Book Review: BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S by Truman Capote

Cover of Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman CapoteThe delicious little anecdote related by Christopher Bram in Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America that finally inspired me to pick this up in the first place:

“…he had taken the title from Lincoln Kirstein. Kirstein liked to tell a story of a how he picked up a Marine one night and offered to take the man someplace fancy for breakfast. The only fancy place the Marine knew in New York was Tiffany’s” (64).

I’ve seen the Blake Edwards-directed film multiple times over the years, and for me it’s one of those films that lingers cheerfully in the memory but is startlingly mediocre in the process of actually watching (Hepburn’s electric, iconic vivacity the unexpected trump card that manages to carry everything through long rough stretches). Bram isn’t very enthusiastic about the novella either—musing that “it became a classic and it’s hard to say why”—but I was sufficiently intrigued with his hypothesis that “much of its charm comes from something left half-said: it’s the story of a romantic friendship between a straight woman and a gay man,” and that “since their affection cannot end in sex or marriage, the two must explore other, less obvious ways to be intimate” (of course this is excised in the film, with Peppard’s character instead played as a hunky—and strappingly heterosexual—kept man. The necessity for Pat Neal’s arch-eyebrowed amusement is the sole compensation for such a dull modification).

George Peppard and Patricia Neal in Breakfast at Tiffany's

Fabulously beturbaned Patricia Neal provides some compensation for the de-gayification of George Peppard’s character in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961).

Long story short, by turning to Capote what I was hoping to access a queer foundation that could begin clarifying this most celebrated fairy tale (pun intended, of course), and if lucky discover in the process the first Great Depiction of the archetypal straight gal/gay male BFF relationship. Alas, I didn’t really find anything of the sort: the dynamic is undeniably is there, but despite Bram’s assessment it’s not only not meaningfully explored on any level—it’s just not really touched upon at all. And so I was inevitably disappointed, though I fully realize that it’s not really fair to judge the text by my outside expectations.

As such, I suspect I’ll find myself wanting to return at some point, much like the film, with vague but pleasant memories overriding initial misgivings. Hoping for better luck next time.

And finally, for a convergence of the textual and cinematic, two photobooth photos, circa 1956, of Capote, Hepburn, and Hepburn’s then-husband Mel Ferrer. Frankly, I find them more disarmingly effervescent than the book and film combined:

Truman Capote, Audrey Hepburn, and Mel Ferrer Photobooth Photo Truman Capote, Audrey Hepburn, and Mel Ferrer Photobooth Photo