Truman Capote

Truman Capote

[kuh-poh-tee]
Capote, Truman, 1924-84, American author, b. New Orleans as Truman Streckfus Persons. During his lifetime, the witty, diminutive writer was a well-known public personage, hobnobbing with the rich and famous and frequently appearing in the popular media, before he lapsed into alcoholism in his final years. Capote's fiction reflects a private, imaginative world of narcissistic yet strangely innocent people. Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948), his first novel and a classic Southern Gothic, is the story of a young boy's painful search for identity. His other works include a gentle autobiographical novel, The Grass Harp (1951); a collection of short stories, Tree of Night (1949); the novella Breakfast at Tiffany's (1958); a report of his trip to Russia with the cast of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, The Muses Are Heard (1956); the musical House of Flowers (1954); and two collections of nonfiction pieces, The Dogs Bark (1973) and Music for Chameleons (1980). In 1966, Capote published his "nonfiction novel," In Cold Blood, a chilling account of the senseless, brutal murder of a Kansas family that is widely considered his finest work. Fragments of his last major book, the unfinished Unanswered Prayers, were collected in 1990. The Complete Stories of Truman Capote was published in 2004.

See N. T. Inge, ed., Truman Capote: Conversations (1987); L. Grobel, Conversations with Capote (1985, repr. 2000); G. Clarke, ed., Too Brief a Treat: The Letters of Truman Capote (2004); memoirs by D. Windham (1983), J. M. Brinnin (1986), and J. Dunphy (1987); biographies by G. Clarke (1988) and G. Plimpton (1997); studies by H. S. Garson (1980 and 1992), K. T. Reed (1981), J. J. and J. C. Waldmeir, ed. (1999), and H. Bloom, ed. (2003).

orig. Truman Streckfus Persons

(born Sept. 30, 1924, New Orleans, La., U.S.—died Aug. 25, 1984, Los Angeles, Calif.) U.S. novelist, short-story writer, and playwright. Capote spent much of his youth in small towns in Louisiana and Alabama. His early works, in the Southern Gothic tradition, include the novels Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948) and The Grass Harp (1951) and the story collection A Tree of Night (1949). His later journalistic style was exemplified in the highly successful “nonfiction novel” In Cold Blood (1966), an account of a multiple murder. Other works include the novella Breakfast at Tiffany's (1958; film, 1961), the musical House of Flowers (1954; with Harold Arlen), and the collections The Dogs Bark (1973) and Music for Chameleons (1980).

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Truman Capote (30 September, 1924, New Orleans, Louisiana25 August, 1984, Los Angeles, California) was an American writer whose short stories, novels, plays, and non-fiction are recognized literary classics, including the novella Breakfast at Tiffany's (1958) and In Cold Blood (1965), which he labeled a "non-fiction novel". At least 20 films and television dramas have been produced from Capote novels, stories and screenplays.

Early life

Truman Capote was born Truman Streckfus Persons in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, the son of 17-year-old Lillie Mae (née Faulk) and Archelaus Persons, who was a salesman. When he was four, his parents divorced, and he was sent to Monroeville, Alabama, where he was raised by his mother's relatives. He formed a fast bond with his mother's distant relative, Nanny Rumbley Faulk, whom Truman called 'Sook'. "Her face is remarkable—not unlike Lincoln's, craggy like that, and tinted by sun and wind," is how Capote described Sook in "A Christmas Memory". In Monroeville, he was a neighbor and friend of Harper Lee, who grew up to write To Kill a Mockingbird (with the character Dill based on Truman).

As a lonely child, Capote taught himself to read and write before he entered the first grade in school. Capote was often seen at age five carrying his dictionary and notepad, and he began writing when he was ten. At this time, he was given the nickname Bulldog, possibly a phonetic reference and pun of "Bulldog Truman" to the fictional detective Bulldog Drummond popular in films of the mid-1930s.

On Saturdays, he made trips from Monroeville to Mobile, and when he was ten, he submitted his short story, "Old Mrs. Busybody," to a children's writing contest sponsored by the Mobile Press Register.

In 1933, he moved to New York City to live with his mother and her second husband, Joseph Capote, a Cuban-born textile broker, who adopted his stepson and renamed him Truman García Capote. However, Joseph turned out to be an embezzler and shortly after his income crashed and the family faced moving out of Park Avenue, Truman's mother committed suicide via an overdose of sleeping pills. When he was 11, he began writing seriously in daily three-hour sessions. Of his early days Capote related, "I began writing really sort of seriously when I was about eleven. I say seriously in the sense that like other kids go home and practice the violin or the piano or whatever, I used to go home from school every day and I would write for about three hours. I was obsessed by it." In 1935, he attended the Trinity School. He then attended St. Joseph's military academy. In 1939, the Capotes moved to Greenwich, Connecticut, and Truman attended Greenwich High School, where he wrote for both the school's literary journal, The Green Witch, and the school newspaper. Back in New York in 1942, he graduated from the Dwight School, an Upper West Side private school where an award is now given annually in his name.

When he was 17, Capote ended his formal education and began a two-year job at The New Yorker. Years later, he wrote, "Not a very grand job, for all it really involved was sorting cartoons and clipping newspapers. Still, I was fortunate to have it, especially since I was determined never to set a studious foot inside a college classroom. I felt that either one was or wasn't a writer, and no combination of professors could influence the outcome. I still think I was correct, at least in my own case."

