February 6, 2022

"[T]he movie version of 'Breakfast at Tiffany’s,' while certainly beloved, isn’t nearly as interesting to any Capote fan as the novel..."

"... in which the author’s voice comes through (and where the character was imagined as more of an 'unfinished' type, à la Marilyn Monroe, whom he wanted for the role). Capote was disappointed by the casting of Audrey Hepburn; ergo, clips from the movie actually misrepresent his vision."

From "'Truman & Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation' Review: An Imagined Tête-à-Tête Between Capote and Williams/Director Lisa Immordino Vreeland uses the friendship between two icons as a leaping-off point for an affectionate if somewhat forced dual portrait" (Variety).

I watched 2/3 of that documentary last night and stopped only because of streaming problems (which I attribute to my internet service, AT&T, not to the streaming service, Criterion Channel).


In that trailer, Capote, at 1:12, says "Here is a man who has devoted his whole life to art and is a genius" and then, at 1:28, "Most people think because somebody is a creative individual, they must be intelligent. It is not so. Like Tennessee Williams."


rhhardin said...

All I want is someone as intelligent as you, but a littie iess tense and argumentative. A sort of Katharine Hepburn figure.

You don't deserve Katharine Hepburn.

-Audrey Hepburn.

-Aiso too good. Just stay away from the Hepburns.

(Two Weeks Notice (2002))

Ann Althouse said...

Audrey Hepburn was too put-together for Truman's idea of his own character. He wanted exactly what Marilyn Monroe was.

Mike Sylwester said...

In my blog about the movie Dirty Dancing, I wrote a 12-part series about the meaning of the song "Moon River" in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's The series includes analysis of the differences between Capote's novela and the movie.

The series' first part is here.

Mike Sylwester said...

Audrey Hepburn was too put-together for Truman's idea of his own character. He wanted exactly what Marilyn Monroe was.

The actor George Peppard did not look or act like the young Truman Capote.

And the actress Audrey Hepburn did not look or act like the real-life Holly Golightly.


Excerpts from my blog article about the song "Moon River"

In the 1961 movie, the two main characters are played by Audrey Hepburn (born in 1929), who was about 32 years old, and by George Peppard (born in 1928), who was about 33 years old ....

The [novela] story's main events take place from October 1943 to October 1944 – essentially the year between his 19th and 20th birthdays. ....

Capote seems to have based his novella's character Holly Golightly primarily on his own mother -- and on himself. The Wikipedia article about the novella includes the following passage.

Capote’s biographer Gerald Clarke wrote "half the women he knew ... claimed to be the model for his wacky heroine." Clarke also wrote of the similarities between the author himself and the character.

There are also similarities between the lives of Holly and Capote's mother, Nina Capote; among other shared attributes:

* both women were born in the rural south with similar "hick" birth names that they changed (Holly Golightly was born Lula Mae Barnes in Texas, Nina Capote was born Lillie Mae Faulk in Alabama),

* both left the husbands they married as teenagers and abandoned relatives they loved and were responsible for, instead going to New York,

* and both achieved "café society" status through relationships with wealthier men.
In his novella, Capote imagined himself as a teenager living as a neighbor of his own teenager mother. His mother's personality was similar to Holly's personality.

Capte was a flamboyant homosexual, and his own personality was likewise similar to Holly's personality.

To some extent, Capote's novella Breakfast at Tiffany's was a self-examination of his relationship with his mother, who had left him when he was four but then taken him back when he was nine. His continuing problems with his mother caused him to move out of her luxurious home when he was 19.

To some extent, he did not consider his mother to be his real mother. He had been raised by his Monroeville female relatives until he was nine -- the age when he consciously came into his mother's life.

Kai Akker said...

If you know their work halfway decently, does a movie like this one add anything, or does it detract? Especially in the case of these two particular personalities. I would be curious, but only slightly; whereas, against that, the likelihood of finding out details you can't un-know might damage the appreciation for the work they created.

Of all that I've read and seen from them, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and In Cold Blood stand out in my memory. But the sweetest by far was Capote's A Christmas Memory.

Rollo said...

It's amazing that some of us were alive when writers regularly did late night talk shows -- and did them very entertainingly.

tim in vermont said...

If you want the author’s voice, read the novel.

Mike Sylwester said...

Johnny Mercer was hired to write a song specially for the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's. He wrote the song based on his reading of Capote's novela -- not the movie's screenplay.

He based the song initially on Holly Golightly's relationship with a stray cat that she had adopted. The cat is more important in the novela than in the movie.

