The question of whether Holly Golightly -- the irresistibly unattainable city girl played by Audrey Hepburn in 1961's 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' -- was a mercenary call girl or simply a free spirit who happened to accept large sums of money from wealthy men every time she used the powder room has vexed and fascinated viewers for years. According to Sam Wasson's 2010 book 'Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.,' Paramount's P.R. department twisted itself into breakfast crullers trying to advance the latter view, with weird statements like "The star is Audrey Hepburn, not Tawdry Hepburn."
Truman Capote, who wrote the novella upon which the film was based, may have offered the subtlest analysis. "Holly Golightly was not precisely a callgirl," Capote said in an interview with 'Playboy' magazine in 1968. "She had no job, but accompanied expense-account men to the best restaurants and night clubs, with the understanding that her escort was obligated to give her some sort of gift, perhaps jewelry or a check ... if she felt like it, she might take her escort home for the night."
Now Julie Andrews, the legendary actress and widow of 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' director Blake Edwards, has added her voice to the debate. In a conversation with Richard Pena, director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, at Thursday night's 50th-anniversary screening of 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' in New York, Andrews pointed out that it had been Hepburn's idea to recruit designer Hubert de Givenchy to design all of Holly's outfits. "When you've got Audrey Hepburn and Hubert de Givenchy," she added, "I don't think anyone for a second believed that this was a heavy hooker, for God's sake."
The screening took place at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall, a few steps away from the venue where New York Fashion Week is under way, and the audience of would-be Holly Golightlys and the men who love them gazed adoringly at the gorgeous new print, assembled for an anniversary Blu-ray edition that comes out next week. As Pena noted, the film has a timeless quality that makes it feel almost as relevant today as it did in 1961. Especially in New York, where attractive and sparklingly witty young people still come in search of their dreams, and still occasionally get lost in the daily hunt for booze, bread, and designer threads.
The film's opening scene, in which a taxi coasts up an empty Fifth Avenue and deposits Holly in front of Tiffany's, where she ruminates over the display windows while munching on a Danish and sipping a coffee, remains one of the quintessential depictions of the city, and Andrews described how lucky Edwards felt to capture the scene. He arranged the shoot for dawn, hoping to get "a reasonably empty Fifth Avenue," but in the end "there was not a piece of traffic in sight." After one take, Edwards turned to the crew and said, "That's it, fellas. Let's move on."
Equally emblematic of the city, for different reasons, is the party scene, where a motley crew of bohemian rebels and slumming rich guys get gleefully drunk inside Holly's sparse walk-up apartment. "He cast all his friends and relations," said Andrews. "It's fun to watch the party scene and know who's up there."
Photo: Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Paramount