Truman Capote’s Holly Golightly
Having just read “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” for the first time, it’s obvious that Truman Capote had a completely different woman in mind than our iconic image of Audrey Hepburn in the movie version.
First of all, Capote’s Holly Golightly was a woman of the war years, 1943 and ’44 in particular, which meant that instead of wearing a slim black Givenchy gown she would have had knee-length dresses, padded shoulders and wedgie shoes. Capote described Holly as a cunning young blonde vixen with a long backstory and a plan: to extract money from men in order to travel to exotic places. She casually uses words like “balls” and “screw” and states that she has had eleven lovers since the age of 13, because the ones before that age don’t count. She converses knowingly about gay identity, and is also a habitual liar.
In contrast, Hollywood’s Holly is a beautiful ditz who does wayward things while engaged in non-stop chattering. She’s a child-woman with whom the protagonist nevertheless falls in love (in the book, the narrator was a comrade rather than a lover). Near the end of the movie, Holly’s lover Paul yells at her, “Holly, I love you! You belong to me!” (See the Youtube clip at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YnOfomPgETs). An announcement of “love” more troubling than this is not easy to find, followed as it is by his cruel comments about how she pretends to be wild and free but is instead living in a cage of her own making. Is this really love? It looks more like hate, or in any case a concerted effort to control her. This speech by him to her will not be found anywhere in the book.
Too many movies of that era depicted child-like women who needed a man’s strong guidance in order to grow up and become proper wives. Think of Gigi, think of Lili, think of endless other examples of Hollywood’s sexist stereotyping. In all these many movies a (supposedly) flawed girl-woman is made complete and healed by consenting to become part of a married couple. We all remember Audrey Hepburn’s final scene in the movie, where she abandons her unrealistic plans, rescues her abandoned cat and kisses George Peppard in the pouring rain; but the real ending could not be more different. The book ends with the unexpected success of all of Holly’s dreams just when things look worst. She escapes from her romantic entanglements, her pregnancy, and her legal difficulties, and successfully runs off to the South American jungle that she has always dreamed of visiting. She has slipped the traps laid for her and escaped. She is indeed a wild thing and cannot be pinned down. Instead of living in a cage of her own making, as the movie script claimed, she’s fleeing the cage of other people’s expectations and demands.
Maybe it’s just me, but I find a well-characterized strong female character to be much more interesting than a shallow one who is tugged this way and that by different tides. Why was the story changed in this way? Was it simply because Hollywood couldn’t handle the topics the book touched on, or was it because the book was unromantic in the extreme? The story-Holly used men for money, and there was no romance with the narrator. In order to create romance the movie’s writers turned the story on its head, gutted it and turned it inside out. It would indeed be interesting to see a new movie version of this story, book-accurate, properly set in the 1940s and centering around a chic, untrustworthy but cheerful gold-digger.