Guest Author - Amber Grey
There are some who doubt Audrey Hepburn's skills as a performer, much in the way that some doubt Marilyn Monroe. Most notably, she has been a style icon thanks to her role as Holly Golightly in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1961) where she donned a beautiful Givenchy dress and pearls in the opening sequence. Most only remember Hepburn for the photographs and posters of that famous outfit and have not seen a single film of her's. However, Hepburn was efficient and disciplined in her work as an actress. As it is evident in the process she worked through in order to create the character Suzy, a blind woman, in "Wait Until Dark" (1967).
At first, Hepburn accepted the role because it was a chance to work with her husband and film producer Mel Ferrer. But she did not take the job lightly. She was prepared to give everything in order to convey a truthful performance of Suzy as an independent blind woman, or as Suzy's husband says in the film, "a world champion blind lady." Hepburn trained at the Lighthouse for the Blind in New York with Terence Young. Both of them participated in exercises in how it feels to be visually impaired, exercises that are most commonly reserved for people who are losing their eyesight and must prepare for their inevitable blindness. The exercises included wearing black shields over their eyes, learning Braille and how to learn the sound levels of distance in objects and people in a room. She also learned to walk with a white cane.
But Hepburn's work did not end when the camera's started to roll. In the Sarasota Herald-Tribune Newspaper dated for February 7, 1967, columnist Earl Wilson reported from the film set with the caption, "Blind Girl 'Watches' Audrey Hepburn's Filming Blind.' Wilson went on to describe the acquaintance of Hepburn with a blind college student by the name of Karen Goldstein. It is no doubt that Hepburn's inspiration for Suzy's independence came from Goldstein, as Hepburn is quoted in the article, "When I'm with Karen, I completely forget she's blind. She makes me forget. Even her eyes seem to communicate. I am so lucky to have found her. I wanted to get some young person's approach to blindness. Karen has always gone to regular schools, not to blind schools." Hepburn met Goldstein by coincidence through her hairdresser, Ara Gallante.
After the film was released, Hepburn's portrayal of Suzy would not go unnoticed. Although film critics did not favor certain aspects, some had trouble believing Alan Arkin as a thug, they praised Hepburn for her realism. The same praise would win her an Oscar nomination that would prove to be a tough year. Hepburn was against Faye Dunaway for "Bonnie and Clyde" (1967), Anne Bancroft for "The Graduate" (1967) and Katharine Hepburn for "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" (1967). Katharine would win out above the rest, snatching her fourth Oscar.
It is interesting to note that when the film was released, Warner Brothers studio promotion was unique. An ad was printed along with a trailer that warned patrons about the last eight minutes of the picture in which the theater would be darkened to "the legal limit" in order to heighten the terror. It also asked that if there were parts of the theaters where smoking was permitted, that patrons do not light cigarettes during the scene or else it would spoil the tension of the auditorium. In sequence, as Hepburn smashed each light bulb on screen, each light in the theater would go out. As recalled by some cast members who went to see the picture as well as film critics at the time, audience members would shriek in fright. As it is no surprise, the film was a success.