A Breakfast at Tiffany’s guide to New York
Breakfast at Tiffany’s had two real stars. One was Audrey Hepburn – and the other was New York City. As the film’s production notes put it: “It all happens in NYC as of right now.” The movie celebrates its 60th birthday in 2021, but the magic of the city that gripped its heroine, Holly Golightly, has never gone away
Truman Capote, who wrote the famous novella in 1958, called New York “the most stimulating of all the cities in the world. It’s like living inside an electric light bulb.” You could hardly get a better recipe for a movie. By 1960, when the film based on Capote’s book was shot, traces of its old post-War glamour still lingered, while the age of Andy Warhol and loft living was on the way.
But Manhattan’s Upper East Side, where Capote’s Holly Golightly lived, has a timeless appeal. Stroll the pretty streets and you’ll still find quirky antique shops and delis tucked among the high-rent properties. Holly’s comings and goings in the movie were filmed at 169, East 71st Street, though the interiors of her apartment were created on the Paramount lot in Los Angeles. You still see brownstones with steps and iron fire escapes – just right for sitting on to sing Moon River, maybe. Decades after Breakfast at Tiffany’s, we were told Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City lived just two streets away.
One of the Breakfast at Tiffany’s outdoor locations was the iconic Mall in Central Park, where Holly’s discarded husband, Doc, sits down with Paul, the young writer fascinated by her story. And anyone who’s been in New York in autumn, when the film was made, remembers the crisp air and golden leaves, and the panoramic views of the skyscrapers that make Holly swear she couldn’t ever do without this place.
But of course there’s one particular location forever linked with Holly, and with Audrey Hepburn, just a healthy walk away...
The iconic flagship store, on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street, opened in this location back in 1940, and still displays some of the diamonds that have made Tiffany’s part of history
Breakfast at Tiffany’s opens with an unforgettable shot. Fifth Avenue empty in the dawn, and a girl in a black Givenchy evening dress and pearls, staring into the shop window of Tiffany & Co as she munches her breakfast pastry. Shooting at 5am on a Sunday, the film crew managed to find the street quiet, though every other day 5,000 or more New Yorkers turned up to watch the making of the movie.
Later we hear why Holly is so obsessed with Tiffany’s – its order and security. “It calms me down right away,” she tells Paul. “The quietness and the proud look of it. Nothing very bad could happen to you there.” The iconic flagship store, on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street, opened in this location back in 1940, and still displays some of the diamonds that have made Tiffany’s part of history.
Tiffany’s opened its doors to a film crew for the first time ever to shoot the scene where Paul gets a ring from a Cracker Jack box engraved for Holly. Forty guards were there to keep an eye on the jewels. Since actors weren’t allowed to work on Tiffany’s main floor, the production paid for the store’s real sales staff to join the Screen Actors Guild. And now (pandemic and renovation work permitting) – you can even eat breakfast yourself at Tiffany’s own Blue Box Cafe.
Only some ten days were actually spent filming in NYC, but that was just long enough to capture iconic exteriors such as the steps outside the New York Public Library. Filming on location was by no means as usual in 1960 as it is today, but director Blake Edwards said in the production notes that he wanted to expose the cast to “the jangle, the roar and the smell of New York. You watch what happens. A girl just naturally steps faster and brisker in New York.”
As many as 60 people were flying backwards and forwards between LA and New York during the filming there. (Though some had it easier than others: Patricia Neal, playing the wealthy Other Woman who kept George Peppard’s Paul as a toy boy, only had to walk around the corner from her apartment on Madison Avenue with her husband Roald Dahl and three small children, for the Manhattan shoots.) Maybe it makes sense that the best way to round off your Breakfast at Tiffany’s experience is to get in motion yourself, and take one of the city’s legendary yellow taxis.
The film’s climax comes as Paul tries to persuade Holly to let love into her life – as she pushes her cat out of the cab into the pouring rain, only to relent and run sobbing to find him hiding down an alley. It’s the scene that makes Breakfast at Tiffany’s everywoman’s story.
But then, that’s the thing about New York, and Holly Golightly was far from the last girl – or guy! – to discover it. It has a special hold on all our imaginations as the place to experiment, have adventures, even make mistakes... As the place where every one of us can write our own story.
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