Truman Capote (30 September, 1924, New Orleans, Louisiana – 25 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.
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.
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."
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.
"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:
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:
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).
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):
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:
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:
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:
True crime writer Jack Olsen also commented on the fabrications:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
|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|