Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and the Dawn of the Modern Womanby Sam Wasson
Audrey Hepburn is an icon like no other, yet the image many of us have of Hepburndainty, immaculateis anything but true to life. Here, for the first time, Sam Wasson presents the woman behind the little black dress that rocked the nation in 1961. With a colorful cast of characters including Truman Capote, Edith Head, Givenchy, “Moon River”… See more details below
Audrey Hepburn is an icon like no other, yet the image many of us have of Hepburndainty, immaculateis anything but true to life. Here, for the first time, Sam Wasson presents the woman behind the little black dress that rocked the nation in 1961. With a colorful cast of characters including Truman Capote, Edith Head, Givenchy, “Moon River” composer Henry Mancini, and, of course, Hepburn herself, Wasson immerses us in the America of the early sixties before Woodstock and birth control, when a not-so-virginal girl by the name of Holly Golightly raised eyebrows across the country, changing fashion, film, and sex for good.
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Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman
By Sam Wasson
Harper PerennialCopyright © 2011 Sam Wasson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHINKING IT
THE FIRST HOLLY
Traveling was forced upon little Truman Capote from the
beginning. By the late 1920s, his mother, Lillie Mae, had made a
habit of abandoning her son with relatives for months at a time
while she went round and round from man to high-falutin'
man. Gradually the hand offs began to hurt Truman lesseither
that, or he grew more accustomed to the painand in time,
his knack for adaptation turned into something like genius.
He was able to fit in anywhere.
After his parents' divorce, five-year old Truman was sent
to his aunt's house in Monroeville, Alabama. Now was Lillie
Mae's chance to quit that jerkwater town and hightail it to a big
city. Only there could she become the rich and adored society
woman she knew she was destined to be, and probably would
have been, if it weren't for Truman, the son she never wanted
to begin with. When she was pregnant, Lillie MaeNina, as
she introduced herself in New Yorkhad tried to abort him.
Perhaps if she had gone away and stayed away, young
Truman would have suffered less. But Nina never stayed away
from Monroeville for long. In a whirl of fancy fabrics, she would
turn up unannounced, tickle Truman's chin, offer up an assortment
of apologies, and disappear. And then, as if it had never
happened before, it would happen all over again. Inevitably,
Nina's latest beau would reject her for being the peasant girl
she tried so hard not to be, and down the service elevator she
would go, running all the way back to Truman with enormous
tears ballooning from her eyes. A day or so would pass;
Nina would take stock of her Alabama surroundings and once
again, vanish to Manhattan's highest penthouses.
Had he been older, Truman might have stolen his heart
back from his mother the way he would learn to shield it from
others, but in those days he was still too young to be anything
but in love with her. She said she loved him, too, and at times,
like when she brought him with her to a hotel, promising that
now they'd really be together, it looked to him as though she
finally meant it. Imagine his surprise then when Nina locked
him in the room and went next door to make money-minded
love with some ritzy someone deep into the night. Truman, of
course, heard everything. On one such occasion, he found a
rogue vial of her perfume and with the desperation of a junkie,
drank it all the way to the bottom. It didn't bring her back, but
for a few pungent swallows, it brought her closer.
For the better part of Capote's career as a novelist, that
bottlewhat was left of his motherwould be the wellspring
of most of his creations. The idea of her, like the idea of love
and the idea of home, proved a very hard thing to pin down.
He tried, though. But no number of perfume bottles or whiskey
bottles, no matter how deep or beautiful, could alter the
fact of her absence. Nor could most of the women or men to
whom Truman attached himself. They could never pour
enough warmth into the void.
In consequence, Capote was equal parts yearning and
vengeance, clutching at his intimates with fingers of knives
that he would turn back on himself when left alone. However
sharp, those fingers pulled his mother from the past and
put her on the page where, in the form of language, he could
remake her perfume into a bottomless fragrance called Holly
Golightly. That's how Truman finally learned the meaning of
Once the reading world got a whiff of it, eau d'Holly made
everyone fall in love with Truman, which, since his mother
had left him that first time, was the only thing he ever wanted.
That and a homea feeling of something familiarlike an
old smell, a favorite scarf, or the white rose paperweight that
sat on Truman's desk as he wrote Breakfast at Tiffany's.
