Bill and Aud: The William Holden Blogathon

I could talk about William Holden and Audrey Hepburn until I’m blue in the face.

But before we get into it, this post is part of the SixthGolden Boy Blogathon: A William Holden Celebration, co-hosted by TheWonderful World of Cinema and The Flapper Dame. Make sure you click through to read all of the other posts about William Holden over the next two days!


By 1954, William Holden was a steadily-employed, bankable star. And an Oscar winner, to boot. He’d won the year prior for Stalag 17, and the dame who won Best Actress opposite him was Hollywood’s newest ingenue: Audrey Hepburn.

Together, they appeared in the smash-hit Sabrina. Noted now for its fashion and chic, Sabrina boasted Billy Wilder as a director, and the three leads being Bill, Audrey, and Humphrey Bogart. The costumes were designed by Edith Head and Hubert de Givenchy. It was, in all senses of the word, a spectacle.

And it was notable as much for what audiences saw on screen as what they didn’t. Namely, a short but heated love affair between Bill and Audrey that ended when it became clear he would never divorce his wife, Brenda, and that he’d had a vasectomy.

During filming, Bill and Audrey were a duo and Bogie kept to himself. Not for nothing, but his prickly personality alienated him from the others, and he would often invited cast and crew to his dressing room for a tipple…and the invitation never extended to Audrey, Bill or Billy Wilder. Instead, that trio would meet in Bill’s dressing room for their own martinis.

Due to the strict moral clauses in acting contracts, Bill and Audrey had to keep their romance quiet from the press. They had clandestine meetings and avoided being photographed. And there are reports that Bill was open about his extramarital affairs—that Brenda knew all about them and engaged in a few of her own—but Audrey was a different kind of affair.

In Audrey’s biography, Enchantment by Donald Spoto, he writes that Bill brought Audrey to dinner to meet the family, and Brenda immediately knew that Audrey was a real threat to her marriage. Rather than ending the affair, like Brenda wanted, Bill just conducted it more quietly.

And then he dropped a bomb on Audrey: he’d had a vasectomy a few years before they met, and they wouldn’t be able to have children. Audrey ended their affair at that moment, and months later was married to Mel Ferrer.

Bill never got over Audrey. As he would—crudely—say years later: “I really fell in love with Audrey Hepburn, but she wouldn’t marry me, so I set out around the world with the idea of screwing a woman in every country I visited.”

When Audrey found out, she simply said: “Oh, Bill!”

Bill and Audrey had barely any contact (if chance meetings can even be counted, since neither were actively trying to run into the other) after Sabrina until it came time to film Paris When It Sizzles in 1962.

By 1962, Audrey was a box office queen in her own right, recently starring in the classic Breakfast at Tiffany’s. She’d been married to Mel Ferrer since September 1954 and together they had a nearly two-year-old son, Sean Hepburn Ferrer.

Honestly…it baffles me that Audrey agreed to make Paris When It Sizzles. It’s so far removed from anything she’d done up to that point—it being surrealist comedy and physical gags…and co-starring William Holden—and it was such a clusterf*ck that it sat completed for two years before Paramount released it.

Bill, by 1962, was even more of a star. But he also had a problem with alcohol that was exacerbated by the idea of reuniting with Audrey once more. His biographer said that he’d never drunk more than on the set of Paris When It Sizzles; and he even took breaks mid-shoot to check into a treatment facility. His absence explains the prolonged Tony Curtis cameo, who joined the cast as a favour to film scenes while Bill was in treatment.

Despite the lack of love affair this go around, the chemistry between Bill and Audrey was still there. So much so that it caught the attention of gossip rags.

In the May 1963 issue of Photoplay, Cal York wrote: “No wonder the rumors started about Bill Holden and Audrey Hepburn. I just saw some of the off-stage art they posed for in connection with ‘Paris When It Sizzles.’ I don't know about the temperature of the film, but the still photographs would touch off a forest fire in the dead of winter.

Of the two films they made together, Sabrina comes out on top. But I wouldn’t dissuade you from watching Paris When It Sizzles. The plot is bonkers and held together with Scotch tape, but the chemistry between Bill and Audrey is insane. And there’s a Givenchy wardrobe, if you need the added incentive.

In 1981, Bill passed away following complications from a fall. I know there's a lot of tragedy in Hollywood, but his death is one of the few that actually feels like a gut punch when you read about it. Audrey made no public statements at the time of his death, but she did mention him when she collected her Cecil B. DeMille Award at the Golden Globes in 1990. 

Audrey would pass away in January 1993 from cancer.


According to my movie diary, I’ve seen 25 of William Holden’s movies. Aside from Sabrina and Paris, When It Sizzles, my favourites (so far) include Dear Ruth, Sunset Boulevard, Born Yesterday, The Moon is Blue, The Country Girl, and Network.

What's your favourite William Holden movie? 


  1. Very informative and enjoyable piece Jess! It's kind of sad how that romance ended because they kind of seem meant for each other. But, eh, I guess life had other plans! Thanks so much for participating in our blogathon with this brilliant article! Dear Ruth is also one of my favourite Holden films and the one I reviewed for the Blogathon. Check it ou! :)

  2. Urban legend has it that in 1980 on a late night talk show Bill admitted Audrey was the great love of his life. I have not seen this clip myself, but I would love to see it resurface one day. In a book I have called Audrey the 50s, Audrey said Bill was an angel and the most handsome man she'd ever met. For me they are one of those great "what if's" from movie and Hollywood history. Me- I would have still married Bill! I agree Paris when it Sizzles is watchable because its Bill and Audrey flirting the whole time- that's why I enjoy it! Thank ou so much for writing in the Golden Boy Blogathon- it was an honor to have you- Emily

    1. Hello, I agree with you, Audrey and Bill were meant for each other. I looked over the internet lookin for the clip when Bill said Audrey was the great love of his life. Charles Higham said about: "Her (Audrey) decision not go ahead with Holden affected him very profoundly.
      Years later I was on a talk show with him (Wiliam) in Chicago when the host, rather boldly, asked him with whom had he been most deeply and truly in love?
      His face, deeply creased and pouched from years of heavy drinking, suddenly became more intensely sad than before, and through a cloud of cigarette smoke he said two words, "Audrey Hepburn"

  3. This is really interesting! I almost felt sad for Holden's character in "Sabrina" because he lost Audrey, but then again he was kind of a flake. They were so good as those characters. :-)

  4. Jess, thank you for this essay on Bill and Audrey. Their romance has begun to take on mythic proportions. So much has been written about them , the what ifs, and why nots. One writer I read recently said that Audrey had terrible choice in men and that Bill would have been wrong for her because of his demons. Humbug. ls there ever a love story without bumps? Or a girlfriend who makes perfect choices? A lover who doesn't have demons? Isn't this the reason their love affair is so delicious?

    I actually like Paris While It Sizzles. These two took a chance with an experimental film, so unusual in their careers, that poked fun of their own profession. This movie is a flat-out satire that at times borders on farce. Anyone looking for broad strokes drawn against the movie industry will enjoy the insider jokes and digs.

    But more important, I think Bill and Audrey signed on because they WANTED to.. LIke two magnets, they were drawn inexoraably to each other. A last hurrah? Another enchanting tryst?. Who knows? That is a picture of unextinguishable love.


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