When Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s was first published in 1958, the author’s contemporary Norman Mailer called Capote “the most perfect writer of my generation” and suggested that he “would not have changed two words” in the book. It is now clear, however, that Capote himself was inspired to change two rather crucial words in his own text at the last minute: the name of his now-iconic protagonist.
Capote’s type-written, hand-edited manuscript of his celebrated novella is being offered at auction this month in New Hampshire, where it is expected to fetch more than $250,000 (£165,300). The author’s annotations are on every page, though none is as striking as the alteration he made to his heroine’s name: Holly Golightly, later famously played by Audrey Hepburn, was originally christened “Connie Gustafson”.
The 84-page final working draft for the novella’s publication by Random House features at least 150 instances in which Capote crossed out the original name and inserted its replacement. It is the star attraction of RR Auction’s online sale of hundreds of items of Hollywood memorabilia, from 18 to 25 April. The sale also includes a film of Marilyn Monroe visiting troops in South Korea in 1954, shot by an infantry lieutenant, as well as items autographed by James Dean, Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable and Judy Garland.
RR Auction’s vice president Bobby Livingston told the Associated Press that the Capote manuscript is “obviously quite a treasure, quite a find for us”.
The seller wished to remain anonymous, he said, but is linked to the estate of a “very famous” New York autograph collector.
Capote, who died aged 59 in 1984, was also the author of the non-fiction classic In Cold Blood (1966). He supposedly conceived the idea for Breakfast at Tiffany’s while travelling in Europe in 1949, but it took him nine years to bring the idea to fruition. The novella begins in autumn 1943, when its unnamed narrator first encounters Holly Golightly, a fellow tenant in his Manhattan apartment block. Holly – who has changed her own name from Lula Mae Barnes better to appeal to New York society – subsists on dates with wealthy lovers, in the hope that one of them will marry her. Capote described his most famous character as an “American geisha”.
The book’s content was considered so racy for its time that Harper’s Bazaar, which had purchased serialisation rights for $2,000, decided not to print it. An incensed Capote vowed never to offer the magazine any of his work again. Instead, Breakfast at Tiffany’s was first serialised in Esquire’s November 1958 issue, and published by Random House shortly thereafter. The 1961 movie version, starring Hepburn and George Peppard, shifted the action to 1960 and added a romance between its two central characters.
Capote was almost ready to submit his final draft when he came up with the new name for his femme fatale at the eleventh hour, said Livingston.
The character was reportedly inspired by Capote’s close friendships with a series of New York society figures, including the heiress and fashion designer Gloria Vanderbilt; Oona O’Neill, daughter of the playwright Eugene O’Neill; actress Carol Grace; writer Maeve Brennan; and model Dorian Leigh, whom he nicknamed “Happy Go Lucky”. According to Capote’s biographer Gerald Clarke, “half the women he knew … claimed to be the model for his wacky heroine.”