Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Tiffany's...or a Toke? Holly Chose Shopping Therapy Over Marijuana

"I've had a little go at marijuana. It's not half so destructive as brandy. Cheaper, too. Unfortunately, I prefer brandy."

This is what Miss Holly Golightly said to the press after being arrested for carrying messages from imprisoned mobster Sally Tomato in the 1958 Truman Capote novella "Breakfast at Tiffany's."

The 1961 film starring Audrey Hepburn (pictured) erased this, and all marijuana references, while retaining the plot that implicated Holly in a drug-dealing ring. After her arrest she loses her Brazilian boyfriend (with whom, in the book, she is pregnant; she miscarries while in jail). Still she refuses to narc on her friend Sally, saying, "Testify against a friend I will not. Not even if they can prove he doped Sister Kenny."

Unlike in the movie, the book contains no happy ending for Holly, who Capote said was based on a real 17-year-old girl he knew (absent the Sally Tomato connection).

"I always knew she was a hop-hop head with no more morals than a hound-bitch in heat. She belongs in prison," stammered Holly's so-called friend who married her former beau Rusty Trawler when called for help. Ironically, marijuana is first introduced in the book when Holly describes in a conversation with the book's narrator (Paul in the movie) her fondness for Tiffany's as an antidote to the "mean reds":

"You're afraid and you sweat like hell, but you don't know what you're afraid of. Except something bad is going to happen, only you don't know what it is. You've had that feeling?"

"Quite often. Some people call it angst."

"All right. Angst. But what do you do about it?"

"Well, a drink helps."

“I’ve tried that. I’ve tried aspirin, too. Rusty thinks I should smoke marijuana, and I did for a while, but it only makes me giggle. What I’ve found does the most good is just to get into a taxi and go to Tiffany’s. It calms me down right away..."

The film was fine with depicting Hepburn as a bit of a prostitute, and Paul as a kept man (unlike the unnamed narrator in the novella, a working man who faced the draft when he lost his job). Marijuana wasn't completely taboo for movies at that time: it appears in Sweet Bird of Youth the following year (as a means by which Paul Newman's character tries to bribe the aging actress Alexandra del Lago) and it was similarly smeared in 1957's Sweet Smell of Success.

A Broadway play more true to Capote's book was mounted in 2012. London's Royal Albert Hall just announced on Valentine's Day it would host a "live" screening of the film, complete with orchestra, in June. They called Holly, with "gargantuan cigarette holder in hand – one of the most recognisable and arresting images in cinema." (She smoked strong Picayune cigarettes in the book.)

In the film, Holly mischievously waters a marijuana-like plant with a drink while standing in front of a mirror (shown). Later, just after the cat is entranced by Holly's twirling cigarette holder, a party guest is depicted laughing hysterically, then crying, at a mirror. A nod to marijuana's effects?

Capote said of marijuana, "Pot makes the most stupid people sound amusing—that's the best thing about it. They never turn mean, they laugh at everything, and they turn charming even if they are dull."  He reminisced about "smoking up a storm" at the movies during his adolescence, saying, "I remember smoking all the way through a Bette Davis movie, laughing louder and louder as she got cloudier and cloudier." The author tried LSD twice, given to him by a doctor while it was still legal. Hepburn was a heavy tobacco smoker who suffered from asthma and died of cancer at only 63.

Rather than being romantically involved with Holly as in the movie, in the book and life, Paul/Truman was her gay friend. Capote wouldn't speculate about Holly being a lesbian, but pointed out that 80% prostitutes are. Philip Seymour Hoffman won an Oscar portraying Capote in 2005 and Robert Morse won a Tony for playing him on Broadway in 1990.

ADDENDUM: I recently found that Capote mentioned “kef” in his introduction to My Sister’s Hand in Mine: the Collected Works of Jane Bowles. “Tangiers is composed of two mismatching parts, one of them a dull modern area stuffed with office buildings and tall gloomy dwellings, and the other a casbah descending through a medieval puzzlement of alleys and alcoves and kef-odored, mint-scented piazzas down to the crawling with sailors, ship horn-hollering port," he wrote. "The Bowles have established themselves in both sectors—have a sterilized, tout comfort apartment in the newer quarter, and also a refuge hidden away in the darker Arab neighborhood: a native house that must be one of the cities tiniest habitations—ceilings so low that one has almost literally to move on hands and knees from room to room; but the rooms themselves are like a charming series of postcard-sized Vuillards—Moorish cushions spilling over Moorish-patterned carpets, all cozy as a raspberry tart and illuminated by intricate lanterns and windows that allow the light of sea skies and views that encompass minarets and ships and the blue-washed rooftops of native tenements receding lie a ghostly staircase to the clamorous shoreline. Or that is how I remember it on the occasion of a single visit made at sunset on an evening, oh, fifteen years ago.” 

When author Jane Bowles arrived in Tanger, her husband Paul wrote, she had a traumatic experience with majoun and never tried it again. Although Paul repeatedly warned against taking too much, due to delayed onset, Jane impatiently gobbled a second helping and overdosed. "Illogically enough, from that day on, she remained an implacable enemy of all forms of cannabis. The fact that her experience had been due solely to an overdose seemed to her beside the point," Bowles wrote.

Jane, who seemed to prefer alcohol, doesn't seem to address cannabis in any of her stories, but in one of them, "Everything Is Nice," a Moslem woman named Zodelia that the narrator meets on the street comments about the dual life that the Bowles lead in the city, spending half their time with Moslem friends, and half with "Nazarenes" at the hotel. The narrator is taken to a tea party, where she eats "dusty" cakes. The story ends, "When she reached the place where she had met Zodelia she went over to the wall and leaned on it. Although the sun had sank behind the houses, the sky was still luminous and the blue of the wall had deepened. She rubbed her fingertips along it: the wash was fresh and a little of the powdery stuff came off. And she remembered how once she had reached out to touch the face of a clown because it had awakened some longing. It had happened at a little circus, but not when she was a child."

In Paul Bowles's semi-autobiographical novel The Sheltering Sky, the characters Port and Kit Moresby were based on him and Jane. Debra Winger played Kit in the film adaptation of the novel.

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