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Holly Golightly: Fifty Dollars for the Powder Room

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Who Is Holly Golightly?

I was watching Breakfast at Tiffanys, again, and wondering why in the world it is that so many women who really, compared to our Audrey, are let’s face it, rather subpar seem to think of themselves Holly Golightly or more, would want to think of themselves as Holly, who is, by all accounts, a kept woman in many ways and one who is dependent on her fifty dollars for the powder room. I noticed this just the other day when someone changed their name on their instant messager to Holly Golightly and i thought this strange.

Those who change their instant messaging name to Holly Golightly to be cute because they think it’s chic or god knows what, fail to see that Holly Golightly is a smooth fabrication but she does not exist in any real or positive way. Holly Golightly is made of air and her story is a tragic one, not one to use lightly or mention lightly just because you got a new set of highlights and think you look like Audrey Hepburn today.

The person who exists or existed anyway, before Holly, was our Lula Mae. She of some vaguer Southern origin where she had a litter of stepchildren and a husband, Doc, who wants her back because her family needs her and her brother, Fred, is also in need of her when he returns home from the army. Doc’s threat to Lula Mae (for he will show up in New York,) is that he will tell “young Fred” to re-enlist since he cannot support him and Lula Mae has gone off to New York. Doc, in his hurt and his anger, will not help Lula, now Holly Golightly, go about building what is a new life for herself and for her much loved brother Fred.

Suffice to say that New York was not what Lula Mae had imagined it would be. The sidewalks may have glittered but, alas, were not made of gold and all those good men that perhaps she had heard about – well, where they went nobody knows. The only men that seemed to be around were those who offered Lula Mae fifty dollars for the powder room and paid for dinner because they expected “a bit more” after all that and felt “entitled” as one man says and though I know Capote means some of this to be tongue in cheek and ironic, mostly it’s sad, and I know Capote means that too. Or at least, I think he did.

So when I see young girls or girls of any age running around contemporary offices and changing their msn names to Holly Golightly because they think she’s a party girl and that all it takes is a nice set of ashy highlights and a good black dress and a pair of expensive Ray Bans and some Pink In The Afternoon lipstick or Belle de Jour by Trish McEvoy to get the “look” and the like, I can’t help but think that they are missing the point.

Hell, even Holly Golightly isn’t Holly Golightly. She’s a lost little girl in some ways and though she’s awfully good at taking care of herself and protecting herself from the scum that would take their fifty dollar powder room money out of her hide, she’s also a lost and lonely girl who desperately needs to find some meaning in her life.

As Lula Mae, or Holly as she is now, says to her new neighbor (George Peppard) of her cat, he is a “poor slob with no name” and he belongs to nobody and neither does Holly for that matter. Holly and Cat may have shacked up together, they may in fact have a great deal in common – both strays, both looking for love and affection wherever they can get it, both taking the affection from the hand that feeds and yet biting at the same time – but Holly is dead wrong. Cat needs a name and a real home and so does she, though she won’t admit it. Not yet anyway.

Oh sure, we know that the book or the film is a passion play. A human struggle and drama with the self and a shrugging off of the previous self, a sloughing of the skin – say goodbye to Lula Mae but is it really hello to Holly Golightly or is there someone else in there who we have yet to meet and who we won’t meet, in fact… who we will only know exists through a hint given at the close of the story when Holly tosses out her nameless cat to the rain before breaking down in tears and realizing what she has done. That she does in fact care and that in order to really have anyone care about you, you must first care about others. That’s the way life is. You care and others care back. You don’t care, and nobody gives a damn about you.

What so many fail to see about Holly (or Lula or whoever she is) is her sweet side. The side that comes out it seems only in the presence of George Peppard, because he reminds her of her brother Fred (who tragically, will die, causing a bit of a breakdown to say the least) and with whom she becomes fast friends. It is with Paul Vargas (Peppard’s character – similar to Holly in many ways; he is a writer, not doing so well, hungry and is being supported by a “patron” of sorts, to put it kindly, who happens to be his decorator-friend – a married, upper-class woman who seems to enjoy “slumming it” as she would see it, with the intellectual class (“why, Madge, a real writer!) and fucking him and leaving a few hundred bucks on the nightstand to show her gratitude. She also pays for his apartment and furnishes it too with her pretend decorating business that no doubt is financed by her husband to keep her “busy” and to avoid exactly the sort of scenario that she has found, having an adulterous affair with a writer who is, we take it, half her age.

