Breakfast at Tiffany's | Study Guide

Truman Capote

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Breakfast at Tiffany's | 11 Things You Didn't Know


Truman Capote's 1958 novella Breakfast at Tiffany's tells the story of Holly Golightly, a country bumpkin who has remade herself into a sophisticate and moved to New York to seek her fortune. Narrated by a nameless man, Breakfast at Tiffany's details Holly's deeply romantic flightiness, her affairs and intrigues with jet-setters, and her attempts to find a place where she feels at home without being constrained by society. Inevitably she fails and is forced to flee the country, leaving the narrator to spend his days caring for her cat and wondering what became of the beautiful, elusive Holly.

Capote was a southerner whose popular novels and short stories allowed him to mingle with the wealthy and social elite of New York. He immortalized that world in Breakfast at Tiffany's and always considered Holly Golightly his favorite character.

1. Capote wanted to play the male lead in the film adaptation of Breakfast at Tiffany's.

The film version of Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), while considered iconic today, had a difficult start. Arguments over who should play the various parts nearly stopped production. In both the text version and the movie, the narrator is in love with the female lead, Holly Golightly, so the producers wanted a traditionally masculine lead for the movie. To their shock, they learned that Capote himself wanted to play the lead. Even Capote knew he wasn't anybody's idea of a romantic leading man, once describing himself like this:

I'm about as tall as a shotgun—and just as noisy ... I have a very sassy voice. I like my nose but you can't see it through these thick glasses.

However, he was in denial about his suitability for the role until one of the producers, Marty Jurow, pointed out to him that "All eyes will be on Holly Golightly, through every frame of this picture. The male lead is just a pair of shoulders for Holly to lean on." After some thought, Capote agreed that he deserved a "more dynamic" role.

2. Capote was displeased with the film version of Breakfast at Tiffany's.

The 1961 film of Breakfast at Tiffany's was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Actress in a Leading Role (Audrey Hepburn), and won for Best Original Song and Best Scoring. It won a number of other awards, including several Grammys for its music, in particular the song "Moon River." However, Capote was not happy with the finished product. He complained:

I had lots of offers for that book, from practically everybody, and I sold it to this group at Paramount because they promised things, they made a list of everything, and they didn't keep a single one ...The film became a mawkish valentine to New York City and Holly, and, as a result, was thin and pretty, whereas it should have been rich and ugly. It bore as much resemblance to my work as the Rockettes do to Ulanova.

3. Capote wanted Marilyn Monroe to play Holly Golightly in the film.

Though it may be difficult for filmgoers to imagine anyone but the slight, slender, aristocratic Audrey Hepburn playing Holly Golightly in the adaptation of Breakfast at Tiffany's, Capote intended another actress to get the part: Marilyn Monroe. In his mind the description of Holly in the book fit Monroe perfectly, with her upturned nose, blond hair, and blue eyes. Both Marilyn and Holly grew up in rural towns with different names: Norma Jeane and Lulamae Barnes, respectively. Appalled, Capote stated, "It was the most miscast film I've ever seen. Holly Golightly was real—a tough character, not an Audrey Hepburn type at all."

4. The character of Holly Golightly was based on several socialites Capote knew personally.

Capote ran in wealthy social circles in New York City, and among his friends were top socialites Gloria Vanderbilt, Oona O'Neill (playwright Eugene O'Neill's daughter), actress Carol Grace, writer Maeve Brennan, and model Dorian Leigh. All these women, and others Capote knew, were reputed or claimed to be the basis for the character of Holly Golightly.

Capote's mother—Lillie Mae Falk—was the inspiration for Holly's real name, Lulamae. Like Holly, Lillie Mae eventually moved to New York and married a wealthy man, though he was later charged with embezzlement and forced to leave the city. However, Capote's biographer, Gerald Clarke, noted, "the one Holly most resembles, in spirit if not in body, is her creator."

