Saturday, 16 May 2015

My Favorite Classic Movie Blogathon: "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1961)

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Blake Edwards, Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)  tells the story of Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn), a naïve and carefree New York party girl who lives with a nameless cat and earns her money by visiting mobster Sally Tomato (Alan Reed) in prison every week. Tomato's lawyer pays her $100 a week to receive "the weather report." One day, Holly meets Paul Varjak (George Peppard), a struggling writer who has just moved into her building. Paul, whom Holly calls "Fred" due to his resemblance to her brother, is "kept" by a wealthy older woman, Emily Eustace Failenson (Patricia Neal), nicknamed "2E." At a party at Holly's apartment, Paul meets her Hollywood agent, O. J. Berman (Martin Balsam), who describes her transformation from country girl into Manhattan socialite.

In the days that follow, Paul and Holly become closer, but their relationship gets strange when Holly's long-lost husband, Doc Golightly (Buddy Ebsen), whom she married when she was 13, comes looking for her, hoping to take her back home to Texas with him. She explains to Paul that the marriage was annulled years ago and sends poor heartbroken Doc away. After a day on the town together, doing all the things they have never done before, Paul realizes that he is in love with Holly, but she dismisses his feeling, determined to marry Brazilian millionaire José da Silva Pereira (José Luis de Vilallonga). However, when it is publicly revealed that Holly has been (unknowingly) passing information from Sally Tomato to his associates on the outside, José ends their relationship. Holly insists that she will move to Brazil anyway, but Paul is able to stop her from going by convincing her that he truly loves her in spite of everything and that people really do belong to each other.

Paul "Fred" Varjak: Let's get something straight. I am not now nor have I ever been Fred. Nor am I Benny Shacklet, whoever he may be. My name is Paul, Paul Varjak, and I love you.

When Truman Capote sold the screen rights of his 1958 novella Breakfast at Tiffany's to Paramount Pictures, he wanted his friend Marilyn Monroe to play Holly Golightly.  

Producers Marty Jurow and Richard Shepherd, however, had a different idea in mind for their leading lady. They wanted someone a lot gentler, but who could also be sharp and tough; someone who was not automatically associated with sex, but who could still be sexy. With that in mind, they proposed Audrey Hepburn for the role, but the studio did not think she would accept the offer, especially since Holly was so different from the kind of parts she had played until then.

Audrey Hepburn between takes
The studio didn't think she'd do it, because Holly was so different from the kind of roles Audrey had played until then, but the producers were determined to get her. In mid-1960, Jurow and screenwriter George Axelrod flew to the south of France to meet Hepburn in hopes to persuade her to take on the role. She thought the script was wonderful, but she couldn't play a hooker. Besides, she was about to become a mother and wanted to take some time off screen to focus on her family. When Jurow assured her that they weren't making a film about a hooker, but a film about a "dreamer of dreams", she was tempted and told them she would think about it.

After an extensive conversation with her agent, Hepburn began to realize that Holly could actually be a good part for her, a chance for her to test herself as an actress and transition into more sophisticated adult roles. She told Jurow she would do it, but they would have to make some chances to the script to lighten some of the innuendo, and she would get director approval, to which the producer agreed.

I was nothing like her, but I felt I could act Holly. That was a revolutionary thought for me. After so many movies, I no longer felt like an amateur [...] I knew the part would be a challenge, but I wanted it anyway.
(Audrey Hepburn) 

Paramount initially hired John Frankenheimer to direct, but after Hepburn signed on and told the producers she wasn't familiar with his work, he was replaced with Blake Edwards, who had had a big hit the previous year with Operation Petticoat (1959), starring Cary Grant. The producers didn't think very highly of that film, but they liked Edwards' new approach to filmmaking and felt that his light comedy style could add an extra-special touch to Breakfast at Tiffany's.

Edwards on location in New York
The most Edwardian moment in the film is without a doubt Holly's cocktail party, which was improvised by the director on the set and took a week to shoot. Edwards wanted to capture the completely carefree lifestyles of Holly and her nutty New York friends, so he arranged the scene as a series of anecdotal asides inspired by the slapstick comedies of the silent film era. At this crazy party, we can see such gags as Holly inadvertently setting fire to a woman's hat, another woman laughing and later crying at herself in front of a mirror, and a man removing his eye-patch only to reveal a perfectly good eye underneath.

Blakes makes everyrone feel wonderful and appreciated, and has goofy things happening on the set. He wanted us to just have a good time, really. A lot of times that doesn't work, but he managed to do it. His sets were like parties, so it's no wonder that he's so good at writing and directing parties in the movies.
(Fay McKenzie, party guest laughing in mirror)

Edwards wanted to cast Tony Curtis in the role of Paul Varjak, but Jurow and Shepherd were more interested in George Peppard. The 32-year-old actor was a relative newcomer to the film industry and the producers thought he had a great physical presence and a sort of innocence that made him perfect for the role. After seeing Peppard in Home from the Hill (1959), Edwards begged the producers not to cast him, but in the end he was outnumbered.

