Fair Lady’s Dark Past

Fair Lady's Dark Past

In Mount Jerome Cemetery in Dublin’s Harold’s Cross rests an unspoken piece of Hollywood history. There you can find the grave of one Anthony Hepburn-Ruston. His name may be meaningless to you, but if you read the inscription you’ll see mention of a daughter named Audrey. Yes, Anthony was the father of one of Hollywood’s most beloved stars, Audrey Hepburn.

Anthony spent no less than thirty-five years living in Dublin, and was a resident of Sydenham Road, in the leafy suburb of Ballsbridge, at the time of his death, October 16th, 1980. How did the father of one of the world’s most famous celebrities come to live in our fair city? Was it due to a love of Dublin and its culture? The truth behind his residence in Ireland is far more sinister.

Fair Lady's Dark Past 1In London, Anthony was born into gentry in 1889, the son of an English father and German mother. By the end of World War I, he was based in the Dutch East Indies as part of the British Diplomatic Corps. While married, he conducted an affair with Ella Van Heenstra, a member of the Dutch aristocracy whom he married in 1926 after divorcing his first wife, Cornelia Bisschop. By 1929, the couple had moved to Brussels, Belgium, where Anthony was employed by the tin magnate Maclaine Watson. In May of that year, Ella gave birth to Audrey.

As was the case with so many members of Europe’s elite class, Anthony became seduced by fascism, a political philosophy gathering steam across the continent. In 1935, he left Ella and moved to London where he began working for Oswald Mosley, the leader of Britain’s fascist movement. His fundraising skills for the organisation led to him accompanying Mosley on a trip to Munich, where the two dined in the company of Adolf Hitler.

Audrey had been attending a British boarding school and, at the outbreak of World War II, her father sent her to Holland, wrongly thinking that country would have no involvement in the conflict. Due to his fascist allegiance, Anthony was arrested and spent the duration of the war in an internment camp on the Isle of Man. Carrying the brand of a fascist, travel options were limited following his release in 1945. It was then he made the move to Dublin.

In 1950 he wed Fidelma Walshe, a Dubliner thirty years his junior. Three years later, his daughter became an Oscar winner for her role in ‘Roman Holiday’, having been discovered by Hollywood director William Wyler while performing on stage in London. Knowing his political past would be detrimental to Audrey’s career, Anthony refrained from making contact with her. She showed little interest in a reunion, though it is rumoured they had a brief meeting in the Shelbourne Hotel in 1959. Several letters were exchanged by the two however, with Audrey signing them as ‘Monkey Puzzle’, the nickname her Father had bestowed on her. Some of these letters can be seen on display in New York’s Rendell Gallery.

In September of 1980, Audrey visited her ailing father in his Ballsbridge apartment. A week later Anthony was buried in Harold’s Cross. His movie star daughter declined to attend the funeral. She did however stay in touch with her father’s widow, beginning correspondences with ‘My dear Fidelma’. One of these letters is currently on sale for $7,500 on the website www.historical-autographs.com.

by Eric Hillis