Breakfast at Tiffany’s: The Official 50th Anniversary Companion

Today I received Breakfast at Tiffany’s: The Official 50th Anniversary Companion by Sarah Gristwood, a book I pre-ordered ages ago and had almost forgotten about.  It was a pleasant surprise to get it today, after so many months.

I read it all in one sitting tonight and overall it’s a lovely book and a nice behind-the-scenes look at the film.  It doesn’t cover anything I didn’t already know after reading Sam Wasson’s fantastic Fifth Avenue, 5.a.m., but it’s full of beautiful photographs and is a pretty coffee table book.

Gristwood’s book contains chapters focusing on, among other things, the script based ever so loosely on Truman Capote’s novella, Audrey Hepburn and the other actors cast, the fashion influence of the film, Mancini’s song “Moon River,” and the movie’s critical reception and lasting allure.

My only issue with the book is my lack of faith in some of the photo captions.  For instance the author (or whoever is in charge of captioning photographs) twice labels Audrey Hepburn’s guitar instructor, who taught her to play “Moon River,”  as Henry Mancini.  That’s just a pitiful lack of double-checking, in my opinion, and annoyed me on behalf of the late Mancini, who was the bee’s knees and deserved to have a real picture of himself in the book.

Here’s Audrey Hepburn with someone who is not Henry Mancini.  This photo and another of the same guitar teacher posing with George Peppard are mislabeled.

Here’s the real Mancini, around the time of Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  Mancini was brilliant.  Just think of all the fantastic TV and movie scores he wrote — Peter Gunn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Days of Wine and Roses, Charade, Two for the Road, The Pink Panther, The Thorn Birds and many more.  Just want to give a shout-out to Hank!

There are a few other little details in the captions that don’t seem quite right to me, but that’s par for the course in publishing these days, I find.  Errors galore!

Still, even with those minor quibbles the book was an enjoyable read and a pretty coffee table book I’m sure I’ll flip through many times.  If you are like me and feel the need to own every book about Audrey Hepburn that comes down the pike, you’ll probably want to buy this one, too. Or at least add it to your holiday wish list.

Fifth Avenue, 5 a.m.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman

Author Sam Wasson’s marvelous chronicle of the making of Breakfast at Tiffany’sFifth Avenue, 5 A.M.,  is a very quick and enjoyable read, full of juicy gossip about everyone from Truman Capote to Henry Mancini to Edith Head to George Peppard.  And of course there’s plenty about dear Audrey Hepburn as well.  A few thoughts on the book…

 Truman Capote was such a messed up individual, but then I already knew that even before reading this book. For instance, the marital advice he gave his supposed best friend Babe Paley — that her husband had basically bought her and her marriage was her job, regardless of what a cheating, horrible nightmare Bill Paley was — was awful and completely self-serving. Truman eventually used intimate and humiliating details of the Paley marriage in his unfinished novel, Answered Prayers, a move which cut him off from Babe forever.

I’ve read quite a bit about Capote over the years, and while I sometimes feel sorry for him and am always fascinated by him, I never like him.  Another book I can highly recommend for anyone interested in Capote is Deborah Davis’s entertaining Party of the Century: The Fabulous Story of Truman Capote and His Black and White Ball

What I didn’t know before this book was what a self-absorbed, wannabe-Method jackass George Peppard was. Poor Patricia Neal bore the brunt of it during the shooting of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, along with director Blake Edwards.

The book included some new-to-me sad facts about the Audrey Hepburn/Mel Ferrer marriage. Nutshell version: AH – angelic, of course, but also too easily pushed around; MF – a jealous, domineering jerk.  Specific example: Once, at a  dinner party, Audrey unthinkingly put her elbows on the table. From the book:

Mel was seated next to her, and when he saw this, he picked up a fork, slipped its prongs under her elbows, and said — in a voice loud enough for all to hear — “Ladies do not put their elbows on the table.” It was the sort of oppressively awkward moment that can only be met with silence. Audrey was stricken, and the table, mortified. Nothing was said. She simply removed her elbows and put her hands in her lap.

That was hardly the worst thing Mel ever did or said to Audrey, but just reading about it made me seethe. Can you imagine anyone humiliating sweet Audrey like that or telling her how to be a lady? Audrey Hepburn, the most inherently ladylike and delightful woman ever?  Unbelievable.

