Audrey Hepburn sipping coffee and nibbling on a Danish pastry while gazing into Tiffany’s front window in the early sunlight of a New York morning quickly became an iconic movie moment when BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S opened on Oct. 6, 1961.
Had things gone as first planned, Marilyn Monroe would have been standing there with John Frankenheimer directing instead of Blake Edwards. Truman Capote, who wrote the 1958 novella the Paramount film was based on, had envisioned Marilyn as his elegant lady-of-the-evening Holly Golightly. But after she was cast, Marilyn’s drama coach, Lee Strasberg, warned that playing that sort of part would hurt her image.
So the search was on for a new Holly. Shirley MacLaine & Kim Novak were among those who passed. When it finally went to Hepburn, Capote made no secret of being very unhappy. That made Hepburn highly self-conscious whenever the bestselling author turned up on set. In fact, Hepburn thought she had been miscast as Holly and felt that way even after receiving a best actress Oscar nomination.
Hepburn did, however, insist on having a new director, saying she’d never heard of Frankenheimer. She wasn’t wrong as he’d only made one small film prior to 1960. After Frankenheimer was paid off, he was suddenly available to direct what became the classic thriller THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, starring Frank Sinatra & Laurence Harvey. George Axelrod, its screenwriter & producer (with Frankenheimer), also happened to be the screenwriter for BREAKFAST.
Hepburn definitely knew of Edwards, who’d already directed the 1959 comedy OPERATION PETTICOAT with Cary Grant & Tony Curtis. Edwards went on to direct a long list of movie hits, including THE DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES (1962), THE PINK PANTHER (1963) plus many of its sequels, and 10 (1979).
Edwards had his hands full from the start. The first scene they shot was Holly eating her Danish at Tiffany’s. Hepburn, however, hated pastries. That was bad enough, but the scene was complicated, although it doesn’t look it, and many takes were necessary — meaning many bites of unwanted Danish. The role was particularly difficult for Hepburn, who in real life was quite introverted while Holly was an extreme extrovert.
To score the film and create a key song for Hepburn, Edwards hired composer Henry Mancini, who’d done the theme for the PETER GUNN series (1958-61) that Edwards directed. Mancini brought in lyricist Johnny Mercer and together they created “Moon River,” which almost was titled “I’m Holly” or “Blue River.”
At a studio meeting after an early BREAKFAST screening, an executive said of “Moon River,” “I think the first thing we can do is get rid of that stupid song.” Whereupon, Hepburn stood up and replied, “Over my dead body!”