Audrey Hepburn is largely considered to be one of the best actors of her generation—if not the very best. She’s so often celebrated not just for her acting chops, but for her grace, style, elegance, and even her altruism and kindness in her personal life, spending many years engaged in various humanitarian pursuits.
Audrey Hepburn had a variety of talents, from her keen eye for style, her poised vocabulary, and her many years of training as a ballerina. She simply stands out among the crowd, which is perhaps why she is so bound to be remembered throughout history.
For all of the extraordinary things that Audrey Hepburn achieved during her lifetime, one thing that perhaps slips under the radar is the fact that she had an excellent singing voice. Given the cadence and melodic quality of her speaking voice, this shouldn’t come as a huge shock. And if you’ve seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s, you’ll likely remember her rendition of ‘Moon River’, which is soft, breathy, and all-around dreamy. However, it actually almost didn’t come to fruition.
Given that Audrey Hepburn wasn’t a trained singer, Paramount filmmakers thought they would need to dub somebody else’s voice over hers in order to make it sound acceptable. However, ‘Moon River’ was composed by Henry Mancini, who specifically crafted something that would fit Hepburn’s voice and vocal range. Really, that’s what projects of this magnitude should warrant, especially when the composer knows the singer in question and their limits.
Mancini’s wife, Ginny, said of the songwriting and composition process: “Henry was at home one night and we were watching Funny Face 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’.”
Sometimes, that’s how great songwriting happens—it doesn’t have to be about calculating it perfectly, but about working with what comes along and finding inspiration with the people one works with and noticing the little things. That’s exactly what Mancini did, and the film was better for it. Not only that, but now we have yet another iconic song and moment in film history in which Audrey Hepburn’s talents can shine.
Ginny even echoes that sentiment with his process, saying: “Many songwriting teams sit down together and work out a strategy for a song, a way it’s supposed to go. Henry and Johnny never sat down together. They discussed what it should be and what the lyric had to say, but once Henry had the melody nailed, he would just send it to Mercer.”
However, even with the flow of the song creating the perfect storm, the song was almost cut from Breakfast at Tiffany’s because the film was too long. “As legend has it the head of the studio said, ‘We’ll just cut the song’. 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.”
Eventually, Audrey Hepburn herself intervened and made a case for the song to stay—and it’s a good thing she did, because it resulted in an Oscar victory.
If you’re curious to take another listen to the song that ended up in Breakfast at Tiffany’s by the skin of its teeth, you can find it below.