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

Sam Wasson

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Feb 24, 2016
Category: Non Fiction

“Fifth Ave, 5 AM” is Exhibit A of the kind of book that could keep me home and happy every night. And that’s so odd, because its nominal topic — how the film of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” came to be made, and why Audrey Hepburn was so crucial to that effort — concerns a book I don’t much like and a film I’ve never watched all the way through.

The cool thing: you don’t have to care about any of that to love the book. [To buy the book from Amazon, click here. To buy the Kindle edition, click here.]

You just have to like dish (and who doesn’t). Paramount’s head of production hated the theme song — “Moon River.” Babe Paley smoked two packs of cigarettes a day, using an ivory holder. Marilyn Monroe lamented that she never had a home, “not with my own furniture.” Colette “discovered” Hepburn. Akira Kurosawa hated Mickey Rooney.

You have to be interested in how things really work — in this case, how, in a time of prudery and censorship, two smart producers, one savvy director and a sharp screenwriter figured out how 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.” Better: a movie that won two Oscars and was nominated for three more. [To buy the DVD of the film, click here.]

You also have to be interested in a book that has an idea at the center of the narrative — how Audrey Hepburn, a “good girl princess” as pure as Doris Day, helped to change the American distaste for “bad girls” with a single movie. Let me be blunt: in the novel, Holly did not just party, she was a professional, a prostitute, or, as they used to be called, a call girl. And by casting the saintly Hepburn, that moral problem just… vanished. Hepburn, with one movie, inaugurated a general cleansing of girls who don’t color between the lines. Think: Carrie Bradshaw, Lena Dunham.

And then there’s the “little black dress” that Hepburn immortalized.

And, finally, you have to respond to a writer who can tell a complicated story in 200 crisp pages — and who can, at will, fire off zingers like “Truman needed her [Babe Paley] too. She looked good on him.” Or this, also about Capote: “If you could measure a man’s ego by the length of his ego, then this one had no end.”

What’s especially satisfying: where the story begins. Which is to say: much earlier than you think. In 1951, when Audrey Hepburn was not yet magic. With George Axelrod’s 1950s efforts to get sex — as an adult topic, and treated as such — into Hollywood movies. With Truman Capote becoming Himself. In short, as in real life, the back story is key.

A feast of a book.

To read an excerpt, click here.