Hurt by what they see as the crass commercialisation of their mother’s name, the sons of Audrey Hepburn are removing all memorabilia from the museum dedicated to her in the Swiss village where she lived for 30 years, forcing it to close permanently today.
Privacy was the reason Hepburn chose to live in Tolochenaz, an hour’s drive from Geneva.
But her family says the village has exploited its most famous resident by posting signs to her grave and selling souvenirs, such as Audrey Hepburn jam.
The villagers are stung by the criticism, saying they are simply responding to the interest shown by the more than 5,000 fans, mostly Japanese tourists, who visit each year.
“We are all devastated, dismayed,” the museum’s director, Franca Price, said.
The Pavillon Audrey Hepburn is adorned with photos and drawings by the actress, awards, and costumes designed by Hubert de Givenchy – including the little black dress she wore in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, setting a trend which continues today.
The 30 or so volunteers who have been turning on the museum’s lights each day for the past six years, are happy to offer visitors assistance. They point the way to Hepburn’s grave and the house, La Paisibles.
But one of her sons, Sean Ferrer, says: “My mother went to live there because she liked to be able to live in peace, go to the market and be treated like a normal person. This is a resting place, not Graceland.”
The idea for the museum took shape after Hepburn died in 1993. Fans arrived at the front door of her vine-covered house or left flowers at the simple grave in the village cemetery.
When they kept coming, the villagers restored a two-room school while Mr Ferrer sorted through the family attic for things to exhibit. They agreed that any profits should go to a foundation to keep alive Hepburn’s support for needy children.
But Mr Ferrer and his brother Luca Dotti have found her transformation into a cult disturbing. They wrote several times insisting that the signpost to her grave should be taken down, and it was. But their request to the museum to stop selling jams and herbs was ignored.
“We are proud of our record,” said Mrs Price, who keeps a scrapbook of letters and pictures from orphanages and schools around the world which have had money from the foundation.
“There are millions of children out there who depend on little organisations like ours,” she said.
Mr Ferrer says the Hepburn mementos will continue to be used to help children.
Through his charity based in California he intends to organise an exhibition that will tour Asia. The proceeds will fund a centre for abused children in Los Angeles.