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The Story Behind the Breakfast at Tiffany’s Soundtrack

The 1961 classic Breakfast at Tiffany’s, based on Truman Capote’s novella and directed by Blake Edwards, has stood the test of time as one of the greatest films in history. The casting was controversial, with the author publicly expressing his disagreement: “Holly Golightly was real-a tough character, not an Audrey Hepburn type at all.” However, as any fan of the film will argue, Hepburn’s take on Holly Golightly made the character an icon.

The soundtrack itself is popular in its own right. The 12 tracks were composed and conducted by Henry Mancini, a protégé of jazz legend Glen Miller. Mancini was asked by Edwards to write a jazz symphony soundtrack.

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The composer was previously known for creating the Academy Award-winning score for the Glen Miller Story. Working alongside lyricist Jonny Mercer on the track ‘Moon River’, the duo went on to create the legendary score for Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The soundtrack stayed on the Billboard Album Chart for over 90 weeks, earning two Oscars and two Grammys for “Record of the Year” and “Song of the Year”.

Moon River’ also scooped up an Academy Award for “Best Original Song”, but, surprisingly, it almost didn’t make the final cut. Paramount Pictures determined the song was dead weight in the film and opted for it to be cut. There are several theories about why the song ended up staying in the movie, one of which is that Hepburn responded to Paramount’s request saying, “over my dead body,” due to her close friendship with Mancini.

The song took Mancini over a month to compose, because he wanted to find the perfect melody to suit the “waif-like good-time girl”. Performed by Hepburn in the fire escape of her New York apartment, the result was as romantic as it was enchanting. In the years and decades to follow, the song was covered thousands of times, most famously by Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland and Aretha Franklin.

Despite the movie’s success, Paramount was still sceptical of Hepburn’s take on ‘Moon River’, replacing her vocal track with Mancini’s orchestral version on the soundtrack album. Nevertheless, the song soared in popularity, and the first release saw over a million copies of sheet music sold.

Following the release of the film, Hepburn wrote 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 and in a world of reality. 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. Thank you, Dear Hank.” She signed it: “Lots of love, Audrey.”


Madison Pearce is a journalist, vinyl collector and Starbucks enthusiast. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

 

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