And She Named Him Pippin…
In 1959, Audrey Hepburn was engaged in filming Green Mansions – one of her lesser-known projects based on the 1904 novel by William Henry Hudson and directed by her husband, Mel Ferrer. Hepburn played the female lead, Rima – a goddess famed for her beauty among the South-American woodland and the ‘jungle girl’ that Venezuelan traveller Anthony Perkins finds himself falling for.
The film was very much in the American ‘romantic-adventure’ style of its time and I have to say, having watched the trailer and a couple of clips, I can understand why some critics have stated that this was not among Helpburn’s highest accolades – which had more to do with the premise of the film itself rather than her acting.
However, there is a certain long-standing and unusual relationship that was to come out of the film and would stay with Audrey for many years to come, fascinating all who knew her – the bond of Audrey Hepburn and her pet deer, Pippin.
Audrey’s character Rima was depicted as a gentle soul at one with the wild creatures of the Venezuelan forest where she lived (think Snow White, jungle-style). She was bewitched by butterflies and the uncultivated beauty of the natural world, but of course – they were filming in Hollywood, on a set made from fake trees and stills, built to look a lot larger than it actually was.
So Audrey’s husband and director, Mel Ferrer, decided to bring some authenticity to the picture – all the way from Venezuela where the film was supposedly set.
I’m not sure if this would stand up to animal rights laws now, but in 1959 it seemed totally plausible to ship native snakes and birds from their home in the Venezuelan jungle to Hollywood for use in filming. Heavens knows what happened to them afterwards.
As well as this, there was another acquisition – a tiny baby deer – a European Roe deer – that was written into the script. To give the idea of Rima/Audrey as ‘lady of the forest’ the intention was for the deer to follow Rima unprompted in a few romantic scenes.
The animal trainer suggested that the deer stay in the Beverley Hills house Audrey and Mel Ferrer shared together for a few days prior to filming starting to give the deer a chance to bond with Audrey.
It was Bob Willoughby who documented the relationship between Audrey and deer both on- and off-set. Friendship between photographer and star had begun in 1953 when Willoughby photographed Hepburn for a portraitist around the time of Roman Holiday. He remembers: “She took my hand like… well a princess, and dazzled me with that smile that God designed to melt mortal men’s hearts”.
Audrey named the deer Pippin, nicknamed ‘Ip’ for short. Ip slept in a bathtub made specially to accommodate its long legs and lithe body.
As the deer grew bigger, it was clear Audrey and the deer had formed a relationship that would be remembered far longer than the film. Ip came everywhere with her, following her around her home –
To the supermarket,
And lying beside her snuggled up for a nap.
Willoughby remembers in his book: “It was truly amazing to see Audrey with that fawn… Audrey’s maid had been told about the little deer, [but] she could not believe her eyes seeing Ip sleeping with Audrey so calmly. She was shaking her head and just kept smiling.”
Audrey’s other pet, a Yorkshire Terrier called Mr Famous, was reportedly pretty jealous of the little deer!
I guess understandably so…
After a bit of research, it seems no one knows what became of Ip after filming was over… Did the animal trainer take him back? Did Audrey get to keep the little deer?
Or did she perhaps run out of time to keep a creature that would eventually grow to over 4 feet tall and require an outdoor enclosure to run around in?
It is my hope that perhaps her husband Mel Ferrer or the animal trainer allowed Hepburn to keep the deer, and that it was so well-trained and endeared to Audrey from the time they spent together during filming that it was an easy pet to keep… but this is just wishful thinking… Perhaps one of these biographies will help us turn something up:
If you would like to purchase your very own collection of original Audrey Hepburn prints from the Green Mansions 1958 set, an auction lot of eighteen gelatin silver production stills signed and stamped by photographer Bob Willoughby (1927-2009) is on sale now at Christie’s.
In Love&Light FS XOX