[...] I didn't want [Peppard] in the movie. If you would ask me would I cast him now, I doubt I would. He just didn't have whatever it was that I wanted. He wasn't my cup of tea.
(Blake Edwards)

Neal, Hepburn and Peppard on location
Peppard was reportedly a difficult player on the set. Trained at the New York's Actors Studio, known for its intense "Method" approach to acting, his working style had become so bold and his confidence so firm that he had constant script disputes with Edwards and particularly with Patricia Neal. Apparently, Peppard felt that her character was coming across as too strong and domineering and that he was the one who should be dominant. He didn't want Neal's character to make his character look bad and fought with Edwards to have much of her dialogue cut. For the sake of his production, the director eventually agreed to cut some of 2E's dialogue and allowed Peppard to play his role the way he chose.

I had done scenes with George at the Actors Studio, had very good time, and I adored him, but years later, when I got Breakfast at Tiffany's, something happened. I was thrilled when I heard we were going to be in it together, but it wasn't long until I saw that since I last saw him he had grown so cold and conceited.
(Patricia Neal)

Virginia Mayo was initially considered for the role of 2E, but after her audition the producers felt that she was not right to play a weatlthy New York socialite. When Patricia Neal was suggested, everyone loved the idea and she was cast without even testing for the part. Neal hadn't appeared in films since Elia Kazan's  A Face in the Crowd (1957), so she was eager to go back to work and didn't even object to dying her hair red so as not to clash with Hepburn's brunette locks.

Hepburn and Peppard on the set
Meanwhile, composer Henry Mancini was hired to write the film's score as well as its signature song, "Moon River", with the lyrics being provided by Johnny Mercer. From the beginning, Mancini and Mercer knew that this was supposed to be the time when Holly would cut through the pretense and show who she really was underneath all the sophistication, which was really just an innocent and yearning country girl, so they kept their composition as simple as possible. Initially, the producers wanted to hire a professional singer to dub Hepburn's voice, but in the end they understood that the song's dramatic purpose would be lost if someone else other than Audrey did it, so almost immediately she was rushed into guitar lessons and rehearsals with a vocal coach to make sure she would deliver an authentic performance.

Though "Moon River" has become a classic, it almost didn't make it into the finished film. After Breakfast at Tiffany's previewed in San Francisco, Marty Rackin, Paramount's head of production, hated the song and wanted to replace it with music by Gordon Jenkins, who had been highly influential in the 1940s and 1950s, working with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland and Nat King Cole. It was co-producer Richard Shepherd who saved the song, by turning to Rackin and saying, "You'll cut that song over my dead body!" No only did "Moon River" stay in the film, but it also went on to win the Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Audrey Hepburn performing "Moon River"

Breakfast at Tiffany's premiered on October 5, 1961, at the Radio City Music Hall in New York and it quickly became a success, both financially and critically. Reviewers praised the entire cast, Axelrod's screenplay, Mancini's soundtrack and called it "the directorial surprise of the year". Though no one seemed to be bothered by it at the time, Mickey Rooney's portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi, Holly's Japanese neighbor, caused some controversy in subsequent years. At one point during production, Shepherd wanted to replace Rooney, arguing that the character should be played by an actor of Japanese ethnicity, but Edwards insisted on keeping him. 

I didn't really think it out and I'm not sure I would have changed my mind anyway. And certainly, at that time, when I did it, nobody criticized it. They thought it was perfectly okay. Looking back, I wish I had never done it and I would give anything to be able to recast it.
(Blake Edwards)

Holly's iconic "Little Black Dress"
Breakfast at Tiffany's has also become synonym of fashion and high styles and Audrey Hepburn's costumes, designed by her close friend Hubert de Givenchy, not only helped established the actress as a style icon, but also started an enduring fashion trend. The "little black dress" Hepburn wore at the beginning of the film has often been cited as one of the most iconic items of clothing in the history of the 20th century and was auctioned off for charity in 2006 for over $900,000. The greatest thing about Givenchy's "little black dress" was that it was easy to emulate and could be more or less accessorized depending on the engagement.

Givency and Audrey gave us a very realistic, very accessible kind of class. All of a sudden, in Breakfast at Tiffany's, chic was longer this faraway thing only for the wealthy. [Givenchy] didn't need to use a lot of accessories or embellishement and based the dresses on the shape of women as they were, not as he, or the culture wanted them to be [...] After Tiffany's, anyone, no matter what their financial situation, could be chic everyday and everywhere.
(Jeffrey Banks, fashion designer) 

As a predecessor to Helen Gurley Brown's Sex and the Single Girl (1962) and Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique (1963), Breakfast at Tiffany's introduced the idea of modern womanhood and changed the course of women in film, giving voice to what was then a still-unspoken shift in the post-war gender plan. There was always sex in Hollywood, but before Breakfast at Tiffany's only the bad girls were having it; good girls had to wait until they got married. With Audrey Hepburn's Holly Golightly, women in 1961 experienced for the first time "a glamourous fantasy life of wild, kooky independence and sophisticated sexual freedom; best of all, it was a fantasy that they could make real." Despite her poor country girl background, Holly still managed to be chic and sophisticated, proving that glamour was available to anyone, regardless of their age or social standing. More than that, she showed that being a single girl enjoying the high life of the "Swinging Sixties", or any other decade for that matter, could actually be shame-free.

