Breakfast at Tiffany’s: The Poster

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I just finished reading Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and The Dawn of the Modern Woman
by Sam Wasson. It is not a design book per se, but it is about the
“design” of an emblematic, classic film adapted from Truman Capote’s
bestselling novel about a free-spirited Texas transplant turned call girl in New York. The complex and controversial differences between book
and film are well documented here as are all the many fascinating
tribulations in bringing taboo material to the screen in 1961,  in the
age of the infamous Hollywood Production Code.

Amid all the intrigue is a small section on the making of the film poster illustrated by Robert McGinnis, who mostly illustrated paperback book covers (below). Here is quote from the Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.:

“The stills weren’t really any good, so I sort of had to
take a few leaps on my own. I was shooting pictures of a model for a
book cover I was doing, and had her pose with the little orange cat I
had in those days. I put the cat on her shoulder, but the cat wouldn’t
stay, so she had to put her right arm up to hold it there. It was an
accident . . .

. . . I did give the figure a little more through the
hips and bust, to idealize her just a little more. But the art director
wanted more leg showing. In the photographs I got, Audrey’s dress was
long, all the way to the floor. But I was told to make her sexier, so I
exposed that leg. That came from the art director, but I’m sure he got
it from the studio.”

Wasson explains that the cat was key to the poster. Rather than
emphasize Hepburn’s Holly Golightly character as a call girl, the
studio sought instead to depict her as a “kook,” which in the beat
parlance of the day, meant “crazy, man.” As Wasson writes “McGinnis
didn’t know it, but that cat…was part of their spin on ‘kook.’”
Without the cat, Holly is simply seductive. “The presence of the cat
quite cleverly plays against that potentially alienating feature.” For
more detail, I recommend reading the book. See the movie trailer here. And listen to Capote reading from the original novel here.

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About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes a weekly column for The Atlantic online and is the "Visuals" Columnist for the New York Times Book Review. He is also the author of over 160 books on design and visual culture. And he is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.

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