The Story Behind Audrey Hepburn And "Moon River"

It's a funny song and also the perfect choice.

Audrey Hepburn Breakfast at Tiffany's
Photo: ullstein bild / ullstein bild / Getty Images

There is a moment in Breakfast at Tiffany's where Holly Golightly (played by Audrey Hepburn) feels 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 it perfectly sums up the public party girl who is a small-town sweetheart in her quieter moments. Here's the story behind "Moon River" and how it became an Oscar-winning song recorded by some of the most well-known artists.

Who Wrote "Moon River"? 

"Moon River" was written by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer. These two were making names 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. 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.

WATCH: The Best Songs About The South

"Moon River" In The Movies

When Paramount hired him and Mancini to craft a song for Breakfast at Tiffany's, Mercer adapted his lyrics to Mancini's laconic melody. Mercer discovered 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. Not known as a singer, Hepburn performed the song, singing sweetly, if sparingly, on the track, filling it with a romantic yearning for a simpler life.

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 they should remove the song. "The normally gentle Hepburn told him firmly that it would be over her dead body," The Telegraph reports.

"Moon River" Continued Success

It's good that Hepburn stood up for herself and her song because they sold more than a million copies of the sheet music in its 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 song.

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.

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