From Mess to Masterpiece

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how 'breakfast at tiffany's' rose from the ashes to become the quintessential new york film.

by lorraine duffy merkl

last week i saw breakfast at tiffany's again for the first time.

even though i can practically recite every line by heart, i viewed the classic with fresh eyes when it played at the sunset film festival in carl schurz park because i had just finished sam wasson's behind-the-scenes book about the movie, fifth avenue, 5 a.m.: audrey hepburn, breakfast at tiffany's, and the dawn of the modern woman.

the film is a light-hearted version of truman capote's dark, rather bitter novella, and i love it. i always put aside the fact that holly and paul sleep with people for money, and chose only to see the depiction of everything that is fun, carefree and glamorous about striving to make it in new york. the wasson tell-all has changed that for me.

now i see a big ol' mess that somehow turned into a masterpiece.

let's begin with the novel. i know it's hard to make it in the city, but even truman capote, the cause célèbre of the literary world, found his manuscript turned down by harper's bazaar, despite the fact that they had a publishing deal with him. i guess that was all for the best, since it ended up as a book rather than as a few pages in a magazine.

next, the film almost wasn't made because the producers didn't know what to do with a novel that had no second act, a nameless gay protagonist, as well as an unhappy ending. this was not the stuff of which hollywood hits were made.

this time, as i watched the willowy, elegant audrey hepburn exit the taxi in front of tiffany's in her sunglasses and black gown, danish in hand, i kept envisioning a crass and curvaceous marilyn monroe, who capote originally wanted for the part.

i listened to "moon river" trying to figure out how the producers could have possibly thought that oscar-winner henry mancini was not up to the task of scoring the film.

and for the first time, i did not swoon over the charming, boyishly handsome voice of reason, pre-a-team george peppard (who i attest looks like my husband) because i was haunted by wasson's description of him as a surly, humorless whiner, who director blake edwards-on bended knee-begged the studio to replace.

oh yes, and i really didn't need to know that this quintessential new york film was shot in california, with only a week's production here for exteriors.

when all was said and done, though, and holly and paul kiss in the rain with cat safely between them, my movie, about a new york woman who finally chooses a man based on love and not finances, comes shining through.

fifth avenue, 5 a.m. showed me that a project's end result can still satisfy even though the process is disorganized, fraught with bad judgments and is just plain maddening-similar to some of our city's current undertakings.

i've decided to transfer my new knowledge regarding the mess-to-masterpiece to such ideas as the second avenue subway and have started believing that in 2018, second avenue, which currently looks as though the upper east side has been bombed, will reap a worth-the-wait subway. also, that one day an admirable tribute will rise at ground zero. last, i've begun to think about our local elected officials. i've decided not to see them as "quel superrats" but to instead have faith that they can turn our city around.

in the meantime, we need to remember that we new yorkers still have a lot of good going here. as holly golightly would say, "i'm just crazy about tiffany's."


lorraine duffy merkl's debut novel, fat chick, from the vineyard press, is available at and

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