'Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman'
Author: Sam Wasson
Published: Harper Perennial; Aug. 2011
Genre: Nonfiction; Film history
Source: TLC Books
Synopsis: Wasson, who wrote on the career of writer-director Blake Edwards in A Splurch in the Kisser, tightens his focus for a closeup of Edwards's memorable Breakfast at Tiffany's, which received five Oscar nominations (with two wins). Interviewing Edwards and others, he skillfully interweaves key events during the making of this cinema classic. He begins (and ends) with Truman Capote, whose novel was initially regarded as unadaptable by the producers, since they hadn't the faintest idea how the hell they were going to take a novel with no second act, a nameless gay protagonist, a motiveless drama, and an unhappy ending and turn it into a Hollywood movie. The flow of Wasson's words carries the reader from pre-production to on-set feuds and conflicts, while also noting Hepburn's impact on fashion (Givenchy's little black dress), Hollywood glamour, sexual politics, and the new morality. Always stingy with praise, Capote dismissed the finished film as a mawkish valentine to New York City, but one feels he would have been entranced by Wasson's prismatic approach as he walks a perilous path between the analytic interpretation and the imaginative one. The result deserves Capote's nonfiction novel label. Recapturing an era, this evocative factual re-creation reads like carefully crafted fiction.
My Take: I LOVE Audrey Hepburn! Is there a woman alive who doesn't? There is something about her that is so striking and graceful, and yes, unique. She was sexy in a different way. Her style is still relevant and no movie of her's is talked about more with fashion relevancy than Breakfast at Tiffany's. It's a movie I've seen over and over again. I own it; I love it. It's witty, it's beautiful to watch, and it's utterly different than any other movie out there. So yes, I wanted to read this book.
Wasson's book dissects what it took to make a movie in the early 1960s. It certainly isn't the same as it is now. There were censors who didn't want to talk about sex but there was a changing public and youth who wanted to see sex up on the screen. TV was a major competing force for attention and time.
Breakfast at Tiffany's the movie is based on Truman Capote's novel of the same name but beyond that very little is similar. Wasson takes us through Capote and how he devised a novel that was shocking for it's time. Holly Golightly was a high-class prostitute who spoke to a gay man. She even had lesbian thoughts herself. This was not the type of book 1950s readers were used to and it was hard for him to even get it published, but once he did it caused a huge sensation! Golightly herself was based on an amalgamation of numerous famous and not-so-famous characters that had an impact on Capote's life, but upon reading the novel, many claimed they were the 'real' Holly Golightly!
When it came to adapting it for the big-screen, Marty Jurow and Richard Shepherd who bought the rights to the screenplay and produced the movie, knew that they had something unique but it would have to be changed somewhat for the censors. However, at it's heart they felt Breakfast at Tiffany's was a romantic comedy for the changing sensibilities of the new decade: the 1960s.
To read Wasson's book is to be totally immersed in one of the great, classic movies of our time and understand what it truly took to create it. Having never read a memoir on Audrey Hepburn, it was fascinating to learn that she also wasn't exactly what I had thought she was either. If there was one fault, it would be that at times I felt that Wasson dumbed-down the book a bit for his audience and that should never have to happen. Most sections were not more than a couple of paragraphs and he wrote in colloquialisms. While entertaining and easy to read, it certainly wasn't what I expected from a non-fiction book. Regardless, if you love the 1960s or are a fan of Breakfast at Tiffany's and Audrey Hepburn as so many people are, you will enjoy learning some new things by picking this book up!
Cover Lust: The opening scene from Breakfast at Tiffany's is so iconic I think it's the perfect image for the cover of this book!
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For other opinions about this book, here is the full TLC Tour Schedule.