Truman Capote might be considered the Great Gay American Tragedy. Talented, witty, and apprently more fun to be with than a barrel of Smurfs, he was also addicted to lying, self-aggrandizement, and chemical relief. Many readers are well aware of the legendary lies, whispers, and catfights. But there is always a new generation that needs to be brought up to speed. So we take his 90th birthday to review some of the hits and misses.
Truman Capote teetered on the edge of being famous for being famous, but certainly he was no Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian. He had a few very important creative moments that have changed the way people write books forever. But after he wrote In Cold Blood, his output virtually stopped, except for the few sputtering chapters of Answered Prayers that sealed his doom in the high society world.
What he did become was a go-to gay as the butt of many jokes about effeminacy by late night talk show hosts and the like. His outrageously false claims, his flamboyant television appearances, and his upper-crust friendships trumped his brilliance as a writer for many.
Besides being shocking for a living, he was also one of the first openly gay celebrities. He was brave and tough about it, and the context of his openness was daring.
It would be wonderful to be able to check in with Truman on his 90th birthday on September 30. The man practically invented sound bites, so it would be great to have his take on, say, marriage equality, the death of "don't ask, don't tell," and Grindr.
Above: Truman Capote photographed by Roger Higgins, 1959
Another anniversary ticked by recently as well: Truman died 30 years ago, August 25, 1984. He was only 59. He certainly got in a lot of trouble in a relatively short time. It would be intriguing to see what another 30 years could have inspired in him.
So happy birthday, Truman, we hope you made good with all your swans and you are having exotic cocktails with them, all of you dressed in caftans on banquettes of clouds.
Enjoy our highly arbitrary slideshow of images, clips, and covers on the following pages >>>
The Photo More Famous Than the Book
Truman Capote had considered himself a serious writer since the age of 12. Other Voices, Other Rooms was hardly his freshman writing project, but it made him famous. Truman carefully calculated that a controversial author photo might up the ante. The dreamy, limpid, slightly unwholesome image by Harold Halma on the back cover of the dust jacket became more famous than the book in a very short time, but it also made the book famous. It was a win-win for Capote.
Truman Capote and Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird, were childhood friends in Alabama. She included him in the book as the character Dill. Above, a few moments of the actor John Megna in To Kill a Mockingbird. Menga also appeared in Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte with Bette Davis and The Boy in the Plastic Bubble with John Travolta. Megna died of AIDS-related complications on September 4, 1995, at Midway Hospital in Los Angeles, at the age of 42.
Other Voices, Other Murders
When Capote wrote In Cold Blood, it was lauded as a new type of book: the nonfiction novel. His other popular work had been southern gothic or slightly frothy, like Breakfast at Tiffany's. In Cold Blood was a new voice and a new point of view. Two versions of the book have been made into film, and two biopics of Truman from that era were made, with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Toby Jones, respectively. Above, a jailhouse scene from Infamous, in which Daniel Craig as one of the two murderers of the Clutter family roughs Jones up a bit. It seems to go on forever. Wonder how many takes Toby Jones had to endure?
The Party of the Century
Fresh from his new wealth and prominence from the huge hit In Cold Blood made at the bookstalls, Truman crystallized his fame by throwing one of the most famous parties ever given: The Black and White Ball. It was ostensibly given in honor of Katharine Graham of TheWashington Post, but Graham was really a MacGuffin, a reason for Truman to throw a party he had always wanted for himself. The party was covered widely in the news and became the subject of a book; below, a spread from a Vanity Fair article.
Vanity Fair, July 1996: "A Night to Remember"Breakfast at Tiffany's: Young Sex Workers In Love
If you weren't invited to Truman Capote's black-and-white dance in honor of Kay Graham, you simply left town. On the 30th anniversary of the ball, the author recaptures the fabulous collision of social, art, fashion, Hollywood, political, and literary stars that lit up the Plaza's Grand Ballroom for a legendary night.
By Amy Fine Collins
IMDb describes the 1961 film as:"A young New York socialite becomes interested in a young man who has moved into her apartment building." Our description is "A young bipolar party girl on the make meets a young hustler of older women in apartments they can't possibly afford." Racism (Mickey Rooney plays a cringeworthy Asian character) will ensue, but to not much hilarity. This beloved film barely resembles Capote's book. He knew that and told anyone who would listen. It was the perfect moment for style, though. Many of us grew up wanting this highly fictionalized life. If you have not seen the film, enjoy this teaser of the party scene below.
Gore Vidal on Truman Capote:
Gore Vidal was tall, handsome, well-born, and a gifted intellectual. He also had a serpent's tongue with a special built-in acid shooting nozzle. He famously said many mean things about people who may or may have not deserved it. But he saved his most eloquent words for Truman Capote, which makes us wonder: What made Vidal so nervous about Capote?
"Truman made lying an art form -- a minor art form."
"A relentless liar ought to be, if not stopped, curbed."
"Every generation gets the Tiny Tim it deserves."
-- People, June 25, 1979
"[Capote's death] was a good career move."
Party of the Century, 2006
"[Capote] lived for gossip, and he was also a marvelous liar. No fact ever gave him pause.
- Point to Point Navigation: A Memoir,2006.
Capote was still shaken by the literary scandal caused by the publication in Esquire of excerpts of his novel Answered Prayers when he played the host in Murder by Death. Capote played the key role of host in one of the funnier movies ever made. He's kind of wooden, but it is a pleasure to have him on film like this as the cabochon on a jeweled crown of camp filmmaking.
Above: photo by Eric Koch, 1959