Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany's is a fictional character, but she shares several connections with onscreen portrayer Audrey Hepburn. Hepburn and Holly both remade their lives after traumatic childhoods, lived through bumpy romantic relationships, and possessed the ability to charm those around them. These parallels may have helped Hepburn brilliantly bring Holly to life.
Childhood was a traumatic time for both Hepburn and Golightly
Before she became a girl-about-town in New York City, Golightly endured a difficult childhood in Texas. In the film, her older, abandoned husband Doc Golightly recounts that he first met Holly (then known as Lulamae Barnes) and her brother Fred when they were hungrily "stealing milk and turkey eggs" because they'd run away from "some mean, no-account people." Doc also admits he married Holly when "she was going on 14."
Hepburn's youth was just as traumatic as Golightly's fictional one. After Britain declared war on Nazi Germany, Hepburn's Dutch mother took her from England to Holland because she thought they would be safer in a neutral country. This meant an 11-year-old Hepburn and her family were present for the Nazi invasion of Holland on May 10, 1940. Hepburn then had to grow up during the German occupation. She aided the Dutch resistance, witnessed deportations and had a brother taken away to a German labor camp.
Like Golightly, Hepburn knew hunger. Dutch supplies were depleted by occupying forces, with the situation becoming particularly bad during the Hongerwinter ("hunger winter") of 1944-45. Millions suffered during the famine and malnutrition was widespread. Hepburn, who ate tulip bulbs to survive, would experience lifelong effects on her health from the experience.
As young women, Hepburn and Golightly each remade her life
During the war years in Holland, Hepburn had lived under the name Edda van Heemstra because her English name (her father was British) might have put her at risk from German occupying forces. As for Golightly, she shed the name Lulamae after leaving Texas.
As a young Golightly had departed Texas to remake her life, a young Hepburn moved to London soon after the war ended. She and her mother had no money, so she tried to get acting and modeling jobs. As Hepburn later explained, "I needed the money; it paid three pounds more than ballet jobs." Golightly, of course, found her own ways of making money— a regular part of her life in New York included getting "$50 for the powder room" from male companions.
Both Hepburn and Golightly found success in their new locales. Hepburn was cast in films, then, while she was shooting on location, author Colette spotted her, which led to Hepburn's breakthrough in the title role in Gigi. As for Golightly, she made a place for herself in a world of parties and late nights in New York City.
Hepburn and Golightly both had rocky romances
In addition to becoming a child bride, Golightly was let down by men like Rusty Trawler, who married someone else, and José da Silva Pereira, who abandoned her rather than endure any negative publicity after she's arrested. However, none of this brought Golightly down for long. She was a self-described "wild thing" who cherished her independence.
Hepburn also went through unsuccessful relationships, though she was often the one who opted to end romances that weren't working. She split up with fiancé James Hanson because she wasn't ready to settle down in the English countryside. Her love affair with her married Sabrina co-star William Holden, ended when he confessed he'd had a vasectomy (Hepburn desperately wanted children). Marriages to Mel Ferrer and Andrea Dotti both ended in divorce.
In the film version of Breakfast at Tiffany's, Golightly's ultimately finds love with writer Paul Varjak. For her part, Hepburn shared a life with companion Robert Wolders up to her death in 1993.
Family was important to Golightly and to Hepburn
A key part of Golightly's life was devoted to her brother Fred. Marrying Doc Golightly when she was a girl gave them both a home. When she learns of Fred's death, it devastates her.
Hepburn was devoted to her children. Though she went through the heartbreak of several miscarriages, she was able to give birth to two sons: Sean Ferrer and Luca Dotti. She opted to take a step back from Hollywood in order to focus on creating a home for them.
Golightly and Hepburn shared similar outlooks on life
In her fictional world, Golightly was a charmer who could usually sway people into seeing things her way. Even though she'd skipped out on a scheduled screen test, her Hollywood agent couldn't hold her behavior against her. Hepburn was just as charming in real life. As an unknown who needed fashion help for a film, she convinced designer Hubert de Givenchy to work with her.
However, not everything was charmed for Hepburn and Golightly. Hepburn was prone to depression, particularly after her miscarriages. And Golightly lived with waves of fear and anxiety, which she'd dubbed "the mean reds," that could only be calmed by a visit to Tiffany's.
Hepburn and Golightly were both style icons
From her little black dress to the way she wore a casually buttoned shirt, Golightly became a style icon. However, Hepburn did more than embody Golightly's look on the big screen— she had an innate style all her own. Among Hepburn's widely admired, and widely copied, fashion choices were ballet flats and clothes that emphasized her tiny waist (a physical feature that had perhaps resulted from her childhood malnutrition).
Hepburn maintained a lifelong collaboration with designer Givenchy, who recognized her as his muse. She once said, "His are the only clothes in which I am myself. He is far more than a couturier, he is a creator of personality." Thanks to this connection with Hepburn, it was Givenchy who created Golightly's looks for Breakfast at Tiffany's. It's one more way that Golightly would never have been the same on-screen presence without Hepburn.