Other interesting tidbits:

- Breakfast at Tiffany’s originally had a different ending that was actually filmed, but is now lost. Paul and Holly still find the cat and wind up together, but the sun is shining and Holly decides to name the cat “Sam.”

- The wonderful “No matter where you run, you just end up running into yourself” speech Paul gives Holly after she dumps Cat out of the taxi and into the rain was actually written by Blake Edwards, not screenwriter George Axelrod. Edwards also took a lot of liberties when filming the famously funny and zany cocktail party scene. Neither of these things endeared him to Axelrod, even though they (or probably because they) made the movie much better.

- “Moon River” was originally called “Blue River,” and though it went on to be one of the most beloved and recorded songs of all time, a studio executive almost had Audrey’s performance of it cut from the movie.

- Before George Peppard was cast (against the wishes of Blake Edwards, who must’ve known what a pain in the butt he would be), Tony Curtis and Steve McQueen were in the running for the part of Paul Varjak. (V-A-R-J-A-K.) McQueen couldn’t do it because he had another picture obligation, but Curtis really wanted the part. Mel Ferrer made a fuss about not wanting his wife to work with Tony Curtis (see above re: domineering jerk), so that was that. I really can’t imagine Tony Curtis in the part, though. Peppard may have been awful on the set, but he’s Paul to me.  Plus, he was so pretty!

 – Paramount did a big publicity buildup, announcing that they’d cast a famous Japanese comic named Ohayo Arigatou for the part of Mr. Yuniyoshi. They created a whole hoax backstory for this guy, and passed along crazy and in retrospect highly offensive stories about him to the press, which they then reported. It was then revealed that the man they’d been writing about did not exist, and that Mickey Rooney had gotten the part. The whole Rooney as Yuniyoshi debacle is a horribly shameful mark on this otherwise delightful movie.

Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M. is one of those nonfiction books that reads as easily and enjoyably as a novel. Highly recommended!

Happy Birthday, Cary Grant!

I had high hopes of writing an epic Cary Grant post here today in honor of the 107th anniversary of his birth, but unfortunately life and work got in the way and I didn’t have time.  So, instead of the epic, I’ll share a personal story about how, in an unexpected turn of events, Cary’s widow read (or at least received) a letter I wrote about her husband.

My very favorite book about Cary is Evenings With Cary Grant, written by Nancy Nelson. Nelson worked with Grant on a series of lectures he gave in the ’80s called A Conversation With Cary Grant. She got to know him well, and after his death in 1986 she wrote this book, full of the stories he’d told as well as memories and anecdotes from his friends and colleagues. It’s a loving, warm, thoroughly entertaining tribute. 

The first time I read the book I was in college.  By the time I finished it, curled up in my little dorm bedroom, I was completely overwhelmed with love for this man.  I’m a big sap about him now, but it was even worse when I was only twenty! I dried my eyes, got out my Brother word processor (ha, remember those?) and penned a gushing yet completely heartfelt letter to the author – something I’d never done before.  Something about that book, and about Cary himself, was so compelling that I just had to do it.  I wrote:

Dear Ms. Nelson,

Thank you so much for your wonderful book, Evenings With Cary Grant. When I finished reading it last night tears were streaming down my cheeks. I felt as though I had made a new friend in Mr. Grant, and was sad to have lost him so soon after getting to know him.

Cary Grant has been my favorite actor for several years, at a time when all my college roommates are swooning over Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. I loved his movies and wanted to know more about him as a person. However, every other biography I glanced through at the library or bookstore seemed full of rumor, innuendo and secondhand sources. I was so excited when I came across your book! When I saw that it was mostly in Cary Grant’s own words and the words of his friends, and that it had the blessing of his wife and daughter, I bought it right away and just devoured it.

When I read a biography or memoir, I always hope to learn something about the subject’s life, as well as to be entertained. Evenings with Cary Grant was fascinating, witty, and also very moving.

What made finding your book even more special was the fact that just the night before I had been in Houston to see Gregory Peck in his version of Mr. Grant’s “Conversations.” Mr. Peck had mentioned that he got the idea from Cary Grant! It was a wonderful coincidence.

Thank you once again for your book. The publishing world needs more authors like you to write honestly and kindly about the famous and successful.

Sincerely, etc.

