Breakfast at Tiffany’s turned 60 on Tuesday the 5th October 2021. If pressed, many people couldn’t tell you exactly what it’s about, save that there may be a breakfast happening at Tiffany’s. Somehow everyone is familiar with
it and the iconography it produced. Some may reference Audrey Hepburn’s indelible association or some of the most emblematic images of the 20th Century.
The film broaches the quality of certain classics whereby it becomes difficult to imagine a world where this did not always exist. And yet, Breakfast at Tiffany’s was not timeless upon release, to the contrary it
was timely in many, many ways which can be tracked as the fallout from its release. For one, the name Tiffany was close to extinct before Truman Capote’s book and especially the film came out, and snowballed in popularity after the movie was released on VHS. The fashion needs no further exultation. On a more disappointing note, Mickey Rooney’s racist Japanese caricature was certainly of its time. Somehow, the film lives on, indelibly.
But, Breakfast at Tiffany’s was not always the film we know today. Key changes and adaptational twists were made by director Blake Edwards, George Axelford, and the Paramount team. Many of these alterations were based on the explicit content of the book, including characters who were gay, made heterosexual for the sake of preemptive censorship and to inject a straight romance into the narrative. Another change was scrubbing much from the text which implied that Holly made her income by… ‘escorting’ men as a socialite, though a few tame references survived (“May I have a little powder room money?”).
There is the expansion and minstrel-fication of Mr. Yunioshi, for the purposes of injecting “comedic” stereotypes to liven up the narrative. Even at the time many in the production weren’t keen on this yellowface farce, but, according to a number of crew members, director Blake Edwards was adamant. Largest of all adjustments was the ending. The book sees Holly continue her fruitless lifestyle, never reuniting with her alley-cat, getting on the plane to Brazil and running, again, from the fact that she isn’t ‘independent’, but alone. For a studio, a downer ending is box-office anthrax, and so, we get a happy ending where, after realizing that she doesn’t need to lose something to understand how much it means to her, Holly finds her cat, and finally gets together with Paul.
These changes came in batches, bit by bit across a tumultuous pre-production, involving firing writers, swapping genres, shooting plan-B takes and all manner of behind-the-scenes tinkering. Watch this brilliantly informative video from the excellent YouTube channel Be Kind Rewind for more on the process of adapting this undeniable classic. Be Kind Rewind also covers other topics pertaining to Hollywood, with an almost exclusive focus on women in the industry (including excellent dissections of
individual Oscar wins for Best Actress, and how these wins came about).