The film Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1961), based on Truman Capote‘s novella, stars Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly, one of the most iconic of characters. She is a seemingly naive young girl who is sought out by wealthy men.
Capote wanted Marilyn Monroe to play Holly Golightly. Monroe’s acting coach, Paula Strasberg, advised her not to take the role. Capote said Paramount Pictures ”double-crossed me in every way” when they hired Hepburn instead. Shirley MacLaine was offered the role and said it was one of her biggest regrets that she turned it down. Kim Novak also said no.
”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 emphasizes the same sort of spontaneity as my own.”
Screenwriter George Axelrod lost the unhappy, unresolved ending from the book and put in more sex scenes for the character of Paul (George Peppard) which he had no intent on keeping. He figured, correctly, that the censors would focus more on finding issue with the now more promiscuous Paul and not pay attention to Holly.
The party scene took six days to film on a Paramount soundstage. The extras who played the guests were all friends of Edwards. Real champagne, 60 cartons of cigarettes, hot dogs, cold cuts, chips, dips, and sandwiches were involved. A smoker used by a beekeeper was brought in to create enough smoke.
Both Edwards and Mickey Rooney expressed regret at Rooney’s portrayal of the Japanese character Mr. Yunioshi. Rooney wrote in his memoir, Life Is Too Short (1991):
”I was downright ashamed of my role in Breakfast At Tiffany’s … and I don’t think the director was very proud of it either.”
But when a screening of the film was canceled in 2008 after there were protests over Rooney’s performance, he wrote:
”They hired me to do this overboard, and we had fun doing it. In the more than 40 years after we made it, not one complaint. Every place I’ve gone in the world people say, ‘God, you were so funny’.”
Capote always insisted that Holly Golightly wasn’t a call girl:
”Holly Golightly 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.”
Golightly was described officially by Paramount Pictures as a ”kook” and a press release was written and sent out during filming which quoted the actors in the film defining the term “kook”:
”A kook is a kitten who’ll never grow up to be a cat. A kook is not a beatnik term, because the star is Audrey Hepburn, not Tawdry Hepburn.”
There were rumors that Golightly was based on Anderson Cooper‘s mother Gloria Vanderbilt, dancer Joan McCracken, or model Suzy Parker. Capote called the speculation “The Holly Golightly Sweepstakes” and claimed that the real Golightly was a woman who lived downstairs from him in the early 1940s. A woman named Bonnie Golightly filed a lawsuit for libel and invasion of privacy against Capote saying she was the inspiration, but she lost the sweepstakes.
The interiors of her apartment were shot on a Paramount soundstage, but the Upper East Side brownstone on East 71st Street that was used for exterior shots sold for $10 million three years ago.
Breakfast At Tiffany’s received good reviews and was very popular at the box-office. It won two Academy Awards: Best Original Score and Best Original Song for Moon River, which was recently selected as the fourth most memorable song in Hollywood history by the American Film Institute. The film was also nominated for three other Oscars: Best Actress for Hepburn, Best Adapted Screenplay for Axelrod, and Best Art Direction. The film and Hepburn won Golden Globe Awards, Henry Mancini won a Grammy Award for the score. Axelrod won the Writers Guild Award, East for Best Written American Drama, and Orangey T. Cat won the PATSY Award for his portrayal of “The Poor Slob Without a Name”.