Iconic actress’s charitable legacy could be in jeopardy
Audrey Hepburn, a Hollywood starlet and fashion icon, was not only revered for her famous films, but her humanitarian work for children’s charities, as well. When she passed in 1993, she left a philanthropic legacy through her work as a UNICEF Ambassador in 1988. Her sons Sean Ferrer and Luca Dotti carried on in the name of their mother with the non-profit Hollywood for Children, Inc, later renamed, Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund, which they founded with their mother’s companion of 13 years, Robert Wolders. In the years since her death, we’ve adoringly watched her classic films, read books on her life, even learned the recipe for Audrey Hepburn’s favorite chocolate cake. But the latest intel about the legendary actress is a litigious one, regarding the use of her identity to fundraise for the very charity that Ferrer helped co-found. One can only wonder about all the details that lead up to the lawsuit, that is technically a face-off between the brothers, but here’s what we do know from the court filing:
- The Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court on Feb. 8th against Hepburn’s eldest son Sean Ferrer–who lives in Florence, Italy–claiming he’s interfering with the charity’s work for his own benefit.
- The Fund raises money for children’s charities with exhibits of Audrey Hepburn memorabilia including a collection of gowns worn by Hepburn and designed by fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy.
- The suit says Hubert de Givenchy donated certain gowns to the Fund in 2002, but Ferrer attempted to have Givenchy “backdate and falsify a letter” revoking the donation of gowns to the Fund. Givenchy refused this request.
- According to the suit, Ferrer began to suffer a “personal financial crisis” and to “actively interfere” with the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund in 2008.
- Ferrer resigned as chairman of the Fund board and convinced his younger brother Dotti to assume the role in 2011.
- Dotti, a resident of Rome, Italy and the current Chairman of the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund, is seeking to continue his mother’s legacy and keep the Fund operating to benefit children’s charities. The New York Times best-selling author donated the royalties from his books “Audrey At Home” (2016) and “Audrey in Rome” (2013) to the Fund.
- The Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund seeks to continue using Audrey Hepburn’s name, likeness and image in connection with exhibitions of her memorabilia to raise money to provide support for children in need.
- The suit also says that Ferrer seeks to entirely control, limit and prohibit the Fund from using Hepburn’s image unless it is willing to pay a significant portion of the fundraising proceeds to Ferrer.
- In January 2017, Ferrer threatened to sue a Chinese exhibitor to block multiple shows of Hepburn’s memorabilia in 2017 and 2018.
- Ferrer’s actions also included taking control of the Fund’s hosting account, which manages its domains and emails, by changing its password, and registering Hollywoodforchildren.com (and .org) without obtaining the Fund’s consent.
Image source: Audrey Hepburn at the Paramount Studios for the publicity of “Funny Face” (April 1956 © Bud Fraker)