It’s impossible not to think about Audrey Hepburn when you meet the real Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, by Truman Capote. It’s been awhile since I watched the movie, which stars Hepburn, George Peppard and Patricia Neal. George Axelrod wrote the screenplay and the movie was directed by Blake Edwards. It’s so easy to picture Hepburn in that apartment, to hear her voice and remember her sophisticated clothes. Oh to be able to carry yourself like that…
But after a few pages, despite an accurate dialogue, I realized that Capote’s Holly is a much different and younger character and that the movie glosses over some things, embellishes others, adds a plot line and changes the ending! I’ve always remembered loving the movie, but the book is much better.
This novella, a little over one hundred pages, is really a character sketch of Holly. The narrator is Holly’s neighbor, unnamed in the book, a writer who befriends her and a few years later, tries to guess what has become of her.
And she is a girl, nineteen years old, a run-away from a sad past, who makes her money entertaining men. And she makes more money on the side visiting a Mafia boss in prison and delivering coded messages that help run a drug cartel.
I remember the movie being rather light and romantic and thinking that Holly has it all together, despite her crazy life. Her source of income is barely explained in the movie, and although Holly jokes in the book about being paid for her “trips to the powder room,” there’s a deeper sadness in her and a roughness just below the surface that makes a much more complex character.
The narrator has a platonic relationship with Holly and Capote raises the question of all the characters’ sexuality throughout the story. Other characters remind me a little bit of aimless members of an earlier lost generation: Mag Wildwood, Rusty Trawler, and José Jbarra-Jaegar are examples of people who come into Holly’s life, become seemingly entrenched, and then disappear.
The themes of ownership, belonging and loss also run through the story. People connect and disconnect and Holly seems to not care, but suffers the most. She copes by developing superficial relationships and laying down shallow roots. Holly’s empty apartment and an unnamed cat are good examples of a life that is only semi-permanent. And when Doc Golightly shows up, she tries to explain away her childhood marriage and what their relationship means. “Doc really loves me, you know. And I love him. He may have looked old and tacky to you. But you don’t know the sweetness of him, the confidence he can give to birds and brats and fragile things like that. Anyone who ever gave you confidence, you owe them a lot.”
Everything changes when Holly learns about her brother, Fred, and we realize that Fred is the one person Holly has been clinging to the most. And when her business arrangement with Sally Tomato at Sing Sing falls apart, Capote leaves us wondering what Holly will do, or what will happen to her.
If you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, I’ll keep the ending out of my review. But I do think the different ending in the book is much better, and truer to Holly’s character.
On a minor note, I was glad to see that Mr. Yunioshi, Holly’s Japanese neighbor, is not the crazy and inappropriate character portrayed by Mickey Rooney in the movie, a definite cringe-worthy moment. Rooney once insisted that his portrayal received positive reviews, including Chinese and Japanese fans who told him he was hilarious. But he later admitted his shame and regret in his autobiography, Life Is Too Short. There are also moments in the book, however, that reveal the racial prejudices of the times, something that jumps out when you read fiction from an earlier time.
For the record, Truman Capote was not happy with the movie version. He wanted Marilyn Monroe to play the part of Holly, and was dissatisfied with all aspects of the film. After the film was released, Capote commented, “Holly Golightly was real-a tough character, not an Audrey Hepburn type at all. 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.” Check out this article on tcm.com.
These links provide more information about the book and the movie:
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