Author Truman Capote saw the rich and famous as his material, and it became his downfall

From 26 May The Capote ribbons to see. The documentary sheds new light on Capote’s (probably) never-ending scandal novel Answered prayers which heralded the author’s decline. A reconstruction.

Rob van Scheers

On July 12, 1980, British author Martin Amis made a pilgrimage to his literary hero, Truman Capote. The report is in the Amis’ America collection The moronic inferno (1986). Capote had just Music for chameleons published, a collection of short stories and portraits. At the request of the publisher Random House, Capote had to do some interviews, but he was not much for it.

Amis rang the bell in Capote’s apartment on United Nations Plaza in Manhattan. Inside lay the author on the couch. The visitor remarks: “Then the helplessly dizzying figure of Mr. Capote emerges from the darkness at the end of the hall, who greets a soft howl and gives a slack hand. For God’s sake, I would have liked to have said – pyt with that interview ‘Better call an ambulance.’

At the time, Prince of American Letters was 55 years old, with four years left. He started writing at the age of 8. At the age of 24, he made a spectacular entrance with his debut Other voices, other spaces (1948). The short story followed Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1958) and of course In cold blood (1966) – his idiosyncratic journalistic-literary reconstruction of a fourfold robbery murder in Kansas. What went wrong with the man who, according to Norman Mailer, wrote the most beautiful sentences of their generation? (And that says something, for the Mailer known as an egoman was mostly full of himself.)


The author in 1958 in the house at 70 Willow Street, where he lived at the time. Here, Truman wrote Capote Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood.Picture Getty

The answer lies in the documentary The Capote ribbons† Director Ebs Burnough performs with spokespersons from all walks of life and has collected a wealth of archive images. He has interviewed writers such as Jay McInerney, the recently deceased fashion king André Leon Talley and the retired talk show host Dick Cavett – unfortunately only Martin Amis is missing. In addition, Burnough could use the audio recordings of the American journalist George Plimpton (1927-2003), who wrote his own biography in 1997. Truman Capote (1997) had spoken to everyone of any importance and had kept the ties neat.

We can hear a parade of Capote’s contemporaries from the other side of the tomb. Not only Norman Mailer, with that quote from above, but also actresses like Lauren Bacall and Candice Bergen. Capote knew everyone in New York, and everyone in New York knew Capote. Of course, he also speaks regularly.

The common thread in all these conversations is Capote’s fascination with other people’s fame. “Every writer is a voyeur,” he replies when talk show host Cavett interrogates him in May 1971. The reason is a book he has been threatening for years: Answered prayers† It was to become a moral sketch of rich and famous† He has the romance cycle as an example Looking for the lost time by Marcel Proust, who operated in the same direction.

Nicely literary, but apparently Capote did not understand that he was orchestrating his own death with this key novel. He wanted to give a big blow to the high society where he lived for years as their ‘cute gay’. About their affairs, their pleasure boats, their private islands, the parties, the authorities they had in their pockets. “These people are my material.”

Cavett: ‘Isn’t that dangerous? Are they not angry? ‘

Capote, smiling, “They only get angry if they are not in it.”

Overconfidence? The revenge of socialites like Gloria Vanderbilt, Mona von Bismarck, Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis and other Manhattan powers known for fame turned out to be awful. But now we are on the way forward.

First, the documentary dives into Capote’s troubled past in New Orleans. Father Arch, who was never there, divorce, mother Lillie Mae, who worked as a waitress and started drinking, only child Truman outsourced to aunts in Alabama, lonely childhood, that work. During her second marriage, Lillie Mae wanted to move up the ladder. Together with her new husband, the accountant José Capote, she took Truman to upscale Park Avenue in Manhattan in 1932. That was what the former Miss Alabama had always dreamed of. When José was convicted of accounting fraud, the dream image quickly collapsed again.

The young Truman Capote in The Capote Tapes.  Picture

The young Truman Capote in The Capote Tapes.

Cinematographer George Plimpton: ‘Lillie Mae committed suicide in 1954 at the age of 48. She wanted to belong to the high society but was not accepted in those circles. Answered prayers Truman had to deal with that environment. ‘

It was the dark side of Capote. He also had a happier mood. In addition to his short stories, short stories, novels and true crimeexercises he published razor-sharp portraits. About Marilyn Monroe, James Baldwin and also about Marlon Brando, who got very angry about it afterwards. They are collected in the anthology Truman Capote: Portraits and Observations (1993), and are still very readable.

Truman Capote dances with Marilyn Monroe at El Marocco, New York 1955. Photo Bettmann Archive

Truman Capote dances with Marilyn Monroe at El Marocco, New York 1955.Picture Bettmann Archive

At the height of his own fame – right after In cold blood – Capote decided to hold a party on November 28, 1966. Or yes, party? The venue was the magnificent ballroom of the New York hotel The Plaza, and the guest list for this masquerade black-and-white dance party spanned all of Manhattan, from Norman Mailer and Andy Warhol to a diverse selection from Rockefeller’s ranks, Vanderbilts and Rothschilds. . With devilish pleasure, he leaked that guest list in advance New York Times“Tonight I’ll make five hundred friends and fifteen thousand enemies,” Capote muttered contentedly. Only Frank Sinatra and Mia Farrow left the party early because Sinatra wanted a serving Chow Mein

Now the rich and famous ate, so to speak, from his hand. The tipping point came when, in 1975-76, he completed four chapters of Answered prayers published in the magazine Esquire† vantro. Confusion over so much thinly veiled gossip and slander. Capote was promptly thrown out of the self-proclaimed elite. Canceled, we will say now. Like a court jester, he was lovingly embraced by the hip scene in the nightclub Studio 54, but he was too old for the long disco nights, nor was he particularly resistant to whiskey and cocaine.

So it could happen that Martin Amis found him like a shot down bird. Fragments of Capote’s unfinished last book were published posthumously in the 1986 edition Answered prayers, but the missing chapters were never found. Or maybe he never wrote them. The pocket edition has 146 pages, which is a bit small for a book that ruined his writing life. Fortunately, we have The Capote ribbons yet.

Truman Capote on film

Several of Capote’s books have been made into films, such as In cold blood (1967, Richard Brooks) and Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961, Blake Edwards), with the eternally glamorous Audrey Hepburn as the main character Holly Golightly. There are also biographical feature films, such as capote (2005, Bennett Miller), who gave Philip Seymour Hoffman an Oscar for his role as Capote, and slightly underestimated it infamous (2006, Douglas McGrath). Capote’s own performance as an actor in the thriller parody is downright curious Murder by death (1976, Robert Moore), written by Neil Simon. Here you will find him as the eccentric multimillionaire Lionel Twain, between established names like Peter Sellers, David Niven and Peter Falk. The DVD is now a collector’s item.

Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote in the Capote biography.  Picture

Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote in the Capote biography.

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