Inside People

updated 10/31/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 10/31/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

IN HIS ENGLISH HOUNDSTOOTH-check jacket, gray flannel trousers, polished wing tips and tortoise-shell glasses, staff writer J.D. Podolsky, 32, cuts a smartly buttoned-down figure. But that hasn't kept him from reporting from the trenches on PEOPLE'S behalf. During his five-year career here, Podolsky has covered a wide range of stories, including the war in Bosnia and a ghetto murder in Philadelphia. None was as challenging, says Podolsky, as his assignment for this issue: to recreate for PEOPLE readers the private world of the late Audrey Hepburn.

Introduced by a friend to Hepburn's older son, Sean Ferrer, a film producer who Podolsky had heard was forming a charitable foundation in honor of his mother called the Audrey Hepburn Hollywood for Children Fund, Podolsky eventually won the trust of Ferrer, his half brother Luca Dotti and Robert Wolders, Hepburn's companion during the last 13 years of her life. Podolsky secured exclusive interviews with the three men and reminisced with them over a period of several weeks. They also allowed him and photographer Christopher Little unparalleled access to Hepburn's secluded villa, La Paisible, 30 miles northeast of Geneva, and to hundreds of her never-published personal photographs. The result, the story that begins on page 100, is a touching and revealing memorial to one of the world's most cherished stars.

"This is really the first peek inside her life," says Podolsky, who reported from Hepburn's house and the nearby town of Morges. "I ate one of her favorite meals—pasta with homemade pesto—in her kitchen. I sat in her living room listening to the same Oscar Peterson albums she loved, looked at photos that were dog-eared by her own fingers. I talked for hours with her sons."

For Little, 45, who has photographed George and Barbara Bush, Candice Bergen and David Letterman, among others, for PEOPLE, the assignment provided unusual freedom. "I was able to roam," he says. "I took pictures of things just because they were beautiful, and a number of those ended up in this story."

Podolsky believes PEOPLE was chosen over several other magazines that were vying for the story "because the sons were so comfortable with the loving tribute we had done on Audrey after her death" in the winter of 1993. For Podolsky, though, the actress still seems very much alive. There were, he learned, surprising contrasts between her public persona and her private life. Most fans, he says, think of her as "Princess Anne from Roman Holiday, but in reality she preferred jeans to Givenchy and her Fannie Farmer Cookbook to foie gras." Next to her family and her charity work, it was her home—still tended by her staff—to which she devoted most of her attention. "That Sean, his wife, Leila, and daughter Emma should now be living there means it has all come around full circle," says Podolsky. "I think she would have been very happy that life has gone on."

Donations can be sent to the Audrey Hepburn Hollywood for Children Fund, 4 East 12th Street, New York, NY 10003.

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