Audrey Hepburn Had To Fight For One Of Breakfast At Tiffany's Most Memorable Scenes

There are so many classic moments that come to mind when thinking about "Breakfast at Tiffany's." The 1961 film, which was very loosely based on Truman Capote's novella of the same name, stars Audrey Hepburn as the unforgettable Holly Golightly, but Capote actually wanted the role to go to Marilyn Monroe and was very unhappy when Hepburn won the part. We'll never know what that movie would've looked like, but there's no denying that Hepburn's turn as Holly has gone down in film history as the actress's most recognizable role. This is wildly impressive, considering she starred in so many other beloved films, including "Charade," "Funny Face," and "Roman Holiday." Hepburn may have been all wrong for the book version of Holly, but it's impossible to imagine the movie adaptation with anyone else in the part.

"Breakfast at Tiffany's" is full of memorable scenes, but there is one that almost didn't make it into the finished film. Had Hepburn herself not insisted upon its inclusion, viewers likely would've missed out on one of the movie's best moments.

Oh, dream maker, you heart breaker

One of the most integral parts of "Breakfast at Tiffany's" is Henry Mancini's Oscar-winning score. The prolific composer was responsible for scoring many movies you probably love, from "The Pink Panther" to "Mommie Dearest" to "The Great Mouse Detective." While the entire score is brilliant, there is one composition most fans will think of at the mention of "Breakfast at Tiffany's." "Moon River" was composed by Mancini, with lyrics written by Johnny Mercer. Beyond Mancini's Oscar win for the score, he and Mercer also took home the Academy Award for Best Original Song.

One of the film's loveliest scenes is undeniably Holly sitting on her fire escape, strumming her guitar, and singing this beautiful piece of music. Interestingly, the studio initially did not want Hepburn, who wasn't a singer, to be the voice heard in the movie. There were plans to dub the vocals instead. However, Mancini was confident he could write something in Hepburn's range. The composer's widow, Ginny Mancini, (who passed in 2021) told the BBC:

"Henry was at home one night and we were watching 'Funny Fac'e in which Audrey Hepburn sings 'How Long Has This Been Going On.' He went to the piano and started playing it, and knew she could sing something in that range. It took him about a month and a half before he put down the first three notes. It sounded promising and in half an hour he had written the melody of 'Moon River.'"

Mancini then brought the song to Mercer, who wrote the words. A well-known Tin Pan Alley lyricist, Mercer was a singer and composer who penned the lyrics to over 1,500 tunes. The lyrics to "Moon River" are about his view in Savannah, Georgia, where he grew up. According to Savannah Now, the specific area was Burnside Island, where Mercer could see the moon over Back River. In 1962, a stretch of the Back River was actually renamed in honor of the song. In fact, the track was originally called "Blue River," but it turned out that title was already taken, so it became "Moon River" and a legend was born.

We're after the same rainbow's end

Mancini and Mercer were proud of the song, but "Breakfast at Tiffany's" ran long and the president of Paramount Pictures felt "Moon River" needed to be cut. Ginny Mancini told the BBC:

"I saw Henry go pale. We were all stunned, totally stunned. We were quiet for a minute or two and then there was a barrage of reasons why it should stay in the film and cuts should be made in other areas."

According to "Love Me Tender: The Stories Behind the World's Favourite Songs" by Max Cryer, (via The Telegraph), Hepburn stepped up to defend the scene and told the executive "Moon River" would be removed "Over my dead body!" What choice was there after that, but to keep the song in? 

It's one of the film's most memorable scenes, adding a vulnerability to Holly that otherwise wouldn't have been clear. Everything, from how she's dressed to the way she uses the music to soothe herself, serves to make the character more fully realized. Hepburn may not have been a singer, but her performance is absolutely perfect — she sings with a wistfulness that never fails to move me. The melody of the song is a recurring theme throughout the film, and much of why it resonates comes down to Hepburn's performance in this scene.

"Moon River" continues to endure decades later. It's been covered by far too many artists to list, but here's a start: Frank Sinatra, Morrissey, Sarah Vaughan, and Frank Ocean. It's absolutely bonkers to think that we almost lost Hepburn singing this song in "Breakfast at Tiffany's." Thankfully, the actress felt strongly enough about it to fight on its behalf.