Happy Birthday Truman Capote

City Connect pays tribute to Truman Capote who was born this day in 1924. Capote was an acclaimed author of many classic works of American Literature including his famous crime novel “In Cold Blood” and the novella “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” which was turned into a hit film starring Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly and George Peppard.

Biography

Truman Streckfus Persons, known as Truman Capote, (born 30 September 1924 – died 25 August 1984) was an American author, many of whose short stories, novels, plays, and nonfiction are recognized literary classics, including the novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1958) and true crime novel In Cold Blood (1966), which he labeled a “nonfiction novel.” At least 20 films and television dramas have been produced from Capote novels, stories and screenplays.

Capote rose above a childhood troubled by divorce, a long absence from his mother and multiple migrations. He discovered his calling by the age of 11, and for the rest of his childhood he honed his writing ability. Capote began his professional career writing short stories. The critical success of one story, “Miriam” (1945), attracted the attention of Random House publisher Bennett Cerf, resulting in a contract to write Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948). Capote earned the most fame with In Cold Blood (1966), a journalistic work about the murder of a Kansas farm family in their home, a book Capote spent four years writing, with much help from Harper Lee, who wrote the famous To Kill a Mockingbird. A milestone in popular culture, it was the peak of his career, although it was not his final book. In the 1970s, he maintained his celebrity status by appearing on television talk shows.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s: A Short Novel and Three Stories (1958) brought together the title novella and three shorter tales: “House of Flowers,” “A Diamond Guitar” and “A Christmas Memory.” The heroine of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Holly Golightly, became one of Capote’s best known creations, and the book’s prose style prompted Norman Mailer to call Capote “the most perfect writer of my generation.”

For Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s was a turning point, as he explained to Roy Newquist (Counterpoint, 1964):
“I think I’ve had two careers. One was the career of precocity, the young person who published a series of books that were really quite remarkable. I can even read them now and evaluate them favorably, as though they were the work of a stranger… My second career began, I guess it really began with Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It involves a different point of view, a different prose style to some degree. Actually, the prose style is an evolvement from one to the other—a pruning and thinning-out to a more subdued, clearer prose. I don’t find it as evocative, in many respects, as the other, or even as original, but it is more difficult to do. But I’m nowhere near reaching what I want to do, where I want to go. Presumably this new book is as close as I’m going to get, at least strategically.”

Capote was 5 feet 3 inches tall and openly homosexual. One of his first serious lovers was Smith College literature professor Newton Arvin, who won the National Book Award for his Herman Melville biography in 1951. It was to Arvin that Capote dedicated Other Voices, Other Rooms.

Capote was well known for his distinctive, high-pitched voice and odd vocal mannerisms, his offbeat manner of dress and his fabrications. He often claimed to know intimately people whom he had in fact never met, such as Greta Garbo. He professed to have had numerous liaisons with men thought to be heterosexual, including, he claimed, Errol Flynn. He traveled in an eclectic array of social circles, hobnobbing with authors, critics, business tycoons, philanthropists, Hollywood and theatrical celebrities, royalty, and members of high society, both in the US and abroad. Part of his public persona was a longstanding rivalry with writer Gore Vidal. Their rivalry prompted Tennessee Williams to complain: “You would think they were running neck-and-neck for some fabulous gold prize.”

Capote died in Los Angeles on August 25, 1984, aged 59 from liver cancer leaving behind his longtime companion, author Jack Dunphy. After his death, his perpetual nemesis and fellow writer Gore Vidal described Capote’s demise as “a good career move”.

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