The Truman Capote Thread

Why is it no one ever told me about Truman Capote before?

Oh, I’d heard his name here and there but never in any context that would interest me. Just this past year I’ve discovered his works and I’m completely enthralled. And he’s a local boy, too! (Well, from Alabama. But that’s close enough).

I bought In Cold Blood and am utterly obsessed with it. Even things that you wouldn’t think would be interesting – like Capote lingering for half a page over Perry and Dick’s tattoos – are fascinating. I kept going back and rereading bits and pieces for weeks afterward. And I’ll never pick up a hitchhiker, that’s for sure! I also love Capote’s short stories and novelettes, House of Flowers especially, but I liked Breakfast at Tiffany’s and I didn’t think I would. I got a book with a compilation of his interviews, including one with Bobby Beausoleil of the Manson Family, and it’s all great. I’ve been trying to find some other Capote fans, but haven’t had much success or in converting others, but I badly need someone to squee with.

Don’t forget to rent Murder by Death.

Probably my favorite writer, though such a pitifully small output. A CHRISTMAS MEMORY is one of the few stories I’ve ever read that brought me to tears- and that was when I was in junior high! Twenty years later I saw a production of a stage play based on it and when it was over neither my mother (who I took to see it) or I could speak for a moment- total lump throat. (“I declare Buddy… it’s fruitcake weather!”)

What’s amazing is how many people I’ve known who haven’t read him and assume they know him as a writer because of his persona. There’s as near a complete disconnect as you could ever imagine; it’d be as if Liberace had played Delta blues.

One of my favorite sentences is from MUSIC FOR CHAMELEONS. Even though it’s short I may misquote it by a word or two, but he’s describing a prostitute who accosts him in the French Quarter:

“Her voice sounds like bananas taste.”
PS- The PSH movie CAPOTE was decent, but INFAMOUS, released the next year (and with Sandra Bullock as Nelle Harper Lee) was, imo, far far better, especially the impersonation of Tru.
GOD I love that line.:smiley:
PBS’s American Playhouse filmed an absolutely excellent one-man show about him called TRU. It starred Robert Morse, was set in his apartment at Christmas time just after his fall from grace with the jet-set, and like Capote himself it’s hysterically funny one moment and tear jerking the next, with a few lines that are sort of both.

paraphrasing: “My mother… she was born Lillie Mae Faulks in a poor family in a tiny house in a tiny town in Alabama, and after years of alcoholism and marital unhappiness she killed herself by which time she was Mrs. Nina Capote of Fifth Avenue, so all things balanced she was a success story.”

Unfortunately it has never been released on DVD even though I am but one of many many who have written PBS for it. It does get rerun during Christmas some years though, so you may want to set your Tivo.

Ah, when you’re finished reading IN COLD BLOOD be sure to watch the original (very important) movie version. Though the same story has now been told in whole or in part 4 times (original ICB, TV remake, CAPOTE, and INFAMOUS), the first is by far the best for several reasons, but two are particularly important:

  • I can’t stand Robert Blake, but he should have won an Oscar for his performance as Perry Smith (he wasn’t even nominated). He was simply brilliant (and Daniel Craig, while a good actor… excuse me? He’s the main thing wrong with INFAMOUS- just too gorgeous).

  • The original film was filmed at the actual Clutter house! It’s eerie as hell remembering that it isn’t a set. (I was irked in the movie CAPOTE when it shows the discovery scene and it’s a white frame “Auntie Em” Kansas farmhouse; the actual place was a very modern [by 1950s standards] brick home designed and built by Herb Clutter. (Great photo essay on the house and the people; the Clutter house recently sold again.)

If you like sentimental slop at its finest, read “A Christmas Memory.” Whenever I teach heart-tugging manipulation (a very useful skill for a writer to master) I try to read this one out loud to my class–the trick is to see how far I can get without getting all choked up.

Haven’t made it all the way through yet. Not even close, really.

I was just a kid when A Christmas Memory was broadcast on television…my parents were not paying attention to what I was watching and I probably cried for a good two hours afterwards.

I lived in NYC before he died and desperately tried to meet him once, just to tell him how much I loved that broadcast, but it didn’t happen.

I can also remember, once again as a kid, my aunt reading the hit book of the season, In Cold Blood and just raving about it. By the time it was made into a film, I was able to see it and I agree it is truly powerful.

Both of the Capote films of late were quite good, but you must see (or read) In Cold Blood to get the real reason Capote was indeed a genius…it was groundbreaking writing back then, and still packs a hell of a punch today.

Wow! Thanks for the idea! Guess what my students are going to read this coming quarter (that coincidentally ends the week before Christmas!).

I’ve got In Cold Blood sitting on my headboard as part of my deployment reading, and am very much looking forward to it. I’ve read a fascinating biography of Truman Capote, which title I don’t remember, and very much enjoyed the movie Capote. A really fascinating and tragic person all around.

