I’ve seen Blake EdwardsBreakfast at Tiffany’s exactly once, but the film — or the image, rather, of Audrey Hepburn‘s Holly Golightly with the black evening grown, upswept hair and long cigarette holder — has an iconic status. And like everyone else, I’ve always thought of Hepburn/Golightly as some kind of flighty gold-digger type. But no, says N.Y. Times columnist Maureen Dowd in today’s column. Holly is a whore.

When the producers of Breakfast at Tiffany’s chose Hepburn to play Golightly, “her real-life good-girl persona helped mask the raciness of her character.

“In the 1960 movie of John O’Hara‘s Butterfield 8, Elizabeth Taylor‘s call girl had to die in a car crash for her sins, just as 20 years earlier, Vivien Leigh, playing a ballerina-turned-prostitute in Waterloo Bridge, had to be punished for her wicked ways with a final leap off the bridge.

“It would be many years before audiences would embrace overt hookers as heroines: Jamie Lee Curtis in Trading Places in 1983, Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman in 1990 and Kim Basinger in L.A. Confidential in 1997.

“Married to the oppressive Mel Ferrer and with a new baby boy, Hepburn’s princess-swan image bled into Holly, making her seem less like a member of the oldest profession and more like a modern, fun-loving single girl.

“‘In Breakfast at Tiffany’s, all of a sudden — because it was Audrey who was doing it — living alone, going out, looking fabulous and getting a little drunk didn’t look so bad anymore,’ writes Sam Wasson in his new book Fifth Avenue, 5 am: Audrey Hepburn, ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ and the Dawn of the Modern Woman. ‘Being single actually seemed shame-free. It seemed fun.’

“So, as a haute hooker, Hepburn was a fairy godmother, not only to feminism but to the prevailing ethos that style and cool trump all.”