Holly Golightly: Breaking Rules In A Little Black Dress In 1961, the character Audrey Hepburn brought to life in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's captured the imagination of an America on the cusp of a sexual revolution. Writer Sam Wasson shows how Hollywood made a hit out of a story about a call girl.

Holly Golightly: Breaking Rules In A Little Black Dress

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.

Holly Golightly. Just saying her name makes me feel happy. She was Truman Capote's creation for his 1958 novel, "Breakfast at Tiffany's." And in a new book, "Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's and the Dawn of the Modern Woman,"´┐Żwriter Sam Wasson shows that the film character that Audrey Hepburn created captured the imagination of an America on the cusp of the sexual revolution.

(Soundbite of movie "Breakfast at Tiffany's")

Ms. AUDREY HEPBURN (as Holly Golightly): I don't even want to own anything until I can find a place where me and things go together. Not sure where that is, but I know what it's like. It's like Tiffany's. The quietness and the proud look of it, nothing very bad could happen to you there.

LYDEN: The free spirit from Tulip, Texas, for whom life wasn't perhaps carefree, Holly Golightly got men to pay her way in New York City. Paramount knew it was on shaky ground with a woman who used sex in this way. Sam Wasson joins us now.

Sam Wasson, glad to have you with us.

Mr. SAM WASSON (Author, "Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M."): Thank you for having me.

LYDEN: Now, let's back up a little bit, because your book does. You actually begin with Truman Capote. This book comes out in 1958. But Capote couldn't even get magazines to serialize this, because it was considered too shocking.

Mr. WASSON: One of the things that people forget about Holly in Truman's novel is that she had a bisexual streak and in fact the character of the narrator -who George Peppard played in the film - was himself gay. And I'm sure Harper's took a great issue with that. And we know for sure that Paramount had a great deal of difficulty translating that aspect of the novel into a mainstream heterosexual romantic comedy.

LYDEN: OK. So let's jump from book to the movie. Writer George Axelrod softens those things, cleans them up, if you will. But Axelrod has a really tough challenge here. He has to develop a romantic interest for Holly. And he does that with George Peppard, who plays Paul Varjak, the man who falls for her.

Mr. WASSON: Right.

LYDEN: And the two of them have an unconventional relationship. And how does he soften it from the book? Tell us.

Mr. WASSON: I should go back a bit and say in a lot of the '50s romantic comedies - Doris Day and Rock Hudson kind of stuff, which I know a lot of people love. That's not my cup of tea. What's happening is, the conflict is getting these two people married, getting them together. And once they get together, the movie ends.

Well, when you're dealing with a call girl, they're already getting together. So what's the conflict that you're going to build into the story to actually make it a feature-length film? Every story needs a conflict.

Axelrod came up with the, I think, brilliant idea, and this was, of course, not in Capote's novel. Axelrod's idea was, well, wait a second. If Audrey's playing a call girl and George Peppard is playing a gigolo, the problem is not a lack of sex; the problem is too much sex - such that they're so tired by the time they actually do get together that they don't get together.

And you see that in that scene when Audrey first climbs into bed with George. They're not sleeping together - but they're two gigolos - because it's the end of a long day's work. And George is clever about suggesting all of this. He can't come right out and say they're gigolos, obviously, but the implication is strong. And it's because of that that the movie has the conflict that it has and the legs that it does.

LYDEN: I love the scene where Holly and Paul go to Tiffany's - Holly's place of retreat and imagination - and they are going to get a Cracker Jack ring engraved there. And John McGiver gives this brilliant performance as this very restrained clerk.

Mr. WASSON: That is my absolute favorite scene in the movie. And it's not a scene that people talk about and was in fact not in the novel. It was an invention of George Axelrod's. That, for him, was a tribute to the kind of sophisticated romantic comedy that he had always dreamed of writing.

(Soundbite of movie,"Breakfast at Tiffany's")

Mr. JOHN MCGIVER (as Tiffany's Salesman): Do they still really have prizes in Cracker Jack boxes?

Mr. GEORGE PEPPARD (as Paul Varjak): Oh, yes.

Mr. MCGIVER (as Salesman): That's nice to know. It gives one a feeling of solidarity, almost of continuity with the past. That sort of thing.

Ms. AUDREY HEPBURN (as Holly Golightly): Do you think Tiffany's would really engrave it for us? I mean, you don't think they would feel it was beneath them or anything like that?

Mr. MCGIVER (as Salesman): Well, it is rather unusual, Madame, but I think you'll find that Tiffany's is very understanding. If you will tell me what initials you would like I think we could have something ready for you in the morning.

Ms. HEPBURN (as Holly): Didn't I tell you this was a lovely place?

LYDEN: I just love that, because it's the most brilliant way of confirming the innocent side of Holly Golightly. You know, she doesn't get punished for her sexuality. I'm thinking, you know, Cleopatra, Scarlett O'Hara, other sirens, you know, lose their men and therefore by extension get punished. She gets her man and she gets away for it.

Mr. WASSON: Yeah, and we love her for it. And she's glamorous. You know, another thing is the Givenchy aspect of this film.

LYDEN: We can't forget the little black dress.

Mr. WASSON: Yes, yes, it's so important. You know, she's being rewarded -that's what the black is all about. You know, there were not many young women, girls - and that's really what Holly is in this film - who got to wear black in the movies. You think if Debbie Reynolds, for instance, and most women of this era were wearing these cute young, you know, little cute things with bright colors and patterns. You know, the poodle skirt aspect of femininity.

But yet here's Audrey Hepburn with a slight element of danger coming out of this cab in this sleek, sophisticated black gown. You know, black was reserved for Bette Davis, Gloria Swanson, Joan Crawford, these tough dames who were a little dark. There is a touch of danger and we love her for it. She makes it OK. Audrey's a girl that you can become.

LYDEN: Sam Wasson - his new book is called "Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's and the Dawn of the Modern Woman." Sam Wasson, it's been a real pleasure. Thanks so much.

Mr. WASSON: Thank you for having me.

LYDEN: And you can read about Truman Capote's mother, Lilly Mae, who was the inspiration for his Holly Golightly character, on our website, NPR.org.

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