Like Holly, Paul Vargas had high aspirations and yet somehow he fell short, gave up or both and so, for now anyway, is content or resigned to take the money of those who would patronize him. Those who would tell him what he wanted to hear but who look down upon him as a piece of meat, just as Holly’s friends who attend her highly successful and swinging parties debate whether or not she’s a “phony” and determine that she is.

It seems treacherous to me. These people do not seem like true friends, no matter how much money they may give, it seems like the money itself is an insult. A way of further demeaning and saying that there is no way either Holly or Paul could make it on their own without the help of some upper-class and talentless snob like those who pay for the powder room. The only genuine friend that Holly has seems to be jailed mobster Sally Tomato to whom she gives the weather report, for which she is paid by his attorney. Here, at least, one senses some real affection. That Sally Tomato really cares about what happens to the “kid” and that he knows that her story is a sad one and he says as much. In any event Sally Tomato the mobster understands better than any of these educated, upper-class snobs who look down on both Holly and Paul yet are fascinated and need them at the same time.

I wonder how many people who think of themselves as Holly Golightly are that much like those others who would have thrown money at her. Do they get that Holly herself is essentially reduced to offering herself up physically to a greater or lesser extent in order to get by? That she is like Paul, a “kept woman” just as he is a “kept man.” Do these people who relate to Holly truly relate? Can they see the Lula Mae back there in the not so distant past with her litter of step-children and her dusty farm and her caring but not-quite-right-for-her husband. That Holly Golightly is pure fabrication and an attempt to escape from everything that has come before her – from Lula Mae and a whole life of hardship, left behind in the dustbowl with her multiple step kids and her husband Doc.

What a relief New York must seem to a young girl compared to the dustbowl. Yes, a disappointment in many ways, but also a place where she has some chance, can rid herself of that “Oakie” accent, as her agent tell us, which was done, he said, by teaching “the kid” French and they figured if she could imitate French, then she could imitate anything. And how right they were! Holly Golightly has a perfect upper class accent peppered charmingly and somewhat eccentrically and endearing with her bien surs and quel drags and so on.

She is absolutely what a young girl would want to be – on the surface; beautiful, swinging, popular, well-dressed, and absolutely unattached. What they fail to see is the absolute heartbreak over having to leave her brother Fred – that a large part of the reason she is in New York is to make a career for herself so that she can support Fred and herself and buy a big house for them both to live in (as I said, Fred is her brother).

It’s all a dream and it’s all worth it until Holly gets the news from her husband Doc that Fred has died while at war. It’s almost more than Holly can bear and she seems inconsolable, even to the point where she calls Paul, her neighbor and friend, Fred more than she had before, finding in him a sort of substitute and, though she had from the beginning, it seems Holly attaches to him more and more. This attachment, while perhaps pathological in some ways, is also understandable. Fred was her brother whom she loved and would have done anything for and now he is gone… Without Fred, Holly’s life and the sacrifices she has made, let’s call them “powder room sacrifices”, have little meaning anymore. Nothing matters anymore because it was all a way for her to be with her brother Fred and without that, what is left?

Paul Vargas is a good friend. Holly teaches him to steal from the Five and Dime, because he’s never stolen anything, which is reprehensible. She says, and I quite agree, that a minor theft is virtually a necessity for life – be it a restaurant spoon, a pack of gum, whatever, something small and cheap and insignificant – but done for the thrill of it, to feel alive. This scene, the stealing scene, for as much as we want to say “No, that’s wrong”, is among the best in the film. Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard in their plastic animal masks are too cute for words. They look, yes, like brother and sister, but more and more like the perfect couple.

