Patricia Neal ‘hated’ her Breakfast at Tiffany’s co-star and had to break up set fistfight
In the end, George Peppard was cast as Paul even though director Blake Edwards didn’t want him, being overruled by producers. Quoted in Sam Wasson’s Fifth Avenue, 5AM: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and the Dawn of the Modern Woman, Neal didn’t hold back on her experience of working with the leading man. Initially, the actress said she had initially enjoyed working with him but after a near-violent moment on set her mind was entirely changed.
The 2E star said: “I had done scenes with George at the Actors Studio. I had a very good time, and I adored him, but years later, when I got Breakfast at Tiffany’s, something happened.” This something led her to “hating” him.
Neal continued: “I was thrilled when I heard we were going to be in it together, but it wasn’t long until I saw that since I last saw him he had grown so cold and conceited. On one occasion, Blake and George almost had a fistfight. We were trying to block a scene and George wanted to change everything that Blake had planned, and George got so terrible that Blake almost hit him. I got them to stop, but I think George got his way. I hated him from that moment on.”
Breakfast at Tiffany’s producer Richard Shepherd was surprised to find that even Hepburn, who got on with most people, found Peppard difficult to work with.
Shepherd said: “I must say there wasn’t a human being that Audrey Hepburn didn’t have a kind word for except George Peppard. She didn’t like him at all. She thought he was pompous. When she wasn’t around, he referred to her as ‘The Happy Nun.’”
The film was nominated for five Academy Awards and won two in Best Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture and Best Original Song for Moon River. Despite its critical and commercial success, Breakfast at Tiffany’s has been criticised for Mickey Rooney’s yellow-face portrayal of Mr Yunioshi in the decades since.
Rooney, who later said he wouldn’t have played the part if he knew it would offend people, wore a prosthetic mouthpiece and makeup to play a caricature of a Japanese man.
Producer Richard Shepherd said at the time of production he’d wanted a Japanese actor to play the role, but that it was Edwards’ decision to have Rooney.
In retrospect, the director said: “Looking back, I wish I had never done it … and I would give anything to be able to recast it, but it’s there, and onward and upward.”