BTW, in case anyone has not read the short story, The Christmas Story, here is a link to it.

Grab some tissues before reading.

:eek: I had no idea! I first read In Cold Blood about fifteen years ago, but didn’t get around to watching the movie until a couple months ago. That’s crazy.

Hey OP, if you haven’t read Other Voices, Other Rooms yet, I’ve found that that’s the book I keep coming back to read once every year or two.

Thank you for linking to the short story. I’d never read it before, and it’s absolutely beautiful.

Warning- there are two A Christmas Memory movies. The first is the Capote narrated one starring Geraldine Page as Sook (also great in the non-Capote but Capote-esque Trip to Bountiful). The second is an unholy abomination with Patty Duke and LOTS of sub-plots added by made-for-tv-studio hacks that should have been smothered at birth and buried under a pot in the tool shed. Only go with the Page version.

The play version is A THANKSGIVING VISITOR as the first act and A CHRISTMAS MEMORY as the second and is well written. The Capote character is played by two actors, both on stage at the same time- one the adult who narrates (but doesn’t try to imitate Capote) and one the child. (I’ve seen one production in which the actor playing the child was a short adult actor, but it actually worked.)

They went to great lengths on that movie. Not only is it the actual house but they got a lot of the original furniture and fittings back to dress the set. The courtroom is also the actual courtroom and some of the jury are actually the real jury members.

Just a general comment about A Christmas Memory: It’s impossible to get a really decent copy of this classic, so don’t get your hopes up about a clean picture and good sound. I’ve had both the VHS and DVD versions, and neither has decent quality. Also, if you’re into glitzy productions, this (thankfully) ain’t it.

But it’s a solid story and well-acted (although Page tends to chew the scenery), and we watch it every year.

I’ve seen clips of the 1967 movie on youtube and it does look good. Once my friend gets her Netflix turned back on, I’ll probably ask her to order it. I saw Infamous on TV a few months back (haven’t seen Capote) and I loved it. It’s fictionalized, of course, but still great. Actually, until I saw Infamous I never understood what the big deal was about Daniel Craig. He’s definitely sexy but not exactly what I’d call pretty – and he doesn’t look anything like the real Perry Smith, who was as short as Truman Capote and very dark. Capote, in an interview promoting 1967’s In Cold Blood, said that seeing Robert Blake was like seeing a ghost, as though Perry had walked in but had amnesia and couldn’t remember him. Must’ve been incredibly creepy. For that matter, what’s your opinion on the Capote/Perry Smith relationship?

I doubt Capote and Smith had a physical relationship, but I definitely think Capote was in love with him. I think Capote saw him as a kindred spirit who careened out of control- basically Capote if he’d had no talent and grown up in the sticks, but the fact Smith was also a cold blooded murderer wasn’t lost on him.

I love the way in Infamous that Smith’s exact words in interviews change just a bit each time Capote repeats them, each making Smith a little more enigmatic and likeable.

The Plimpton biography (on which Infamous was based- it’s all interviews, many of them contradictory) speaks a lot on the issue. Most believe that Smith completely undid Capote and contributed much to his alcoholism and addictions in later life.

Fortunately, I saw the Geraldine Page version and was not even aware there was another version.
I also vaguely recall seeing A Thanksgiving Visitor on television…did it also have Geraldine Page and was filmed a few years later?

This is probably as on the mark as we’ll ever know. I think Capote got way too emotionally involved with both Perry and Dick, and with Perry, especially. In In Cold Blood, he breaks his narrative distance with regard to how they’re portrayed – Dick is a cowardly pedophile, a two-bit crook with an evil glint in his eye, but Perry, oh Perry is a sensitive, artistic soul who really could’ve been somebody if his gifts had ever been nurtured. Even Dick’s tattoos are cheap, but Perry’s are Japanese masterpieces. I mean, goddamn. Way to be subtle, Truman.

I also think Capote had a bit of a blind spot when it came to Perry. He jumped to defend Perry in interviews, saying that he had a “brain explosion” that night when he murdered the Clutters. Is that really so, Capote? Perry and Dick had discussed the robbery and agreed several times they would leave no witnesses. That’s a premeditated murder if ever there was one. But Capote seems to have clung to this idea that Dick drug Perry into the whole thing, and that if Perry’s mind hadn’t snapped at an inopportune moment the murders would never have happened. In Gerald Clarke’s biography of Capote, he mentions an incident where Perry offhandedly remarked that he could kill Truman with his bare hands. That doesn’t sound much like Perry in Capote’s telling, a sympathetic fellow who insisted that Dick pick up hitchhikers because they might get cold.

Bumping this to say I’m planning to do my English project on Capote and In Cold Blood – we have to do some sort of creative project, and I’m going to have a folder (like a case file) with ‘clippings’ of news articles, photos, etc. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun!

Add my thank you’s to N. Sane’s. Lovely, lovely story.