Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman (6 page)

(While Billy's in there, it should be known that the matter of Audrey's virginity was not just about keeping her image clean, nor had it to do with any kind of prudishness on Lehman's part, but rather, was born of a very real understanding that like Big Brother, the Production Code Administration was watching them—them, George Axelrod, and everyone else in Hollywood. So Lehman and Wilder weren't just up against each other in the brawl over Audrey's sex life, they were up against the censors.)

In dead silence, Billy waited inside the closet while the doctor examined his patient. A few moments later, Lehman was declared back to normal.

“Well, Doc,” Lehman said, sitting up in bed, “then I guess I can tell Mr. Wilder to come out now.”

The door flew open and out came the greatest director in Hollywood with a lit cigarette in his hand. He tipped his hat and left.

In the end, Lehman won: Audrey and Bogie make an omelet, not love. Wilder would have to hold off a few years until the Production Code office loosened up before he could make his most challenging statements about sexual freedom, and in fact, so would Audrey have to wait for the right national temperature before she could do the same, quite marvelously, in
Breakfast at Tiffany's
. But here in
Sabrina,
with the help of Hubert de Givenchy, they changed Audrey for good. The designer gave her a style, and the director made her an icon.

After
Sabrina,
Audrey was forever branded, on screen and
off, a young woman who asserts her individuality through her taste—and that, in an age of big breasts in big brassieres, was an altogether novel spin on her sex. (“This girl,” Wilder once said, “singlehanded, may make bosoms a thing of the past.”) On the surface, Sabrina is a girl who behaves exactly how girls were supposed to—as a Cinderella who longs only (and not carnally) for princes—but with the subversive power of glamour, she, Wilder, and Givenchy, smuggled in some new ideas from the women of the future. Key in that equation is the smuggling: were they to have been overt about it, Audrey would have been shut down by the censors, the critics, and the moviegoing public. Why she wasn't—indeed why she thrived throughout the late fifties and early sixties—was due to the public's understanding of Audrey as a good girl princess.

THE DREAM BEGINS

Only weeks after
Sabrina
premiered in September of 1954, Audrey married Mel Ferrer in Burgenstock, Switzerland. The ceremony was held in a tiny mountain chapel overlooking Lake Lucerne. Audrey wore a white robe of organdy and a halo of white roses.

Returning from their Italian honeymoon, the Ferrers discovered that they would be parents in only nine short months. The baby, Audrey said, “will be the greatest thing in my life, greater even than my success. Every woman knows what a baby means.”

At last, this was the happiness Audrey had longed for. Not the kind of happiness that went away, but the forever kind, the one that never stopped renewing every morning and every night.

OSCAR NIGHT

Sabrina
was nominated for six Academy Awards. Two of them belonged to Billy Wilder for writing and directing, one of them to Audrey, and another to Edith Head for Best Costume Design.

Amazingly, Audrey and Billy lost. But Edith Head won.

After the envelope was opened and her name was read aloud, Edith ascended the stage at the Pantages Theater to collect her Oscar. Her acceptance speech was two words, neither of which was “Hubert” or “Givenchy.” They were only “Thank you.” It was her sixth Academy Award.

MRS. MEL FERRER

In March of 1955, Audrey miscarried. Brittle now, and frail, she took to her bed. There she battled a despair so ferocious, it seemed to the few who saw her that despite her soft smiles and reassuring air, she would never fully recover. Somehow, losing a child meant losing the chance to rewrite the wrongs of her own childhood. It was forsaking little Audrey, the tenuous dancing girl of war-torn Belgium. She kept the press from her grief.

What the public saw was presented through the sugary veil of virtue. In the years following, a blissfully happy Audrey could be seen in print throughout the world, praising the virtues of wifedom. Of her life before Mel, she said to
Photoplay,
“I don't think I was a whole woman then. No woman is without love.” In a piece entitled, “Audrey's Advice: Have Fun, Let
Hubby Wear the Pants,” she confided, “He's a protective husband, and I like it. Most women do…. It's so nice being a wife and having your husband take over your worries for you.”

“She was in part attracted to Mel,” Audrey's future companion, Robert Wolders, explained, “because he was like a father figure to her. Some people say that he misused her trust in him, but I don't think that's the case at all. If he decided which parts were and were not suitable to her, I think it was because she wanted him to. It's true that he took over her life, but she wanted to be protected and she trusted Mel. In a sense, she did that with me as well.”

