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Breakfast at Tiffany's Celebrates 50th Anniversary at Academy

Posted: 08/01/11 04:03 PM ET

Audrey Hepburn in "Breakfast at Tiffany's"

After the filming of Breakfast at Tiffany's ended, they previewed the movie in San Francisco and a top executive at Paramount barked at the assembled filmmakers, "That f--king song, 'Moon River,' has got to go." At which point star Audrey Hepburn jumped out of her chair and strongly protested. Needless to say, the song stayed in the film... and won a Best Song Academy Award in 1962 for composer Henry Mancini and lyricist Johnny Mercer. That story was told to me by Ginny Mancini, the lovely widow of the genius musician, as we discussed the 50th anniversary screening of the film at the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences last Friday evening. (To which I wore a pin depicting Mancini's recent postage stamp, which she gave me.) A glorious event produced by the Academy's Ellen Harrington, with a new digital restoration, it continues the series of special events which has elevated membership in the Academy (which I have enjoyed for 40 years) to a new level of excitement. Speaking at the event, Paramount restoration expert Ron Smith said that the original music scores were found stored in a salt mine in Pennsylvania, coincidentally right next to Mancini's Hatari film music.

Mancini stamp
The new Henry Mancini postage stamp.


Breakfast at Tiffany's was directed by Blake Edwards, and written by George Axelrod, loosely based upon a novella by Truman Capote. Capote wanted Marilyn Monroe to play Holly Golightly but her mentor, Lee Strasberg, advised her that playing a 'prostitute' would be bad for her image, so she turned it down. And the picture of Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly, with her giant sunglasses, Givenchy dresses (her little black dress is the most famous of all time), string of pearls, holding an oversized cigarette holder, is considered one of the most iconic images of American cinema, ushering in a new notion of femininity; she was nominated as Best Actress in a Leading Role. Mancini also won an Oscar for the Best Original Score. I was fortunate enough to meet Hank Mancini in the late 70s, when he composed the score for my production of W.C. Fields & Me, and we remained friends until his death in 1994. And Mrs. Mancini has been an integral part of my 'friends-and-family' circle ever since. (Interestingly enough, the screenwriter for my W.C. Fields movie, Bob Merrill (Funny Girl), went on to write an unsuccessful Broadway musical version of Tiffany.)

Breakfast at Tiffany's Poster

Remember the story? A lonely, struggling writer (George Peppard), being 'assisted' by a wealthy married decorator (Patricia Neal), becomes enchanted with his neighbor, an independent young woman who strives to be a high-climbing socialite with a penchant for high fashion and wild parties. Holly says to him, "I can't think of anything I've never done," and then finishes with, "I'm used to being top banana in the shock department." The crux of the film is his discovering her vulnerabilty and sweetness. This popular, wildly acclaimed film provoked much discussion, laughter and controversy as it established the archetype of the independent single girl in the city, certainly a predecessor of today's 'Sex In The City."

Audrey playing guitar

Director Blake Edwards was meticulous in his casting choices, and the supporting cast was top-notch. Buddy Ebsen was heartbreaking as Doc, Holly's Texas 'husband,' and went on to acclaim in The Beverly Hillbillies. Martin Balsam established himself as a top character actor playing the fast-talking agent, a forerunner of today's Ari Gold. The party scene was one of the most raucous in filmic history, foreshadowing Blake's film The Party. Some of the women in that scene attended the Friday screening and received tumultuous applause. The only jarring note was Mickey Rooney's performance as the obnoxious Japanese neighbor. It was an ugly caricature and jarring to today's sensibilities. John McGiver, as the Tiffany clerk who agrees to engrave the Crackerjack ring, is superb. The 'no name' cat which is an integral part of the film is an absolute double for my tabby, Pyewacket, so now it will be known to me as PyeTwo. Co-producer Richard Shepherd went on to become head of MGM and made my epic Hemingway deal with Sidney Pollack and Waldo Salt (never filmed).

Audrey letter to Hank Mancini

Speaking of Audrey's performance singing 'Moon River,' Mancini said, "Audrey's big eyes gave me the push to get a little more sentimental than I usually do. The song was written for her, and although there has been more than a thousand versions of it, no one has understood it so completely. Hers is unquestionably the greatest." In a letter which Audrey Hepburn sent to Mancini, she wrote: "I have just seen our picture, Breakfast at Tiffany's, this time with your score. A movie without music is a little like an aeroplane without fuel. However beautifully the job is done, we are still on the ground and in a world of reality. Your music has lifted us all up and sent us soaring. Everything we cannot say with words or show with action you have expressed for us. You have done this with so much imagination, fun and beauty. You are the hippest of cats -- and the most sensitive of composers! Thank you, dear Hank. Lots of love. Audrey."


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