The 1961 film "Breakfast at Tiffany's" is far more popular than the novella it was adapted from. While the film closely follows much of the original dialogue, it does depart from the novella in several crucial ways. Screenwriter George Axelrod said of the adaptation process: "Nothing really happened in the book...[what] we had to do was devise a story, get a central romantic relationship, and make the hero a red-blooded heterosexual." Most of the major changes to the novella's plot and characters were consequences of the shift to a typical Hollywood love story. In the novella, the narrator is a private, conscientious homosexual with an unrevealed name. In the movie, this character was transformed into "Paul Varjak", a kept man who is love with Holly. The film introduced the character "Tooley" as Paul's benefactor, and omitted most of the novella's references to Holly's sexual promiscuity and quasi-prostitution. While such shifts were the inevitable result of mid-century taboos surrounding sex, they also indicate how such taboos were organized around gender. The film preserves Capote's depiction of semi-prostitution, but shifts the activity from Holly to the male protagonist, in keeping with dominant double standards that accepted male promiscuity and condemned openly sexual women. Accordingly, Capote's provocative exploration of sexual difference is absent from the film version of "Breakfast at Tiffany's". The discussions of lesbianism, homosexuality, and gender that made the novella so innovative were omitted from the screenplay, and the two main characters are portrayed according to the dominant gender stereotypes of the early sixties. The film "Breakfast at Tiffany's" preserves all of Holly's signature stylistic quirks except her short, "boyish" haircut, which in the novella signified her rejection of the current feminine ideal. Most strikingly, the film revises Capote's ambiguous conclusion in favor of a romantic happy ending between Paul and Holly that conforms to the formula of mainstream Hollywood cinema.
In a letter to his aunt, Capote admitted that he had originally picked Marilyn Monroe to play the part of Holly, a suggestion the producers dismissed for "image reasons". While the choice of Audrey Hepburn, whose famous thinness matched Holly's, may have been more aesthetically appropriate, it is likely that the producers were also concerned that Monroe's overt eroticism would undermine the project of de-sexualizing Holly's character. Hepburn, widely considered the epitome of class and tact, was in fact initially reluctant to take the role because of the character's loose moral character. Nevertheless, Hepburn's turn as Holly Golightly is often considered among her best performances, and gained her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. Hepburn's costumes, designed by legendary designers Edith Head and Givenchy, had an immediate and profound influence on both 1960s couture style and popular women's fashion. To this day, "Breakfast at Tiffany's" is singled out as one of the greatest achievements in costume design, and Hepburn's image as Holly Golightly remains synonymous with elegant, minimalist style.