The Story Behind Audrey Hepburn and “Moon River”
There comes a moment in Breakfast at Tiffany's where Holly Golightly (played by Audrey Hepburn) is feeling blue, so she pulls out a guitar, settles down on her fire escape, and softly sings, "Moon River". It's a funny song for a New York socialite to choose, but perfectly sums up the public party girl who, in her quieter moments, is a small-town sweetheart.
"Moon River" was written by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer, who at the time were making names for themselves in Hollywood thanks to Mancini's work on the Pink Panther theme and Mercer's lyrics on songs like "Hooray for Hollywood" and "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive" from White Christmas.
Mercer grew up in Savannah, Georgia and had fond memories of his childhood there, picking huckleberries and watching the river roll by without a care in the world. According to The Telegraph, he started writing a song about those Southern summer days and gently flowing rivers, titling the tune "Blue River" and incorporating references to his "huckleberry friend" as an homage to Mark Twain's Huck Finn and the carefree huckleberry-picking days of his youth.
When he and Mancini were hired by Paramount to craft a song for Breakfast at Tiffany's, Mercer adapted his lyrics to Mancini's laconic melody. Mercer found out that the title "Blue River" was already taken, so he came up with a new one and "Moon River" was born, according to The Telegraph. Hepburn, who was not known as a singer, performed the song herself, singing sweetly, if sparingly on the track, filling it with romantic yearning for a simpler life.
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Their work didn't impress the studio, though. The way Mancini tells it, the president of Paramount Pictures watched an early preview of the film and announced that the song had to be removed. "The normally gentle Hepburn told him firmly that it would be over her dead body," the Telegraph reports.
It's a good thing Hepburn stood up for herself and her song, because more than a million copies of the sheet music were sold in its very first printing. In 1962, Mancini and Mercer were awarded the Oscar for best movie song for "Moon River." It has gone on to be recorded over 500 times by artists like Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Judy Garland, and Sarah Vaughan, even Joan Rivers gave the tune a funny twist singing, "Joan Rivers, older than the sky…" to the iconic tune.
As for the rivers of Mercer's childhood, the city of Savannah renamed a river inlet Moon River in his honor and now the Moon River district and the Moon River Brewery continue the tribute.