They also get to visit Holly’s favorite place, Tiffany, at some point because they have five dollars to spend after Paul sells a story – for Holly helps and encourages him to write again, just as he encourages her to find herself again, and with his five dollar check he looks at a “silver telephone dialer” from Tiffany (I confess, in my youth, I went into every Tiffany and Co, that I knew of and asked for a Silver Telephone Dialer. None of the sales help were ever amused and few got the meaning or the joke which was highly disappointing.) The dialer won’t do – and so it is that some Five and Dime cheap rings that Holly and Paul get are engraved by Tiffany and treasured by the two, a fact that will become relevant later on as the film progresses and Holly tries, bien sur, to break free from Paul and move on to some wealthy, Latin American man who owns or runs a small country or something, because that is what she knows.

The point is, we revert to what we know. We are too accepting of our own private tragedies and we curl up with our grief in a tissue and we rock ourselves with it, our faces covered with dirt and snot and we feel safe with our private story of grief. At least that is ours. No wonder we are so reluctant to let go of our stories and be happy. What if we give up our grief and find that we have nothing left that is solely ours? At least, our grief we know. Our hardships, our dustbowl, our Lula Mae self, our awful histories, are all things that we know and can deal with. Once we give those things up, we are dealt a whole new set of cards and a whole new role.

Lula Mae has tried to create a new role for herself as Holly Golightly, thinking that if she just plays the part, the rest will fall into place, and to some extent it does. But in the end, Holly is a sad person with a life that is empty. Even her apartment, large and well-placed as it seems to be, is still pretty vacant with packed boxes and items in random places even though she has lived there for a year. Her life is a sort of disaster that she just can’t seem to get together and fifty dollars for the powder room may help pay the rent and get her a new pair of black alligator shoes when she needs them, but at what price? The price is too high.

I won’t tell you the end. I think Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a film worth watching and should be seen alone. That’s my own personal opinion. Watch it with a friend or lover first if you wish, but at some point, see it alone and really pay attention and see if you find all the sadnesses that are hidden in this film and disguised.

It’s clever. No doubt about it. And I’m not surprised that so many girls want to be thought of as Holly Golightly, though I confess I’m not one of them. I do not have sex with men for money, nor do I suggest that I will. I don’t take fifty dollars for the powder room no matter what my circumstance because no matter how desperate I have been or may be in my life, I would do anything but offer up my body, my “temple” as I was taught as a child, simply to pay the bills. Easy to say, but I’ve hit rough times to be sure and while I never judge another who would do this, I find it sad and I wish I could find some better way to help them and perhaps I can.

One thing I can do is perhaps educate these girls, the Holly Golightly wannabes who take it all so tritely and perhaps write this as a wake up call. I hate to be such a downer, but it is important after all, to see a film for what it is and to see a character for who she is. While I doubt I have caught the full breadth of Lula Mae or Holly or whoever she is here, I do know that she is not the fun-loving, fancy-free girl that some so casually think. Perhaps the problem is that they don’t think.

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About Sadi Ranson-Polizzotti

  • To me, Holly Golightly was mostly just a hooker who wouldn’t actually put out. That’s just the worst.

    Hooking’s not the most preferred way to make a living, but it can at least be honest commerce.

    You may guess I was not as taken by the movie as some. That’s probably because I never developed much empathy for Holly. She could have perfectly well charmed her way into a simple job, perhaps a receptionist for a photographer or art gallery. Instead, she promised the sex and took off with the money. I’m unimpressed.

    Doc impressed me as a much more interesting character. The big payoff of the whole movie for me is his scene in the park with Peppard, telling the story of the marriage. This is Buddy Ebsen’s finest moment.

  • my dearest Al, whom i’ve been intending to ring, you and i absolutely AGREE here.

    I was also much more impressed with Doc as a character than anyone else, and yes, she could have gotten some other job but chose not to. but then, it’s Truman Capote so that’s the story …

    but we agree. Having been in her position in some ways, i know i never took the way out that she did and instead worked several jobs to get through some hardships. That’s just what you do.

    thanks for your honest and thoughtful comments and even more, we agree… hallelujah, i’m not alone in this…:)



  • Oh yeah, dig on Doc’s soliloquoy about the marriage, and that powerful wistfulness in his voice, and the far away look in his eyes. You can see how hung up he’d be over his child bride.

