Most know Truman Capote's 1958 novella Breakfast at Tiffany's from the 1961 movie directed by Blake Edwards, adapted by writer George Axelrod, and starring George Peppard as "Fred" and the unforgettable Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly. The movie's theme song, "Moon River," with music by Henry Mancini and lyrics by Johnny Mercer, won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. For decades since the movie's release, young women have dreamed of emulating Hepburn's trim elegance as Holly – her black evening dress, pearls, the swooped-up hair, cigarette holder, and sunglasses, and many have attempted the effort. The other day, as I was passing the famous store on Fifth Avenue, I spotted yet another wannabe, all decked out in black and pearls and posing for photos in front of the main entrance.
For reasons of personal and intellectual biography, I am intrigued with the novella, even more than the film. The literary version reveals Capote's original Holly Golightly to be a character of rough edges and gritty language, more like a beautiful street punk. The movie is much straighter in most every way. While the movie version updated the original to 1961, Capote's story is set during World War II, a time that makes the 18-year-old Holly a poor child of the Great Depression. Now, that's interesting.
Why am I interested? As soon as I started reading the novella and came across the narrator's description of Holly playing the guitar on the fire escape - those "Harsh-tender wandering tunes with words that smacked of pineywoods or prairie," I knew that this girl was from Texas. As a lonesome soul in the big city myself, it takes one to know one. I, too, know how to pepper conversations with a dose of French in order to disguise a twang.
I also think about my mother. My mother's maiden name, Gellatly, is a variation of Golightly, and my mother was a descent of a Scottish family that settled in the piney woods of East Texas in the middle of the 19th century, the time of the earliest Anglo settlers. A family cemetery in Geneva, Texas bears the family name. My mother loved the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's and relished the fact that she was a Golightly, but the real reason she loved the movie was that she loved the glamor of New York. After my father died, we started taking trips to the city, and I think she always envisioned me living here one day. My mother was far different from Lulamae Golightly of Tulip, Texas, but she did raise me to assert some of Holly's independence, versatility, and playfulness. She also had a thing for Chanel.
Truman Capote was born September 30, 1924 in New Orleans to Lillie Mae Faulk, a 16-year-old beauty queen and Archulus "Arch" Persons, a salesman. His parents divorced when he was 4, and he moved to Monroeville, Alabama to live with relatives. When his mother remarried, this time to a successful businessman, she brought Truman to a new life in New York. In the city he attended the Trinity School and St. John's Academy, and also public schools in Greenwich, Connecticut. At the age of seventeen, Capote went to work at the New Yorker.
The forthcoming New York walks inspired by these stories could lead down several paths. We could walk around the east 70s, especially east of Lexington, stopping to pay our respects at No. 169 E. 71st St., the location used for exterior shots of Holly Golightly's brownstone in the movie version. The novella, on the other hand, suggests many other walks. Capote cites several specific locations including an antique store on Third and 51st Street, P. J. Clarke's at Third and 55th, and of, course, Tiffany and Co. at Fifth Avenue at 57th Street. At one point, the writer-narrator and Holly walk from the neighborhood all the way to Chinatown. That's a long, but manageable walk. We could also visit a few places special to Truman Capote, including his last residence at United Nations Plaza. We'll just see where our feet take us.
Images of 727 Fifth Avenue by Walking Off the Big Apple.