Based on Truman Capote’s novella, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is one of the most emblematic films of Old Hollywood and also an outstanding piece in Audrey Hepburn’s work. She was born 87 years ago today and soon became the brightest star of Hollywood, appearing in the best of romantic films. However, Breakfast at Tiffany’s was different in many ways, as it is impossible to decide whether it’s a romantic trifle or a serious drama.
With films such as Roman Holiday, Sabrina or Love in the Afternoon behind her, Audrey Hepburn was considered the queen of romance in the 1950s. Her character was girlish and innocent, but also extremely witty and her onscreen partners included the greatest male legends in Hollywood, like Gregory Peck, Humphrey Bogart and Gary Cooper. Audrey brought the perfect love affair to the screen. Nobody thought she would ever play a character like Holly Golightly.
When Truman Capote sold the rights of his novella to Paramount Studios, he insisted that Marilyn Monroe played the part of Holly and he was deeply disappointed when she turned the role down. Capote was absolutely shocked by the thought of Audrey Hepburn in the lead role.
‘Marilyn would have been absolutely marvellous in it. She wanted to play it, too, but Paramount doublecrossed me in every conceivable way and cast Audrey. The book was really rather bitter, and Holly Golightly was real – a tough character, not an Audrey Hepburn type at all. Holly had to have something touching about her – unfinished. Marilyn had that. Audrey is an old friend and one of my favourite people but she was just wrong for that part.’
His anxiety was quite understandable, not even Audrey was sure she would be efficient. She always had problems with her self-confidence during her life, even her son, Sean, called her “a star who couldn’t see her own light.” Other problems arose from the fact that she finally gave birth to her long-awaited first child in July 1960 and the shooting started three months later, in October. Her husband, Mel Ferrer, was also against it. The decision was hard to make.
‘It’s very difficult and I didn’t think I was right for it. I’ve had very little experience, really, and I have no technique for doing things I’m unsuited to. I have to operate entirely on instinct. It was Blake Edwards who finally persuaded me. He, at least, is perfectly cast as a director, and I discovered his approach emphasises the same sort of spontaneity as my own.’
Aside from Marilyn, a great number of other Hollywood stars applied for the role – Kim Novak, Shirley MacLaine, Rosemary Clooney and Jane Fonda among them. In the end, Audrey was chosen by Paramount, so much so that she even recieved the second highest salary for a movie actress at the time, a sum of $750 000, overtaken only by Elizabeth Taylor.
Why was Audrey Hepburn the final choice for the role, even though neither the author, nor Audrey herself were sure if she was the right one? We might never know. Audrey Hepburn was nothing like the Holly Golightly Capote wrote about. It seems, though, that Paramount didn’t want that Holly to appear on screen. Audrey was a more convenient solution, she represented the perfect woman on film and maybe they thought she could make a character as far from perfect as Holly more digestible to audiences.
Eventually, the shooting kicked off on October 2, 1960 with the most famous scene of them all – the breakfast in front of Tiffany’s. The last scene was shot less than two months later, on November 11, while Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer were working on the music in a frenzy.
Moon River was written to fit Audrey’s voice capacity, which was quite limited, but never false. In the movie her own voice can be heard when she’s singing in the window in a plain pair of jeans and a towel around her head. Though it’s still considered one of the best musical pieces on film, the President of Paramount Pictures didn’t share this opinion at the time.
We previewed the movie in San Francisco and went to a nearby hotel to discuss the very good audience reaction. We all deferred to Paramount’s new president, who paced the room puffing a cigar. The first thing the man said was, “One thing’s for sure. That song’s got to go.”
Audrey, who was never rude to anyone on set, told him quite calmly: “Over my dead body!” That’s how the song remained in the film and won an Academy Award the next year.
Do we belong to each other or do we not? Do we belong to anyone at all? That’s what the film tries to search answers for – no matter how far away it is hidden by the charming presence of Audrey Hepburn and the chain of amusing scenes. Maybe Truman Capote was dissatisfied with the film throughout his whole life because its ending provides a different answer from his own.
Who is Holly Golightly after all? Is she the foolish girl next door who never knows where the telephone is and keeps her slippers in the fridge? Or is she the miserable society girl who is desperately trying to help his brother by seducing men and getting $50 from them each time she goes to the powder room? Is she a wild thing? A prostitute? Ally of the drug mafia? The party diva? The identity of Holly Golightly is more mysterious than it might seem at the first moment. Maybe that’s one of the reasons she became the most popular character Audrey Hepburn has ever brought to life.