“Rome. I will cherish my visit here in memory as long as I live.” Princess Ann was right. Even if you have not been to Rome, after watching the 1953 romantic classic “Roman Holiday,” it is not easily forgotten. In fact, it was preserved in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as a “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant.” film in 1999. ” Rotten Tomatoes says it “sets the standard for the modern romantic comedy,” giving it a 98% critics score and a 94% audience score. It made film history because it was the first American filmed entirely in Italy; however, that is only part of its historical significance.
Audrey Hepburn was almost unknown in Hollywood in 1952. She had been in a few films and starred in Gigi on Broadway, but nothing of great consequence, yet. Distinguished director William Wyler, however, was willing to wait for her to finish her Broadway stint to start filming “Roman Holiday.”
Gregory Peck (To Kill a Mockingbird) starred opposite Hepburn and insisted her name appear on the film with his above the title. This was also unheard of at the time: an unknown female actor receiving top billing with a Hollywood star such as Peck.
The studio had picked Frank Capra to direct and Elizabeth Taylor and Cary Grant to star. It is uncertain why Capra turned it down, although some theories suggest it was because the actual writer, Dalton Trumbo, had been blacklisted during the Communist Red Scare. In fact, Trumbo did not get credited when the film won an Oscar for Best Motion Picture Story. In the end, Wyler took on the project and insisted the entire movie be filmed in Rome. They finally allowed it but gave him a strict budget, which is why it is shot in black and white instead of color.
Hepburn stars a princess from an unknown European country who finds herself wandering the streets of Rome long after taking a sedative. When journalist Peck finds her asleep on a park bench, he assumes she has had too much to drink and takes her back to his apartment to let the alcohol wear off. However, he later discovers she is the princess, and he could profit from this by disguising that he is a journalist and getting a “candid” story on the princess. Peck assures her he will not share her story to the press.
She eventually resumes her royal duties and returns to life as a princess. When a press conference is later held, she meets the journalists and discovers Peck is one of them. He discretely gives her the photographs he took during their time together. They each go their separate ways. Some say this story was loosely based on real-life Princess Margaret’s adventures on her European tour. It was never confirmed.
“Roman Holiday” won three Academy Awards including Best Actress in Leading Role (Audrey Hepburn), Best Costume Design, Black and White (Edith Head), and Best Writing (Ian McClellan Hunter, in place of Dalton Trumbo). In 1992 he was rightfully credited Trumbo was rightfully credited.
Although “Roman Holiday” is a dated classic, the story is timeless. If you ever get the change to go to Italy, here is a guided walking tour of locations in the film. Ciao!
P.S. Vespa sales skyrocketed after the world saw Audrey Hepburn rode on one in “Roman Holiday.”