Blake Edwards’ film adaptation of Truman Capote’s novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s opens with Holly Golightly gazing longingly in the famed jeweler’s window. She is holding one of those iconic paper cups of cheap New York deli coffee in her hands. Dawn is quietly breaking around her, and for all her cultivated glamour, she is utterly alone on that famed stretch of Fifth Avenue. (Years later, in Victor/Victoria, Edwards poses his wife Julie Andrews in the same position outside a cafe in Paris. Freezing, starving, and anonymous, Victoria, like Holly, is also hungry for richer nourishment, deeper meaning.) In Capote’s version, our heroine leaves us much as we found her, on the run. “Never love a wild thing,” indeed. In Edwards’ Technicolor reimagination, Holly and Fred end up kissing in an alley in the rain, the poor, nameless slob of a “Cat” in their arms. Hollywood demands happy endings. And Edwards, the jaundiced populist, did not shy from them.
By the time Capote died in 1984, my family was in the video rental business, so I had seen every Edwards movie to date. I liked him. And I loved every minute of Audrey Hepburn’s portrayal, developed a mad crush on George Peppard’s “Fred,” and was slightly scared of Patricia Neal’s jaded, lusty socialite. I was just a teenager, and I read my destiny in the tealeaves that swirled about these damaged, fabulous creatures. But his ending really irked me. How dare he cheapen such a masterpiece with disposable sentimentality? That summer, after reading Capote’s eulogy in the LA Times as I sat on our porch in Silverlake, I went to the library and read the novella over and over. My heart broke repeatedly when Holly jetted off to South America dreaming of spawning tan babies with light eyes. It broke because I accepted the lesson. You cannot be a “real phony” in one place for too long.
Naturally, this first-generation Mexican American sissy eventually moved to New York and scored a job at Playboy. Their offices were located right across the street from Tiffany’s. I could not walk to work from the subway with my cheap deli cup of coffee in my hands and not think of Edwards’ scene. Holly was always there. My fantasy was further heightened by the woman I called boss: a petite black Irish girl who greeted me in a mini skirt and sunglasses pushed up over her head. When she leaned over the catwalk along the giant neon bunny in the lobby and called my name, I felt like Fred looking at Holly on the fire escape. “Moon River” echoed in my head. Throughout the years, I encountered and became enamored of many such women in New York. And every time I did, I thought of Edwards’ Holly, not Capote’s.
The older I became the more I came to understand Blake Edwards’ ending. There was nothing cheap about it. In its own way, it was revolutionary. Like Truman and the rest of us, Edwards fell in love with Holly. Unlike Truman and the rest of us, he dared give her what we all secretly longed for — more than comfort, an immeasurable joy in one’s own skin, warts and all.
Blake Edwards died Wednesday night of pneumonia. He was 88. His wife of 42 years, Julie Andrews, “that broad with the incomparable soprano and the promiscuous vocabulary” was at his side. His description of her, like his movies, revealed his uncanny compassion for creatures that are most sacred when they are profane. When I heard the news of his passing, I choked up. I had never met the man. But I felt like I had lost a mentor and protector. Born Wiilam Blake Crump in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Edwards knew the intersection of redemption and reinvention well. It looked a lot like the corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street.