Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.
How ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ helped to usher in the ’60s.
In the popular imagination, the 1950s and 1960s were diametrically opposed, the rebellion of the ’60s born out of the repression of the ’50s. Everything exploded in 1968, literally and metaphorically, from Berkeley to Paris to Prague. Hollywood, too, underwent a sea change through the collapse of the Hollywood Production Code (or “Hays Code”), designed to ensure that “no picture shall be produced that will lower the moral standards of those who see it.” Its replacement by the Motion Picture Association of America’s rating system was as revolutionary as Prague Spring.Skip to next paragraph
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Yet like any revolution, the seeds were sown years earlier, as Sam Wasson suggests in Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman, his history of the making of the 1961 film. To claim Hepburn marks a turning point from the domestic postwar years to the ’60s, with its sexual revolutions and social upheavals, is a weighty thesis to pin on shoulders as slim as hers. Yet Wasson’s thesis works because the book is not just about Hepburn, but about the collective ambitions and anxieties that fueled the making of the film, and the shifting sociocultural context of its production.
Wasson’s story begins with novelist Truman Capote, whose heroine was inspired by his capricious mother and society “swans” like Gloria Vanderbilt and Babe Paley, whom he courted. Paley, unhappily married to a wealthy but cold husband, showed Capote that, “with wives across America financially dependent upon their husbands, being a married woman was a euphemism for being caught.” Capote’s heroine, Holly Golightly, grew out of his desire to give these women freedom and immortality. Her love interest was originally platonic – a gay man much like himself – that is, until screenwriter George Axelrod got his hands on him.
Just as America’s women, the target audience of the day, were ready to see a woman with individuality and style who was morally complex but wasn’t punished for it, Axelrod and director Blake Edwards were itching to make a romantic comedy for grown-ups.
Ironically, it is Hepburn who was the most conservative. After an engagement folded under the pressure of her career, she married Mel Ferrer, an actor 10 years her senior. Jealous of her success, Ferrer chastised her publicly when she put her elbows on the table or exhibited other “unladylike” behavior. After reading “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” Hepburn told coproducer Marty Jurow, “You have a wonderful script, but I can’t play a hooker.”