Short fiction

Between 1943 and 1946, Capote wrote a continual flow of short fiction, including "A Mink of One's Own," "Miriam," "My Side of the Matter," "Preacher's Legend," "Shut a Final Door" (for which he won the O. Henry Award at the age of 19) and "The Walls Are Cold." These stories were published in both literary quarterlies and well-known magazines, including The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's Bazaar, Harper's Magazine, Mademoiselle, The New Yorker, Prairie Schooner and Story. Interviewed in 1957 for the The Paris Review, Capote was asked about his short story technique, answering:
Since each story presents its own technical problems, obviously one can't generalize about them on a two-times-two-equals-four basis. Finding the right form for your story is simply to realize the most natural way of telling the story. The test of whether or not a writer has defined the natural shape of his story is just this: After reading it, can you imagine it differently, or does it silence your imagination and seem to you absolute and final? As an orange is final. As an orange is something nature has made just right.

In 1943 Capote wrote his first novel, Summer Crossing about the summer romance of Fifth Avenue socialite Grady O'Neil with a parking lot attendant. Capote later claimed to have destroyed it, and it was regarded as a lost work. However, it was stolen in 1966 by a housesitter Capote hired to watch his Brooklyn apartment, resurfaced in 2004 and was published by Random House in 2005.

Other Voices, Other Rooms

In June 1945, Mademoiselle published his short story "Miriam" which won an (Best First-Published Story) in 1946. In the spring of 1946, Capote was accepted at Yaddo, the 400-acre artists and writers colony at Saratoga Springs, New York.

"Miriam" attracted the attention of publisher Bennett Cerf, resulting in a contract with Random House to write a novel. With an advance of $1,500, Capote returned to Monroeville and began Other Voices, Other Rooms, continuing to work on the manuscript in New Orleans, Louisiana, Saratoga Springs and North Carolina, eventually completing it in Nantucket, Massachusetts. Capote described the symbolic tale as "a poetic explosion in highly suppressed emotion." The novel is a semi-autobiographical refraction of Capote's Alabama childhood. Decades later, writing in The Dogs Bark (1973), he looked back:

Other Voices, Other Rooms was an attempt to exorcise demons, an unconscious, altogether intuitive attempt, for I was not aware, except for a few incidents and descriptions, of its being in any serious degree autobiographical. Rereading it now, I find such self-deception unpardonable.

The story focuses on 13-year-old Joel Knox following the loss of his mother. Joel is sent from New Orleans, Louisiana, to live with his father who abandoned him at the time of his birth. Arriving at Skully's Landing, a vast, decaying mansion in rural Alabama, Joel meets his sullen stepmother Amy, debauched transvestite Randolph and defiant Idabel, a girl who becomes his friend. He also sees a spectral "queer lady" with "fat dribbling curls" watching him from a top window. Despite Joel's queries, the whereabouts of his father remain a mystery. When he finally is allowed to see his father, Joel is stunned to find he is a quadriplegic, having tumbled down a flight of stairs after being inadvertently shot by Randolph and nearly dying. He runs away with Idabel but catches pneumonia and eventually returns to the Landing where he is nursed back to health by Randolph. The implication in the final paragraph is that the "queer lady" beckoning from the window is Randolph in his old Mardi Gras costume. Gerald Clarke, in Capote: A Biography (1988) described the conclusion:

Finally, when he goes to join the queer lady in the window, Joel accepts his destiny, which is to be homosexual, to always hear other voices and live in other rooms. Yet acceptance is not a surrender; it is a liberation. "I am me," he whoops. "I am Joel, we are the same people." So, in a sense, had Truman rejoiced when he made peace with his own identity.

When Other Voices, Other Rooms was published in 1948, it stayed on The New York Times bestseller list for nine weeks, selling more than 26,000 copies. The promotion and controversy surrounding this novel catapulted Capote to fame. A 1947 Harold Halma photograph, used to promote the book, showed a reclining Capote gazing into the camera. Gerald Clarke, in Capote: A Biography (1988), wrote, "The famous photograph: Harold Halma's picture on the dustjacket of Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948) caused as much comment and controversy as the prose inside. Truman claimed that the camera had caught him off guard, but in fact he had posed himself and was responsible for both the picture and the publicity." Much of the early attention to Capote centered around different interpretations of this photograph, which was viewed as a suggestive pose by some. According to Clarke, the photo created an "uproar" and gave Capote "not only the literary, but also the public personality he had always wanted." The photo made a huge impression on the 20-year-old Andy Warhol, who often talked about the picture and wrote fan letters to Capote. When Warhol moved to New York in 1949, he made numerous attempts to meet Capote, and Warhol's fascination with the author led to his first New York one-man show, Fifteen Drawings Based on the Writings of Truman Capote at the Hugo Gallery (June 16 - July 3, 1952.).

When the picture was reprinted along with reviews in magazines and newspapers, some readers were amused, but others were outraged and offended. The Los Angeles Times reported that Capote looked "as if he were dreamily contemplating some outrage against conventional morality." The novelist Merle Miller issued a complaint about the picture at a publishing forum, and the photo of "Truman Remote" was satirized in the third issue of Mad (making Capote one of the first four celebrities to be spoofed in Mad). The humorist Max Shulman struck an identical pose for the dustjacket photo on his collection, Max Shulman's Large Economy Size (1948). The Broadway stage revue New Faces (and the subsequent film version) featured a skit in which Ronny Graham parodied Capote, deliberately copying his pose in the Halma photo.

Random House featured the Halma photo in its "This is Truman Capote" ads, and large blowups were displayed in bookstore windows. Walking on Fifth Avenue, Halma overheard two middle-aged women looking at a Capote blowup in the window of a bookstore. When one woman said, "I'm telling you: he's just young," the other woman responded, "And I'm telling you, if he isn't young, he's dangerous!" Capote delighted in retelling this anecdote.

