William Holden Wednesday: On the set of Sabrina

I might’ve known that as soon as I committed to doing a weekly series on the blog, life would throw a few personal and work emergencies at me!  Because of all that, this week’s offering is going to be low on content, but high in pretty pictures.

William Holden and Audrey Hepburn fell in love while filming 1954’s SabrinaIt didn’t work out in the end, of course.  He was married, albeit unhappily, and though he wanted to leave his wife for her Audrey broke off the relationship.

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From Golden Boy: The Untold Story of William Holden by Bob Thomas:

Ernie Lehman [Sabrina’s screenwriter] recognized what was happening when he dropped into Bill’s dressing room one day.  Lehman had been working so hard on rewrites of the Sabrina script that he had broken down in a weeping fit in a corner of the stage.  “Go home and get some rest; you deserve it,” [director Billy] Wilder said.  Before leaving, Lehman wanted to say goodbye to Bill Holden.

He walked into Holden’s dressing room unannounced.  He found Bill and Audrey standing a foot apart facing each other, their eyes meeting.  Lehman said his farewell and departed, realizing that something profound was happening between Bill Holden and Audrey Hepburn.

In these pictures from the set of Sabrina, it’s pretty clear to us, too.  They look so besotted with one another.

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William Holden eventually divorced his wife and went on to have other relationships (including one with Stefanie Powers, a/k/a Jennifer Hart), but he called Audrey the love of his life.  He was so wrecked by working with her again on Paris When it Sizzles ten years after Sabrina that he pretty much spent the whole time intoxicated.

A sad end to their relationship, but the chemistry between Holden and Hepburn in Sabrina is delightful.  For me the most enjoyable parts of the movie are their scenes together, beginning when Sabrina returns home from Paris a sophisticated and elegant young lady.

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We’re supposed to root for Sabrina to get together with Humphrey Bogart’s Linus Larrabee, but I’m afraid I’m always a little disappointed when she doesn’t get together with Holden’s David Larrabee.  Even though I know he’s a shallow playboy who would’ve probably broken Sabrina’s heart, I still find him much more appealing with Hepburn than the miscast and slightly ancient Bogart.

More from Golden Boy:

One scene called for [Holden] to vault over a fence as he approached Audrey.  He performed the leap with total ease on the first take.  “That was good, Bill,” said Wilder, “but a little too fast.  Could you do it a little slower, please.”  To the astonishment of the director and everyone else, Holden repeated the leap and seemed almost to pause in the air before landing.”

It’s a great moment, and one of my favorites in the movie.  Sabrina’s dream must truly seem to her to finally be coming true, with this handsome man she’s loved for years entranced by her and blithely leaping over a wall to take her in his arms.  You can see it below, at about 4:40.

Oh, that dress by Hubert de Givenchy!  It’s the most divine gown ever made for the movies.  Or maybe just the most divine gown ever made, period.

For a more detailed and insightful look at Sabrina, I recommend Jacqueline Lynch’s two-part discussion of the film at Another Old Movie Blog. She captures the mid-century dreaminess of the movie so well.  She says:

It is a time when dancing was a social accomplishment and seduction took time. We see it is a time of a single strand of pearls and strapless evening gowns with full skirts. Young people at this period did not want to be young, for to be young was to be gauche. Young people yearned for sophistication and experience, to emulate their elders, as Sabrina does when she spies the party from the branches of a tree on the estate.

Check it out, it’s a lovely read about a lovely film.  More Bill Holden next week, and something more substantial than pictures and quotes, I hope!