Paul: The mean reds? You mean like the blues?
Holly: No… the blues are because you’re getting fat or because it’s been raining too long. You’re just sad, that’s all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you’re afraid and you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?
Holly: When I get it the only thing that does any good is to jump into a cab and go to Tiffany’s. Calms me down right away.*
I’ve been boxing with the mean reds for a couple of weeks now. Not quite there; but I recognise the spectrum. There’s no Tiffany’s in Cape Town – so a visit isn’t an option. Yet Holly’s words keep running through my head.
I last felt like this when I was living in NY – I was stressed and burnt out and not having any fun. One day I waked past Tiffany’s (at Fifth Avenue & 57th Street – a couple blocks over from my office) and was astonished to see a group of Japanese girls standing outside: all of them dressed in Hepburn’s signature black dress and pearls from the movie. All of them clutching the iconic Tiffany bag coloured that soft, robin’s egg blue. Each with a tiny keepsake inside: honouring a lovely, lonely, lost girl who had lived in the City of Dreams
I wondered if they knew about the mean reds? And what they revealed about Holly’s personality and situation. Had they understood that “$50 for the powder room” was a euphemism? That this delicate, stylish character had paid her bills by accompanying “expense-account men to the best restaurants and night clubs,” as Capote explained it to Playboy magazine: “with the understanding that her escort was obligated to give her some sort of gift, perhaps jewelry or a check.”
The movie glosses over this aspect of Holly’s story. Blake Edwards, the film’s director, felt audiences at that time would not have wanted to see “such things” implied about Hepburn. She was America’s sweetheart. If you read the original story by Truman Capote (which differs significantly from the film, especially in the ending), it’s easier to understand Holly Golightly‘s true nature, and the powder room money will make more sense.
I do understand why Tiffany’s, though. There is something so gentle and possible about the store, about the hushed stillness in the lush, pale mink carpets, gleaming counters and delicate merchandise. And the promise in the packaging: that sweet gentle sky -hued box, secured by a sheeny, pure white, silk ribbon, almost whispers that things are going to be alright. If you always wear the contents as a talisman against the mean reds.
For my fortieth birthday my friends (perhaps in-consultation, perhaps without) bought me whimsical chains from Tiffany’s – a starfish, a coffee bean, a musical note and an open heart. Things, they each wrote; that reminded them of me. Things, I realised as I looked at the gifts now, I seem to be forgetting.
Hepburn suffered from depression. Biographical accounts differ – but the cause was thought to be privations suffered by her family during the Second World War. She sublimated her fear and anger into anorexia in her twenties – and was a three-pack a day smoker her whole life. “You can even say that I hated myself at certain periods. I was too fat, or maybe too tall, or maybe just plain too ugly … you can say my definiteness stems from underlying feelings of insecurity and inferiority. I couldn’t conquer these feelings by acting indecisive. I found the only way to get the better of them was by adopting a forceful, concentrated drive.”
That’s what I had done that year in NY. And I had worn one of those necklaces every day. Taking them out of their packaging and buffing them with the soft, pale blue suede cloth. Blocking the mean reds from reaching my heart. I wanted to see them again.
As I laid them out on my bedspread, my four-year old niece walked in. She’s a bubbly blonde: with the resilience of a Navy Seal and she adores all things girly: “What you doing?”
I tell her. She studies each of the necklaces “They’re nice.”
Then she reaches for one of the boxes, holding it up to caress her cheek: “Can I have this?”
“Sure honey – are you sure you want the box and not a necklace?”
“Yes, I love it”, she smiles: “it’s so pretty”.
As she helped me to clasp the coffee-bean pendant around my neck, I saw our faces in my mirror. My Huckleberry friend, tongue stuck out in concentration, and her Aunt: who is lucky enough to live close by. A decision taken in New York, that had occasioned my move home. “There”, she said – patting me on the head. “that’s perfect.”
And it was. Time to get past the mean reds, with a little help from the Tiffany blues.
Henry Mancini wrote “Moon River” specifically for Audrey Hepburn and the film. He later said that while many version of the song have been done, he feels that Audrey’s was the best. Johnny Mercer wrote the beautiful lyrics.
(*Dialogue from Breakfast at Tiffany’s – the film. Released October 5th, 1961)