THE WHITE ROSE PAPERWEIGHT
When he was in Paris in 1948, soaking in accolades for his lurid
first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms, Truman was delivered
by Jean Cocteau to Colette's apartment in the Palais Royal. She
was nearing eighty, but the author of Gigi, the Claudine novels,
and countless others, was still France's grandest grande dame
In full recline, Colette, racked with arthritis, no doubt
smiled at Truman's author photograph on the dust jacket of
Other Voices. Staring out at her with his languid eyes and slick
lips, the boy's salacious look was one the old woman knew well;
in her day, she had rocked Paris with a few succès de scandales
of her own, both on the page and off. Now here was this rascal
with his angel's facea hungry angel's face. How delicious.
She felt for sure there existed a kind of artery between them,
and even before he entered her bedroom, Truman sensed it
too. "Bonjour, Madame." "Bonjour." They hardly spoke each
other's language, but as he approached her bedside, their bond
grew from assured to obvious. The artery was in the heart.
After the tea was served, the room got warmer, and Colette
opened Truman's twenty-three-year old hand. In it she
placed a crystal paperweight with a white rose at its center.
"What does it remind you of?" she asked. "What images occur
Truman turned it around in his hand. "Young girls in their
communion dresses," he said.
The remark pleased Colette. "Very charming," she said. "Very
apt. Now I can see what Jean told me is true. He said, 'Don't
be fooled, my dear. He looks like a ten-year old angel. But he's
ageless, and has a very wicked mind.' " She gave it to him, a
Capote would collect paperweights for the rest of his life,
but years later the white rose was still his favorite. Truman
took it with him almost everywhere.
It all began for Audrey Hepburn in spring of 1951 on a gorgeous
day like any other. She rose at dawn, had a cup of coffee
in bed, and took her breakfasttwo boiled eggs and a slice of
whole wheat toastto the window, where she could watch the
morning people of Monte Carlo sail their yachts into the sea.
Such a leisurely breakfast was a rare pleasure for her; back in
England, where she had been working regularly, they started
shooting at sunup. But the French liked to do things differently.
They didn't really get going until après dejeuner, and
they worked late into the night, which gave Audrey mornings
to explore the beaches and casinos, and time to place a call to
James, her fiancé, who was off in Canada on businessagain.
He really was a very sweet boy, and attractive, and from the
Hansons, a good and wealthy family. He loved her of course,
and she loved him, and from the way it looked in the press,
they had everything. But everything is nothing when there's
no time to enjoy it. With her schedule taking her from film
to film, and his seemingly endless tour of the world's ritziest
boardrooms, it was beginning to look like they were betrothed
in name only. Perhaps, Audrey thought, she was foolish to
think she could be an actress and a wife. If she wanted to settle
downand she did, very badlyshe would have to put films
aside. At least, that's what James said. Only then could they
really truly be together.
Somewhere in her mind they were. They had a house, two
or three children, and a limitless expanse of days broken only
by sleep. Thankfully, her role in Monte Carlo Baby was only
going to last a month. That was no small consolation.
The Hotel de Paris was unquestionably the most stunning
hotel in all of Monaco. Judging from its façade, a Belle Epoque
confection of arches and spires, only the absolute cream of
society could make a habit of staying there. For Audrey, who
had never been to the Riviera, being at the Hôtel de Paris was
a thrill tempered only by her longing for James and the inanity
of the film (the script was drivel; some semi-musical fluff about
a missing baby). But for Colette, it was nothing unusual, just
another drop in the great gold bucket of luxury; she had been
a regular since 1908. Now, as a guest of Prince Rainier, Colette
was the palace queen, and as her wheelchair was turned down
the hotel's stately corridors, that's exactly how the footmen
greeted her. No doubt they saw in the old woman all the
arterial fire of her novels, which seemed to throb through her
from toe to tête, culminating in an explosion of red-broccoli
The doctors sent her there to rest, but resting, for Colette,
required more effort than working. Since her New York agent's
assistant had taken it upon himself to single-handedly produce
a play of her novel Gigi, Colette couldn't get the idea out of
her mind. She'd even gone a little delirious trying to cast the
title part and began to see Gigis everywhereon the street, in
the sea, and popping up in photographs. But none quite satisfied
Colette, and time wore expensively on. Those who had
invested in the project grew restless, andas tends to be the
case in most casting legendsthey were about to force the
play upon a proven star, when, at the last minute, Colette was
disturbed on her way to dinner.
