Three years before Audrey Hepburn placed an iconic image behind the Holly Golightly moniker (a euonym for happy-go-lucky?), Truman Capote published his novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Whether book or film, the story follows a man’s friendship with the effervescent tenant who lives downstairs.
I watched the 1961 film adaptation long before I ever got around to finally reading its source of inspiration. As someone who is studying both film and literature, I’m always looking for ways to merge the two together inside and outside my academic life, and it’s book-to-film adaptations like this that provide an opportune moment to do so.
In Capote’s novella, Holiday Golightly comes across as a timeless character—an embodiment of the free-spirited youth—while also remaining seemingly unconventional for her time. The book’s main setting takes place during the 1940s in New York City, although the story is told through the perspective of our nameless narrator (only Holly nicknames him “Fred” after her brother) about a decade later or so.
In any narrative, personas are peeled back to reveal character as a story progresses, especially through dialogue and action. Having absorbed both mediums, it’s curious to draw connections on how the film portrays the characters in reference to the book. Differing from the printed word, cinema has to rely on visual and auditory elements in order to literally set a story in motion. An example that comes to mind is found in the very beginning of the film, where Holly stands outside Tiffany & Co. one morning while “Moon River” echoes in non-diegetic splendor. A harmonica plays the melody, which hints at Holly’s country roots—information that we find out later on in the story. By using music as a narrative technique, a part of Holly’s character and past is subtly unearthed.
In the film, our anonymous narrator is given the name Paul Varjak (George Peppard), though he still maintains his character of aspiring writer. Since their first meeting, Paul is visibly attracted by Holly’s magnetism, and the two start to develop some kind of a relationship with each other. As movie-watchers, we are also given the role of omniscient spectator, getting a taste of Holly’s wild parties as well as her more tender moments with Paul—a sort of third-person equivalent that we embody for the duration of the film.
The book’s ending is entirely different from what you see in the film, and personally, I wholeheartedly prefer it. After reading the story, I feel that Capote’s ending connected to Holly’s true character in a resounding way (obviously), as her whole spiel is that nobody and nothing belongs to anyone. One of my favorite passages from the book (page 39) references this:
“She was hugging the cat. ‘Poor slob,’ she said, tickling his head, ‘poor slob without a name. It’s a little inconvenient, his not having a name. But I haven’t any right to give him one: he’ll have to wait until he belongs to somebody. We just sort of took up by the river one day, we don’t belong to each other: he’s an independent, and so am I. I don’t want to own anything until I know I’ve found the place where me and things belong together.'”
I could feel a pang of sadness when I finished the book, wondering which route I should take with such an open-ended ending, but it’s one that I also felt the most satisfied with. As a narrative writer, I often have to consider what makes an ending good, which I genuinely felt and appreciated with Capote’s.
However, there are certain elements of the film that leave a distinct mark from the book, such as Holly’s eye-catching wardrobe, Henry Mancini’s breezy soundtrack (which I adore, and you can bet I’m listening to right now), and that clawfoot bathtub-turned-sofa I’m sure many of us have dreamed of having in our own humble abode.
I’ve read through many sources stating that Capote envisioned Marilyn Monroe to play the part of Holly in the film adaptation, and was greatly disappointed when the role was given to Audrey Hepburn. I do this sort of thing whenever I write my stories sometimes (perhaps it’s the cinephile in me), and I often wonder how it would’ve turned out if Capote got his wish. While not my favorite Hepburn film, I did enjoy her memorable portrayal of Holly, along with her wistful singing of “Moon River” and her way of bringing Holly’s subtle mannerisms (like her French colloquialisms) to life. To me, she brings a breath of fresh air to whatever role she transforms herself into, but it’s these sort of “what if” questions that haunt me to no end.
Somewhere between watching the film and writing this post, I was reminded of my visit to New York City a few years ago, resting on a particular moment where I found myself serendipitously passing by the Tiffany’s store that Audrey Hepburn stood outside in the opening credits, munching on a Danish pastry in her black dress, coiffed hair, and embellished jewelry that set the trademark image for the film. It was there and then that I seemed to be crossing a threshold where media and real life merged themselves in a labyrinth of connections. Stories come to life when we read them, and we are then swept away and immersed into worlds beyond our own while still in the comfort of our own niche. Stories aren’t just constructed three-act structures or what-have-you, they are an experience, as are the movies that we watch. With the many different forms that narratives take on today, it’s needless to say that stories come to life when we experience them.