The new era was fast approaching, and the new woman was right behing it.
(Sam Wasson)

This post is my contribution to the My Favorite Classic Movie Blogathon hosted by Classic Film & TV Café. To view all contributions to the blogathon, click HERE.

A Splurch in the Kisser: The Movies of Blake Edwards by Sam Wasson (2009) | Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman by Sam Wasson (2011) | Patricial Neal: An Unquiet Life by Stephen Shearer (2006) | Breakfast at Tiffany's: The Making of a Classic (2006) | TCMDb (Articles) 


  1. I was going to suggest Sam Wasson's marvelous book on this film, but it looks like you already found it. :)

    Wonderful post about one of my own favorites. I actually saw this on the big screen not too long ago, and it was magical seeing a huge crowd come out and support this film.

    Since you clearly love Audrey, you might want to check out my contribution to the blogathon sometime:

    1. Thank you. I really loved your post about "Sabrina". That is one of my favorite films as well, but it's been such a long time since I saw it that I had forgotten of how magical it actually is, and your wonderfully written post just reminded me of that, so thank you. :)
      I don't mind the age difference between Audrey and Bogie either. I think he was absolutely amazing as Linus and I always love seeing him in softer, nicer roles like that.

    2. I agree! It's so rare that Bogie did an out-and-out comedy like that, and I think he did a great job, despite his misgivings about the whole experience.
      Thanks for the sweet words!

  2. Not at all my favorite classic movies, but you did a very thorough and thoughtful critique of it. Nicely done!

  3. Well done post on this Audrey Hepburn classic! I can't imagine Marilyn Monroe in the title role; it's probably the part that I most associate with Audrey Hepburn. I especially enjoyed your background on "Moon River," a lovely song that rightly became a big hit. Speaking of songs, have you ever heard "Breakfast at Tiffany's" by Deep Blue Something? It just goes to show how iconic this film has become.

    1. Thank you so much. Glad you enjoyed it. I can't imagine Marilyn Monroe as Holly either. I don't think any other actress could have played that role better and with so much charm and beauty as Audrey Hepburn did.

      Yes, I have heard "Breakfast at Tiffany's" by Deep Blue Something. Such a catchy little tune. :)

  4. Really enjoyed the background of the film, especially about Peppard (whom I wouldn't have chosen either). It is impossible to imagine Hepburn not in it though, isn't it?:)

    1. Thank you. Yes, it is. Audrey Hepburn was born to play Holly Golightly. :)
      If you don't mind my asking, who would you have chosen instead of George Peppard?

  5. I was fascinated by the background you provided. Movies from the 60s remind me of summertime when I was a kid. The world was always sunny and anything was possible.

  6. Well researched, interesting post! I learned a lot. I can't imagine Marilyn Monroe in Audrey's role or the movie without the iconic song "Moon River." Nice observation about how the movie signaled an approaching change in sexual mores towards women.

    1. Thank you. I'm glad you enjoyed reading it. Thanks for following too. :)

  7. Such an expertly written, well-researched post! Great work :) It's one of my favourites too but you taught me a few things! Marilyn as Holly?!?!?! I couldn't even imagine it!!

    1. Thank you, Laura. Glad you enjoyed it.
      I know! Apparently, Capote thought that Marilyn had something touching and simple about her that made her perfect for the role, and while I do agree with that to some extent, I could never, ever picture her as Holly.

  8. Wow – thanks for the behind-the-scenes look at "Breakfast at Tiffany's". You'd never know there were actor squabbles on the set (looking at you, Mr Peppard), because everyone seems to have such great chemistry. Wonderful post!

    1. I know! I was actually really surprised to find out that George Peppard was such a hard player on the set. I'm glad Blake Edwards gave in, though, and let George play his role as he saw fit. I think he was absolutely wonderful in it.

      Thank you. I'm glad you enjoyed it. :)

  9. I thought I knew almost everything there was to know about this classic but your comprehensive post has proved me wrong! I look forward to seeking out Wasson's book, that looks like a treat. This film really is Audrey Hepburn's most iconic role but it's also one she's truly great in - it's a shame that the seemingly-endless merchandise that's 'inspired' by it sometimes seem to get in the way of that!

    1. You should definitely check out Wasson's book. It's definitely a must for any fan of "Breakfast at Tiffany's". It tells you everything there is to know about the film and its several stages of production, and also about Capote's novella itself and its background, which is really interesting as well.