Blake Edwards’ feature film adaptation of Truman Capote’s 1958 novella, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, hit screens in 1961 and eventually became the movie most associated with actress Audrey Hepburn. Also starring George Peppard, this bittersweet story of the iconic, doe-eyed Holly Golightly uses New York City as a chic backdrop, like a vibrant, fashion show runway. And by depicting the city as a colorful dreamland, the movie manages to perfectly merry the on-location footage with the Hollywood recreations (which are aplenty).
Tiffany & Co.
Almost all of these filming locations have been identified for some time now, so very little legwork was needed when I began researching this movie. Of course, Fifth Avenue’s Tiffany & Co. (colloquially known as Tiffany’s) has long been a well-known landmark in New York City, in no small part to its alluring depiction this film.
This ten-story retail building in Midtown Manhattan has served as Tiffany & Co.’s flagship store since its completion in 1940 and has been featured in several other films, most notably in an early montage from the gritty drama, Midnight Cowboy. Designed in a “conservative modern” style with a facade made up of granite and limestone, the building features a 9-foot statue of the mythological figure Atlas which appears above Audrey Hepburn when she first arrives at the store.
Also featured in a later scene in Breakfast at Tiffany’s is the building’s first-floor 8,400 sq ft salesroom, which has became a popular tourist destination.
It’s hard to know how much this movie has impacted Tiffany’s popularity, but the luxury retail store has clearly embraced its association, adding a cafe in 2017 to give customers the opportunity to actually have “breakfast at Tiffany’s.” (But be warned: the meal can easily cost you upwards of fifty bucks per person.)
Then in 2023, they added something called, “The Audrey Experience” — an immersive exhibit that takes visitors inside the movie, including a replica of Holly Golightly’s Givenchy dress.
The new exhibit is just one small piece of a major two and a half year renovation of the building, completed in April of 2023. This transformation project involved a complete redesign of the store’s interior spaces, including a floor-to-ceiling plasma digital screens on the main floor in lieu of windows.
The multimillion dollar renovation also involved work on the exterior, which included the removal of a three-story rooftop addition from 1980, and replacing it with a new, similarly-sized glass enclosure. This ambitious update necessitated lifting a massive crane onto the building’s roof — only the fourth time in the city’s history where that had occurred.
When the main store reopened on April 27, 2023, Tiffany & Co hosted a lavish, two-day party to celebrate the event, catering to their new target clientele, who were described by CEO Anthony Ledru as the “ultra-elite.”
The Apartment Building
Apart from the Fifth Avenue flagship store, Holly and Paul’s apartment building is certainly the most popular filming location from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. In fact, this Upper East Side townhouse is probably one of the most visited filming locations in all of NYC. It’s even labeled on Google Maps, which is something they don’t do very often — the only other two I know of are the Ghostbusters firehouse and the Friends apartment building.
When I went to this Breakfast location in 2017 and then again in 2023 to take modern pictures, I was surprised to see other people there taking pictures as well. I guess wasn’t expecting to see anyone there, considering the movie is over sixty years old and the location is on a nondescript residential street that’s sort of off the beaten path. But of the people there, I wasn’t surprised that I was the only one who was a dude.
The main reason I went to the location twice is because when I first went there in 2017, the townhouse was being renovated and was partially obscured with construction apparatus. When I returned six years later, I was pleased to see a fully restored building that looked a lot like it did in this film.
Sing Sing Prison
With a clear view of a prison watchtower and a large river in the background, I was fairly certain that this establishing shot of Sing Sing correctional facility was filmed on location in Ossining, NY. It just became a matter of figuring out which tower was featured in the shot.
After hovering around in Google’s 3D Satellite View, I determined they filmed the east wall of the facility along Correctional Facility Road close to where Holla Hose Company No. 5 was situated on next street over.
Once I had a fix of the spot used in the film, I wasn’t very confident that I’d be able to get a similar looking modern photo. I could tell the angle used in the film was fairly high, which I assumed was achieved using a crane or some raised scaffolding. However, once I realized there was a small embankment to the east of Correctional Facility Road, I figured the crew simply filmed from the top of it, which also gave me hope that I’d be able to replicate the shot.
While this was an encouraging development, I still had a few reservations when it came to being able to take a modern picture. I figured I would most likely have to go onto private property to get to the same spot used in the film, and in general, scurrying around the perimeter of a maximum-security prison is a bit risky.
After studying a map of the area, I determined that the crew probably set up the camera near where Holla Hose Company No. 5 was located, which was fortunate. Of all the property owners along that embankment, I figured the people at a fire station might be most amenable to letting me take some pictures.
In the end, it was sort of a moot point, as the station was clearly closed and unattended when I visited Ossining. While I don’t love the idea of entering property without permission, it was a pretty quick and harmless excursion. The fire company had a small, well-maintained backyard behind the building with easy access, and a decent, unobstructed view of the prison. So I was able to take a series of pictures and be on my way within minutes.
