Breakfast at Tiffany’s was based on a Truman Capote novella, was directed by Blake Edwards, starred Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard, and Patricia Neal, and was released October 5, 1961. Henry Mancini won an Oscar for best music, and another one with Johnny Mercer for best song, for “Moon River.” Hepburn was nominated for a best actress Oscar; Hal Pereira, Roland Anderson, Sam Comer and Ray Moyer were nominated for best art direction and set decoration; and George Axelrod was nominated for best writing, screenplay based on material from another medium.
Those are the details, but the image of Hepburn in this film, which she reportedly didn’t think was her best work, became iconic. In 2006 a lady named Yvonne Durant recorded how Hepburn as Holly Golightly had affected her life in a piece she published in the New York Times. “A few days every week, I make it my business to visit a landmark block in my Upper East Side neighborhood. I keep this little odyssey to myself; I don’t even share it with my husband,” she wrote. The visits Durant made were to 169 East 72nd Street, an 1866 townhouse that was the home of Holly Golightly in the film.
“Upstairs, in my mind’s eye,” wrote Durant, “there’s a small apartment in disarray from the previous night’s soiree, a party I’ve been looking for all my adult life. The music, the cocktails, the sophisticated guests whose only goal is to have a good time; as a black girl daydreaming in Bedford-Stuyvesant in the 60’s I yearned to be there, as soon as I was old enough. The first time I saw Breakfast at Tiffany’s, when I was 9, I parked my dreams on Holly’s block. I wanted a small apartment that I would fill with too many people. . .I wanted a mahogany banister that I would hold onto lightly as I sailed down to meet the date who was waiting for me at the foot of the stairs.”
She goes on to record what she calls “Holly moments”: the first time she tried Hepburn’s “posh up-do”, the first time she “acquired her first important black dress”, the compliment she received from a friend who told her he called her Holly behind her back. When Durant asked why, he said, “It’s your way with men. It’s your sense of style, your breezy manner, your natural beauty.”
Yvonne Durant’s piece is charming, and it speaks to the power of the image and the performance. I’m a guy, and I really haven’t had a Holly moment, but I do confess to having looked up my book of poems in library card catalogs like Holly Golightly and Paul Varjak look up his book of short stories in the New York Public Library. Tonight I hope you can watch Breakfast at Tiffany’s transported, as audiences in 1961 were, to Holly’s world.