Audrey's supplication was so well publicized, that Ferrer, who already had a reputation for being controlling, came to be known as a kind of Svengali. The article “My Husband Doesn't Run Me” took dead aim at these rumors (“She's known dictators in her early war-shadowed life. And you can take it from Audrey Hepburn—she didn't marry one!”), but as countless Ferrer-Hepburn intimates would attest, the truth was a little different. To Hepburn biographer Warren Harris, Yul Brynner said, “Mel was jealous of her success and could not reconcile himself to the [fact that] she was much better than he in every way, so he took it out on her.” Harsh, yes, but Brynner's observation matches the general consensus; Mel Ferrer lagged behind, and it hurt him. “Of course, it's a problem,” he confessed, “when the wife outshines the husband as Audrey does me.”

3
SEEING IT

1955-1958

THE SWANS

Like every fiction, Holly Golightly was a composite of multiple nonfictions. She took her dreams of society from Truman's own mother, her existential anxieties from Capote himself, but her personality, which seemed so intimately hers, would come from the tight-knit coterie of Manhattan divas Truman so flagrantly adored. He called them his swans.

For Capote, they were it: the most glamorous and often the most powerful girlfriends in town. Feasting on daiquiris at La Grenouille or Quo Vadis, or El Morocco or 21, or sunk in a back banquette at La Côte Basque, Truman and his swans could turn lunch into performance art. With one of their gem-covered hands wrapped around his, Capote and his confidante
du jour would be seen—and overheard—lost in the titillating round of who's heard what about who. (“Oh, Tru, you're so bad! Now tell me
exactly
what she told you.” “Wellll…”) They included Oona O'Neill Chaplin, Gloria Vanderbilt, Carol Marcus, and Gloria Guinness, who wore a ring so big she couldn't fit a glove over her hand, and to the seedling Holly Golightly, they were the richest soil.

“I rarely asked anyone to my studio,” wrote Gloria Vanderbilt,

but Truman had wanted to see it, so one day I invited him there to meet my unexpected houseguest, Russell Hurd. He'd been a friend since childhood, with the looks of Charlton Heston and the wit of Noel Coward. Although Russell was gay, we had been in love with each other ever since the days when we tea danced at The Plaza…. What I didn't know yet was that Truman had started weaving Russell into a story set in a brownstone very like mine, and that the heroine was a girl whose confidant was a man very like Russell. The girl in some ways was like me, in other ways like Carol Marcus, who was at that very moment on a plane from L.A. to New York, fleeing from her second marriage…with no place to land but my studio.

Gloria's apartment, a four-story brownstone on Sixty-fifth between Fifth and Madison, was stocked with flowers, delicacies, and all the compulsory accoutrements of fashionable life on the Upper East Side—compliments of her beau, Frank
Sinatra. It was there that Carol Marcus, single and heartbroken, met Truman Capote for the first time. Lucky for her, he had an ear for distress. “You have freed yourself,” Truman said to her. “I can see it all now. Your life is just beginning. Now why don't you sleep with some of these rich men who always want to sleep with you? There would be nothing wrong with doing that, and it would solve a lot of your problems.”

When it came to heart pain, Capote was a master healer. One touch of his magic medicine, and he could make any woman into a friend for life. Two touches, and they would become swans. In her memoir, Carol Marcus explained exactly how:

At 3:00 every morning that I was in New York, I would meet Truman Capote at a private club called the Gold Key Club on West Fifty-fifth Street. The lights were low and we would sit in big chairs in front of a fireplace and talk and talk…. One night, though, he began talking about something different. “I knew a girl once, she was nothing like you. In fact, she was almost a hooker, but I liked her a lot. She came from the South. I don't know how she ended up, and I've always wanted to write about her. But I'd like to do her as you, I'd like to have the things that I know happened to her happen to you. I want you to stick around with me a little bit. I'm going to do you as Holly Golightly.” And every morning about 7:00, we left the Gold Key Club and walked to Fifth Avenue, where there was man with a cart of doughnuts. We'd buy some and then continue on toward Tiffany's.

BEAUTIFUL BABE

Gloria and Carol and all the others went through the revolving door of Truman's affection, but Babe Paley, beautiful Babe, had a door all to herself. As swan queen, there was hardly another human being more important to Truman, and as wife of Bill Paley, the broadcasting titan who made CBS, there was hardly a more important wife in the whole of New York.

Had she met Babe, Truman's mother would have been proud of her son for reaching so high, for seeing so much of what she could only imagine. She died in 1954, a year before Babe and Capote met.

