Audrey Hepburn And Billy Wilder Made Humphrey Bogart Regret Saying 'Yes' To Sabrina

There's a particular curiosity surrounding Hollywood feuds — all the better when they pull the curtain back on a critically beloved and narratively breezy classic like "Sabrina." The drama behind Billy Wilder's 1953 hit apparently began with the fateful casting of its leading man. 

Cary Grant was originally up for the role of Linus Larabee, the elder brother of the Larabee clan with a shrewd business sense and a ride-or-die affinity for the family name. Grant would have played opposite William Holden as his younger brother, David, and Audrey Hepburn as Sabrina, the chauffeur's daughter that they both fall head over heels for. But Grant ultimately turned down the role for one reason or another — some believe the actor was wary of his 25-year age gap with Hepburn; others argue he simply didn't want to carry an umbrella onscreen. Either way, Wilder was forced to look elsewhere to fill the role.

Humphrey Bogart was the director's second choice — and according to Stefan Kanfer's biography, "Tough Without a Gun," Bogart was well aware of it. He wasn't exactly keen to work with a director that hadn't considered him first, and as a result, spent over a month deliberating on the project. Eventually, the actor did accept the role. But with constant rewrites, cliquey co-stars, and an antagonistic director, "Sabrina" would prove to be one of Bogart's worst experiences on set.

Billy Wilder's clique

Bogart had no idea that, when he signed up for "Sabrina," he was also encroaching on an already tight-knit trio. "Sabrina" marked a sort of reunion for Hepburn, Holden and Wilder, who'd won big at the Academy Awards in 1953. Hepburn took home her first Oscar for Best Actress for her performance in "Roman Holiday," and Holden won Best Actor for his performance in Wilder's film "Stalag 17." Reunited on the "Sabrina" set, "Hepburn, Holden, and Wilder formed a triumvirate," Kanfer wrote, "with private jokes and references that rendered Humphrey an outsider."

Holden's infamous affair with Audrey Hepburn also began during "Sabrina," which only aggravated tensions on-set. Bogart, apparently, already had beef with Holden: he once claimed that Holden tried to kill him on the set of the gangster film "Invisible Stripes," which they filmed together in 1939. But Holden and Hepburn's constant canoodling on "Sabrina" irritated Bogart to no end, an even led to an altercation that had to be broken up by crewmembers.

Bogart and Hepburn's considerable age gap didn't help matters much either. At 54, Bogart had exactly 30 years on his co-star. Ironically, Hepburn was close in age to Bogart's real-life wife, Lauren Bacall — but she didn't share the same chemistry with Bogart ... or any chemistry, for that matter. 

Pressure on the script

Bogart's obvious maturity was a point of contention throughout production, even between the actor and his director. Wilder would constantly comment on Bogart's appearance, and made changes to the script without consulting the actors. Bogart, in turn, hated the script in all its iterations. Later he'd say that he understood exactly how his "Casablanca" co-star, Ingrid Bergman, felt while making that film. Not unlike "Sabrina," the "Casablanca" script was never entirely complete. Changes were made all through production, to the point where Bergman had no idea which man her character was meant to end up with at the end.

Similarly, few on the "Sabrina" set knew whether Sabrina would wind up with Linus or David. "I got sick and tired of who gets Sabrina," Bogart would later say.

Bogart would express his disdain in other ways as well, from ridiculing Wilder's Viennese accent to striding off the set at 6:00 PM on the dot — whether his scenes were completed or not.

Their feud might have started off strong, but it began to wane as production dragged on. Wilder actually came to respect Bogart: His competence, particularly with last-minute changes, was impressive. Wilder told a reporter at the time that Bogart always showed up "on time, but completely unprepared," but, "having looked at the particular scene about to be shot for a few minutes, he knows his lines. He never blows them."

Wilder's way

Bogart also had to compromise a bit on the "Sabrina" set. Bogart was obviously used to the perks that a tenured career had afforded him on other sets. And while Wilder coddled his other actors, Hepburn especially, he made no such concessions for his leading man. Though he hated his character's bougie wardrobe — and always favored hard-boiled dialogue over the lighter, more romantic fare in Wilder's script — he was forced to do it Wilder's way.

Eventually, both Bogart and Wilder found their own way to work with one another. The director had a keen eye for quality, as well as a reputation for churning out hits. Bogart's own star power lent the film a bit of clout as well. No one ever bought the chemistry between Bogart and Hepburn, but the film was still a hit when it premiered.

That said, the duo never teamed up for a project again. Though they maintained a cordial and professional relationship after "Sabrina" wrapped, it's clear their personalities were a little too similar to foster an amicable working environment.