Every summer, downtown Austin’s Paramount Theater hosts a series of classic movies. You can escape the heat, grab some fresh popcorn, settle into a seat, and find yourself staring up at Humphrey Bogart or Elizabeth Taylor or Peter O’Toole.
Who cares about the triple-digit heat when you’re transfixed by O’Toole’s gorgeous blue eyes? Who’s churlish enough to notice that the seats are like hard-shell Protestant church pews when you’re surrounded by so much glamour?
Every summer, I start out strong, determined to see at least a movie a week. Every summer, I take a nosedive by mid-June and shelve my ambitions. Who can keep to a schedule in the summer?
But yesterday, even if it was late June, was different. Yesterday, the Paramount was showing Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Breakfast at Tiffany’s! I strong-armed my good friend Betsy into going with me. Betsy is such a good friend she ever understands my need to sit in one of the first few rows of a theater or why bother to go in the first place?
Betsy reported that her boyfriend Leland had said Truman Capote really intended his novel of the same name to be about the life of a wild, beautiful young man in New York in the ’40s and ’50s. Because of the anti-homosexual bias of the times, though, he had to create a young woman as the main character.
“I’ve never heard that before,” I said. “I knew Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf was supposed to be about two male couples. But I hadn’t heard that about Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” As someone who likes to think she lives at the corner of gossip and art, I was also irritated that Leland might know something I didn’t. Jeez, what a showoff.
“I do know,” I added loudly, “that Capote wanted Marilyn Monroe to play Holly Golightly.” I bet Leland hadn’t known that.
“Well, I’m going to try to watch the movie pretending Audrey Hepburn is a boy,” Betsy said.
The curtains parted. The credits ran. The music swelled — “Moon River,” the loveliest, most haunting movie theme song I can think of. I sank back in my seat contentedly till I banged my head on the wood seatback.
On the big screen, everybody smoked and everybody drank martinis and even Tiffany’s would engrave a Cracker Jacks ring if you were young and beautiful and in love. New York looked impossibly glamorous and chic — and so did Audrey Hepburn.
I spent a good half-second halfheartedly trying to pretend Audrey Hepburn was really a beautiful young man, but then I gave up. How can you improve on Audrey Hepburn? Like every other woman in the theater, I was guessing, I wanted to be Audrey Hepburn — effortlessly stylish, charming, graceful.
(Who ever wanted to be Marilyn Monroe? No woman I ever knew. Monroe might evoke appreciation and lust in men — but I think most women see her as tragic and vulnerable. How can you envy her beauty and sex appeal when you know what a high price she paid for it?)
But Audrey Hepburn! Every woman I knew adored Audrey Hepburn. Which brought me to that same male-female divide: Namely, why don’t straight men worship Audrey Hepburn the way women do? I didn’t want to name names, but my husband had been loudly relieved he couldn’t go to this movie with me. “I just don’t get Audrey Hepburn’s appeal,” he’d said more than once.
I would have asked Steve, one of my best male friends, about it, but I was currently out of sorts with him about yet another Audrey Hepburn-related event. If you want to know the sordid details, Steve’s wife had told him she was considering buying an Audrey Hepburn-style dress. He had replied, “But you don’t have an Audrey Hepburn body.”
You don’t have an Audrey Hepburn body? Well, who the hell does, but that’s not the point. The point is, any man who’s told his wife is considering an Audrey Hepburn-style dress should immediately say, “That’s great, honey!”
Got that? Got it memorized? Any other answer is a felony offense. Frankly, every time I’d walked past the tranquil waters of Lady Bird Lake recently, I’d been surprised not to see Steve’s body float past.
But that was then and now was now. While Breakfast at Tiffany’s loomed so large and the music was so gorgeous, I couldn’t be responsible for any man’s delusions or failures of imagination — not Leland’s or my husband’s or Steve’s. Maybe not even Truman Capote’s.
Everyone sighed loudly at the final scene, when you’re left hopeful about romance and the endurance of love on a rainy city street. Filing out, I looked around at woman after woman — old, young, middle-aged, tall, thin, short, squat, beautiful, not beautiful. They all looked happy, exalted, dreamy, enchanted by the most appealing of actresses. I didn’t have to ask. I knew who they all wanted to be.
Not Marilyn Monroe. Not a beautiful young man. Sometimes, art gets it right, even if life doesn’t.
(Copyright 2014 by Ruth Pennebaker)