They met only a few months before he began to work on
Breakfast at Tiffany's
. The Paleys were off to their Jamaican estate for a long weekend with the David O. Selznicks, when Selznick, who had enjoyed Truman's company in the past, suggested they might have a bit more fun if they brought Capote along. Paley, who thought they were talking about President Truman, agreed and the invitation was made.
Quelle chance!
Capote was used to traveling in fast circles, but weekending with two of the world's media monarchs and their wives was about as fast as it got (outside of Hollywood and royalty). He couldn't pass it up.

“When I first saw her,” Capote said, “I thought that I had never seen anyone more perfect: her posture, the way she held her head, the way she moved.” By the time the plane touched down in Jamaica, Babe and Truman had become enmeshed in each other's lives. He was her ears, eyes, and sometimes mouth, her escape from the humdrum whir of society,
and a guide through intellectual terrain Babe had never explored. Like Holly would be to the unnamed narrator of
Breakfast at Tiffany's,
Babe was to Truman the crème de la crème of sheer fabulosity. If each of his swans, as Truman would write, was an artist “whose sole creation was her perishable self,” then surely Babe was a masterpiece.

Their relationship was perfect. She would lead Truman in and out of restaurants all over the world, like a pet or talking accessory or personal therapist that she couldn't shop, drink, or cry without. And Truman needed her, too. She looked great on him. They looked great on each other. “I was madly in love with her,” Truman said to Gerald Clarke. “I just thought she was absolutely fantastic! She was one of the two or three great obsessions of my life. She was the only person in my whole life that I liked everything about. I consider her one of the three greatest beauties in the world, the other two being Gloria Guinness and Garbo. But Babe, I think, was
the
most beautiful. She was in fact the most beautiful woman of the twentieth century, and with the single exception of Gloria, who was sort of neck-and-neck with her, she was also the most chic woman I have ever known.” She was voted one of the best-dressed women in America fourteen times over.

Babe was so chic, in fact, and so commanding in her elegance, that once after removing her scarf on her way to lunch, she nonchalantly tied it around her handbag only to discover that within a matter of weeks, women all over New York were doing the very same. She was almost embarrassingly rich, owning over one million dollars' worth of Harry Winston, Cartier, Tiffany's, and Van Cleef & Arpels, most of which, like her $50,000 emerald ring and $75,000 diamond necklace, she
kept locked away in her husband's bank. If she wanted to wear them, Mrs. Paley had only to interrupt Bill at the office (“I'm sorry, darling, but…”) and he would discharge a limousine and secretary for the pickup. Waiting for the jewels to arrive, Babe would sit in the foyer, drawing L&M cigarettes from a twenty-four-carat gold case, which she smoked, demurely, out of her ivory holder. She burned through two packs a day, but her lips never touched a single cigarette.

She dressed up for her husband. That's why he'd built her a labyrinthine dressing room of hidden closets containing over a hundred drawers, each one lined with pale blue stripes and labeled according to their contents. There were six that held nightgowns alone: silk nightgowns, old chiffon nightgowns, new nightdresses, cotton nightgowns, thin nylon nightgowns, and winter nightgowns. Of course, there were other closets at Kiluna Farm, their eighty-five-acre Long Island estate; the house in Jamaica; and the St. Regis apartment where she threw her fabled dinner parties. Naturally, Truman became a resplendent fixture at every one. He coached her through precarious turns in conversation and chimed in at dull moments with a choice anecdote or literary equivoque, which he displayed as precisely as Babe had the baby vegetables.

Everything Babe served she served for Bill, though he was closer to gorger than gourmet. (After the war, Paley met Billy Wilder in Bad Homburg. Using a broken toaster, Billy remembers, they would grill steaks specially granted to them by the general's post exchange, and Paley would shovel them down one after the next. “The Germans have a word,” Billy said, “
essen
, which means to eat. They also have
fressen
, which
means to devour. That suited him much better.”) Paley was often seen to devastate upwards of eight meals a day, and Babe, as his connection to the kitchen, devoted herself to his satisfaction. She would spend literally days searching every shop in Manhattan from Lexington Avenue to Chinatown in hectic pursuit of le food
juste
.

Pleasing her husband was Babe's number one purpose. At each dinner party, she had at her place a small notepad encased in gold. In it she would note anything that had disappointed or satisfied him, be it about food or books or ideas exchanged. Those who were seated beside her husband were of unique value to Babe, and had been assigned specifically, both in service of her purpose and his amusement. At the evening's end, when her guests were preparing to leave, she would corner them at the door. “Did he mention the olives?” she would ask, pen in hand. “They're new. Did he like them?” Mrs. Paley would write it all down.

