Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1958) is a novella by gay icon Truman Capote published in 1958. It is about a writer’s early days in New York City, where he meets Holly Golightly of his rather unique neighbor who is Capote’s most noted character.
In early drafts, Holly was named Connie Gustafson. It seems that she is based on several different women, all close acquaintances of Capote. The “real Holly Golightly”, in what Capote called the “Holly Golightly Sweepstakes”, might be Gloria Vanderbilt (who has a famous gay son), or actors Oona O’Neill (daughter of playwright Eugene O’Neill and the fourth and last wife of Charlie Chaplin. Possibly she was inspired by Carol Grace (once married to William Saroyan and Walter Matthau, but not at the same time). She could be a mix of model Dorian Leigh (Capote dubbed her “Happy Go Lucky”) and her sister, model Suzy Parker. In an obituary last autumn. The New York Times claimed that the main inspiration for Holly Golightly was socialite Marguerite Littman, noted as a powerful HIV/AIDS advocate.
Holly Golightly and Capote’s mother, Nina Capote shared several attributes, so maybe it was her. Both women were born in the rural south with “hick” names that they changed: Holly Golightly was born Lulamae Barnes in Texas, Nina Capote was born Lillie Mae Faulk in Alabama), both were just teenagers when they left their husbands, the both abandoned relatives they were responsible for, and both achieved some social status because of relationships with older, wealthier men.
Capote was unsuccessfully sued for libel and invasion of privacy by a Manhattanite named Bonnie Golightly who claimed that he had based the famous character.
In The Girl Who Fell Down: A Biography of Joan McCracken (2003) by Howard Miller, performer Joan McCracken had a violent breakdown in her Broadway theatre dressing room after learning of the death of her brother in World War II. Miller proposed that Capote was inspired by this event for the scene in which Holly Golightly reacts to her brother’s death overseas. McCracken and her husband Jack Dunphy were close friends of Capote, plus, Dunphy became Capote’s boyfriend after his divorce from McCracken in 1948. In Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Holly Golightly is depicted playing guitar and singing songs from Oklahoma! And she owns The Baseball Guide, which was edited by McCracken’s uncle.
Breakfast At Tiffany’s was originally sold to Harper’s Bazaar for $2,000 and intended for publication in its July 1958 issue. The Hearst Coropration executives began asking for changes to the novella’s language. Even though Capote obliged to some degree, Harper’s Bazaar did not use the novella anyway. Its language and subject matter were still deemed “not suitable”, and there was concern that Tiffany’s, the luxury retail store, and a major advertiser, would react negatively. An outraged Capote resold the work to Esquire for $3,000 ($35,500 in 2021 dollars); it appeared in the November 1958 issue. The next month a collection of the novella with three short stories by Capote was published by Random House. The rave reviews caused sales of the Esquire issue to sell out.
Capote’s original typed manuscript was offered at auction house in April 2013. It was sold to Igor Sosin, a Russian billionaire oligarch, for $306,000. He said planned to display it publicly in Moscow. That makes sense. Breakfast AtTiffany’s is sort of an American Anna Karenina.
I am not certain if you would know this but Breakfast At Tiffany’s was adapted to film in 1961. Many adore it, but I do not. I think Breakfast At Tiffany’s deserves a new film version.
It was also a Broadway musical in 1966 that starred Mary Tyler Moore and Richard Chamberlain. It was panned by critics and despite a rewrite by Edward Albee, it closed after only four performances. There are still recordings of it floating among the Musical Theatre queens.
There have been two stage adaptations, both directed by Sean Mathias. One, by gay playwright Richard Greenberg, was produced on Broadway production in 2013 starring Emilia Clarke as Holly Golightly, and in the West End in 2016, with the aptly named Pixie Lott starring.
“Holly Golightly was not precisely a call girl. She had no job but accompanied expense-account men to the best restaurants and night clubs, with the understanding that her escort was obligated to give her some sort of gift, perhaps jewelry or a check … if she felt like it, she might take her escort home for the night. So these girls are the authentic American geishas, and they’re much more prevalent now than in 1943 or 1944, which was Holly’s era.“