Capote, that is—not Harry.
I’m taking this opportunity to follow Truman Capote’s genre busting creation of the “nonfiction novel” with nonnovel fiction–an interview with Capote himself. To that end we recently sat down and, I believe, both enjoyed our conversation. We met in a closed small tavern (I know the owner), called The Living Room where Mr. Capote sat on a club chair upholstered in peacock blue with me across a square table on a leather couch. Both of us drank sparkling water.
Mr. Capote: “Frankly, I was expecting the Ritz. Nothing this shabby.” Capote leaned back in his chair, crossed his legs, and raised his small hand to his chin.
Me: “I wanted a place where we could talk without being interrupted, Mr. Capote. Plus, I don’t know the owner of the Ritz.”
Mr. Capote: “Just call me Tru. It’s always so interesting to discover who one knows and doesn’t. And I do so much enjoy interruptions. It gives me a chance to observe. And of course, it would mean people haven’t forgotten me.”
ME: “There’s no chance of anyone who reads forgetting you. Anyone who ever saw you on television either.”
Capote’s hand dropped to his lap, as he leaned forward with a half smile.
Mr. Capote: “I was famous, wasn’t I?”
ME: “Very much so. In fact, so much so that many people believed it was your driving motivation to write.”
Capote chuckled and shook his head.
Mr. Capote: “I began writing out of loneliness and desperation. I’d been abandoned by my parents and was quite…different than anyone else–so I wrote. And wrote, and wrote. When my mother returned and brought me to New York, nothing really changed inside. Writing was all I wanted to do. To me, the greatest pleasure in writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music that words make. And that music kept me sane. It’s all I ever wanted to do until Perry…”
Capote’s voice dropped to a whisper and his eyes began to rapidly blink.
Me: “Before we go there I want to ask about your statement that the music of words kept you sane. I wonder whether your first novel Other Voices, Other Rooms took it a step further. An opportunity to accept yourself, your upbringing, your sexuality?”
Capote’s eyes kept blinking but he reached for his glass, took a sip and continued to lean forward.
Mr. Capote: “I’ve said many times that the central theme of Other Voices, Other Rooms was my search for who was essentially an imaginary person, that is, my father.”
Capote ran the back of his hand over his forehead.
Mr. Capote: “You do know it debuted at number nine on The New York Times Best Seller list and remained on the list for more than two months!”
Me: “I do. It also seems that the novel helped you come to terms with your homosexuality.”
Mr. Capote: “No, no, no. (Tru vigorously shook his head, almost spilling the water from the glass in his hand) Old news, darling. Frankly, I simply used that theme to make the book titillating. Looking down and back, perhaps it was my first stab at nonfiction novel. Although I must say, Other Voices, Other Rooms was an unconscious, altogether intuitive attempt to exorcise demons for I was not aware, except for a few incidents and descriptions, of its being to any serious degree autobiographical. Rereading it now, I find such self-deception unpardonable. I did know, however, exactly what I was doing when Harold Halma took my picture for the back cover. I wasn’t completely oblivious.”
Capote put his glass down and laughed delightedly.
Me: “Since you brought up the term “nonfiction novel,” maybe we ought to begin talking about In Cold Blood?”
Mr. Capote: “Not yet, please. It’s been a while since my last interview and I must say I’m enjoying it more than I thought. Also, it would be wrong to simply bypass Breakfast At Tiffany’s.”
Me: “You’re right, Mr. Capote. Though it’s still difficult for me to shake George Peppard’s image as Paul Varjak.
Mr. Capote: “A gorgeous man, Peppard, too bad he spent so much time in the closet. Still, keep in mind I didn’t cast him for the movie. That was out of my control.”
Me: “Of course…”
Before I finished my sentence Capote placed his glass back on the table and sat at the edge of his chair.
Mr. Capote: “As badly miscast as he was, Peppard didn’t annoy me. Tiffany did. They never really appreciated the way I put them on the map. I think they simply gave me some sort of bauble.”
Me: “Do you remember what it was?”
Capote wiggled back in his chair.
Mr. Capote: “I don’t care to try.”
Me: “Not a problem. You know, of course, that after Norman Mailer read Breakfast he said, “Truman Capote I do not know well, but I like him. He is tart as a grand aunt, but in his way is a ballsy little guy, and he is the most perfect writer of my generation, he writes the best sentences word for word, rhythm upon rhythm. I would not have changed two words in Breakfast at Tiffanys which will become a small classic.””
Mr. Capote: “Small indeed. Certainly less pages than Mailer could ever write. And his remark that I’m a ballsy little guy and the most perfect writer of that generation was simply another way to insult me and my sexuality. I know George…”
Capote stared at me with rock hard eyes.
Mr. Capote: “Plimpton. George Plimpton. I might have been dead when he had the gall to say it, but I’m not blind or deaf. In an interview, he said I was at the top of the ‘second’ tier of writers and named Norman as being in the top. Now who do you imagine Norman really thought was the most ‘perfect’ writer of his generation?”
Capote raised an eyebrow but his stare remained cold as steel. But I couldn’t help myself and burst out laughing. Eventually Capote joined in as both of us contemplated Mailer’s massive ego.
Me: “Point taken.”
I glanced at the clock.
Me: “This has taken longer than I had anticipated but I’d hate to end now. Would you mind staying longer or maybe meet at another time to finish?”
Mr. Capote: “Oh dear man, I’d be happy to stay. I really don’t get out much anymore. But there is a condition.”
Mr. Capote: “I simply need something, uhh, better to drink. Remember, I do live in a dry town.”
See next week’s post for the conclusion of my interview with Truman Capote. Thanks.
Gore Vidal on Truman Capote’s death: “A wise career move.”