Title: Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman
Author: Sam Wasson
2017 Book Challenge Entry: A book you got from a used book sale
Thoughts: So. There are some people for whom the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a thing. It’s a very important moment for them in their education of film, fashion or being a woman. It really isn’t for me. In my opinion, Audrey Hepburn is Sabrina in Sabrina and Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. Say what you want about her dubbed singing in that movie, when she tells Henry Higgins off and finally comes into her own as an individual with her own wants and needs, I cheer for her and kind of bawl my eyes out. Every. time.
With that in mind, I’m not really sure what made me pick this one up. I’ve read Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I’ve seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I’ve liked Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The book more than the movie, but I am also a person who can recognize books and movies as separate mediums of storytelling and usually see the differences as interesting rather than insulting. However, I was at the Half Priced Books massive clearance sale at a huge warehouse in north Kansas City and out of the sea of random paperbacks, this somehow caught my eye. I realized I don’t really know much about this movie or it’s social implications, other than the fact that Truman Capote hated it, and it just seemed like it might be an interesting read. Something different.
It was pretty fascinating. There is so much more that went into this movie than I ever knew. There was all this drama with casting Audrey Hepburn because she was known as being kind of a prude on film. She played really pure characters and Holly Golightly is not pure. While the book is very clear about the fact that she is a member of the oldest profession, the movie muddied this a bit. They had to dance around the idea which, in my opinion, waters the character down significantly, but had to be done in order to a) satisfy the studio and b) to make the role something Hepburn could accept without fear of losing her fan base of women who were threatened by anyone even remotely alluring.
The thing is, Hepburn was exceedingly alluring, she didn’t insist upon it like other actresses of the same era. The book goes into the history of women’s role in the cinema and how Hepburn kind of broke the mold in a time after the censorship panels of one decade, but before true sexual liberation of another. She was sexy and beautiful without being slutty. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! (#seinfeld) She also was incredibly insecure about her acting abilities. She trusted very few directors and needed a lot of encouragement to take risks. Many people in the industry didn’t know what to do with her and it took a lot of convincing on everyone’s part to cast her as Holly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. That bit was fascinating to me because even though I love film history, I don’t have much in the way of background with films between WW2 and Star Wars. It was really interesting reading about this time in cinema and particularly the changing role of women in movies.
The other fascinating thing that is a huge part of this book and the film itself is the fashion.
Truth time. I am not a skinny girl. It took me a long time to figure out how to work with the curves I have been given and find a style that not only reflected my personality, but flattered my shape. Fashion is something I admire but cannot always adhere to. Fashion in this movie made Audrey Hepburn a household name and made Breakfast at Tiffany’s something that teenagers today watch at slumber parties and women model their weddings after. The little black dress, the immaculately tailored garments, the idea that you can look expensive without spending a lot and that a drape of pearls or the right earrings can suddenly make an outfit; it changed history. The fact that one man single handedly changed the course of an entire industry with one garment is downright amazing to me. Fashion is completely frivolous to some, but it is an art form and anyone who can put something new into any art from deserves mad props. The fact that he just did it in a major motion picture and not on a runway was even ballsier. He had to answer to all these industry heads and please a leading lady. Couldn’t have been easy. Reading about the little black dress and the change in how women saw and dressed themselves after the movie was released was honestly one of my favorite parts of this book.
And honestly, there is some seriously juicy drama between Givenchy, Edith Head, and Hepburn that would make a great book all on its own.
While the content is fantastic, it wouldn’t matter without the wonderful writing. Wasson weaves these various stories and relationships together in such a way that I feel like I’m having cocktails with a friend. I used to take this musical theatre dance class at a local studio and the guys that taught it were this awesome couple who met dancing in the chorus on Broadway like a decade ago. They would teach routines they learned and tell us stories about tours they did all over the world. The stories would always involve some famous dancer or choreographer and it just felt fun to have an inside perspective on this shiny, glittery world we don’t normally get to touch. That’s how Wasson writes this story. I loved it. Every page.
It was way up my alley, but I know this might not be for everyone. I came to it with a bit of a background in film and fashion that made me giddy before I even broke the spine. I know that some readers may not appreciate the content. That’s fine. If you are a lover of movies at all and especially love a good behind the scenes story with more meat than you expect, pick it up. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.