Book Review: Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M. by Sam Wasson

Title: Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.
Author: Sam Wasson
Genre: Non Fiction, Film
Year Published: 2010
Format: Paperback
Source: I purchased this book.

Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman is Sam Wasson‘s examination of the iconic film Breakfast At Tiffany’s, and why that was a key film in the changing of women’s roles in modern society.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s was originally a novella written by the talented Truman Capote. In Holly Golightly, Capote created a new woman and one of the most original characters in modern fiction. She was free-spirited and made no apologies for being a sexually active woman.

Capote envisioned Marilyn Monroe in the lead role of the film adaptation. But the producers didn’t see it that way. They knew the character would need to be toned down a bit for the film, and they wanted someone more . . . refined.

Audrey Hepburn is a modern icon, but how did she get that way? She made several very successful movies in the 1950s, including Roman Holiday, Sabrina, and Funny Face. In all these films she is charming but always a lady.

Hepburn found her fashion muse in Hubert de Givenchy, who created the wardrobes for several of her films, including her iconic “little black dress” in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The opening credits set the scene for the film (and for the cover of the book). It is early morning and Holly Golightly is wearing a long black dress. She has obviously been out all night. This dress came to be seen by young women as liberating. This dress wasn’t girlish or sweet – it was sexy.

Hepburn was nervous about making the film, because she was uneasy about Holly Golightly’s character – amoral, essentially a hooker. Hepburn was intensely aware of her stature of classy refinement – she first made a splash playing a European princess in Roman Holiday.

Henry Mancini had written scores for television, but was determined to write a score for this film. He was turned down but eventually wrote the film’s theme song (with lyrics by Johnny Mercer), “Moon River.”

George Axelrod had written the play and film The Seven Year Itch, but was determined to write Tiffany’s. The play was considered smutty, and no one considered Axelrod the right writer to pen such a classy film. He eventually did write the script for the film.

All of these factors came together into the making of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which in retrospect is a landmark film. You can’t imagine the movie without Hepburn, “Moon River”, or the little black dress.

This film was made at a time when filmmaking was still a labor of love – it wasn’t just about making the latest blockbuster or having the most special effects.

The movie was made in 1960 – the same year the birth control pill was approved for use in the United States – and released in 1961. The beginning of the sexual revolution had begun.

Wasson’s theory is that this film had a profound impact on young women at that time. Even if young women watching the film didn’t want Holly’s “profession” – they wanted a real career – they admired her liberated spirit. This new generation of young women wanted to have a fun, glamorous, slightly hedonistic existence of which they were in charge– and not have to apologize for it.

Wasson brings all of these disparate threads together to tell a fascinating story of how the movie came to be made and how everything eventually came seamlessly together. The film has become essential viewing, especially by young women. This is the film for which Audrey Hepburn is best remembered.

I loved this book because I love the film and Audrey Hepburn and was interested in how the movie came to be and why it has become such ah important film that even the young women of today love Audrey Hepburn and know this film. Wasson has done a fine job of research, talking to some of the participants involved and is obviously devoted to the subject. He has written a previous biography of Breakfast At Tiffany’s director, Blake Edwards.

I recommend this book if you love movies, Truman Capote, Audrey Hepburn, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Every week Parajunkee and Alison Can Read host Follow My Book Blog Friday!

This week’s question: Letter to Santa: Tell Santa what books you want for Christmas!


Dear My Favorite Santa:

The last time we were in Barnes & Noble I waved a certain book at you and told you clearly that this is what I want for Christmas. I wanted to make it obvious about what I wanted since some of your previous gifts have clearly told me that like most men you are clueless about buying gifts for me (a rolling clothing rack — really?)

Thank you Santa Baby.


The Literary Lioness

Book Review: Rin Tin Tin by Susan Orlean

Title: Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend
Author: Susan Orlean
Genre: Non Fiction, Biography
Year Published: 2011
Format: Paperback
Source: I picked up this book as an ARC at Book Expo America.

Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend is Susan Orlean’s examination of the fascinating career of the famous German Shepherd of films and TV.

Orlean spent 10 years investigating the story of Rin Tin Tin, and what she found was an incredible story of one man’s love for his dog. Lee Duncan found “Rinty” during WWI on the battlefield of France. He found and rescued a German Shepherd mother and her puppies. He couldn’t feed and care for the whole family so he gave away all but the last two puppies – Nanette, and her brother, Rin Tin Tin, named after popular dolls in France.

Duncan managed to get them back to the U.S, and eventually started to try to find a way for his beloved Rinty at the movie studios. It was easier to crash into movies during the silent era when the movie business was still in its infancy. Rinty became a huge star, and the consequences for both man and dog were unexpected. Rin Tin Tin was world-famous, because silent films were truly international, with no language barrier.

After the first Rin Tin Tin died in the early 1930’s there were several other German Shepherds who “acted” under the Rin Tin Tin name. In the 1950’s, there was a very popular television series, The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin.

Susan Orlean, best known for “The Orchid Thief”, spent many years researching and writing this book. She clearly became deeply personally involved:

Susan Orlean is a fine writer, but there is a major problem in the book. The book concentrates on the life of Lee Duncan, and Duncan simply is not interesting enough to sustain an entire book. I enjoyed the part of the book concerning his discovery of Rinty in France, and also when he was trying g to break his dog into movies. He was a nice man although somewhat eccentric, and he cared far more for his dogs than his wife and child.

One of the other major characters in the book is the producer of the television show, Herbert Leonard, who sounds like an interesting character. I found him more interesting than Duncan. There are other interesting people in this book, too, as fight for control of Rin Tin Tin continues to this day, since Lee Duncan never gave instructions in his will on who should be controlling the dynasty.

I was also disappointed that there are very few photos, and the ones that are included are not very interesting. I definitely think there should have been a section devoted to photographs.

I did find the book interesting, and it did make me look up videos of Rin Tin Tin. I’d heard about him, but had never seen him in anything, since the television show was on before I was born and silent movies are not shown very often and apparently not many of Rinty’s movies still exist.

I do recommend this book if you are interested in dogs, movies, or television.