve spoken to who met her says the same thing.”
The Pavillon itself is unpretentious, an unused school house the commune made available rent-free. Pink Audrey Hepburn roses have been planted out in front near a bronze bust of the actress. Various companies donated time and money to transform the building into exhibition space, and the museum is staffed entirely by volunteers, including Franca Price. “We have to pay for insurance, security, cleaning - and we have a yearly barbecue for everybody involved,” says Price, listing the only costs.
On sale are greeting cards with reproductions of drawings by Hepburn, and locally produced jam and sachets, which used to be made from the fruit and lavender from Hepburn’s garden until the property was sold by her heirs last year. Also available are the perfume, Interdit, originally created for Hepburn, and a Funny Face image of the actress on a silk scarf round out the offer.
Ninety percent of the museum’s admission fees, sales, and funds from the foundation’s occasional fund-raising activities go to children’s causes. In 2000, Sfr100,000 was donated to the Swiss Committee of UNICEF, which allocated half to a project helping child-headed households in Rwanda, and the other half to the rehabilitation of children suffering from the effects of the long civil war in Guatemala. Sfr5000 was donated to the Association Tolochenaz Roumanie, which Hepburn personally supported. Other charities included a home in Mozambique for children affected by the HIV epidemic and a Swiss Organisation that trains guide dogs for blind children. “The criteria for charities to receive money is that they spend out a minimum in administrative costs and a maximum on action where needed. Also, they must give people tools to help themselves and education,” explains Price. Hepburn’s sons, Sean Ferrer and Luca Dotti, are president and vice-president of the Audrey Hepburn Foundation Switzerland. Ferrer is also president of the board of the Audrey Hepburn Hollywood for Children Fund in New York, created in 1994 to establish a direct link between the creative community and children’s charities worldwide.
Presently on view in the Tolochenaz museum’s two exhibition rooms are memorabilia from the actress’s stage and film career (including her 2 Oscars) and 5 years as UNICEF good will ambassador. That legendary dress from Breakfast at Tiffany’s is also on display along with others by Hepburn’s favorite couturier, Hubert de Givenchy. Hepburn’s career as a dancer and actress spanned just over 40 years and included memorable films such as Roman Holiday in 1952 (for which she won one of those Oscars), Sabrina, War and Peace, Love in the Afternoon, Charade, and My Fair Lady.
Many of Tolochenaz’ 60 volunteers, the eldest of whom is in her early 80s, knew Hepburn as neighbours. But none has been as active as Price, who has taken time away from her full-time job with Nestlé, her British-born husband and her two now-adult children for the museum’s sake.
The original idea was to do something for five years, when it was expected that interest in visiting Tolochenaz would die down. Things didn’t turn out that way. In fact, the majority of the 20,000 visitors who’ve been to the Pavillon so far have come in the past three years. Tourism offices now include the museum on their list of attractions. These developments place the endeavour on a new plane, and where to go from here is the next question. But one thing is clear: by honouring her achievements and causes, a group of dedicated people will ensure Hepburn’s legacies of elegance and devotion to the world’s children.
Pavillon Audrey Hepburn
1131 Tolochenaz (near Morges)
Tel/Fax +41-21/803 64 64
Tuesday-Sunday 13:30-17:30, by app’t for groups. Adults Sfr10;
children 12-18 Sfr5, under 12 free. Director Franca Price