There has been much written in the press recently about the age gap between male and female on-screen love pairings.
When I was writing my book on Audrey Hepburn I noticed that she was frequently paired with much older actors. Here’s what I wrote about the topic for some of her key films...
One Wild Oat (1951)
The plot implies that the twenty-two year old Audrey is one of the many mistresses of Alfred Gilbey, played by the sixty-one year old Stanley Holloway. The next time they would appear together onscreen Holloway would be playing Hepburn's father in My Fair Lady.
Laughter In Paradise (1951)
Guy Middleton was twenty-three years older than Audrey Hepburn. They would both appear in Young Wives’ Tale, in which he pursues the slightly more mature Joan Greenwood, who was eight years older than Audrey.
Young Wives’ Tale (1951)
Although Eve is convinced that every man, young or old, is after her, she is only after the married Bruce Banning. The twenty-two year old Audrey continues her trend of being paired against an older man, as Derek Farr was seventeen years her senior.
The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)
Surprisingly, compared with her previous co-stars, Alec Guinness is only fifteen years older than Audrey Hepburn. This is also the first of Audrey's many roles as the 'kept' woman.
Roman Holiday (1953)
Cary Grant was initially offered the role of Joe Bradley but turned it down believing that the twenty-five year age gap would jeopardise his career. Gregory Peck’s (only thirteen years older) only concern once he'd met Audrey was that she would steal the film.
Sabrina Fair (1954)
Cary Grant, originally offered the role of Linus Larrabee, turned it down, once again convinced that the age gap (twenty-five years) was too great. The role finally went to Humphrey Bogart (thirty years older) with his cancer making him look considerably older. Tension between the young Hepburn and Bogart was further aggravated by Hepburn's affair with her other co-star William Holden (eleven years older) whom Bogart loathed.
War And Peace (1956)
Mel Ferrer was Audrey's leading man both on and off the screen. Onscreen this gap is shown by him being already married and widowed and endowed with a world-weary fatalism. Off-screenAt twelve years her senior she looked to him as a mentor who could protect her and help in guiding her career.
Henry Fonda, at 50, was cast as Pierre, Natasha’s most enduring love.
Funny Face (1957)
Despite being one of Hepburn's oldest leading man (thirty years her senior - the same age gap as Humphrey Bogart) Astaire manages to carry off the role with his usual panache and style, ably supported by the film's witty script. Audrey said "I remember the first time we met he was wearing a yellow shirt, grey flannels, a red scarf knotted around his waist instead of a belt, and the famous feet were clad in soft moccasins and pink socks. He was also wearing that irrepressible smile. One look at this most debonair, elegant and distinguished of legends and I could feel myself turn to solid lead, while my heart sank into my two left feet. Then suddenly I felt a hand around my waist and with inimitable grace and lightness, Fred literally swept me off my feet. I experienced the thrill that all women at some point in their lives have dreamed of – to dance, just once, with Fred Astaire."
Love In The Afternoon (1957)
Ariane Chevasse is supposed to be a seventeen year old music student (Audrey was twenty-eight). Rumours suggest there was some tension on set between Maurice Chevalier and Gary Cooper. With Chevalier, only three years older than the fifty-six year old Cooper, upset that he was cast as the father and Cooper as the lover. But as Cooper was twenty-eight years older than Audrey – both were old enough to be her father. And for the third time, Cary Grant turned down the offer of acting opposite Audrey Hepburn.
The Nun’s Story (1959)
Peter Finch plays Dr Fortunati, the man who makes Sister Luke question her commitment to religion. Not only is he considerably older, he is a surgeon like her father who she had to give up day-to-day contact with, in order to fulfil her dream of becoming a nurse and working in the Congo.
Peter Finch’s reputation as a hell-raiser, drinker and womaniser complemented his role as the charming and slightly dangerous Doctor. Although there is no explicit romance between the two, there is an implicit attraction between the Doctor and the nun. Peter Finch was thriteen years older than Hepburn.
Green Mansions (1959)
This is the first time that Audrey was older than - Anthony Perkins - her leading man (by three years), with her husband behind the camera, possibly only one father-figure was needed.
The Unforgiven (1960)
Burt Lancaster was sixteen years Audrey's senior. However, for cinematic purposes, this age gap must have been brought closer together, as surely a sixteen year old would have known the truth about his new foundling sister.
Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)
One leading man. One husband. Lots of lovers. For the first time one of them is the same age (George Peppard). As the story requires, her husband is a much older man with a large brood of children. In this instance Buddy Ebsen was 21 years her senior.
The Children’s Hour (1961)
The gap is closing, James Garner is only one year older than Audrey!
After many attempts by directors at pairing Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant, Stanley Donen finally succeeded where William Wyler (Roman Holiday), Billy Wilder (Sabrina Fair and Love in the Afternoon) had failed and it was well worth the wait. Cary Grant had always been nervous of the twenty-five year age gap between them. He agreed to be paired romantically with Audrey if the romance was twisted so that Audrey Hepburn was the aggressive pursuer and he the reluctant party.
Paris When It Sizzles (1964)
By 1964 William Holden was a sad shadow of his former glorious self - attempts to rekindle the on and off screen flame that they had once enjoyed fizzles rather than sizzles. With their eleven year age gap looking more obvious with Hepburn’s radiance remaining and his dimmed by years of alcohol abuse.
My Fair Lady (1964)
Another May to December romance, with Rex Harrison 55 to Audrey’s 35.
How To Steal A Million (1966)
Despite still playing the young chit-of-a-girl, Audrey is three years older than her leading man, Peter O’Toole.
Two For The Road (1967)
Audrey is seven years older than her leading man, Albert Finney. But that didn’t stop the magic both on and off-screen as there were rumours of an affair - which was one of the contributing factors to her marriage break up.
Sidney Sheldon’s Bloodline (1979)
In Sidney Sheldon’s novel the character Audrey plays was twenty-three years old. Sidney Sheldon, so keen to secure Audrey for the lead, after his first choices of Jacqueline Bisset, Candice Bergen and Diane Keaton had all declined the role, agreed to change the character’s age to thirty-five in the paperback edition.