TRUMAN CAPOTE, American author born (d. 1984) Author of short stories and novels, including Breakfast At Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood. He said he was a lonely child, and taught himself to read and write before he entered the first grade in school. He was a neighbor and friend of Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, and Dill, a character in her novel, is based on Capote. He was often seen at age five carrying his dictionary and notepad, and he claimed to have written a book when he was nine years old. At this time, he was given the nickname Bulldog, possibly a pun reference of “Bulldog Truman” to the fictional detective, Bulldog Drummond, popular in films of the mid-1930s.
On Saturdays, he made trips from Monroeville to Mobile, and when he was 10, he submitted his short story, “Old Mr. Busybody,” to a children’s writing contest sponsored by the Mobile Press Register. When he was 11, he began writing seriously in daily three-hour sessions. Of his early days Capote related, “I began writing really sort of seriously when I was about eleven. I say seriously in the sense that like other kids go home and practice the violin or the piano or whatever, I used to go home from school every day and I would write for about three hours. I was obsessed by it.”
In 1933, he moved to New York City to live with his mother and her second husband, Joseph Capote, a Cuban-born textile broker, who adopted his stepson and renamed him Truman García Capote. In 1935, he attended the Trinity School. He then attended St. Joseph’s military academy. His mother wished for him to become more masculine. She said, “I will not have another child like Truman, and if I do have another child he will be like Truman.” She aborted two pregnancies for this reason. In 1939, the Capotes moved to Greenwich, Connecticut, and Truman attended Greenwich High School, where he wrote for both the school’s literary journal, The Green Witch, and the school newspaper. Back in New York in 1942, he graduated from the Dwight School, an Upper West Side private school where an award is now given annually in his name.
When he was 17, Capote ended his formal education and began a two-year job at The New Yorker. Years later, he wrote, “Not a very grand job, for all it really involved was sorting cartoons and clipping newspapers. Still, I was fortunate to have it, especially since I was determined never to set a studious foot inside a college classroom. I felt that either one was or wasn’t a writer, and no combination of professors could influence the outcome. I still think I was correct, at least in my own case.” He was fired from this job for misrepresenting himself as a writer for the magazine, when he was really little more than a copy boy.
Capote was out Gay in a time when it was common among artists, but rarely talked about. One of his first serious lovers was Smith College literature professor Newton Arvin, who won the National Book Award for his Herman Melville biography.
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 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 eclectic circles, hobnobbing with authors, critics, business tycoons, philanthropists, Hollywood and theatrical celebrities, royalty, and members of high society, both in the U.S. and abroad. Part of his public persona was a long-standing rivalry with writer Gore Vidal (“Truman Capote has tried, with some success, to get into a world that I have tried, with some success, to get out of.”)
Despite the assertion earlier in life that one “lost an IQ point for every year spent on the West Coast,” he purchased a home in Palm Springs and began to indulge in a more aimless lifestyle and heavy drinking. This resulted in bitter quarreling with the more retiring Jack Dunphy (with whom he had shared an open relationship since the 1950s). Their partnership changed form and continued as a non-sexual one, and they were separated during much of the 1970s. Dunphy was irritated by the unwavering substance abuse and even went so far as to allege that Capote had slept with Radziwill. However, others have alleged that Dunphy, a writer and playwright of far less renown, was unappreciative of Capote’s gifts (including a Swiss condominium that Capote had little use for) and financial support.
In the absence of Dunphy, Capote began to frequent the bathhouse circuit in New York, often seducing working-class, sexually unsure men half his age. This frequently resulted in socially embarrassing situations; while visiting Marella Agnelli in Italy, Capote’s latest lover—an air conditioner repairman—asked for a baked potato while dining in an exclusive restaurant.
Capote died in Los Angeles on August 25, 1984, aged 59. According to the coroner’s report the cause of death was “liver disease complicated by phlebitis and multiple drug intoxication.” He passed away at the home of his old friend Joanne Carson, ex-wife of late-night TV host Johnny Carson, on whose program Capote had been a frequent guest. He was interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles, leaving behind his longtime companion, author Jack Dunphy. Dunphy died in 1992, and in 1994 both his and Capote’s ashes were scattered at Crooked Pond, between Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor on Long Island, close to where the two had maintained a property with individual houses for many years.