Folks I’ve Met Along the Way – My Fair Lady

Folks Ive Met Along the Way - My Fair Lady

Paul Paolicelli, Contributing Writer


It was a brief encounter, maybe five or ten seconds, less than a minute out of an entire lifetime, but one that I’ve remembered ever since.

I was in the “Al Italia” lounge at Chicago O’Hare, waiting on a return flight to Rome where I’d been living while working on my first book. The flight had been delayed for some reason or another and I was standing by the bar, nursing a diet Coke, when I saw her. She was leaning in a doorway, maybe ten or fifteen feet away, and talking quietly with a middle-aged man. She looked over in my direction and our eyes locked. She might have been scanning her memory to see if she knew me or maybe thought she recognized me. The look lasted seconds but has stayed with me ever since that moment.

Audrey Hepburn.

She was middle-aged, not the glowing youth that had filled the screen in so many memorable movies. But her dark and deep eyes had lost none of their splendor. Her poise was obvious. She was stylish, dressed simply but elegantly, and seemingly relaxed. I wish I would have spoken with her but I kept to the unwritten rule of broadcast professionals; don’t bother the talent, keep to your own business.

I was reminded of a story about Jazz Saxophonist Paul Desmond told to me by his biographer, Doug Ramsey; Desmond, of course, was best known for his work with Dave Brubeck and his composition “Take Five” which broke through into the mainstream charts in the 1960s. Ms. Hepburn had been appearing in a Broadway play and Desmond, a New Yorker, would go down to the theater at the end of her performances and watch her leave from a discreet distance, never introducing himself or speaking with her. He just wanted to enjoy her beauty and wrote a song in her honor, “Audrey.” The two never met. And he never knew that Ms. Hepburn learned of the tune and listened to it each evening. It was played at her funeral.

It was impossible to roam around Rome and not think of the scenes from her first breakthrough movie, “Roman Holiday.” Every time I passed the Bocca di Verita I could see her with Gregory Peck putting their hands into the mouth of the stone carving in one of the movie’s more comic takes. And I played with a big band on the Tiber occasionally, reminding me of the party scene from that film. I’d see her on the television news quite often, she was a humanitarian and major spokesperson for UNICEF. Rome was the headquarters for the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. Her Italian, like everything about her, was flawless and charming. She stood for something.

When she returned home in 1992, probably on the flight we shared that afternoon, she learned that she had a virulent form of stomach cancer. She died the following January. Her obituary was filled more with her humanitarian work than accolades for a beautiful and talented actress who came of age in the crucible of World War Two under the German boot in her native Arnhem. She was class all the way and died at the relatively young age of 63.

But the memory of her, those dancing dark eyes and nonchalant poise, will live for my life long. Such a thrill to exchange glances with such a beautiful and accomplished woman.