She was, in short, everything Truman's mother, and Holly Golightly, had wanted to be. But Nina was dead, and Truman, though he threw himself into the swans, would never find peace. Neither, for that matter, would his beautiful Babe. Though she had New York society's full attention and Truman's fervent devotion, she was down in the depths on the ninetieth floor.

For all of her minks and earrings and vacations and dinner parties, Babe was unhappy. It was her marriage. Love had long since fled the scene (if it was ever truly there to begin with), and whatever warmth their guests had observed in Bill and Babe was, like the green and gold on their Louis Seizes, only a part of the upholstery. Since the beginning, the wife had been
compliant, tending to Bill's directives with the precision of a star secretary, always sure to put her face on well before he woke up in the mornings, and keep her differences of opinion to herself. But it was never enough. At Bill's request, the children and their governesses were housed primarily at Kiluna, where they saw their parents on certain weekend visits and then only in the moments between guests. When they were together, Bill instructed Babe not to embrace the children or even touch them, and she obliged. Babe obliged.

All this she told to Truman. She couldn't speak freely to most of her intimates, and to journalists, Bill had told her to confine her remarks to dressing and entertaining, but to Capote, who poured out his own heart to her like a barrel of quicksand, Babe was real and candid. She confessed that they had stopped having sex entirely. Not since the early fifties, she gathered, had they slept together. It wasn't that Bill was no longer interested in sex—he openly flirted with many of her friends (Carol Marcus among them)—it was that he wasn't interested in
her.
Like his children, Bill's Babe was for looking, not touching.

Later, Truman told Gerald Clarke that Babe was so unhappy she had twice tried to kill herself. Once she took pills, once she slashed her wrists, and both times Truman (he said) had saved her. More than once, Babe told Truman she had to get out. At the end of one such talk, sitting with Babe in the Paleys' Manhattan apartment, Truman urged her to stay put.

“Bobolink,” Truman whispered—it was his pet name for her—“Bill bought you. It's as if he went down to Central Casting. You're a perfect type for him. Look upon being Mrs.
William S. Paley as a job, the best job in the world. Accept it and be happy with it.”

It was not often that Babe let anyone see her cry, but this was an exception. Truman was an exception.

She told him that she needed to rest, that she needed to think it over. Would he permit her that? Would he occupy himself for a couple of hours while she napped? Yes, he said. Yes, darling, of course.

A couple of hours later, Babe woke up and returned to Truman. Her face was made. “You're right,” she said.

And that was that.

Babe was caught. Truman would fashion
Breakfast at Tiffany's
so Holly Golightly wouldn't be.

GEORGE AXELROD DREAMS OF RICH PEOPLE SAYING WITTY THINGS AND SCREWING

The film of
The Seven Year Itch
was released in June 1955. Wilder and Axelrod saw then that their plan to hoodwink the censors—to make adultery a figment of their hero's imagination—ruined the whole picture. “The film version of
The Seven Year Itch,

Variety
wrote, “bears only a fleeting resemblance to George Axelrod's play of the same name on Broadway. The screen adaptation concerns only the fantasies, and omits the acts, of the summer bachelor, who remains totally, if unbelievably, chaste. Morality wins if honesty loses, but let's not get into that.”

George was depressed. His next assignment, an adaptation of
Bus Stop,
only made him feel worse. In one scene, Axelrod
had Don Murray's character—a cowboy who wants to prove how literate he is—break into Marilyn Monroe's room and recite the Gettysburg Address as he's screwing her. Of course, the Breen Office nailed him on it, and made Axelrod rewrite the scene sans sex. It depressed him further.

No wonder he wrote
Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?,
a play about a writer (named George) who sells his soul to a devilish agent (named Irving “Sneaky” LaSalle). No wonder Fox bought the rights for Jayne Mansfield and scrapped the showbiz setting for Madison Avenue, effectively transforming Axelrod's revenge piece into a movie about a nebbishy ad man that the world believes is sleeping with a large-breasted movie star. It was a theme Axelrod had introduced in
The Seven Year Itch
—about a nebbishy book editor with the hots for his upstairs neighbor (played in the movie by Marilyn Monroe)—causing Axelrod, somewhat ruefully, to label his specialty: Boobs and boobs. Dumb guys and curvy girls.

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