It might be noted that in the movie, this establishing shot of Sing Sing was immediately preceded by a shot of commuter train supposedly traveling upstate from the city. By the looks of it, I figured it was the Metro North railroad somewhere along Park Avenue in upper Manhattan.
After cruising around in Google 3D, I found matching buildings at the Carver Houses public housing development near East 102nd Street. Unfortunately, unlike up in Ossining, there was no convenient embankment near the rail to allow me to get a matching high-angle shot.
Sitting by a Fountain
Walking Around the City
Released From Jail
It’s hard to fathom the unanimous lack of faith that originally revolved around this now-beloved 1961 Blake Edwards-directed classic, but truth, as sages have often pointed out, is indeed stranger than fiction. Much of the initial hostility came from the picture’s creator, writer Truman Capote, whose 1958 novella provided Breakfast at Tiffany’s setting. He hated everything about the show, most prominently the casting of Audrey Hepburn. Talk about one extreme to the other; Capote insisted that he had only agreed to a screen version in the first place under the presumption that it be prepared for Marilyn Monroe! To the author’s dying day, he hoped the work would be re-made correctly – updating his casting choice with Jodie Foster, whom he thought perfectly matched his original Lolita-esque conception.
But there was equal static on the home front. After several Paramount executive screenings, the general consensus was that while Breakfast at Tiffany’s, as a whole, was okay, that damned song “Moon River” had to go. This wasn’t simply a wish held by thickheaded suits, including co-producer Martin Jurow, but by the tune’s lyricist, the usually perceptive genius Johnny Mercer. Mercer, depressed about the then-current state of the music business, felt that rock and roll would soon bring about his own demise. Writing three separate sets of lyrics, he told composer Henry Mancini, “…(W)ho’s going to record a waltz? We’ll do it for the picture, but after that it hasn’t any future commercially.”
For Mancini, who had a hit with TV’s Peter Gunn theme, this would be his first time at bat attempting an original song for a big screen movie – his inspiration coming from it’s charismatic star: “Normally, I have to see a completed film before I’ll compose the music, but with Breakfast at Tiffany’s I knew what to write for Audrey just by reading the script.” It was the first of his many home runs. For the record, out of five nominations, Breakfast at Tiffany’s won only for Best Song and Best Scoring for a Comedy or Dramatic Picture. Since 1961, “Moon River” has become not only a standard but one of the most recorded ditties of all time (Mancini figured that there were about 10,000 separate renditions – his favorite being the version sung in the movie by Hepburn on the fire escape). It also was listed high in a poll of the Greatest Songs of the Sixties, became Andy Williams signature tune, and, irony of irony, when Mercer’s best selling biography was published, it was appropriately entitled Our Huckleberry Friend!
Hepburn, who, for movie fans the world over, owns the part of Holly Golightly as much as she does Sabrina (1954) and the leads in Roman Holiday (1953) and Funny Face (1957), too had reservations about the movie and her portrayal in it. Early test previews did not fare well, and it was only after a final married print was unspooled for the actress did her expectations do a 360 degree turnaround. Enthusiastically, she penned the following note to Mancini: “I have just seen our picture – Breakfast at Tiffany’s – this time with your score. A movie without music is a little bit like an aeroplane without fuel. However beautifully the job is done, we are still on the ground…Your music has lifted us all up and sent us soaring. Everything we cannot say with words or show with action you have expressed for us. You have done this with so much imagination, fun and beauty. You are the hippest of cats – and most sensitive of composers.” How classy is that?
reakfast at Tiffany’s was a sacred film in my household growing up. My mother’s VHS tape, fuzzily recorded off TV, was plastered in “do not tape over” warning labels, a defence I might have to explain to someone born 10 years later than I was. The opening credits on this worn copy were briefly disrupted with footage from the 1988 Wimbledon men’s final – still overlaid, in an altogether lovely technological blip, with the wistful strains of Henry Mancini’s Moon River theme. The warning labels dated from shortly after this unfortunate, swiftly aborted overlap.
