I know it’s Audrey Hepburn’s most iconic film, but I never was a fan of Breakfast at Tiffany’s (blasphemy, I know). When I first saw it a few years ago, I just didn’t find it as enjoyable as her other films. Plus, of course, there’s the icky racist Asian character played by Mickey Rooney. I do, however, love the fashion in the movie. And, of course, I positively adore Audrey Hepburn.
I picked up Sam Wasson’s Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M. on a whim while perusing the shelves at the library. His premise was intriguing: love it or hate it, Breakfast at Tiffany’s symbolized a turning point for American women, who were coming out of the repressed 1950s and entering the liberal 1960s. Though the movie was much more sanitized than the bestselling Truman Capote novel on which it was based, there was no way around the main character, Holly Golightly, whose carefree lifestyle still caused a great deal of pearl-clutching.
Holly Golightly was the classic New York party girl who was able to sustain her desired lifestyle largely in part by sleeping with older men. She wasn’t rich by any stretch of the imagination, but she knew how to make what little she had — clothing included — work to her fullest advantage. The film’s producers were itching to get the movie made, but one of their biggest worries was getting the essence of the book past the strict Hollywood censors and onto the big screen. Big names were tossed around, including Marilyn Monroe’s, but having such an overtly sexual woman playing an overtly sexual woman was tantamount to painting a huge target on their fledgling project.
Enter Audrey Hepburn (in the little black dress).
The timing couldn’t have been more perfect: Hepburn was typecast into typical Good Girl roles and itching to try something different. The producers were desperate to “class up” their movie enough to direct the censors’ attention away from Holly Golightly’s more unsavory characteristics. There was a decent amount of negotiating on everyone’s part (especially Hepburn, who initially balked at the idea of playing such a character), but soon enough, a legend was born.
I loved this book. True to its cinematic roots, the dramatic “plot” is introduced via a colorful cast of characters. Wasson’s writing jumps off the page and paints a detailed, multifaceted cultural history, and I was endlessly entertained by the backstories on Truman Capote, Blake Edwards (the director), George Axelrod (the screenwriter),Audrey Hepburn, Henry Mancini, and Edith Head, the highly acclaimed costume designer who was knocked off her pedestal to make room for Givenchy and his iconic, symbolically provocative black dress (black dresses, at the time, were also code for “women of the night”). The reader is also made privy to the desperate (and entertaining) marketing attempts to portray Holly Golightly as “quirky” rather than immoral. The film’s poster, for instance, includes a cat on Holly’s shoulder for a reason: Sure she wears black, but look…she has a cat on her shoulder! How quirky!
The book doesn’t exactly shed new light on the gender roles of the 1950s and 1960s, but it does do an excellent job of contextualizing them within American culture. Fans of classic films will also enjoy the behind-the-scenes look at the on- and off-screen relationships between all parties involved. It’s positively fascinating, and now I’m intensely curious to watch the film again.
Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman was released in June 2010 by Harper Books, an imprint of HarperCollins.