Random House followed the success of Other Voices, Other Rooms with A Tree of Night and Other Stories in 1949. In addition to "Miriam," this collection also includes "Shut a Final Door." First published in The Atlantic Monthly (August, 1947), "Shut a Final Door" won an O. Henry Award (First Prize) in 1948.

After A Tree of Night was published, Capote traveled about Europe; he went into a state of depression, including a two-year sojourn in Sicily. This led to a collection of his European travel essays, Local Color (1950), indicative of his increasing interest in writing nonfiction. In the early 1950s, Capote took on Broadway and films, adapting his 1951 novella, The Grass Harp, into a 1952 play (later a 1971 musical and a 1995 film), followed by the musical House of Flowers (1954). Capote co-wrote with John Huston the screenplay for Huston's film Beat the Devil (1953). Traveling through the Soviet Union with a touring production of Porgy and Bess, he produced a series of articles for The New Yorker that became his first book-length work of nonfiction, The Muses Are Heard (1956).

Friendship with Harper Lee

Capote remained a lifelong friend of his Monroeville neighbor Harper Lee, and he based the character of Idabel in Other Voices, Other Rooms on her. He in turn was the inspiration for the character Dill, in Lee's 1960 bestselling, Pulitzer prize-winning To Kill a Mockingbird. Like Capote, Dill is creative, bold and had an unsatisfactory family history. In an interview with Lawrence Grobel, Capote recalled his childhood, "Mr. and Mrs. Lee, Harper Lee's mother and father, lived very near. Harper Lee was my best friend. Did you ever read her book, To Kill a Mockingbird? I'm a character in that book, which takes place in the same small town in Alabama where we both lived."

Breakfast at Tiffany's

Breakfast at Tiffany's: A Short Novel and Three Stories brought together the title novella and three shorter tales: "House of Flowers," "A Diamond Guitar" and "A Christmas Memory." The heroine of Breakfast at Tiffany's, Holly Golightly, became one of Capote's best-known creations, and the book's prose style prompted Norman Mailer to call Capote "the most perfect writer of my generation." A first edition of this book might sell for from $500 to more than $3000, depending upon condition.

For Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany's was a turning point, as he explained to Roy Newquist (Counterpoint, 1964):

I think I've had two careers. One was the career of precocity, the young person who published a series of books that were really quite remarkable. I can even read them now and evaluate them favorably, as though they were the work of a stranger... My second career began, I guess it really began with Breakfast at Tiffany's. It involves a different point of view, a different prose style to some degree. Actually, the prose style is an evolvement from one to the other—a pruning and thinning-out to a more subdued, clearer prose. I don't find it as evocative, in many respects, as the other, or even as original, but it is more difficult to do. But I'm nowhere near reaching what I want to do, where I want to go. Presumably this new book is as close as I'm going to get, at least strategically.

In Cold Blood

The "new book," In Cold Blood: A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences, was inspired by a 300-word article that ran on page 39 of New York Times on Monday, November 16, 1959. The story described the unexplained murder of the Clutter family in rural Holcomb, Kansas.

Wealthy Farmer, 3 of Family Slain

A wealthy wheat farmer, his wife and their two young children were found shot to death today in their home. They had been killed by shotgun blasts at close range after being bound and gagged. The father, 48-year-old Herbert W. Clutter, was found in the basement with his son, Kenyon, 15. His wife Ennis, 45, and a daughter, Nancy, 16, were in their beds. There were no signs of a struggle and nothing had been stolen. The telephone lines had been cut. "This is apparently the case of a psychopathic killer," Sheriff Earl Robinson said. Mr. Clutter was founder of The Kansas Wheat Growers Association. In 1954, President Eisenhower appointed him to the Farm Credit Administration, but he never lived in Washington. The board represents the twelve farm credit districts in the country. Mr. Clutter served from December, 1953 until April, 1957. He declined a reappointment. He was also a local member of the Agriculture Department's Price Stabilization Board and was active with the Great Plains Wheat Growers Association. The Clutter farm and ranch cover almost 1,000 acres in one of the richest wheat areas. Mr. Clutter, his wife and daughter were clad in pajamas. The boy was wearing blue jeans and a T-shirt. The bodies were discovered by two of Nancy's classmates, Susan Kidwell and Nancy Ewalt. Sheriff Robinson said the last reported communication with Mr. Clutter took place last night about 9:30 PM, when the victim called Gerald Van Vleet, his business partner, who lives near by. Mr. Van Vleet said the conversation had concerned the farm and ranch. Two daughters were away. They are Beverly, a student at the University of Kansas, and Mrs. Donald G. Jarchow of Mount Carroll, Illinois.

Fascinated by this brief news item, Capote traveled with Harper Lee to Holcomb and visited the scene of the massacre. Over the course of the next few years, he became acquainted with everyone involved in the investigation and most of the residents of the small town. Rather than taking notes during interviews, Capote committed conversations to memory and immediately wrote quotes as soon as an interview ended. He claimed his memory retention for verbatim conversations had been tested at 94%. Lee lent Capote considerable assistance during his research for In Cold Blood. During the first few months of his investigation, she was able to make inroads into the community by befriending the wives of those Capote wanted to interview. Capote recalled his years in Kansas when he spoke at the 1974 San Francisco International Film Festival:

I spent four years on and off in that part of Western Kansas there during the research for that book and then the film. What was it like? It was very lonely. And difficult. Although I made a lot of friends there. I had to, otherwise I never could have researched the book properly. The reason was I wanted to make an experiment in journalistic writing, and I was looking for a subject that would have sufficient proportions. I’d already done a great deal of narrative journalistic writing in this experimental vein in the 1950s for The New Yorker... But I was looking for something very special that would give me a lot of scope. I had come up with two or three different subjects and each of them for whatever reasons was a dry run after I’d done a lot of work on them. And one day I was gleaning The New York Times, and way on the back page I saw this very small item. And it just said, "Kansas Farmer Slain. Family of Four Is Slain in Kansas." A little item just about like that. And the community was completely nonplussed, and it was this total mystery of how it could have been, and what happened. And I don't know what it was. I think it was that I knew nothing about Kansas or that part of the country or anything. And I thought, "Well, that will be a fresh perspective for me"... And I said, "Well, I’m just going to go out there and just look around and see what this is." And so maybe this is the subject I’ve been looking for. Maybe a crime of this kind is... in a small town. It has no publicity around it and yet had some strange ordinariness about it. So I went out there, and I arrived just two days after the Clutters’ funeral. The whole thing was a complete mystery and was for two and a half months. Nothing happened. I stayed there and kept researching it and researching it and got very friendly with the various authorities and the detectives on the case. But I never knew whether it was going to be interesting or not. You know, I mean anything could have happened. They could have never caught the killers. Or if they had caught the killers... it may have turned out to be something completely uninteresting to me. Or maybe they would never have spoken to me or wanted to cooperate with me. But as it so happened, they did catch them. In January, the case was solved, and then I made very close contact with these two boys and saw them very often over the next four years until they were executed. But I never knew... when I was even halfway through the book, when I had been working on it for a year and a half, I didn't honestly know whether I would go on with it or not, whether it would finally evolve itself into something that would be worth all that effort. Because it was a tremendous effort.

In Cold Blood was serialized in The New Yorker in 1965 and published in hardcover by Random House in 1966. The "non-fiction novel," as Capote labeled it, brought him literary acclaim and became an international bestseller. A feud between Capote and British arts critic Kenneth Tynan erupted in the pages of The Observer after Tynan's review of In Cold Blood implied that Capote wanted an execution so the book would have an effective ending. Tynan wrote:

We are talking, in the long run, about responsibility; the debt that a writer arguably owes to those who provide him—down to the last autobiographical parentheses—with his subject matter and his livelihood... For the first time an influential writer of the front rank has been placed in a position of privileged intimacy with criminals about to die, and—in my view—done less than he might have to save them. The focus narrows sharply down on priorities: does the work come first, or does life? An attempt to help (by supplying new psychiatric testimony) might easily have failed: what one misses is any sign that it was ever contemplated.

In Cold Blood brought Capote much praise from the literary community, but there were some who questioned certain events as reported in the book. Writing in Esquire in 1966, Phillip K. Tompkins noted factual discrepancies after he traveled to Kansas and talked to some of the same people interviewed by Capote. In a telephone interview with Tompkins, Mrs. Meier denied that she heard Perry cry and that she held his hand as described by Capote. In Cold Blood indicates that Meier and Perry became close, yet she told Tompkins she spent little time with Perry and did not talk much with him. Tompkins concluded:

Capote has, in short, achieved a work of art. He has told exceedingly well a tale of high terror in his own way. But, despite the brilliance of his self-publicizing efforts, he has made both a tactical and a moral error that will hurt him in the short run. By insisting that “every word” of his book is true he has made himself vulnerable to those readers who are prepared to examine seriously such a sweeping claim.

True crime writer Jack Olsen also commented on the fabrications:

"I recognized it as a work of art, but I know fakery when I see it," Olsen says. "Capote completely fabricated quotes and whole scenes... The book made something like $6 million in 1960s money, and nobody wanted to discuss anything wrong with a money-maker like that in the publishing business." Nobody except Olsen and a few others. His criticisms were quoted in Esquire, to which Capote replied, "Jack Olsen is just jealous."

"That was true, of course," Olsen says, "I was jealous--all that money? I'd been assigned the Clutter case by Harper & Row until we found out that Capote and his cousin, Harper Lee, had been already on the case in Dodge City for six months." Olsen explains, "That book did two things. It made true crime an interesting, successful, commercial genre, but it also began the process of tearing it down. I blew the whistle in my own weak way. I'd only published a couple of books at that time--but since it was such a superbly written book, nobody wanted to hear about it."

Celebrity

Capote was 5 feet 3 inches tall and openly homosexual in a time when it was socially acceptable among artists, but rarely talked about. One of his first serious lovers was Smith College literature professor Newton Arvin, who won the National Book Award for his Herman Melville biography.

Capote was well known for his distinctive, high-pitched voice and odd vocal mannerisms, his offbeat manner of dress and his fabrications. He often claimed to intimately know people he had in fact never met, such as Greta Garbo. He professed to have had numerous liaisons with men thought to be heterosexual, including, he claimed, Errol Flynn. He traveled in eclectic circles, hobnobbing with authors, critics, business tycoons, philanthropists, Hollywood and theatrical celebrities, royalty, and members of high society, both in the U.S. and abroad. Part of his public persona was a long-standing rivalry with writer Gore Vidal ("Truman Capote has tried, with some success, to get into a world that I have tried, with some success, to get out of."). Their rivalry prompted Tennessee Williams to complain: "You would think they were running neck-and-neck for some fabulous gold prize." Apart from his favorite authors (Willa Cather, Isak Dinesen, Marcel Proust), Capote had faint praise for other writers. However, one who did get his favorable endorsement was journalist Lacey Fosburgh, author of Closing Time: The True Story of the Goodbar Murder (1977). He also claimed an admiration for Andy Warhol's The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B & Back Again.

Black and White Ball

On November 28, 1966, in honor of The Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham, Capote hosted a legendary masked ball, called the Black and White Ball, in the Grand Ballroom of New York City's Plaza Hotel. It was considered the social event of not only that season but of many to follow. The New York Times and other publications gave it considerable coverage, and Deborah Davis wrote an entire book about the event, Party of the Century (2006), excerpted by The Independent. Different accounts of the evening were collected by George Plimpton in his book Truman Capote.

