Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote shares a deep bond with Christopher Isherwood’s short story “Sally Bowles” which became the movie Cabaret. In each a young writer travels to a big city, gets an apartment in a building full of unusual people and meets a wonderful train wreck of a woman who wants to be a star but does not have the talent to pull it off and ends up going through a series of men until she more or less disappears from the narrator’s life for good. Both movie adaptations “suffer” from the same fate, having an actress who is much too good portray the lead role. Mr. Isherwood said that Liza Minnelli was wrong for the part of Sally Bowles in Cabaret because she was too good a singer; no one could seriously believe she was a failed actress just getting by in a small nightclub. I think the same is true for Audrey Hepburn. Holly Golightly, the main character, is supposed to be a failed actress/model who’s looking for a rich man to marry. Can anyone seriously believe Audrey Hepburn can’t make it in New York as a model or find a rich man who will marry her. Audrey Hepburn? A young Audrey Hepburn?

The narrator in Breakfast at Tiffany’s is really beside the point, just as he is in “Sally Bowles.” He’s probably gay, which is why he can become Holly’s close friend and brings up another interesting point. Again in both stories there is a gay narrator attached to a tragically glamorous young woman. There is no plagiarism going on here, but I suspect Mr. Capote, who published his novella in 1958, had probably read Mr. Isherwood’s story which was first published in 1939. In fact, they may both owe a debt of gratitude to Henry James whose novel Daisy Miller bears a striking resemblance to their work.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s has long been one of my favorite movies. (What can I say; I am a gay man who once wanted to be a writer, moved to a big city when young and had a close friendship with a glamorous young woman who wanted to be Sally Bowles.) The novella does have something to offer fans of the movie as well as general readers. Though the story was cleaned up, or, as we used to say in the 80’s “straightened up,” for the movie, there are things in the book, even at only 86 pages, that add to our understanding of Holly Golightly. The book gives fans of the film another take on the character, one that is not as romantic as the one in the film, but one that is easier to believe in. It’s like having two witnesses discuss the same person and the same events. Mr. Capote’s Holly is much more flawed that Ms. Hepburn’s is, but you probably already guessed that.

Here is the trailer for the Audrey Hepburn film. Watch it and I think you’ll see what I mean about Audrey Hepbrun being too good to really be Holly Golightly.

But then, who would want to watch Breakfast at Tiffany’s without Audrey Hepburn or Cabaret without Liza Minnelli?

I first ran this review on my old blog, Ready When You Are, C.B., back in 2009.  I have not seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s or Cabaret since.  It may be to give each another viewing.  This trailer has me thinking Audrey Hepburn is worth seeing again.

7 thoughts on “Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

  1. Informed opinion says Holly Golightly was inspired by the Irish writer Maeve Brennan. She worked for The New Yorker for a long time and once was the epitome of big city sophistication until she slowly began a terrible mental decline. Her father was Ireland’s first ambassador to the United States.

    1. That sounds familiar. I wonder if it was mention in the introduction to my copy. Capote seems to have very clearly based most of his characters on real people, so I’m sure she was based on someone.

  2. This little novella is so fascinating. And so different from the movie. I like both but the depth in the book – the depth in all of Capote’s writing – keeps drawing the reader back to re-read. He was, in my opinion, a tragic figure. Think of what he could have written if he had lived longer and had been able to resist his addictions.

    Oh, and you’re wrong about Lisa Minelli. She was good, but Jill Haworth, who played Sally Bowles in the Broadway production, was terrific.

  3. I would like to read this novella, then re-watch the movie. Will have to wait until after the TBR Double Dare though… Interesting comparison to Cabaret.

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