Book of the week: Fifth Avenue, 5 a.m.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman by Sam Wasson
Wasson has written an “alluring little book” about the making of Breakfast at Tiffany's. It may come as a surprise to learn that Truman Capote wanted Marilyn Monroe to play the part of Holly Golightly.
(HarperStudio, 231 pages, $19.99)
Doubts were swirling in Audrey Hepburn’s head as she sat in a Manhattan cab watching dawn break over Fifth Avenue, said Mary Kaye Schilling in New York. It was Oct. 2, 1960, and the slim star, the mother of a 10-week-old, was waiting for cameras to roll on the first day of shooting for a film that she wasn’t sure she was quite suited for. Finally, “Action!” The taxi rolled up to a curb and Hepburn stepped out, wearing sunglasses and a black Givenchy gown, pausing to gaze up at the Tiffany & Co. jewelry emporium. “In that moment, the actress, in the guise of Holly Golightly, created an indelible cinematic image—and a new future for women.” Then she peered into a window and bit into a Danish.
Sam Wasson’s “alluring little book” about the making of Breakfast at Tiffany’s captures the film’s lasting reverberations, said Janet Maslin in The New York Times. Hepburn’s slim black dress was a fashion revelation. Staying out past dawn became a goal young single women began to aspire to. But many of the best moments in Wasson’s account describe the difficult task of transferring the Holly Golightly of Truman Capote’s 1958 novel onto the screen. Capote had been clear that Holly was taking older gentlemen’s money to sleep with them, but Paramount Pictures worked to pass off Holly’s busy nights as resulting from the natural proclivities of “a kook.” The tension in the material forced the filmmakers to create “a new kind of romantic comedy,” one in which the leads were sexually experienced but “yearned for a new kind of fulfillment.”
Wasson celebrates the fairy-tale ending of the filmmakers’ struggle, but I wonder if the movie’s legacy “isn’t more problematic,” said Sadie Stein in Jezebel.com. Capote himself wanted Marilyn Monroe to play Holly, and you can see why: The novel was about “a vulnerable call girl trapped in an image of her own making,” and her crucial relationship was with a gay neighbor. The Hepburn film turned that story into a modern romance, spawning a genre that has inspired generations of young women to flock to cities seeking romances of their own. It’s a pity so many of us have forgotten that Capote’s template was actually a cautionary tale about “the brutal nature of the city and the dangers of reinvention.”