5. Capote was sued by a Manhattan woman who claimed he had based the character of Holly Golightly on her.

Though there were Manhattan socialites vying to be considered the inspiration for the character of Holly Golightly, there was also one contender who wasn't wealthy or upper-class: a bookstore owner named Bonnie Golightly. Golightly was a transplant from Tennessee to New York's Greenwich Village who wrote pulp fiction with titles like The Wild One and The Wife Swappers. An article in Esquire magazine explained her lawsuit, in which she claimed that Capote got details about her from mutual friends:

Besides a broad Southern accent acquired from her Tennessee upbringing, Bonnie Golightly points to some other evidence. Like Capote's Holly, she lived in a brownstone on Manhattan's fashionable East Side, with a bar around the corner on Lexington. Like Holly, she is an avid amateur folk singer with many theatrical and offbeat friends. Like Holly, Bonnie says: 'I just love cats. The cat thing corresponds, and all the hair-washing and a lot of things hither and yon.'

Capote, furious, responded, "I have never met nor seen this lady ... It's ridiculous for her to claim she is my Holly. I understand she's a large girl nearly forty years old. Why, it's sort of like Joan Crawford saying she's Lolita." Golightly lost her lawsuit.

6. Capote originally had a different name for Holly Golightly.

In the original manuscript for Breakfast at Tiffany's, Capote had written his main character's name as "Connie Gustafson." The typewritten manuscript has more than 150 instances of that name crossed out with the new name, "Holly Golightly," written over it in pen. The author apparently chose the new name just before he submitted the completed manuscript.

7. The novella was rejected by Harper's Bazaar for being "too racy."

Capote originally intended to publish Breakfast at Tiffany's in Harper's Bazaar magazine. Before publication, however, editor Carmel Snow, who had agreed to the publication, was forced to leave the magazine. Her replacement decided the story was too racy or too sexy for the magazine. An angry Capote wrote to friend and editor Bennett Cerf that Esquire magazine had offered to buy the story from Harper's and pay Capote an extra thousand dollars; he took the offer. Afterward, he said about Harper's, "Publish with them again? Why, I wouldn't spit on their street."

8. Tiffany's opened on a Sunday for filming for the first time since the 1800s.

Tiffany's, an upscale jewelry store in Manhattan, opened in 1837. By 1886 the blue box in which its jewelry was sold was as sought-after as the jewelry; the color of the box has even been trademarked. Known as the best jewelry store in the world, it had strict rules about its hours; it was never open on Sundays. However, the store did open on one Sunday: to film the interior scene when the characters Paul and Holly visit the store. By the time filming began, there were 12,000 people on the street watching. Forty security guards kept order and made sure that no one made off with any of the store's iconic blue boxes.

9. Capote called the character Holly Golightly an "American geisha."

Japanese geishas are women trained in entertaining and traditional Japanese arts. They host groups in exclusive teahouses, conversing, playing games, and dancing. Many people mistake geishas for prostitutes. In fact, some Japanese prostitutes call themselves geishas, but the geisha tradition is hundreds of years old and is based on entertainment. In an interview Capote called Holly Golightly one of a "whole breed of girls who live off men but are not prostitutes. They're our version of the geisha girl." In an interview he elaborated:

Holly Golightly was not precisely a callgirl. 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.

10. Capote began writing obsessively at age 11.

When Capote was 11 and living near Mobile, Alabama, he entered a short-story contest sponsored by a Mobile newspaper. He claimed the prize was "either a dog or a pony, I've forgotten which." He wrote a tale based on the shocking activities of some neighbors. Unfortunately, someone recognized that he was telling a real story, and his work didn't win. After that, he noted:

I began writing really sort of seriously ... I say seriously in the sense that like other kids go home and practice the violin or the piano or whatever, I used to go home from school every day and I would write for about three hours. I was obsessed by it.

11. The voice of Fred Flinstone had a role in Breakfast at Tiffany's.

In a scene from the film adaptation of Breakfast at Tiffany's, Holly and Paul visit the Mafia boss Sally Tomato in prison. This is one of Holly's money-making schemes; she visits Tomato weekly and reports back to his lawyer. The kingpin is played by Alan Reed, who at that time was beginning to find fame as the voice of Fred Flintstone in the animated television show The Flintstones, which ran from 1960 to 1966.

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