Capote dangled the prized invitations for months, snubbing early supporters like Carson McCullers as he determined who was "in" and who was "out". In choosing his guest of honor, Capote eschewed glamorous "swans" like Babe Paley and Fiat heiress Marella Agnelli in favor of Katharine Graham. Actress Candice Bergen was bored at the ball. Capote's elevator man danced the night away with a woman who didn't know his pedigree. Norman Mailer sounded off about Vietnam, and Frank Sinatra danced with his young wife, Mia Farrow.

The years following In Cold Blood

After the success of In Cold Blood, Capote's publisher re-released his earlier works, including a 20th anniversary edition of Other Voices, Other Rooms and a holiday gift book edition of his 1956 story "A Christmas Memory." A new long story, "The Thanksgiving Visitor," also became a holiday gift book. Now more sought-after than ever, Capote wrote occasional brief articles for magazines, and also entrenched himself more deeply in the world of the jet set.

In the late 1960s, he became friendly with Lee Radziwill, the sister of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Radziwill was an aspiring actress and had appeared to deplorable reviews in an engagement of The Philadelphia Story in Chicago. Feeling that the part simply wasn't tailored to her abilities, Capote was commissioned to write the teleplay for a 1967 TV adaptation of the classic Otto Preminger film Laura starring Radziwill. The adaptation, and Radziwill's performance in particular, received indifferent reviews and poor ratings; arguably, it was Capote's first major professional setback. Radziwill supplanted the older Babe Paley as his primary female companion in public throughout the better part of the 1970s.

Despite the assertion earlier in life that one "lost an IQ point for every year spent on the West Coast," he purchased a home in Palm Springs and began to indulge in a more aimless lifestyle and heavy drinking. This resulted in bitter quarreling with the more retiring Jack Dunphy (with whom he had shared a non-exclusive relationship since the 1950s). Their partnership changed form and continued as a nonsexual one, and they were separated during much of the 1970s. Dunphy was irritated by the unwavering substance abuse and even went so far as to allege that Capote had slept with Radziwill. However, others have alleged that Dunphy, a writer and playwright of far less renown, was unappreciative of Capote's gifts (including a Swiss condominium that Capote had little use for) and financial support.

The dearth of new writing and other failures, including a rejected screenplay for Paramount's 1974 adaptation of The Great Gatsby, was counteracted by Capote's frequenting of the talk show circuit. There, his candid—and sometimes inebriated—appearances became the stuff of cliché.

In 1972, with Lee Radziwill in tow, Capote accompanied the Rolling Stones on their 1972 American Tour as a correspondent for Rolling Stone magazine. While managing to take extensive notes for the project and visit old friends from the In Cold Blood days in Kansas City, he feuded with Mick Jagger and ultimately refused to write the article. The magazine eventually recouped its interests by publishing, in April 1973, an interview of the author conducted by Andy Warhol. A collection of previously published essays and reportage, The Dogs Bark: Public People and Private Places, appeared later that year.

In July 1973 Capote met John O'Shea, the middle-aged vice president of Marine Midland Bank on Long Island, while visiting a bathhouse. The married father of three did not identify as homosexual or bisexual, perceiving his visits as being a "kind of masturbation". However, O'Shea found Capote's fortune alluring and harbored aspirations to become a professional writer. After consummating their relationship in Palm Springs, the two engaged in an ongoing war of jealousy and manipulation for the remainder of the decade. Longtime friends were appalled when O'Shea, who was officially employed as Capote's manager, attempted to take total control of the author's literary and business interests.

Answered Prayers

Through his jet-set social life Capote had been discreetly conducting research (unbeknownst to his friends and benefactors) for his tell-all Answered Prayers (eventually to be published as Answered Prayers: The Unfinished Novel). The book, which had been in the planning stages since 1958, was intended to be the American equivalent of Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time and a culmination of the "nonfiction novel" format. Initially scheduled for publication in 1968, the novel was eventually delayed at Capote's insistence to 1972. Because of the delay, he was forced to return money received for the film rights to 20th Century Fox. Capote spoke about the novel in interviews, but continued to delay the delivery date.

By 1975, public demand for Answered Prayers had reached a critical mass, with many speculating that Capote had not even written a single word of the book. He permitted Esquire to publish four chapters of the unfinished novel in 1975 and 1976. The first to appear, "Mojave", ran as a self-contained short story and was favorably received, but the second, "La Côte Basque 1965", based in part on the dysfunctional personal lives of William S. Paley and Babe Paley, arguably Capote's best friends, generated controversy. Although the issue featuring "La Côte Basque" sold out immediately upon publication, its much-discussed betrayal of confidences alienated Capote from his established base of middle aged, wealthy female friends, who feared that the intimate and often sordid details of their ostensibly glamorous lives would be exposed to the public. Another two chapters, "Unspoiled Monsters" and "Kate McCloud", appeared subsequently; intended to form the long opening section of the novel, they displayed a marked shift in narrative voice, introduced a more elaborate plot structure, and together formed a novella-length mosaic of fictionalized memoir and gossip. "Unspoiled Monsters", which by itself was almost as long as Breakfast at Tiffany's, contained a thinly veiled satire of Tennessee Williams, whose friendship with Capote had already become strained.

