Behind the scenes of the cinema’s gold standard for sparkling romantic comedy.
In this slim, fast-paced volume, Wasson (A Splurch in the Kisser: The Films of Blake Edwards, 2009) presents an irresistibly gossipy account of the production of Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), charting the transformation of actress Audrey Hepburn into an icon of emerging sexual liberation—the good/bad girl, the lovable “kook,” independent and sexually experienced but sufficiently charming to bring home to mother. Rich in incident and set among the glitterati of America’s most glamorous era, the book reads like a novel. Hepburn’s “discovery” by the regal French author Colette, searching for an actress to incarnate her character Gigi on the stage, has the fairy-tale resonance of the actress’ star-making turns in Roman Holiday (1953) and Sabrina (1954). Breakfast at Tiffany’s was a tricky proposition for a film adaptation. The novel’s sexually progressive elements were severely at odds with Hollywood’s notions of acceptable content. Truman Capote lobbied for pal Marilyn Monroe to play the part of party girl Holly Golightly—and, startlingly, expressed wishes to play the male lead himself—but Monroe’s image was too sexual for such delicate material, and the part went instead to the girlish Hepburn, a doe-eyed ingénue convinced she could not do justice to the part. Other players in the Wasson’s narrative include writer George Axelrod, frustrated by the neutering of his previous screenplays and eager to get a sophisticated, adult sex comedy on screen; up-and-coming director Blake Edwards, witty and enthusiastic but nobody’s first choice for the job; male lead George Peppard, disliked and mocked by the rest of the company for his method-acting pretensions and general arrogance; and composer Henry Mancini, whose jazzy score ushered in a sea change for movie music and whose classic song “Moon River” was nearly cut at the 11th hour by a producer who preferred more traditional Broadway fare. Wasson marshals this rich material in a page-turning delight. Even if his assertions of the movie’s sociological significance don’t fully convince, he has assembled a sparkling time capsule of old Hollywood magic and mythmaking.
As infectious as Mancini’s score, and sure to please lovers of classic American cinema.