Pretty corny, I know! I’m almost embarrassed about that letter, but I meant every word of it then, and I still do, actually. It’s a lovely book. (I can’t say  my emotional reaction to it has changed with age, either.  I read it last year and was just as touched.)  A couple of months later I received this letter from Nancy Nelson:

Dear Ms. —:

Your letter about my Cary Grant book has put me right into a soup of emotion. First of all, it is such a joy to receive a letter so long after publication – in the beginning there was lots of mail – and, secondly, you have expressed yourself beautifully. If I had any fantasy at all about what reaction people would have to Cary and his life and the way I portrayed it, it would be yours. Exactly. A million thanks.

(By the by, I would have responded sooner but your letter just arrived this morning. Publishers are notorious for not sending author mail in any timely fashion.)

And you mention the coincidence of being in Houston. Well, so was I. Today Gregory Peck is my client, and yes he got the idea from Cary Grant, who told him how much fun it was to go out on the road to meet people. I knew Cary was talking to Greg – years ago – and I took up the mission myself. I practically got on my knees when I went to his house to interview him for my book! Well, it’s many years later – about 11 since my first contact with him via Cary – but here we are! Wasn’t Houston smashing? The audience was marvelous, and he was terrific. Of the six we’ve done, it’s my favorite. Everything worked. All the technical stuff, etc. It was a perfect show.

Thank you for all your kind words and thoughtfulness. I’ll cherish your letter. (I’ve already faxed it to Cary’s wife.)

Sincerely yours,
Nancy Nelson

What an amazing letter to receive!  I never expected to hear anything back from her, so to get something so nice, to find out that she had been at the Gregory Peck show my sister and I had been to, and to know that she sent my goofy fangirl letter to Mrs. Cary Grant?! It was a beautiful, happy day in my young life. It still makes me smile to think about it.

So there you have my personal Cary Grant connection, tenuous though it is.  I ended up seeing Gregory Peck’s show again a few years later. It too was “smashing.” Gregory Peck was a class act, a great man and a great actor.  But what I wouldn’t have given to see just one of Cary Grant’s shows. By all accounts they were truly magical.

Sadly, Evenings With Cary Grant is out of print now, but used copies can still be tracked down.  I recently found one at a very reasonable price on the Alibris site, for a friend’s Christmas gift. If you’re interested in Cary Grant, both as an actor and as a man, this is the book to get.

The Gary Cooper obsession continues

Is it possible to overdose on Gary Cooper?  I’m preparing to find out this weekend.  The following things came to me in the mail today:

* Saratoga Trunk (1946), co-starring Ingrid Bergman.  This is one of the Warner Archive movies that’s been on my wish list for a while now.  I can’t wait to watch it!

saratoga trunk

* The Gary Cooper Collection, containing five movies: Design for Living, The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, Peter Ibbetson, The General Died at Dawn, and Beau Geste.  Over 8 hours of Coop  at his 1930s prettiest!  It would’ve been worth the $19 for Design for Living alone.  That movie is perfection.

the-gary-cooper-collection-

* Cooper’s Women by Jane Ellen Wayne, a book I’m embarrassed to have purchased even though it was a cheap used copy.  It’s so trashy, it  really is!  I knew as soon as I read this review and excerpt by Sheila O’Malley that I would have to track it down, however.  Cooper’s Women is a gossipy accounting of his many love affairs, written in a way that at times has an almost fanfiction-y vibe.  Oh, I’m so ashamed!  Honestly though, it’s hard not to have at least a little bit of prurient interest in Cooper, given his insanely good looks and his legendary status with the ladies.  Let’s just say that acting wasn’t the only thing at which he excelled.

coopers women

* Gary Cooper Off Camera: A Daughter Remembers by Maria Cooper Janis, with an introduction by Tom Hanks.  This is a touching, lovingly written tribute to Cooper by  his daughter, full of beautiful photos.  Reading this sweet book will, I hope, make me feel less guilty about reading Cooper’s Women.  Heh.

off camera

So far this is one of my favorite pictures from the book – Gary Cooper crossing a stream in Sun Valley while on a hunting trip with Ernest Hemingway, 1941.

cooper - sun valley - by robert capa

What a great photograph by Robert Capa.  Cooper displays such an attractive blend of masculinity and  gracefulness.  There are many hunters in my part of the country, but I’ve never seen any of them looking one iota as dapper and well dressed when heading out to shoot and fish, that’s for sure!

Yeah, I’m pretty smitten.  Brace yourself for more crazy Coop chat – I’m sure it’s coming.