Marguerite Littman, the Inspiration for Holly Golightly, Dies at 90


Marguerite Littman, a honey-voiced Louisianian and literary muse who taught Hollywood to speak Southern, but who left her most enduring legacy as an early force in the fight against AIDS, died on Oct. 16 at her home in London. She was 90.

Peter Eyre, a longtime friend, confirmed the death. He said she had been ill for some time.

By all accounts hypnotically charming, Ms. Littman, who landed in Los Angeles at midcentury, counted among her closest friends the writer Christopher Isherwood and his partner, the artist Don Bachardy, as well as Gore Vidal, David Hockney and, famously, Truman Capote, who is said to have distilled that charm into his most famous character, Holly Golightly of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

“She was a rarefied creature — generous, restless,” the Irish novelist and memoirist Edna O’Brien wrote in an email, adding, “She was like a character in fiction.”

An oft-told story about Ms. Littman goes like this: Mr. Capote and Ms. Littman were sitting at the pool at Cipriani’s in Venice in the late 1970s when Ms. Littman pointed out an extremely thin woman. “That is anorexia nervosa,” she declared. And Mr. Capote replied, “Oh Marguerite, you know everybody.”

“She wove legends while you were with her,” said Ben Brantley, the former chief theater critic for The New York Times and a longtime friend. “I remember someone saying you can’t take her seriously, but there was such seriousness in her frivolity. It was an existential choice.

“If you were sick, she was there,” Mr. Brantley continued. “She didn’t push darkness into a corner. She once said relationships should be ‘as light as a butterfly, a pale, pale shade of beige.’ Life was somber enough.”

In 1986, at the peak of the AIDS epidemic, Ms. Littman, who was then living in London, wrote to 100 friends asking them each to contribute 100 pounds as a founding member of what would become the AIDS Charitable Trust, a powerhouse of fund-raising in Britain for more than a decade. Those famous friends all kicked in, and continued to do so.

One bonanza was the sale of the book “Hockney’s Alphabet,” a collaboration between Mr. Hockney and the poet Stephen Spender, who edited it, containing letters drawn by the artist and essays by authors like Iris Murdoch, Ian McEwan and Kazuo Ishiguro. (Mr. Vidal, writing about the letter E, began his essay with typical acidity, “I never liked the look of E. …”)

And just before her death in 1997, Diana, Princess of Wales, long a supporter of AIDS organizations, donated her wardrobe for sale at an auction to benefit the trust and other charities. It raised more than $3 million.

She and Mr Avedon received death threats on their Southern tour. “We’d been run out of every town in Louisiana,” Ms. Littman told Mr. Selkirk. “We were scared the whole time.”

Yet, Ms. Horyn recalled in a phone interview, “She was always comfortable in her skin, comfortable in the places she landed. She could navigate in a lot of circles and not boast about it. I don’t think she had anything to prove. For all her zest, there was a seriousness about her. She had missions to accomplish.”

In 1965, Ms. Littman married Mark Littman, a British barrister, and they settled in a house on Chester Square in London, the Belgravia neighborhood that has also been home to Margaret Thatcher and Mick Jagger. There, Ms. Littman gave what became storied lunch parties that began with Champagne laced with orange liqueur, moved onto jambalaya made with apricot jam, and ended with a nap. “It was great for starving artists,” the Swedish photographer Eric Boman said.

Her house “was like a fantasy world, with all these paintings by Hockney,” Mr. Eyre said.

“You could say she was sort of fantastic herself,” he added. “A fantasist. Her mind and her memory and her accent. Her husband said to me one day, ‘Do you find Marguerite’s accent has gotten heavier?’”

Ms. Littman’s brother died in 2011, and Mr. Littman died in 2015. She leaves no immediate survivors.

“I would say Marguerite had many talents and did many things, but her greatest achievement was her AIDS advocacy,” said Ms. Blair, whose decades-long friendship with Ms. Littman deepened through their AIDS work. “I would also say she was someone — how shall I put it? — who lingered in people’s minds.”


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