Truman Capote (30 September 1924, New Orleans, Louisiana — 25 August
1984, Los Angeles, California)

Truman Capote (30 September 1924, New Orleans, Louisiana — 25 August
1984, Los Angeles, California) was an American writer whose 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 TV
dramas have been produced from Capote novels, stories and screenplays.

Truman Capote was born Truman Streckfus Persons in New Orleans,
Louisiana, the son of 17-year-old Lillie Mae (nйe Faulk) and Archelaus
Persons, who was a salesman.[1] 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.

As a lonely child, Capote taught himself to read and write before he
entered the first grade in school.[2] Capote was often seen at age five
carrying his dictionary and notepad, and he began writing when he was
ten. [3] At this time, he was given the nickname Bulldog,[4] possibly a
pun reference 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 Mr. 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 Garcнa Capote. 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.»

Between 1943 and 1946, Capote wrote a continual flow of short fiction,
including «A Mink of One’s Own,» «Miriam,» (for which he won the O.
Henry Award) «My Side of the Matter,» «Preacher’s Legend,» «Shut a Final
Door» 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[5] 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[6] 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.

In June 1945, Mademoiselle published his short story «Miriam» which won
an O. Henry Award (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 was
crushed by a piano and near death. 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.

This much-discussed 1947 Harold Halma photo on the back of Other Voices,
Other Rooms (1948) was a key factor in Capote’s rise to fame during the
1940s.

This much-discussed 1947 Harold Halma photo on the back of Other Voices,
Other Rooms (1948) was a key factor in Capote’s rise to fame during the
1940s.

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.[7] 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.).

Capote photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1948

Capote photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1948

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).

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.

2A3/4

?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.

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