Sunday, November 13, 2011

Some thoughts on Fifth Avenue, 5 a.m., Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's and the Dawn of the Modern Woman by Sam Wasson

NY Times review of Wasson's book

In my book, A Sixties Story, I devoted a good deal of space in the first part of my chapter on New York explaining how "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (B at T) and Audrey Hepburn had influenced my image of what New York was all about. This book explained to me why I felt that way. 

I was only 15 when I saw the movie. I grew up in the age of conformity, aka the fifties. Rock 'n' Roll and I came of age at about the same time, except I was young, probably 10, when it got going for white people. B at T came along at a time in my life when I was questioning who I was and who I wanted to be. I never read the Truman Capote book it was based on, and I'm glad. According to Wasson, the movie was very different from the book, something Capote apparently wasn't happy about, but that difference is what made it so important to the inner workings of my teenage psyche.

I don't remember if I understood why Holly got $50 for trips to the powder room, but I know I didn't care. What mattered to me was that she was incredibly glamorous, lived the glamorous life on her own terms and it looked good on her and ended well. In the movies before B at T that were about free-thinking, free-living women, those women seemed to wind up wise and alone or punished for their sins. Not Holly. Despite her considerable what we would now call "emotional baggage," she found love and understanding and presumably lived happily ever after, at least in my mind.

Fifth Avenue, 5 a.m. is full of anecdotal information that flows like a novel. Wasson is a good writer who did a great deal of credible, solid research and wrote a fine book that covers all the bases. From the memorable stories of how Collette found Audrey and knew instantly that she was Gigi ("Voila, Gigi!"), to the difficulties of putting together a movie with a happy ending about a hooker in fifties America, Wasson weaves his story well. As the Times review says, ""Mr. Wasson approaches his subject from many angles. His book winds up as well-tailored as the kind of little black dress that “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” made famous."" 

At the end of the book there is an interview with founding editor of MS. magazine, Letty Cottin Pogrebin. She is about ten years older than me, I think, and was out of college and working at the time B at T was released. She talks about how after she graduated from college, although she was educated and qualified for many positions available, she could only answer want ads in the Help Wanted-Female section of the paper. So she began her career as a secretary, but soon moved to another publisher and was able to rise in the ranks. 

Pogrebin knew that in order to succeed, it was very important to make the men feel important. One way she devised for doing that was by not making it obvious that a woman was buying them lunch. Knowing that would be hard on their egos, she set up charge accounts with the restaurants. For Pogrebin, Holly Golightly was important because Holly was like her in that she was independent and making her way on her own. And Holly was unapologetic about having sex, which was totally different from how women were taught to be at the time.

I thank women like Pogrebin for their determination. They paved the way for me to have a chance to make it in the business world. Although I didn't experience discrimination that was as bad as she faced, I remember the silence that greeted me at meetings when I spoke and I was made aware that it was harder for me to be taken seriously since I was a woman. As it turned out, because of women like Pogrebin, the business world came around more quickly than many other fields, and women at least had access and a chance. 

I wasn't interested in marriage until my fifties and never wanted children, perhaps in large part because B at T made me aware that I could choose my road. I was also lucky too to have had a single mother who made it on her own and taught me the value of independence and, without her knowing the song, the meaning of "God Bless the Child That's Got His Own." Holly Golightly was a free spirit who lived the way she wanted to and because of her, I knew I could too.

Available at IndieBound and other bookstores online.

No comments:

Post a Comment