Audrey Hepburn did not like Danish pastries, but she ate a sugary roll while wearing an elegant little black dress in front of the window of Tiffany's. She also insisted on playing respectable women in her films, but here she was as Holly Golightly, the quirky call girl created by Truman Capote in his novella Breakfast at Tiffany's. As a dedicated actress, she did what she had to do, but there was much about the movie adaptation that seemed awry. How had she come to be on location in Manhattan before daybreak? Film historian Sam Wasson recounts the story in Fifth Avenue, 5 A. M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman.
As Wasson tells the story, a slew of ambitious people had a hand in creating the famous film, and many of them were dismayed by the result. Probably no one was more disappointed than Truman Capote. His sad story was transformed into a light romantic comedy with a happy Hollywood ending. Screenwriter George Axelrod was angry that director Blake Edwards did not follow his script and added tangential scenes with new characters. Edith Head was upset that she was getting credit but not actually picking the clothes. Mel Ferrer was upset that his wife was playing a tart. One of the producers did not like the music, especially the song "Moon River." Only Edwards really seemed happy in the end, for he had created a crowd-pleasing movie that bumped him up the studio ladder. He'd get better movie assignments in the future.
Was Breakfast at Tiffany's a great cinematic achievement? Is it hard to assess fifty years later? Wasson slyly never really answers these questions, but in telling his episodic story, he gives readers much evidence with which to judge. Critics charged that the sources were disregarded, the plot was weak and nonsensical, and many people were offended by Mickey Rooney's role as Mr. Yunioshi. Many young women, however, saw Holly Golightly as a forerunner of the new woman, free to live alone, play the field, and buy elegant clothes despite a lack of societal status.
Regardless of what camp the reader joins in the debate, Fifth Avenue, 5 A. M. is a quick moving and entertaining window into the late 1950s and early 1960s. Boomers and anyone who studies film history will enjoy Wasson's book.
Wasson, Sam. Fifth Avenue, 5 A. M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman. HarperStudio, 2010. 231p. ISBN 9780061774157