Truman Capote

(1924-1984)- original name Truman Streckfus Persons

Southern novelist, short story writer, and playwright. Capote gained international fame with his "nonfiction novel" IN COLD BLOOD (1966), an account of a real life crime in which an entire family was murdered by two sociopaths. The Louisiana-Mississippi-Alabama area provided the setting for much of Capote's fiction.

Capote was born in New Orleans as the son of a salesman and a 16-year-old beauty queen. His father worked as a clerk for a steamboat company. He never stuck at any job for long, and was always leaving home in search for the new opportunities. The unhappy marriage gradually disintegrated, and Capote's parents divorced when he was four. The young Truman was brought up in Monroeville. He lived some years with relatives, one of whom became the model for the loving, elderly spinster in several Capote's novels, stories, and plays. When his mother married again, this time a well-to-do businessman, Capote moved to New York, and adopted his stepfather's surname.

In his childhood Capote made friends with Harper Lee, who portrayed him as Dill in her world famous novel To Kill a Mockingbird. "Dill was a curiosity. He wore blue linen shorts that buttoned to his shirt, his hair was snow white and stuck to his head like duckfluff; he was a year my senior but I towered over him. As he told us the old tale his blue eyes would lighten and darken; his laugh was sudden and happy; he habitually pulled at a cowlick in the center of his forehead." Capote started to write stories when he was only eight. He attended the Trinity School and St. John's Academy in New York, and the public schools of Greenwich, Connecticut, but ended his formal schooling at the age of seventeen. He found work at the New Yorker, and attracted attention with his eccentric style of dress.

In 1946 Capote won O.Henry award for his novel Shut a Final Door and published his early stories in quality magazines. His first novel, OTHER VOICES, OTHER ROOMS (1948), depicted a boy growing up in the Deep South. The protagonist falls into a relationship with a decadent transvestite. The book gained a wide success and arose controversy because of its treatment of homosexuality. During this time Capote had already established his fame among the cultural circles as the thin voiced, promising young writer, who could brighten up parties with his sharp and clever remarks.

Next year Capote went to Europe, where he wrote fiction and non-fiction. Among his major works was a profile of Marlon Brando. Capote's travels accompanying a tour of Porgy and Bess in the Soviet Union produced THE MUSES ARE HEARD, which subtly mocked the whole presentation of the play. His European years also marked the beginnings of his work for the theatre and films. In 1949 appeared A TREE OF NIGHT, which gathered together short stories which Capote had published in Harper's Bazaar, Mademoiselle, and other magazines.

In the 1950s Capote wrote THE HOUSE OF FLOWERS, a musical set in West Indies bordello. Capote's lyrical style, melancholy, and whimsical humor marked his novel THE GRASS HARP (1951), in which a young boy and his elderly cousin defy the conventions of a materialistic society, but also discover that some compromise in necessary in people are to live together in a community. The book was adapted into screen in 1996, starring Piper Laurie, Sissy Spacek, and Walter Matthau. Capote's first important film work was collaboration with John Huston on Beat the Devil (1954).

Following return to the United States, Copote wrote BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S (1958), in which Holly Golightly, a young woman, comes to New York seeking for happiness. The narrator is an aspiring writer who follows Holly's life, filled with colorful characters. "What I've found does the most good is just to get into a taxi and go to Tiffany's. It calms me down right away, the quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there..." The book was made into a successful film. Increasing preoccupation with journalism formed basis for Capote's bestseller In Cold Blood, a pioneering work of documentary novel or "nonfiction novel". The work started from an article in The New York Times about the murder of a wealthy family in Holcomb, Kansas. Sponsored by the magazine Capote interviewed with Harper Lee local people to recreate the lives of both the murderers and their victims. The research and writing took six years to finish. Capote used neither tape recorder nor note pad, but emptied his interviews and impressions in notebooks at the end of the day. Capote also recorded for his book last days of the death-obsessed criminals. (See Norman Mailer's journalistic works The Armies of the Nigh, Miami and the Siege of Chicago, Of Fire on the Moon.)

After the publication of In Cold Blood, Capote planned to write a Proustian novel to be called 'Answered Prayers,' but problems with drink and drugs, and disputes with other writers, such as Gore Vidal, exhausted Capote's creative energies, and he never completed the work. Three stories from novel appeared in Esquire in the 1970s, revealing that Capote's wittiness had turned into gossipy bitterness. In 1986 the stories were republished as ANSWERED PRAYERS: THE UNTITLED NOVEL, which diminished Capote's reputation further. The unfinished autobiographical book followed the career of a writer of uncertain parentage to literary saloons, and presented such real-life as Colette, the Duchess of Windsor, Montgomery Clift, and Tallulah Bankhead.

Among Capote's other works is the classic A CHRISTMAS MEMORY (1966), an autobiographical account of a seven-year-old boy, his cousin, and an eccentric old lady. The story has been a continual favorite as a television play. MUSIC FOR CHAMELEONS (1981) was a collection of short pieces, stories, interviews, and conversations published in various magazines. Capote died in Los Angeles, California, on August 26, 1984, of liver disease complicated by phlebitis and multiple drug intoxication.

Selected works:

ANSWERED PRAYERS, 1986 (unfinished)