Later years

In the late 1970s, Capote was in and out of rehab clinics, and news of his various breakdowns frequently reached the public. In 1978, talk show host Stanley Siegal did a live on-air interview with Capote, who, in an extraordinarily intoxicated state, confessed that he might kill himself. One year later, when he felt betrayed by Lee Radziwill in a feud with perpetual nemesis Gore Vidal, Capote arranged a return visit to Stanley Siegal's show, this time to deliver a bizarrely comic performance revealing salacious personal details about Radziwill and her sister, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

In an ironic twist, Warhol (who had made a point of seeking out Capote when he first arrived in New York) provided the author with the platform for his next artistic renewal. Warhol, who often partied with Capote at Studio 54, agreed to paint Capote's portrait as "a personal gift"—rather than for the six-figure sums he usually charged—in exchange for Capote contributing short pieces to Warhol's Interview magazine every month for a year. Initially the pieces were to consist of tape-recorded conversations, but soon Capote dispensed with the tape recorder and chose instead to craft meticulously composed "conversational portraits" that applied his literary skills to the magazine's dialogue-driven format. Out of this creative burst came the pieces that would form the basis for the bestselling Music for Chameleons (1980). To celebrate this unexpected renaissance, he underwent a facelift, lost weight and experimented with hair transplants. Nevertheless, Capote was unable to overcome his reliance upon drugs and liquor and had grown bored with New York by the turn of the 1980s.

After the revocation of his driver's license (the result of speeding near his Long Island residence) and a hallucinatory seizure in 1980 that required hospitalization, Capote became fairly reclusive. These hallucinations continued unabated and scans revealed that his brain mass had perceptibly shrunk. On the rare occasions when he was lucid, he continued to hype Answered Prayers as being nearly complete and was reportedly planning a reprise of the Black and White Ball to have been held either in Los Angeles or a more exotic locale in South America. On a few occasions, he was still able to write. In 1982, a new short story, "One Christmas", appeared in the December issue of Ladies' Home Journal and the following year it became, like its predecessors "A Christmas Memory" and "The Thanksgiving Visitor", a holiday gift book. In 1983, "Remembering Tennessee", an essay in tribute to Tennessee Williams, who had died in February of that year, appeared in Playboy magazine.

Death

Capote died in Los Angeles, California, on August 25, 1984, aged 59.

According to the coroner's report the cause of death was "liver disease complicated by phlebitis and multiple drug intoxication." He died at the home of his old friend Joanne Carson, ex-wife of late-night TV host Johnny Carson, on whose program Capote had been a frequent guest. He was interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles, leaving behind his longtime companion, author Jack Dunphy. Dunphy died in 1992, and in 1994 both his and Capote's ashes were scattered at Crooked Pond, between Bridgehampton, New York and Sag Harbor, New York on Long Island, close to where the two had maintained a property with individual houses for many years. Capote also maintained the property in Palm Springs, a condominium in Switzerland that was mostly occupied by Dunphy seasonally, and a primary residence at the United Nations Plaza in New York City. Capote's will provided that after Dunphy's death a literary trust would be established, sustained by revenues from Capote's works, to fund various literary prizes and grants including the Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism in Memory of Newton Arvin, commemorating not only Capote but also his friend Newton Arvin, the Smith College professor and critic, who lost his job after his homosexuality was exposed.

Exhibitions

Capote's childhood is the focus of a permanent exhibit in Monroeville, Alabama's Old Courthouse Museum, covering his life in Monroeville with his Faulk cousins and how those early years are reflected in his writing. The exhibit brings photos, letters and memorabilia together to paint a fascinating portrait of Capote's early life in Monroeville. Jennings Faulk Carter donated the collection to the Museum in 2005. The collection includes 12 handwritten letters (1940s-60s) from Capote to his favorite aunt, Mary Ida Carter (Jennings' mother). Many of the items in the collection belonged to his mother and Virginia Hurd Faulk, Carter's cousin with whom Capote lived as a child. The exhibit features many references to Sook, but two items in particular are always favorites of visitors: Sook's "Coat of Many Colors" and Truman's baby blanket. Truman's first cousin recalls that as children, he and Truman never had trouble finding Sook in the darkened house on South Alabama Avenue because they simply looked for the bright colors of her coat. Truman's baby blanket is a "granny square" blanket Sook made for him. The blanket became one of Truman's most cherished possessions, and friends say he was seldom without it-even when traveling. In fact, he took the blanket with him when he flew from New York to Los Angeles to be with Joanne Carson on August 23, 1984. According to Joanne Carson, when he died at her home on August 25, his last words were, "It's me, it's Buddy," followed by, "I'm cold." Buddy was Sook's name for him.

Quotations

  • "All literature is gossip.
  • "More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones.
  • Gore Vidal said of Capote: "He mistook the rich who liked publicity for the ruling class, and made himself far too much at home among them, only to find that he was to them no more than an amusing pet who would be dispensed with, as he was when he published lurid gossip about them."
  • Gore Vidal also said: "...the instant lie was Truman's art form... One could watch the process. A famous name would be mentioned. The round pale fetus face would suddenly register a sort of tic, as if a switch had been thrown... To watch [him] as he added detail after detail was to observe the raw creative process in all its primal fury."

Capote on film

Capote's childhood experiences are captured in the 1956 memoir "A Christmas Memory," which he adapted for television and narrated. Directed by Frank Perry, it aired on December 21, 1966, on ABC Stage 67, and featured Geraldine Page in an Emmy Award-winning performance. The teleplay was later incorporated into Perry's 1969 anthology film Trilogy (aka Truman Capote's Trilogy), which also includes adaptations of "Miriam" and "Among the Paths to Eden." The TV movie Truman Capote's A Christmas Memory, with Patty Duke and Piper Laurie, was a 1997 remake, directed by Glenn Jordan.

In 1961 Capote's novel Breakfast at Tiffany's about a flamboyant New York party girl named Holly Golightly was filmed by director Blake Edwards and starred Audrey Hepburn in what many consider her defining role, though Capote never approved of the toning down of the story to appeal to mass audiences.