  • shine

    You seem to love the movie and the book, but believe people are not getting the true meaning. I think 95% of the people do get it. Quiet often the same is attributed to the character Gordon Gekko in Wall Street. Men at some level want to be him, even though he is a ruthless tyrant (a lizard). While Holly Golightly is a much more complex character than Gordon Gekko, their emotionless “take no prisoners” approach to life is very appealing to all of us at times. So the next time you see someone use Holly Golightly as a “user name,” wonder what recent pain caused her to call up Holly’s brand of phony.

  • Holly Golightly

    I agree with ‘Shine’. What makes you think that people using Holly Golightly as a user name are merely using it as superifically simply because they have bought a new pair of sunglasses or gotten new highlights? Wouldn’t ‘Audrey Hepburn’ in this respect be a more appropriate name then? Most people probably do get it. I think using the name ‘Holly Golightly’ indicates empathy with the character herself, rather then her appearance alone.

  • Carlie

    I love this movie, so much. Audrey Hepburn as a hooker? Who does not find that amusing. The storyline is original, the actors are all good at what the do. I find it an amazing classic and is tied with Pretty in Pink as my all time favourite movie. I actually plan on being Holly for Halloween this year. Yes I’m 14, but I understand what this movie is about. I think it’s brilliant.

  • denise

    i appreciate the article, but if i were to refer to myself as holly golightly, it would be because i identified with her being lost, non-committal, lonely.

    i’d have to say though that most young girls probably don’t understand what “$50 for the powder room” means. i didn’t the first time i watched the movie, but then i read the book and did some online research.

    also – a couple of factual errors – paul’s name is varjak. he spells it at least a dozen times in the film. the ring came from a cracker jack box, and they had $10 to spend on the engraving.

    a lot of girls do still move to new york, with the intent of finding a wealthy man. it may not be $50 for the powder room, but expensive gifts, trips, and dinners are today’s equivalent.

  • Shannon

    Breakfast at Tiffany’s happens to be my favourite book and movie, so excuse any bias I may have. Respectfully however, I do think you are making some gross generalizations.
    I will give you that some young girls throw around the Holly Golighty character without truly understanding her (cut to Paris Hilton in a black dress and pearls). It really isn’t fair to say though, that every young girl, who has a love of Holly Golightly, does so flippantly.
    I really relate to Holly, she’s young and she was scared of what her life was, dreaming of what it wasn’t, and struggling to make up the difference. Her flaws make her charming rather than her wardrobe. So if I pop Holly Golightly into my screenname it is because I’m young, lost, scared, struggling, and flawed; it is a little reminder to myself that I’m not the only one.
    Besides if I just fancied myself a glamed up hooker with a pretty smile I’d make my screenname Vivian Ward.

  • nadia

    I agree with Shannon. Her looks are nothing it’s the inner painful struggle that makes us girls sympathetic… oh when she says she doesn’t want to be put in a cage. I think it was the actress who made the character so intense, just because she was a woman who had suffered that same longing to freedom; the novella is -how could i say- lighter? you don’t really feel the pain of her condition what do you think? I’ve felt as lost as she is, struggling and empty in search of a place i belonged but scared to find it also

  • LaMaria

    It’s Paul VARJAK, sweetie.

    Also, the movie is crap because it is actually a butchering of the novel/story, which is excellent. I mean, SHE NEVER WAS ATTRACTED TO PAUL. Varjak. He reminded her of her brother and he was unhappily in love with her.

    Take time to study a subject before oh-so-ambitiously dragging out an “essay”.

  • Disagree with you, LaMaria.

    The movie improved on Capote’s novel.

  • Especially as regards “the cat,” the most meaningful character of all.

  • M

    It’s Paul Varjak.

    • MM


      He’s a writer.