The stray cat was the concept of "the huckleberry friend".

As Mercer developed the song, however, the cat concept became Moon River itself.

I explain this development of the song in this blog article.


The original script of the movie Dirty Dancing mentioned the song "Moon River", but that reference was removed from the movie.

Dirty Dancing has a character named Penny Johnson, who ran away from home at the age of 17 and settled in New York City, where she became a Rockette dancer. In this regard, Penny was similar to the novela's character Holly Golightly, who likewise ran away from a marriage at about the same age and settled in New York City.


I think that the novela was adapted into a movie because of the idea of a couple of 17-year-old adolescents running away separately to New York City, becoming acquainted there and then trying to adapt themselves to the glamor that they saw there.

As the movie was developed though, those two characters became about 30 years old.

Mike Sylwester said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
wild chicken said...

"the likelihood of finding out details you can't un-knowand"

I confess I thought Capote was really writing about a young man he'd seen coming and going in the building.

Rather like the way Proust wrote about "Albertine."

But I was wrong.

Mike Sylwester said...

The novela portrays two teenagers who separately have run away from home to New York City and who become acquainted as apartment neighbors there. Each has come to New York largely because they aspire to develop a glamorous life there. They perceive some glamour around them, but they realize that it will take much effort and a long time to get into a glamorous life.

By the novela's end, the best that they can do is to eat breakfast at the Tiffany's department store.


Now, imagine that some movie producer has read the novela. The story's attractive concept is the portrayal of an amusing teenage girl -- not the homosexual teenage boy -- running away to New York and seeing the glamor there and trying to get into that life.

The movie producer imagines movie theaters full of teenage girls identifying themselves with Holly Golightly and fantasizing about running away likewise to New York City and so forth.

From that perspective, which actress should play the Holly role?

* Marilyn Monroe?

* Audrey Hepburn?

Will the teenage girls in the movie theaters want to identify themselves with Marilyn or with Audrey?


Also, will teenage girls in 1961 fantasize about becoming Manhattan pals with a 17-year-old flamboyant gayboy, like Truman Capote?

Or will they more likely fantasize about becoming pals with an apartment neighbor who looks and acts more like the actor George Peppard?


Such considerations explain why the movie evolved to be different from Capote's novela.

Jeff Gee said...

1961 Tuesday Weld and (dyed blonde)1961 Sal Mineo would be my casting for BAT if we're going to stick with the release date. They were both plausibly playing teenagers a good way into their early thirties. 1961 Anthony Perkins would be my second choice for Paul, although that would bring us disturbingly close to "Pretty Poison." Mickey Rooney stays, tho.

Rollo said...

Capote may have been trying to portray an intimate personal relationship that would have been harder to translate into cinematic terms, especially at the time. The studio must have wanted something less introverted and lyrical and more extroverted and aspirational than Capote's fiction or A Taste of Honey, the British play and film of the era with a similar theme. That would mean less fragility in both the leads.

Elizabeth Ashley, who would later marry and divorce Peppard, went on to become an outrageous "say anything" mainstay of the talk shows, like Capote. Whoever Holly originally was, Ashley became a version of her.

Hat tip to Seinfeld for already exploring Tiffany's page to screen transition.

NorthOfTheOneOhOne said...

Ann Althouse said...

Audrey Hepburn was too put-together for Truman's idea of his own character. He wanted exactly what Marilyn Monroe was.

Marilyn as she was in real life or Marilyn as she presented to the public? I expect that trying to capture either one in the context of BAT would have not worked as Capote expected it to and in the long run he was better off with Hepburn.

Mike Sylwester said...

The movie Breakfast at Tiffany's was released in 1961, and the Dirty Dancing story takes place two years later, in 1963.

In my Dirty Dancing blog, I imagined that Baby's older sister Lisa had watched and been impressed by Breakfast at Tiffany's in 1961, when Lisa was about 17 years old. That movie advanced Lisa's interest in art and fashion.

I developed that idea further in a series of blog articles titled "The Development of Lisa's Political Rebellion". That series' first part is here.

Mike Sylwester said...

Rollo at 9:45 AM
The studio must have wanted something less introverted and lyrical and more extroverted and aspirational than Capote's fiction or A Taste of Honey, the British play and film of the era with a similar theme.

My blog article The 1961 movie "A Taste of Honey". Much of this movie is about an abortion.

rcocean said...

I always thought Holly was a thinly disguised Gay man. All those "trips to the restroom" and a Prison make sense once you believe that. Its the same with Tennessee Williams, all his women Blanche, etc. seem to be based on his own feelings and behavior. He had a lot of Gay "stanleys" in his life.

