18 Hearty Facts About Breakfast at Tiffany's
The 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s, based on Truman Capote’s novella, starred Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly, one of the most iconic characters to ever appear on screen. The seemingly naive young girl who is sought out by wealthy men and looking to marry into money is befriended by struggling writer Paul Varjak (George Peppard), a fellow inhabitant of a New York City apartment building. Holly and Paul grow close, as her ex-husband unexpectedly shows his face in town, and the status of her beloved brother’s well-being remains in doubt.
The controversial aspects of the movie—including Mickey Rooney’s portrayal of I.Y. Yunioshi, and Holly’s occupation—haven’t done much to hurt the popularity of the Blake Edwards classic. Here are some facts about the movie on its 55th anniversary.
1. TRUMAN CAPOTE WANTED MARILYN MONROE TO PLAY HOLLY.
Monroe’s advisor and acting coach, Paula Strasberg, said she shouldn’t play a “lady of the evening”, and Monroe took her advice. Capote said Paramount Pictures “double-crossed me in every way” when they cast Audrey Hepburn instead. The outspoken author also proclaimed it to be the “most miscast film I've ever seen.” Over time, Capote would go on to say that Tuesday Weld or Jodie Foster would be good choices to play Holly in a remake.
2. SHIRLEY MACLAINE TURNED DOWN THE LEAD.
3. AUDREY HEPBURN HESITATED BEFORE ACCEPTING THE PART.
“It’s very difficult and I didn’t think I was right for it,” Hepburn told The New York Times. "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.”
4. JOHN FRANKENHEIMER WAS ORIGINALLY SUPPOSED TO BE THE DIRECTOR.
John Frankenheimer had been on board to direct the film, but Hepburn wanted a bigger name. It was only after Blake Edwards (director of Operation Petticoat, and later The Pink Panther series) was attached that Hepburn accepted the role.
5. STEVE MCQUEEN COULD HAVE BEEN PAUL.
Edwards wanted Steve McQueen, but he was still under contract and under the control of television (CBS and the producers of Wanted: Dead or Alive wouldn’t allow the up-and-comer time off from the show). Edwards also suggested Tony Curtis to the producers. While Curtis was interested, the producers were not.
6. GEORGE PEPPARD ANNOYED EVERYBODY.
Edwards did not want George Peppard for the role of Paul. He went so far as to drop to his knees on the sidewalk and beg producers Martin Jurow and Richard Shepherd not to bring him in. Peppard ended up not listening to Edwards’s direction if he didn't agree with it. Hepburn was annoyed that Peppard overanalyzed everything, finding him “pompous.” Mrs. “2E” herself, Patricia Neal—a former friend of Peppard’s—thought he wanted to be an “old-time movie hunk,” and didn’t think her character should be so domineering of him.
7. THE SCRIPT HAD TO TRICK THE CENSORS.
Screenwriter Sumner Locke Elliott first attempted to write the adaptation. George Axelrod (who wrote The Seven Year Itch and The Manchurian Candidate) took over and lost the unhappy, unresolved ending and put in more Paul sex scenes which he had no intent on keeping. He figured—correctly—that the censor would focus more on finding issue with the now more promiscuous Paul and not pay attention to Holly.
8. HOLLY'S DRESS WAS CUSTOM MADE.
Hubert de Givenchy designed Holly's famous little black dress. It was auctioned off in 2006 at Christie’s for over $900,000. Hepburn and Givenchy had worked together in the past on Sabrina (1954), Funny Face (1957), and Love in the Afternoon (1957).
9. BLAKE EDWARDS WENT ALL OUT FOR THE PARTY SCENE.
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, 120 gallons of soft drinks, 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.
10. FRED FLINTSTONE AND POSSIBLY BARNEY RUBBLE WERE IN IT.
Alan Reed, who was the original voice of Fred Flintstone, played mobster Sally Tomato in the movie. The voice of Holly’s over-eager date remained officially uncredited, but some believe it sounds a lot like legendary voice actor Mel Blanc, who voiced Barney Rubble—not to mention Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, and other classic Warner Bros. cartoon characters in the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts.
