Author Sam Wasson’s marvelous chronicle of the making of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Fifth 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!