Tennessee Williams was a poet and a artist. Capote snarks about his intelligence, but I think Williams was just uninterested in applying his intelligence to anything except art. And of course, emotion can alwways make someone dumb, no matter how high their IQ.

rcocean said...

Next up: vidal and Capote.

rcocean said...

Marilyn Monroe had pretty much cracked up by the time "breakfast" was make. She barely made it through the misfits, even with a relatviely small part. I doubt she could have carried a movie like Hepburn did.

Zach said...

Capote's vision of the character may have been more of a mess, but a movie is a separate creation from a book and Hepburn's version of the character is magnetic.

I think the revelation of Holly's background is supposed to play as a narcissistic injury -- suddenly the world can see through the facade she's been projecting, so she goes into a tailspin when people have seen the real her.

But Hepburn plays it with so much poise, she's completely unruffled by being found out. She even sincerely loves her husband! She plays it as "Well, you found something out about me that I knew about myself a long time ago. Some people are just the stray cats of the world, and there's nothing you can do to change it."

Whiskeybum said...

I will echo Kai Akker’s sentiments @ 6:46 AM that Capote’s short story ‘A Christmas Memory’ is superb, as is his 1966 self-narrated movie of the same title starring the fabulous acting of Geraldine Page (she won an Emmy for her portrayal). It now vies for 1st place on my favorite Christmas movies list.

Mark said...

You would cast Marilyn Monroe (the more real life one) if you wanted a tragic figure as Lula Mae (as she was in The Misfits). And that is exactly how Audrey Hepburn played Holly.

Breakfast at Tiffany's is a profoundly sad movie. There is nothing glamorous about the movie or Holly's life, although she likes to pretend that there is.

rcocean said...

I've never been able to understand the plot of the film Breakfast at Tiffney's. Why is Buddy ebsen there? Or Patrcial O'neal playing the "older woman" out of peppard when they were the same age! And only 3 years old than Hepburn

Then we have a "wild party" where the cigarette smoke is so thick you could cut it with a knife. And everyone boozing. "Timber". Good lord, talk about square.

The novella is full of fine writing but ultimately empty of meaning. There's no reason the movie had to stay so closely to the novel. All the people wanted was Audrey Hepburn in NYC, having fun and singing "Moon River".

Ann Althouse said...

I finished watching the movie.

The differences and similarities between the 2 men was very touching — with a lot to say about what it takes to be an artist and what it takes from an artist.

Tennessee Williams was especially heartbreaking. I hadn't realized, as I watched "Suddenly, Last Summer" (recently) that Williams's sister had been lobotomized (at the behest of their mother).

SteveWe said...

rcocean is indeed correct about MM's state of mind and I agree that she couldn't have carried the movie at all well.

The movie is indeed a tragedy and not some glamour-ization of a sophisticated lady. Sadly, the barrel's dregs stink unhealthily years afterwards.

Tennesee Williams deserves a better analysis and judgement than this short film has afforded him. And, Capote as well. Both men were not slouches when it came to writing several important books and plays. We can appreciate them more by going back to read their works again, if ever read once as you might consider doing.

Mike Sylwester, thank you for your insightful posts.

SteveWe said...

Ann, I didn't know that about Williams's sister. Holy crap! That explains a few things about Tennesee. OMG, we as a society were such destructive evil doers then -- or agents of evil destructiveness.

Bender said...

we as a society were such destructive evil doers then

No. "We" weren't. The Joe Kennedy's were. The Oliver Wendell Holmes' were. The American eugenicists that the Germans of the 1920s-40s emulated did. But "we" did not.

William said...

Marilyn didn't have a Tiffany quality. Tiffany not in the sense of diamonds being a girl's best friend, but in the sense of a store where money bought serenity....I never read the book. Is it a favorite book of many people? I know the movie is. Advantage movie....I think it would have been a good movie with Marilyn (a functional Marilyn), but it would not have been magical.

Lurker21 said...

I don't think Capote seriously wanted Marilyn Monroe to play the role. It must just have been his way of saying that he wanted someone less "together" than Audrey Hepburn to play Holly. Hepburn turned out to be a great choice for the movie. The filmmakers wanted something romantic and uplifting and she gave them that. She had a smartness that somebody like Goldie Hawn, say, wouldn't have brought to the film.

The ur-concept of many 1960s films is straight-laced square guy meets wacky, free-spirited chick, the so-called "manic pixie dream girl." Audrey played the role well but gave it an air of European sophistication.