11. TIFFANY’S OPENED ON A SUNDAY FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE THE 19TH CENTURY TO ALLOW FILMING.
Forty armed guards had to work on the floor to prevent thievery.
12. MICKEY ROONEY DEFENDED HIMSELF, THEN DIDN’T.
Both Edwards and Rooney expressed regret at Rooney’s over-the-top portrayal of the Japanese character Mr. Yunioshi. According to Turner Classic Movies, Rooney wrote in his 1991 memoir, Life is Too Short, “I was downright ashamed of my role in Breakfast at Tiffany's ... and I don't think the director, Blake Edwards, was very proud of it either." He was more defensive in 2008, after a Sacramento screening of the film was canceled after there were protests over Rooney’s portrayal. “They hired me to do this overboard, and we had fun doing it. Never in all 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.’”
13. "MOON RIVER" WAS ALMOST CUT FROM THE FILM.
Lyricist Johnny Mercer initially titled it “Blue River,” before realizing there were already other songs with the title. Henry Mancini spent a month to come up with the right melody. “It was one of the hardest things I ever had to write, because I couldn’t figure out what this lady would be singing up there on the fire escape,” Mancini said. In one version of the story, the president of Paramount Pictures, Marty Rankin, after the first preview screening of the movie, said the song had to be taken out. Hepburn told the man they would cut it out of the movie over her dead body. In another version of the story, one of the producers said after the screening that the song had to go, followed by Hepburn’s uncharacteristic response. In a different retelling of the legend, Rankin said it had to go, but it was producer Richard Shepherd who reportedly told the studio head he would had to contend with his dead body. “Moon River” won the Academy Award for Best Original Song.
14. HEPBURN WROTE A NOTE TO MANCINI.
It read: "I have just seen our picture—Breakfast at Tiffany's—this time with your score. A movie without music is a little bit like an aeroplane without fuel. However beautifully the job is done, we are still on the ground and in a world of reality. Your music has lifted us all up and sent us soaring. Everything we cannot say with words or show with action you have expressed for us. You have done this with so much imagination, fun and beauty. You are the hippest of cats—and most sensitive of composers. Thank you, Dear Hank.” She signed it “Lots of love, Audrey.”
15. CAPOTE SAID HOLLY WASN’T A CALL GIRL.
He explained as much to Playboy in 1968. “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.”
16. THE STUDIO MADE SURE SHE WASN’T SEEN AS A CALL GIRL.
Rather than “call girl,” 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." (Producer Martin Jurow: “A kook is a kitten who’ll never grow up to be a cat.”) It also stipulated that ‘kook’ was not a beatnik term, because “The star is Audrey Hepburn, not Tawdry Hepburn.”
17. GLORIA VANDERBILT MIGHT HAVE BEEN THE INSPIRATION FOR HOLLY.
Suspected influences for Holly include heiress Gloria Vanderbilt, dancer Joan McCracken, Carol Grace, Capote’s mother Lillie Mae (similar to Holly’s real name of Lula Mae), Carol Marcus, author Doris Lilly, Capote high school friend Phoebe Pierce, Oona O'Neill Chaplin, writer and journalist Maeve Brennan, and model/actress Suzy Parker. Capote called the speculation "the Holly Golightly sweepstakes,” and claimed that the real Holly was a woman who lived downstairs from him in the early 1940s. One Bonnie Golightly filed a lawsuit for libel and invasion of privacy against Capote saying she was the inspiration, but she officially lost the “sweepstakes.”
18. HOLLY’S APARTMENT SOLD FOR $7.4 MILLION.
The interiors of her place were shot on a Paramount soundstage, but the Upper East Side brownstone on East 71st Street that was used for exteriors hit the market in 2014 for $10 million. It was sold to ‘169 E. 71st LLC’ for $7.4 million in June 2015.