Shelved Dolls: Lillie Mae Faulk – The Real Holly Golightly

holly golight lillie me faulk

You think Holly Golightly is a big deal now? Oh, sure, sure, every brunette who has ever done anything remotely kooky thinks she’s Holly Golightly. We all think that. I think that, too. You try adding some chocolate sauce to a chicken recipe and suddenly you’re an Oakie turned call girl who is still attached to the husband she married at 14.

And that is 50 years after the book came out.

You cannot conceive of the kind of big deal Holly Golightly was when Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s originally came out. Everyone thought that they were Holly Golightly. One woman, Bonnie Golightly, sued Truman Capote for $800,000 claiming he had stolen the story of her life. Truman remarked “it’s ridiculous for her to claim she is my Holly. I understand she’s a large girl, nearly 40 years old. Why, it’s sort of like Joan Crawford saying she’s Lolita.”

Of course, Truman always contended that Holly was based off of someone, but Truman was also the kind of guy who was very, very good at telling people who they want to hear.

Apparently Doris Lilly, the author of How To Marry A Millionaire, telephoned a friend of Truman’s, very excited after reading Breakfast at Tiffany’s and exclaimed “It’s me! It’s me! It’s me! Me, me, me!” The friend mentioned this to Truman, and Truman replied “Honey, you tell her, her, her, for me, me, me, that it is her. So far it’s also Carol Marcus and Oona Chaplin.”

There was, however, probably one person Truman really loved and was completely honest with, and that was his longtime partner Jack Dunphy. People forget about Jack, they think Truman is somehow asexual, like Andy Warhol, but Jack was there, in spite of being forgotten about. And Truman told Jack that he was frankly surprised that anyone who knew him well did not immediately recognize the inspiration behind Holly Golightly.

And yet, everyone seems to agree that the true identity of Holly Golightly, nee Lula Mae Barnes, is a great mystery, and that her true inspiration can never be known.

Well, that was yesterday, this is today. I’m here to clear that up. Spoiler: it was Truman’s mom. Mystery solved. Let’s break this down and find all the parallels between the two, if their virtually identical birth names were not enough.

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    • Amy

      Fascinating story! Thanks so much for sharing

    • Caitlin

      Yes, this is great! Super interesting. Excellent work and thanks for posting

    • Samantha

      I love this column so much.
      This might be my favorite yet – it almost brought me to tears.

    • Nancy

      What they said! Keep them coming!

    • Erin

      Thank you for the Shelved Dolls articles. They are lovely.

    • Jaclyn

      Very well done. These pieces are fantastic and each one is more fascinating than the last.

    • Lindsey

      You should put these into a book and sell people the book.

    • Cate

      I agree with the stuff everyone else is saying. I love this series.

      • Jennifer Wright

        AW YOU GUYS!

        I think next week might be Evelyn Nesbit. She is saucy. Also, I need to find someone whose life isn’t incredibly sad. Which is not Evelyn Nesbit. I mean, she’s pretty sad.

    • Robin

      You know, for the longest time, I sort of assumed that Truman Capote had intended Holly Golightly to be a female version of himself (given how others who knew him, such as Harper Lee, had seemed to describe him). I don’t really have time to read past the first page at the moment, but I look forward to reading the rest of your case soon!

    • diane kaston

      thank you thank you, this just blew me away, see you at tiffany’s

    • Kate

      Just had to jump on the “God-this-series-is-fantastic-please-never-stop-writing-it!!” bandwagon. Great writing, fascinating subjects… I’m always so excited to see a new Shelved Doll article. So, please, keep it up!

    • Rod

      “In 1931, when Truman was 8, Lillie married a successful South American businessman Joe Capote (Joe, not Jose, the successful South American Holly wanted to marry in Breakfast at Tiffany’s)”

      But Joe is short for Joseph, isn’t it? That is, José in Spanish (and Joe was Cuban).

    • An Okie

      Loved the piece. But I have one thing. It’s Okie, not Oakie. We’re not made of wood.

    • Luisa

      Wonderful piece! I did have an issue with one tiny bit-Cuba is NOT in South America.