Holly & Me
Daring to dream bigger, with a little help from Truman Capote and Mademoiselle magazine
I was a high-school junior in a small Texas town when I fell in love with the movie, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Years passed before I understood "kept men" and "powder room money," and came to terms with Holly Golightly being a call girl, but that movie fed my dream of getting out.
Holly made it look so easy: little black dresses and big black hats, pearls and limos. With fifty dollars for the powder room and the cash from passing the “weather report” from the imprisoned Sally Tomato to his friend, she never worried about money. However, money was my main barrier to getting out of town. There were only so many jobs available to a teenage girl in a small town: binding books in the public library, hoeing weeds in a cotton field, helping out a new mother. Those jobs, along with grants and scholarships, got me to college in a slightly larger town.
Holly never held a job back in Tulip, Texas. She married Doc when she was fourteen. According to him, she didn’t have to lift a finger, even though she had four stepchildren. In Truman Capote’s novella of the same name, Doc says she left because of the magazines. “We must’ve had a hunnerd dollars’ worth of magazines come into that house. Ask me, that’s what done it . . . That’s what started her walking down the road.”
The same thing happened to me, but my mother was to blame. When she remarried, dragging me from a small city to a small town, she tried to make it up to me with subscriptions to Mademoiselle and Glamour. I did not ask for them, have no clue where she got the idea (and why not Seventeen?), but it worked. I looked at those ads and read the articles. I fantasized about winning the Mademoiselle contest that brought the winners to New York for a week to edit the magazine and party and wear cool fashions. (You might have read about that in The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.)
In the movie, things get real when Doc comes to New York to fetch Holly back home. It nearly killed me when he announced that Holly was really Lula Mae Barnes from Tulip, Texas. On one hand, it let the air out of her glamorous pose. On the other, it made her escape from small-town Texas more possible, more accessible for me.
I longed to follow Lula Mae to New York. I made it as far as San Francisco (I know, wrong direction). I savored the mix of cultures: San Francisco had a Chinatown and a Japan town. I rode the subway and BART. I worked for a famous movie director. Actually, I worked for his adult children who were also in the movie business and paid poorly. An earthquake convinced me that Texas was not such a bad place to live.
Writers are advised to “write what you know,” so I write characters who are trying to get out of town. In my novel, The Illusion of Leaving, the main character, Jamie, flees her small town after a brief marriage to a young man of her father’s choosing, lured away by rumors of a music festival in Woodstock, New York. Of course, she has to come back to plan her father’s funeral.
Although you can’t go home again, neither can you really get away.
In the novel I’m currently writing, my character is a small-town girl just out of high school who arrives in Dallas in 1964 with no job and no friends. I give her the gift my mother gave me, subscriptions to Mademoiselle and Glamour. In addition, she is “a frequent reader of Life.” She’s not nearly as glamourous as Holly, but she does find a sophisticated, Holly-like friend to emulate.
Capote never wrote the sequel to Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and the movie ends with Holly, Paul and the cat seemingly living happily ever after. I like to imagine Holly at my age, still living in that New York City brownstone. Like me, she’s happily alone again after several affairs and a couple of marriages, with a succession of cats. She’s still fabulously fashionable, perhaps with an interesting job such as publishing house editor, like another fashionable icon from the ‘60s. And although Holly has connections to very important people, she still keeps in touch with a couple of those Texas stepchildren.
Jeannette Brown is the author of The Illusion of Leaving, a novel. She lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, but much of her writing refers to Texas, known for its high wind, blowing sand, threat of tornadoes, and good people.
Fashion photos courtesy of My Vintage Vogue