What was about to happen would change Audrey's life
To her annoyance, Colette discovered that the main dining
room had been closed for the shooting of Monte Carlo Baby. Would
she, the maître d' asked her, take her dinner in the breakfast room
instead? Absoluement non! Insulted, Colette pushed her way right
into the dining room and right into the middle of a take.
The scene stopped dead in its tracks. The crew looked up.
No one breathed, except Colette. Catching sight of a strangely
compelling young woman, Colette squinted through the
beaming lights and raised her eyeglasses for a closer look.
Audrey, of course, had no inkling of being watched. Nor
had Colette any inkling of who she was. What she did know,
however, was that she seemed to have stepped into her own
novel: in face, body, and poise, she was staring at Gigi come
Perhaps Colette stared for full minutes, or perhaps just
moments, but most likely she spoke out instantly, for as Audrey
has proven millions of times since, that is all it takes for
her to overcome whoever lays eyes on her. In an instanta
scientific measurement when speaking of starsshe conveyed
to Colette what it took the author an entire novel to describe.
That is, the story of a Parisian girl, who at sixteen, was set to
undergo the education of a courtesan.
"Voilà," Colette said to herself, "c'est Gigi."
And like that, Audrey's transformation had begun.
"Voilà . . ." Like that.
It all sounds so magical, and indeed in a way it was, but
like all perfect acts of casting, Colette's epiphany was born of
more than just gut feelingit was born from fact. Although
Audrey's innate sensuality, her Gigi-ness, was written all over
her, no one until Colette had seen it. Perhaps it was because of
Audrey's strangeness. Her legs were too long, her waist was
too small, her feet were too big, and so were her eyes, nose,
and the two gaping nostrils in it. When she smiled (and she
did often), she revealed a mouth that swallowed up her face
and a row of jagged teeth that wouldn't look too good in closeups.
She was undoubtedly not what you would call attractive.
Cute maybe, charming, for sure, but with only the slightest
hint of makeup and a bust no bigger than two fists, she was
hardly desirable. The poor girl was even a bit round-faced.
And yet Colette couldn't stop staring. She was fascinated.
WHAT SHE SAW PART I: THE FACE
Audrey's might not have been the face of a goddess, but like
most teenagers, Gigi did not begin as a goddess. She was simply
a girl on the precipice of young adulthood, full of potential,
but without experience. And her eyes said that, didn't they?
They were certainly on the big side, but they were also wide,
and wide-eyed people have a look of perpetual curiosity.
Colette's Gigi had that. So do all those who don't yet know the
world. But that nose would be a problem, wouldn't it? It was
not sleek or pretty in the manner of high society ladies, and
neither were her hair, teeth, or thickset eyebrows. So how
would such a Gigi, looking not unlike a stray puppy, gain
access to the haut monde?
There was little that was womanly about her in the sexual
sense, nothing that said she was capable of pleasing a man, and
certainly nothing that looked ahead to the naughty
insinuations of Holly Golightly.
Or was there? Was there a drop of sex someplace beneath?
Smiling now, Colette lowered her eyeglasses and leaned
forward for a closer look.
WHAT SHE SAW PART II: THE BODY
The girl carried herself like a suppressed ballerina. Despite
what were then considered physical imperfections, Audrey
had a remarkable discipline in movement, one that told of self-
possession impossibly beyond her years, and so much so that
to watch her, Colette had to wonder at how a thing so young
could have understood poise so completely. In her simplest
gesture Audrey communicated a complete knowledge of
propriety, and by extension, an inner grace that belied whatever
made her look that unusual in the first place. She wasn't
dancing, but she might as well have been.
EVERYTHING THAT IS IMPORTANT IN A FEMALE
A flock of admirers had approached Colette. She swatted
them off. (Colette would enchant them later. If she was in the
mood.) The old woman reached up and pulled down an
unsuspecting member of the crew.
"Who is that?" she croaked, nodding in Audrey's direction.
"That is Mademoiselle Hepburn, madame."
"Tell her I want to speak with her." She released him and
added a touch of pink powder to her nose. "Tell them to bring
her to me."
Excerpted from Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M. by Sam Wasson Copyright © 2011 by Sam Wasson. Excerpted by permission of Harper Perennial. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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