1971, KLUTE<br>JANE FONDA Character(s): Bree Daniels Film ‘KLUTE’ (1971) Directed By ALAN J. PAKULA 23 June 1971 AFB5063 Allstar/WARNER BROS (USA 1971) **WARNING** This Photograph is for editorial use only and is the copyright of WARNER BROS and/or the Photographer assigned by the Film or Production Company & can only be reproduced by publications in conjunction with the promotion of the above Film. A Mandatory Credit To WARNER BROS is required. The Photographer should also be credited when known. No commercial use can be granted without written authority from the Film Company. Entertainment Orientation Landscape
Klute at 50: a thriller less interested in a killer and more in character
I thus grew up thinking of Breakfast at Tiffany’s as a film that belonged – via the tape, in a most literal and physical sense – specifically to one person. And then, by extension, to me, as a kind of inheritance. We watched it many times in my childhood, when I was rather too young to understand what exactly Manhattan socialite Holly Golightly did with her life – though, in my defence, the film rather sidesteps the issue too. No matter: it was probably one of my first encounters with pure movie star power, or at least one of the first times I recognised it as such. Audrey Hepburn, so perfectly doe-eyed and beehived and brightly funny and winsomely sad, seemed as much to me a force of magic as Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music, even if the person she was playing made less sense to me. And not least of all – probably most of all, if I’m being honest – there was a cat. Cats were a cheap and easy way to my heart in a movie: the whiplash of panic and relief I felt over the rash disposal and cute retrieval of Holly’s ginger mog returns to me every time I watch it still.
All of which is to say that Blake Edwards’ essentially modest romantic comedy became for me one of those strange texts by which you mark your own shifts in understanding and perspective. Every few years it looked a little different: a bleak undertow appeared in Holly’s jolly everyday carousel of parties and suitors, as did the poignant aspirationalism of her morning window-shopping walks. The film may undersell the irony and subtle sorrow of Truman Capote’s source novella – reading that, too, makes the film forever play differently – but its between-the-lines balance of bitter to sweet, too, tastes different with age. (I understood, too, why we usually fast-forwarded through Mickey Rooney’s yellowface scenes as Holly’s crotchety Japanese landlord: I had thought them merely an unfunny diversion, though they were certainly that too.)
With the film now 60, and me nearly 40, my affection for it endures – despite the ways in which it softens and compromises Capote’s sharper, tarter character study, or perhaps because of them. It is perhaps one of the great Hollywood examples of good literary adaptation yielding a fresh gift altogether, rather than a faithful, secondary evocation. The film’s sweetened love story between two (admittedly very pretty) social outliers – one a guarded extrovert, the other a writer trying to crack the world around him – may be nothing like Capote’s more detached, unromantic portrait of a woman alone in her crowded social whirl, aiming to draw different emotions from its audience entirely. But there’s still a tender kind of truth to its sentimentality, and a heartsore vulnerability to Hepburn’s little-girl-lost performance that cuts through the cliche of that very description.
As a rural midwesterner whose on-loan uptown chic is a well-wrought disguise, assisting her escape from a life and marriage without adventure, Hepburn’s Holly Golightly is a kind of exaggerated emblem of who we all become – at least for a time – when we move away from home and have the freedom to reintroduce ourselves to the world. You can see why Capote, who lobbied the studio to cast Marilyn Monroe in the part, was unhappy with Hepburn’s casting: there is no part of her, even buried deep within, that speaks of middle America. But as the performed it-girl Holly, gradually losing track of her past selves, she’s both movingly fragile – we’d get her wounded wanderlust even if she hadn’t been handed Moon River to sing in a perfect spotlight scene, but it doesn’t hurt – and irresistibly spritzy. Decades later, her performance stands as a kind of manic pixie dreamgirl prototype, well before that stock character was overwhelmed and infantilised with hyper-quirkiness.
Meanwhile, whatever the film’s kissing-in-the-rain happy ending might say, she remains a romantic heroine primarily defined by wilful independence: it’s significant, and perhaps even appropriate, that Hepburn’s leading man (the perfectly likable George Peppard, some years before grizzled A-Team renown) wasn’t remotely on her level of celebrity or luminosity. You can trace her DNA through an assortment of single (or singular) women in New York in film and TV, from Annie Hall to Carrie Bradshaw to Frances Ha: she’s scarcely like any of them, of course, but you can solidly bet on all those characters having seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s at some point, and fostered dreams of their own Holly Golightly reinvention.
George Peppard and Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s
George Peppard and Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s Photograph: Allstar/Paramount/Sportsphoto Ltd/Allstar
It’s what makes Holly, and Hepburn’s reading of her, worthy of the much-abused tag “iconic” – more so, for better or worse, than Capote’s more barbed creation. She may indeed be more icon than character at this point, her signature little black dress, updo and cigarette holder now a recognised code – and costume – for cosmopolitan urban femininity even among people who have never seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Likewise, not everyone who continues to stick the film’s instantly recognisable poster, with its multi-coloured border and magazine-style illustration, on their dorm-room wall is necessarily a fan of the film. It instead stands for an abstract nostalgia – not for lived experience, but the glamour of a past life – even among people too young to remember Deep Blue Something’s yowling indie-pop ear worm Breakfast at Tiffany’s, gradually and thankfully receding in the film’s cultural legacy.
It’s hard to think of many films that have been so extensively broken down into enduring images and echoing symbology, quite independently of its own fandom. Turns out young me was quite wrong, whatever the aura of that scratchy VHS tape: at 60, it turns out, Breakfast at Tiffany’s sort of belongs to everyone, whether they know it or not.