As fresh today as when Holly Golightly stood on Fifth Avenue with her coffee and Danish in hand, Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1961), the forerunner to today’s ‘rom coms’, had a far from smooth transition from Truman Capote’s 1958 novella to the big screen. The film that established Audrey Hepburn as an icon, and for which she was paid $750,000 (making her second only to Elizabeth Taylor as the highest paid actress at the time), premiered at New York’s famous Radio City Music Hall on the 5th October 1961. As well as making Givenchy and pearls every it-girl’s must have accessories, the film also had a lasting effect on the careers of all those involved and still casts its spell over popular culture more than half a century later.
Though already a star, Breakfast At Tiffany’s, after My Fair Lady (1964), is the film for which Hepburn is most famous. However, had Truman Capote had his way, things may have been very different. Holly Golightly, the original ‘happy hooker’, was written with Marilyn Monroe in mind, but she turned the role down on the advice of her drama coach Lee Strasberg, who thought playing a call girl would not be good for her image. Hepburn also felt unsure in the part, but went on to earn Oscar and Golden Globe nominations probably helping quell any lingering misgivings she may have had, and leaving Monroe (and a generation of movie goers) to wonder at what might have been.
Neither was George Peppard first choice as Paul Varjak, the young man hopelessly infatuated with Hepburn’s dizzy socialite. The producers wanted Steve McQueen, but as he was already committed to starring in the show Wanted: Dead or Alive the door was left open for Peppard. Never quite reaching the heights enjoyed by some of his contemporaries, Peppard had a varied career in later years culminating in The A-Team (of which there’s not much more to say)!
The other man vying for Holly’s attention was her husband Doc Golightly whom she had married when she was only 14 (as you can see with underage marriage and prostitution, sexual mores were pretty lax in the Breakfast at Tiffany’s storyline). The lovelorn spouse was played by Buddy Ebsen, the character actor who later became Jed Clampett in the 1960’s cult television series The Beverly Hillbillies. However it was a role he didn’t get as much as any he did, for which he’ll be best remembered. Cast as the original Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz (1939), he had to pull out due to an allergic reaction to the make-up, an unfortunate twist of fate which could only have had an adverse effect on his career.
Some actors (probably more than would like to admit it), are better remembered for their private lives than their public persona. Such was the case with Patricia Neal, the wealthy Emily Eustace Failenson (known as 2-E), ‘sugar-mummy’ to Varjak in the film. An established face on Broadway and in Hollywood since the 1940’s, Neal was as well known for her tempestuous marriage to the author Roald Dahl as for a career which saw her win several major awards including the Best Actress Oscar for her role alongside Paul Newman in Hud (1963). In 1965 she suffered three burst cerebral aneurysms when pregnant and, despite recovering well enough to return to acting, was plagued by ill health for much of her later life.
In the light of today’s political correctness the one star of Breakfast at Tiffany’s whose role could potentially have been most damaging to his career was Mickey Rooney. Even in 1961 his stereotypical portrayal of the Asian character Mr Yunioshi complete with yellow face makeup was the most controversial aspect of the film overshadowing its loose sexual morals. Not helping Hollywood’s dubious reputation for racism it didn’t appear to do any lasting damage to Rooney. The equivalent of Tinseltown royalty, Rooney’s standing escaped unscathed – he was still making films when he died in 2014 at the age of 93!
On the other side of the camera was Blake Edwards, a man as synonymous with postwar cinema, as his wife Julie Andrews is with the sugary characters she has spent a lifetime trying to forget through roles he created for her in films such as Darling Lili (1969), 10 (1979) and Victor Victoria (1982). Much of the director’s career was built on the style of dry, sophisticated comedy which reached it’s zenith with Breakfast at Tiffany’s, though it’s for his cult Pink Panther films for which he will go down in history.
Groundbreaking in 1961, much of Breakfast at Tiffany’s risqué subject matter is commonplace now. However without its trailblazing attitude to love and the pursuit of happiness classics such as Pretty Woman (1990) would never have been possible, whilst the film which gave us the theme tune for hopeless romantics everywhere left an image of a woman in a little black dress which will be forever Hollywood.