Capote narrated his The Thanksgiving Visitor (1967), a sequel to A Christmas Memory, filmed by Frank Perry in Pike Road, Alabama. Geraldine Page again won an Emmy for her performance in this hour-long teleplay.

In Cold Blood was filmed twice. When Richard Brooks directed In Cold Blood, the 1967 adaptation with Robert Blake and Scott Wilson, he filmed at the actual Clutter house and other Holcomb, Kansas, locations. Anthony Edwards and Eric Roberts headed the cast of the 1996 In Cold Blood miniseries, directed by Jonathan Kaplan.

Neil Simon's 1976 murder mystery spoof Murder by Death provided Capote's main role as an actor, portraying reclusive millionaire Lionel Twain who invites the world's leading detectives together to a dinner party to have them solve a murder. The performance brought him a Golden Globe Award nomination (Best Acting Debut in a Motion Picture). Early in the film it is alleged that Twain has ten fingers but no pinkies. In truth, Capote's pinkie fingers were unusually large. In the film, Capote's character is highly critical of the detective fiction of the like of Agatha Christie and Dashiell Hammett.

In Woody Allen's Annie Hall (1977), there is a scene in which Alvy (Allen) and Annie (Diane Keaton) are observing passersby in the park. Alvy comments, "Oh, there goes the winner of the Truman Capote Look-Alike Contest." The passerby is actually Truman Capote (who appeared in the film uncredited).

Other Voices, Other Rooms came to theater screens in 1995 with David Speck in the lead role of Joel Sansom. Reviewing this atmospheric Southern Gothic film in the New York Times, Stephen Holden wrote:

One of the things the movie does best is transport you back in time and into nature. In the early scenes as Joel leaves his aunt's home to travel across the South by rickety bus and horse and carriage, you feel the strangeness, wonder and anxiety of a child abandoning everything that's familiar to go to a place so remote he has to ask directions along the way. The landscape over which he travels is so rich and fertile that you can almost smell the earth and sky. Later on, when Joel tussles with Idabell (Aubrey Dollar), a tomboyish neighbor who becomes his best friend (a character inspired by the author Harper Lee), the movie has a special force and clarity in its evocation of the physical immediacy of being a child playing outdoors.

Capote's short story "Children on Their Birthdays", another look back at a small-town Alabama childhood, was brought to film by director Mark Medoff in 2002.

Documentaries

With Love from Truman (1966), a 29-minute documentary by David and Albert Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin, shows a Newsweek reporter interviewing Capote at his beachfront home in Long Island. Capote talks about In Cold Blood, his relationship with the murderers and his coverage of the trial. He is also seen taking Alvin Dewey and his wife around New York City for the first time. Originally titled A Visit with Truman Capote, this film was commissioned by National Educational Television and shown on the NET network. Truman Capote: The Tiny Terror is a documentary that aired April 6, 2004, as part of A&E's Biography series, followed by a 2005 DVD release.

Portrayals of Capote

In 1990, Robert Morse received both a Tony and a Drama Desk Award for his portrayal of Capote in the one-man show, Tru. In 1992, he recreated the performance for the PBS series American Playhouse and won an Emmy Award for his performance. In 1994, actor-writer Bob Kingdom created the one-man theatre piece The Truman Capote Talk Show, in which he played Capote looking back over his life. Originally performed at the Lyric Studio Theatre, Hammersmith, London, the show has toured widely within the UK and internationally.

Paul Williams appears as Capote in The Doors (1991) introducing Jim Morrison to Andy Warhol. Louis Negin portrayed Capote in 54 (1998). A reference is made to Capote as just having had a face lift, and the song "Knock on Wood" is dedicated to him. Sam Street is seen briefly as Capote in Isn't She Great? (2000), a biographical comedy-drama about Jacqueline Susann. Michael J. Burg has appeared as Capote in two films, The Audrey Hepburn Story (2000) and The Hoax (2006), about Clifford Irving.

In July 2005, Oni Press published comic book artist and writer Ande Parks' Capote in Kansas: A Drawn Novel, a fictionalized account of Capote and Lee researching In Cold Blood.

Director Bennett Miller made his dramatic feature debut with the biopic Capote (2005). Spanning the years Truman Capote spent researching and writing In Cold Blood, the film depicts Capote's conflict between his compassion for his subjects and self-absorbed obsession with finishing the book. Capote garnered much critical acclaim when it was released (September 30, 2005 in the US and February 24, 2006 in the UK). Dan Futterman's screenplay was based on the book Capote: A Biography by Gerald Clarke (1988). Capote received five Academy Award nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress. Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance earned him many awards, including a BAFTA Award, a Golden Globe Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, an Independent Spirit Award and an Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

Infamous (2006, directed by Douglas McGrath), which stars Toby Jones as Capote and Sandra Bullock as Harper Lee, is an adaptation of George Plimpton's Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career (1997).

Due to the numerous depictions of Capote on film, the satirical newspaper The Onion published a 2006 article: "Oscars Create New Truman Capote Biopic Category.

Media mentions

In the Charles Bukowski poem, "Nothing but a Scarf," Capote is referred to as an "ice-skater-of-a-writer." Bukowski describes how Capote's fast life led to his downfall and how "he never had his nose rubbed into life."

On February 22, 1982, British new wave pop star and electronic music pioneer Gary Numan released his eighth single, "Music For Chameleons." The A side appeared on his fourth studio album, I, Assassin. The single reached the #19 spot on the U.K. singles chart. Numan is a Capote fan, and although the title clearly refers to Capote's book, the song itself contains no references to the original short story.

