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Truman Capote  

Truman Capote was talented, creative and shocking. His short stories, novels and essays are beautifully written. He died at the age of 59 due to drugs and excessive drinking.
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Truman Capote (1924-1984)

Truman Capote in 1959

 

Brief Biography

Born Truman Streckfus Persons on September 30, 1924, Truman Capote's mother was still an adolescent when she gave birth to Capote.  His father was a non-practicing lawyer who did not want to provide or really care for his son.  In fact both parents neglected the boy, sending him off to his mother's relatives in Monroeville, Alabama.  As a child,  Capote was sensitive and "different."  The other children often bullied him  One child did not-Harper Lee, the author of "To Kill A Mockingbird", a girl full of life, a tomboy.  She was very fond of the young Truman and would remain his friend for years, helping him do the research on one of his most important books.  The boy later admitted that he felt his parents had abandoned him.  His mother, who would later commit suicide, admitted she was not fit to be a mother, especially to a complex, sensitive boy.  In 1932 he and his mother moved to New York City with her second husband, Joe Capote.  The boy was adopted by his stepfather and took his last name.  His mother was both cruel and kind to the boy.  He never knew what to expect from her.   She would mock him for not being like the other boys, telling him he was effeminate.  She sent him to a military academy in 1936.  He was bullied by the other boys and was taken out after one year.  He was a mediocre student in school.  He attended Greenwich High School when his parents moved to Connecticut.  He was encouraged by a teacher who realized that Truman had a talent with words.  He made some friends, and managed to graduate from high school ( although later in life he said he never graduated).   In 1942 his family moved back to New York.  Truman would spend his evenings going to clubs.  Very outgoing, he was fun to be with - this trait would only add to his desire to be with rich people who enjoyed the New York night life.  At the age of 17 he began working as a copyboy for "The New Yorker."  Always wishing to be a writer, he wrote short stories but could not get them published.  Finally in 1945 "Mademoiselle" published "Miriam" a story about a strange little girl.  The story would earn Capote an O.Henry Award.  Other stories followed: "A Tree of Light," "My Side of the Matter, " and "Jug of Silver."  In 1948 his first novel, "Other Voices, Other Rooms," was published.  It was well received, although some critics were troubled by its homosexual theme.   His talents were recognized, however, and the book sold well.   In 1948, he began a thirty- five year relationship with Jack Dunphy.

Capote continued to write.  In 1949 a collection of short stories appeared entitled "A Tree of Light."   His second novel, "The Grass Harp" appeared in 1951.  In the 1950's and early 60"s Capote worked on screenplays.  He became friendly with Montgomery Clift and other well known actors.  He also adapted some of his stories for television, most notably "A Christmas Memory," a touching story of love, friendship and loss.  He suffered a loss when his mother died in 1954.  In 1958, he published "Breakfast at Tiffany's" The book was a success and three years later the film version was released with Audrey Hepburn playing the lead character, Holly Golightly.  He then spent six years researching a terrible crime-the murders of an entire family in a small Kansas town.    With help from Harper Lee, Capote went to the town and interviewed many people.  He interviewed the suspected killers, Richard Hickock and Perry Smith.  These men were found guilty and were executed.   The book, "In Cold Blood" was a non-fiction masterpiece and was well received when it was published in 1965.  It was a "nonfiction novel" as Capote put it.   The book was eventually made into a movie.  It took a toll on Capote and he began to drink more and take drugs to soothe his nerves.  The substance abuse became worse over the years.  He also began to suffer from facial pain due to an inflamed nerve.  He wrote less and drank more.  He enjoyed the company of rich and well placed people. In 1966, he hosted a now famous ball in the Grand Ballrooom of the Plaze Hotel in New York City.  He began work on a book entitled "Answered Prayers" but developed a writer's block.  In 1975 he made the mistake of allowing Esquire magazine to print portions of the unfinished novel.   In one portion he related gossip  ( mostly true) about his rich, famous friends.   His friends turned on him and he lost friendships.  This only made his decline worse.  He became addicted to drugs and alcohol.  Attempts to break the addiction were not entirely successful.  In the end, he turned to a devoted friend, Joanne Carson, ( the ex-wife of Johnny Carson) for help and moved into her house in Los Angeles.  Ms. Carson tried to help him, but finally he almost willed his death.   He died at her home on August 25, 1984.   He was 59.   Some of his ashes were placed in a vault.  Below his ashes, lay the ashes of Joanne Carson who died in 2015.

Capote will always remain a respected author whose beautiful style of writing and insights into the human heart will be treasured.  In the end however, many critics have concluded that he never met his potential as a great writer because of his love of pleasure and celebrity.  Despite this, "In Cold Blood" and stories such as "A Christmas Memory" attest to his genuine talent.

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