The Intimate Ones, by Bonnie Golightly (Hillman, 1960).
Illustration by Ernest “Darcy” Chiriacka.
If the family name Golightly brings to your mind a certain Audrey Hepburn film role, it may or may not be coincidental. Not long after Truman Capote’s original novella, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, was published in Esquire in November 1958 (and brought out concurrently by Random House in a book-length collection of Capote’s short fiction), a New York City writer, one Bonnie Helen Golightly, launched a legal suit against Capote and his publishing house. She claimed she’d been the inspiration for Holly Golightly, the country girl turned gadabout party girl at the heart of Capote’s yarn, and demanded $800,000 on the grounds of libel and invasion of privacy.
Time laid out the particulars in its issue of February 5, 1959:
“A twice-married, twice-divorced blonde built along dinner-at-Schrafft’s lines, Bonnie Golightly, 39, is a practicing novelist (The Wild One) and ex-Greenwich Village bookstore owner. Far from being ‘a figment of Truman Capote’s so-called imagination,’ Bonnie claims, Capote’s colorful heroine was constructed from details about Bonnie gleaned by Capote (‘a creative reporter’) from ‘mutual friends.’Bonnie Golightly was hardly the only “girl-about-town” claiming to have provided the model for Capote’s protagonist; at least four others made the same assertion, and in the decades since, there have been a number of other models proposed. But, though her suit was soon dismissed, a blog called West Hollywood Wives makes the case that the Chicago-born Ms. Golightly “had good reason to think she played a part--if in name only--in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”
“Besides a broad Southern accent acquired from her Tennessee upbringing, Bonnie Golightly points to some other evidence. Like Capote’s Holly, she lived in a brownstone on Manhattan’s fashionable East Side, with a bar around the corner on Lexington. Like Holly, she is an avid amateur folk singer with many theatrical and offbeat friends. Like Holly, Bonnie says: ‘I just love cats. The cat thing corresponds, and all the hair-washing and a lot of things hither and yon.’ One bit of Hollyanna to which Bonnie makes no claim: ‘I’ve never, absolutely never, had a Lesbian roommate.’
“Capote claims that his Holly had three ‘counterparts in reality,’ none of them Bonnie: ‘One of them is dead--she died in Africa; the other two are very much alive and have no intention of suing me.’ Properly Hollyfied at Claimant Golightly’s ‘presumption’ Capote tongue-lashed back: ‘I have never met nor seen this lady … It’s ridiculous for her to claim she is my Holly. I understand she’s a large girl nearly forty years old. Why, it’s sort of like Joan Crawford saying she’s Lolita.”
That article is well worth reading, but what concerns us here is Bonnie Golightly’s novel-writing career. She claimed to have “started writing when I was eight years old,” and West Hollywood Wives asserts that she eventually published 20 books, primarily of the pulpish sort. Among those were The Wild One (1957), High Cost of Loving (1958), Beat Girl (1959), The Shades of Evil (1960), The Integration of Maybelle Brown (1961), and The Wife Swappers (1962).
Oh, and let’s not forget 1960’s The Intimate Ones.
I’m sorry to report that I have not been able to track down even a single review of this novel on the Web, and I don’t own a copy myself. Judging by the cover teaser on the Hillman Books edition above--“A novel of New York City girls with unlisted telephone numbers”--it sounds like a yarn focusing on what my father used to call “women of uncertain virtue.” That seems to jibe with the come-on atop a different edition, published in 1966 by Award Books (with cover artwork by Darrell Greene), which I have posted on the left: “One unscrupulous man and two girls without inhibitions parlay an unconventional relationship into a going concern.” Are we talking prostitution here, or perhaps blackmail? Neither of those plotting possibilities fits comfortably with the ostensibly sweet and downright tender illustration Ernest Chiriacka painted for the 1960 edition of The Intimate Ones, featured at the top of this post. Based on that art alone, I’d have guessed Golightly’s narrative was built around a complicated but ultimately satisfying love story. One involving plenty of parties, of course.
Unfortunately, I can’t ask Bonnie Golightly about The Intimate Ones. A longtime smoker, she died as a consequence of lung cancer on October 11, 1998, at age 77. Although she wasn’t successful in her lawsuit against Truman Capote, she did at least outlive him by 14 years. That might have brought her modest satisfaction.