Dave Filoni, the director of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, has been quoted as stating that the film's producer, George Lucas, used Capote's voice as the inspiration for the voice of Ziro, Jabba the Hutt's uncle.

Discography

  • Capote (2006) RCA, Film Soundtrack. Includes complete 1966 RCA recording Truman Capote reads scenes from In Cold Blood - see below.
  • A Christmas Memory (1959) United Artists UAL 9001. (LP) Truman Capote reading his A Christmas Memory.
  • Children on Their Birthdays (1955) Columbia Literary Series ML 4761 12" LP. Reading by Capote.
  • House of Flowers (1955) Columbia Masterworks 12508. (LP) Read by the Author.
  • House of Flowers (1954) Columbia 2320. (LP) Broadway production. Saint Subber presents Truman Capote and Harold Arlen’s House of Flowers, starring Pearl Bailey. Directed by Peter Brook with musical numbers by Herbert Ross. Columbia 12" LP, Stereo-OS-2320. Electronically reprocessed for stereo.
  • In Cold Blood (1966) RCA Victor Red Seal monophonic VDM-110. (LP) Truman Capote reads scenes from In Cold Blood.
  • In Cold Blood Random House unabridged on 12 CDs. Read by Scott Brick.
  • The Thanksgiving Visitor (1967) United Artists UAS 6682. (LP) Truman Capote reading his The Thanksgiving Visitor.
  • Capote in Kansas (2005) Oni Press, graphic novel about Truman Capote and his time in Kansas researching In Cold Blood.

Bibliography

Year Title Type/Notes
approx. 1943 Summer Crossing Novel; posthumously published 2005
1945 Miriam Short story; published in Mademoiselle (magazine)
1948 Other Voices, Other Rooms Novel
1949 A Tree of Night and Other Stories Collection of short stories
1951 The Grass Harp Novel
1952 The Grass Harp Play
1953 Beat the Devil Original screenplay
1954 House of Flowers Broadway musical
1956 The Muses Are Heard Nonfiction
1956 "A Christmas Memory" Short story; published in Mademoiselle (magazine)
1957 "The Duke in His Domain" Portrait of Marlon Brando; published in The New Yorker; Republished in Life Stories: Profiles from The New Yorker (2001)
1958 Breakfast at Tiffany's Novella
1960 The Innocents Screenplay based on The Turn of the Screw by Henry James; 1962 Edgar Award, from the Mystery Writers of America, to Capote and William Archibald for Best Motion Picture Screenplay
1963 Selected Writings of Truman Capote Midcareer retrospective anthology; fiction and nonfiction
1964 A short story appeared in Seventeen magazine
1966 In Cold Blood "Nonfiction novel"; Capote's second Edgar Award (1966), for Best Fact Crime book
1968 The Thanksgiving Visitor Holiday story published as a gift book
1973 The Dogs Bark Collection of travel articles and personal sketches
1975 "Mojave" and "La Cote Basque, 1965" Short stories from Answered Prayers; published in Esquire
1976 "Unspoiled Monsters" and "Kate McCloud" Short stories from Answered Prayers; published in Esquire
1980 Music for Chameleons Collection of short works mixing fiction and nonfiction
1983 One Christmas Holiday story published as a gift book
1987 Answered Prayers: The Unfinished Novel Published posthumously
1987 A Capote Reader Omnibus edition containing most of Capote's shorter works, fiction and nonfiction
2004 The Complete Stories of Truman Capote Anthology of twenty short stories
2004 Too Brief a Treat: The Letters of Truman Capote Edited by Capote biographer Gerald Clarke
2005 Summer Crossing Previously lost first novel—excerpt published in the 2005-10-24 issue of The New Yorker
2007 Portraits and Observations: The Essays of Truman Capote Published by Random House

Listen to

Sources

References

  • Clarke, Gerald (1988) Capote: A Biography. Simon and Schuster. Bestselling and critically acclaimed biography. Basis for the 2005 film Capote.
  • Colacello, Bob (1990) Holy Terror: Andy Warhol Close Up. HarperCollins. Contains many anecdotes regarding Capote's association with Warhol, and an entire chapter on Capote's relationship with Interview magazine and how it led to the writing of Music For Chameleons.
  • Garson, Helen S. Truman Capote: A Study of the Short Fiction. Boston ; Twayne, 1992.
  • Hill, Patti. "Truman Capote: The Art of Fiction No. 17," Paris Review 16, Spring-Summer 1957
  • Inge, M. Thomas (1987) Truman Capote Conversations. University Press of Mississippi. Interviews with Capote by Gerald Clarke, David Frost, Eric Norden, George Plimpton, Gloria Steinem, Jerry Tallmer, Eugene Walter, Andy Warhol, Jann Wenner and others. ISBN 0-87805-274-7
  • Lamparski, Richard (2006) Manhattan Diary. BearManor Media. ISBN 1-59393-054-2
  • Krebs, Albin. "Truman Capote Is Dead at 59; Novelist of Style and Clarity," New York Times (August 28, 1984)
  • Plimpton, George (1997) Truman Capote, In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances, and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career. Published by Nan A. Talese (imprint of Doubleday). Collection of first-hand observations about the author. Basis for the film Infamous (2006).
  • Walter, Eugene, as told to Katherine Clark, foreword by George Plimpton (2001) Milking the Moon: A Southerner's Story of Life on This Planet. Crown. Actor-novelist-raconteur Walter, who first met Capote when they were children, recalled several anecdotes about Capote as an adult and as a child (when he was known as Bulldog Persons).
  • Dear Mr. Capote is Gordon Lish's first novel, which tells the story of a serial killer, who wants Truman Capote to write his biography. In the letter the killer writes to Truman Capote, the details of his life and his modus operandi are revealed.

External links

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