Marianne Gray

Breakfast at Tiffany’s: the official 50th Anniversary Companion

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It hardly feels like 50 years ago that Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly tripped her way into cinematic folklore on her journey to become a timeless icon. In her little Givenchy black dress and long cigarette holder, Holly has endured dramatically and improbably. But then, the Holly Golightly’s of this world are improbable girls to begin with.

In this good-looking coffee table book, written in association with Paramount Pictures and the Audrey Hepburn Estate, Sarah Gristwood tells the often fascinating, turbulent back-story of how Truman Capote’s controversial 1958 novella of the same name about a hooker heroine was bought for a ‘then-princely’ $65,000, by Paramount and Capote’s Holly, a poor and perishable girl ‘on the make’, was knocked into palatable shape for the screen.

Scriptwriter George Axelrod, a sometime playwright and producer who’d started out writing forty jokes a week for Grand Ole Opry, was paid $100,000 and made her a ‘kook’ rather than a call-girl

For this great role of darkness, girlishness and glamour, many actresses were mooted - from Jane Fonda to Shirley MacLaine, Rosemary Clooney and others. Capote, however, saw his friend Marilyn Monroe in the part and complained how Paramount had double-crossed him by casting Audrey.

‘The book was really rather bitter, and Holly Golightly was real,’ he said, ‘a tough character, not an Audrey Hepburn.’  (It is interesting to note that as the film went into production Monroe was actually hospitalised from the set of another film, The Misfits.)

This is a really good read, packed with interesting details and  copies of documents like Axelrod’s agent, the legendary Swifty Lazar’s telegram clinching the deal, letters from Paramount, costs of set dressing, a page from the production script of 1961.

Gristwood, a journalist turned author of historical biographies, has meticulously researched her subject, including the social history and political developments of the times, many revealing quotes and a lavish collection of informal and official photographs.  Beneath the stylish façade there are many behind the scenes stories that of the wicked ways of Hollywood and beyond.

To see the film on the big screen it is being re-released by the BFI on January 21, 2011.