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Audrey Hepburn museum faces challenge

Audrey Hepburn Pavilion

Hopes remain that a Swiss museum devoted to Audrey Hepburn will remain open despite most of its contents being returned to her family.

The Audrey Hepburn Pavilion in Tolochenaz near Lausanne is losing the possessions of its famous former resident.

Two academy awards, photographs, original film posters, costumes and other belongings of the late actress have been exhibited for the past six years in the Audrey Hepburn Pavilion.

The pavilion was opened as a museum on the initiative of the community and inhabitants of the village where she lived for nearly 30 years until her death from cancer in 1993 at the age of 63.

“The items have been on loan since 1996, and now her sons want them back,” pavilion director Franca Price told swissinfo. “However I would like to say that this presents a challenge for us. We’re going to have to start again with new ideas.

“But we are grateful that we had the opportunity to have these items for as long as we did. The pavilion will keep going because its work is extremely important.”

Price was referring not only to the pavilion’s role as a place to commemorate Hepburn’s life, career and achievements, but also to hopes of continuing its financial support for children in need all over the world.


The museum, which has fostered a strong community spirit in Tolochenaz and is run by some 60 volunteers, sponsors organisations working on behalf of – to take one example – orphaned children in Mozambique.

These contributions, the balance of income from entrance fees after payment of administrative costs, are a way of following up the commitment Audrey Hepburn displayed as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Children’s Fund.

During the latter years of her life she visited famine-stricken and war torn regions of the world on UNICEF’s behalf.

After her death, the organisation’s then executive director said: “Moved by a profound love of children, she repeatedly set aside the comforts of home to visit some of the most deprived people on this planet, for whom she became an effective voice.

“Her eloquent and deeply moving appeals on their behalf helped raise not only funds but the conscience of the world community.”

A tour of the exhibition in Tolochenaz ends with a room containing photographs of Hepburn and the children she helped during her visits to deprived regions.

She is invariably dressed in t-shirt and jeans with no makeup and the room is in stark contrast to the glamour of the other section of the pavilion, which is dominated by photographs of her during her acting career.


“Beauty,” says Price. “There’s no other word for it. No matter which photograph you look at or from which angle, her face is quite extraordinary. It looks at you wherever you walk and just gives off every beautiful feeling you could imagine.”

Visitors tend to tour the exhibition in silence and with mixed reactions. Said Price: “We get reactions of joy but also of great sadness that she’s no longer with us. People are often watery-eyed when they get to the end of the tour because they see the extent of the problems facing so many children in the world.”

Comments in the visitors’ book are liberally sprinkled with such words as beauty, grace, serenity and the phrase “a wonderful woman”.

The pavilion director says that one surprising exhibition statistic is that nearly three-quarters of the visitors are Japanese.

“In Japan, Audrey is revered and considered the number one actress. Through the pavilion, our Japanese visitors have learned about her other side, the humanitarian work. It’s served to make her even more of a figure to be respected.”

Price, her fellow-volunteers and other local inhabitants are aware of the challenges facing them after October, but are confident that new projects will be found.

“We have a lot of support both locally and internationally,” she said. “Whatever happens, we have for ever Audrey Hepburn’s philosophy and her example, and her presence will always be here.”

swissinfo, Richard Dawson

Born in Belgium of Anglo-Dutch parents, Audrey Hepburn is best known as an actress in such movies such as “Roman Holiday”, “Sabrina”, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, and “My Fair Lady”.

However, her greatest role of all was as a special ambassador for UNICEF, which occupied her for the last five years of her life.

As a child in the Netherlands after the Second World War, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, forerunner of UNICEF, brought her much-needed food, medicine, and clothing.

“There is a moral obligation,” she would say, “that those who have should give to those who don’t.”

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR