“Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.”
Truman Streckfus Persons (1924-1984) was born on September 30, 1924 in New Orleans, Louisiana. His mother, Lillie Mae Faulk, was 17 at the time of his birth and his father was a salesman named Archulus Persons. When Lillie found out that she was pregnant, she sought an abortion but was convinced by her cousin Jennie to claim her responsibility to motherhood and keep her child. At the age of four, Truman’s parents divorced and he was sent to live in Monroeville, Alabama to live with his mother’s distant family. Truman became very close to Jennie as he felt he owed his life to her. Truman was inspired by his cousins’ love when he wrote the story, “A Christmas Memory”.
Both Lillie Mae and Archulus we very distant towards Truman and rejected him from an early age. Archulus agreed to have Truman during the summers but mostly spent them abroad in search of his next business deal. Determined to climb further up the social ladder, Lillie Mae married Joseph Capote and moved to New York and rarely saw Truman.
While living in Alabama, Truman became very close friends with Harper Lee who would later write the book, “To Kill a Mockingbird”. The character Dill was based on Truman and it was rumored that he helped Harper write the novel. Harper and Truman remained very close friends throughout their lives and Lee would later accompany Truman on his investigation of the Kansas murders that eventually became his book, “In Cold Blood”.
Truman was able to join his mother and Joseph in New York in 1933. In 1935, Joseph legally adopted Truman and thus Truman Streckfus Persons became Truman Garcia Capote. Even though they lived together, Lillie Mae still pushed away her son.
In 1941, Truman began work as a copy editor for the magazine, The New Yorker in hopes that he would learn more about the industry and that they would eventually hire him on as a writer. One day, Truman attended one of Robert Frost’s readings and left early because he was sick. Mr. Frost was outraged and offended and insisted that The New Yorker fire such an inconsiderate journalist.
Because of his youthful, boyish looks and charming personality, Truman easily befriended all sorts of people and was often invited to high-society parties. His social circle was large and lead to many connections in the writing industry. He began writing stories that were published in Mademoiselle and Harper’s Bizarre. In 1948, he wrote his first novel, “Other Voices, Other Rooms” which increased his fame but also drew controversy because in it, a boy falls in love with a transvestite.
Mr. Capote was never able to hide his homosexuality and is still praised today by many gay and lesbian groups for his subject matter and owning his own sexuality. He maintained a long-standing affair with Jack Dunphy.
In 1958, Truman wrote the novella, Breakfast at Tiffany’s: A Novel and Three Short Stories. These stories were, “House of Flowers”, “A Diamond Guitar”, and “A Christmas Memory”. Truman’s character in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Holly Golightly, became one of his best known characters. His style of writing inspired Norman Mailer to call him “the most talented writer of my time.” In 1961, Breakfast at Tiffany’s became a movie starring Audrey Hepburn. Ms. Hepburn’s portrayal of Holly Golightly is still the role that she is most noted for.
Truman was able to portray the juxtaposition between southern life and big city society as well as include sexual situations in his writings which enticed many readers. In 1959, Truman became enwrapped with the rural Holcomb, Kansas murders of the Clutter family. For his research, he met with Harper Lee and interviewed the residents of Holcomb. Once his research was complete, he wrote the book, “In Cold Blood” and it became an instant success. He called this new style of writing “The Nonfiction Novel” which combined journalism with a literary voice. “In Cold Blood” quickly became a movie and Truman’s success soared to new heights.
To celebrate his success, Truman hosted what was to become one of the greatest society balls of all time, his Black and White Ball in the Grand Ballroom of the New York City Plaza Hotel. Only the highest members of society were invited and consequently, this party became the talk of the town. Everyone wanted an invitation. Truman hosted his Black and White Ball throughout his lifetime and enjoyed every minute of it.
Alcoholism and drug use soon took over Truman’s life and he became a recluse and social outcast. From time to time, he would come out of hiding for an interview or appearance and then disappear again. He frequented the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and became good friends with Johnny’s ex-wife Joanne.
On August 25, 1984, Truman Capote died in Los Angeles from liver complications. Over twenty years have passed since his death and society is still inspired by Truman Capote. He is portrayed by Sam Street in 2000’s Isn’t She Great, Michael J. Burg in 2000’s Audrey Hepburn’s Story, and by Toby Jones in 2006’s Infamous. In 2005, Philip Seymour Hoffman won the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of Truman in the movie Capote.
“Life is a moderately good play with a badly written third act.”
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