Recap: In 1950’s America, women were seen as one of two things in movies and television: either perfect housewives or bad-girl sluts. There was no in-between, and there wouldn’t be an in-between until Audrey Hepburn played Holly Golightly in 1961’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M. tells the true story of the novel turned Academy Award-winning movie that not only changed the film industry, but changed women in America forever.
When Truman Capote wrote the novel Breakfast at Tiffany’s in the 1950’s, Audrey Hepburn had already gone from model to actress, starring in movies like Roman Holiday, Sabrina, and Funny Face. But she’d never had a serious acting role, one that would put her on the map and prove that she had the chops to be a character unlike herself. Until Tiffany’s.
In Fifth Avenue, author Sam Wasson writes in depth about how producers acquired the rights to turn Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s into a movie. He writes about the difficulty they had getting the script approved and casting the film. After all, the story is about a hooker. At that time, sex was not portrayed in movies, and if it was, it was portrayed by bad girls like Marilyn Monroe. Many actresses refused to play a woman who gets paid for sex, and Hepburn wasn’t the ideal girl for the job, initially. After all, she’s not sexy. She’s cute. But that turned out to be exactly the thing that made the movie work. Hepburn made Holly Golightly likable. Not only that, but Hepburn and Holly changed the way women dressed, the way they carried themselves, and the way they dealt with men.
Analysis: As someone who’s only seen the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s decades after it was made and pronounced one of the classics, I think Wasson did a fantastic job of explaining the role of women and the role of movies in America in the 1950’s and 1960’s. A world of sexless movies is foreign to me, but Wasson’s invites you into that universe, which explains why Tiffany’s was considered risque and forward-thinking for its time.
This also explains why it had such an impact on Hepburn’s career. Suddenly, she wasn’t some pretty girl anymore. She was an actress — one who convinced other actresses that it was okay to play a woman having sex, one who convinced women it was okay to enjoy sex, and one who convinced women it was also okay to forgo colored clothes for black.
Wasson’s other tidbits of background add to the intrigue of Tiffany’s as well; for instance, “Moon River” was almost turned down as Holly Golightly’s song. Or that Hepburn needed a lot of extra acting help from the film’s director. Or that actor George Peppard didn’t get along with most of the people who worked on the movie.
MVP: Audrey Hepburn/Holly Golightly. Thank you for what you’ve done for women, fashion, and movies.
Get Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M. in paperback for $10.29.
Or get it on your Kindle for just $7.59.