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Truman Capote´s Life and its Similarity to "Breakfast at Tiffany's"

Truman's Life

Truman Capote was born in New Orleans, Louisiana on Sept 30th 1924 with the name Truman Persons to his seventeen year old mother Lillie Mae Faulk and father Archulus Persons (26). Capote's father, Archulus "Arch" Persons, worked as a clerk for a steamboat company. Persons never stuck at any job for long, and was always leaving home in search for new opportunities. The unhappy marriage gradually disintegrated.

In 1930 Truman was sent to live with his mother’s family in Monroeville Alabama. He later referenced one of the maternal relatives he grew close to during this time in his short story, “A Christmas Memory”. Monroeville was where he met and befriended fellow author, Harper Lee. Critics believe he is the character of Dill in To Kill a Mockingbird. Some critics believe he wrote it; others believe Harper Lee (officially his research assistant for In Cold Blood) wrote that one.

Truman Capote was often neglected and lonely as a child, and as a result, taught himself to read and write before he entered his first year of school. He was writing stories by the age eleven, often carrying a note pad and dictionary. Because of this, was given the nickname Bulldog, as in “Bulldog Truman”, a pun reference to the fictional detective Bulldog Drummond from a popular film series in the mid-1930s.

In 1933, Capote left Monroeville and moved in with his mother in New York City, and her second husband, Joseph Capote. Joseph later adopted Truman as his stepson and he was legally renamed Truman Capote in 1935. Later, Joseph was convicted of embezzlement and the family had to move out of their park avenue home.

A mediocre student, Capote did well in the courses that interested him and paid little attention in those that did not. He attended a private boys' school in Manhattan from 1933 to 1936, where he charmed some of his classmates. An unusual boy, Capote had a gift for telling stories and entertaining people. His mother wanted to make him more masculine, and thought that sending him to a military academy would be the answer. The 1936-1937 school year proved to be a disaster for Capote. The smallest in his class, he was often picked on by the other cadets. In1939 he moved to Greenwich, Connecticut. Begins writing and submitting short stories, but when he fails to graduate from high school in CT, he moves back to New York and enters the Franklin School.
Starting when Truman was eleven, he would come home everyday from school and write in three-hour sessions. He was “obsessed by it” in the same way in which other kids would be passionate about sports, music, or other hobbies. Truman Capote graduated high school in 1942, ending his formal education.
Works as a copyboy for the New Yorker while finishing school.
He began his first job that year working as a copy boy for The New Yorker, where he did mostly remedial work for two years, until he was fired for angering poet Robert Frost. He left his job and New York to return to Alabama and begin his work on his first novel, Summer Crossing.
Although it was never published while he was alive, Summer Crossing was Truman Capote’s first novel. It was lost for a good fifty years after Capote cast it aside after writing it. It was found and published years later in 2005. Originally he planned on having it published, but after receiving feedback from his editor, decided he did not think it showcased his voice.
1943: Graduates from Franklin School
1943: First published work "The Walls Are Cold" in Decade of Short Stories
1944:"A Mink of One's Own" and "The Shape of Things" published in Decade of Short Stories
1945: Signs contract for his first novel Other Voices, Other Rooms

The promotion and controversy surrounding “Other Voices, Other Rooms” catapulted Capote to fame. A 1947 Harold Halma photograph, used to promote the book, showed the then-23-year-old Capote reclining and gazing into the camera. Much of the early attention to Capote centered around different interpretations of this photograph, which was viewed as a suggestive pose by some.

1945: Moves away from his mother due to her alcoholism
While struggling to work on his first novel, Capote received some assistance from Carson McCullers. She helped him get accepted at Yaddo, a famous artists' colony in New York State. Capote spent part of the summer of 1946 there, where he did some work on his novel and completed the short story, "The Headless Hawk," which was published that fall. Capote also fell in love with Newton Arvin, a college professor and literary scholar. The bookish academic and the effervescent charmer made quite an interesting pair. Arvin, as with most of the others at Yaddo, was completely taken by Capote’s wit, manner, and appearance. That same year, Capote won the prestigious O.Henry Award for his short story "Miriam."
Truman was never one to hide his homosexuality. In fact, many gay and lesbian groups today praise Truman for his bravery both in social life and in his writings. While his mother never accepted his choice and often tried to change her son, Truman owned his sexuality at an early age and lived it to his fullest.
Jan. 19, 1948: Other Voices, Other Rooms published
In January of 1948, Truman Capote’s first published novel Other Voices, Other Rooms which became a New York Times Bestseller and remained at #9 for nine weeks. The novel launched Truman Capote’s career as an author.
Became famous because of a provocative photo in Life about new writers.
Witty, loved parties and society functions; easily became a “jet-setter.”
Like many in the social elite, Truman had many relationships. Most notably perhaps is his long time affair with Jack Dunphy whom he met in 1948. Though not an exclusive relationship, the two of them would remain together in one way or another throughout their lives and shared separate houses on the same property.

When he met Capote in 1948, Dunphy had written a well-received novel, John Fury, and was just getting over a painful divorce from Joan McCracken, Philadelphia dancer. Ten years older than Capote, Dunphy was in many ways Capote’s opposite, as solitary as Capote was exuberantly social. Though they drifted more and more apart in the later years, the couple stayed together until Capote's death.

When Capote died in 1984, his will named Dunphy as the chief beneficiary. Eight years later, Dunphy died of cancer in New York, at age 77.

1951: The Grass Harp is published. He adapts it into a play, which begins its run on Broadway in 1952 for one month. Moves to Rome in 1952.
1954: His mother dies from an overdose of sleeping pills.

By 1955, Capote was interested in expanding his work into a new area: journalism. “I had to get outside my own imagination and learn to exist in the imagination and lives of other people,” Capote told an interviewer. “I had become too obsessed with my particular internal images. That was the main reason I turned to journalism.” But Capote wasn’t interested in simply exploring the genre; he wanted to change it. “What I wanted to do was bring to journalism the technique of fiction, which moves both horizontally and vertically at the same time: horizontally on the narrative side and vertically by entering inside its characters.”

1956: Moves back to New York from Rome. Travels to Asia to write about the filming of a Marlon Brando movie.
1958: Short story “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is published in the Esquire.

About Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Our single fiction feature this month is Truman Capote’s engaging novelette Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The term “novelette” seemed to us somehow more appropriate than the austere “novella,” used these days to distinguish between the “serious” long-short story or short novel and the “lightweight” and “romantic” Cosmopolitan or Redbook fiction of the same length. Breakfast at Tiffany’s is probably the longest single piece of fiction Esquire has published, running some 30,000 words. Even in the bad old days (as distinct from the good old days of the Thirties and early Forties) when Esquire advertised “a complete mystery novel” by Henry Kane or “a full-length western complete in this issue,” we didn’t publish anything much over 8,000 words. Anthony C. West’s River’s End, which we proclaimed as “the second greatest story in Esquire’s history” in March, 1957, will now be also second longest, ran some 9,000 words. Actually, we’ve got in the habit, these days, of giving you long stories: it all pretty much began with Saul Bellow’s Leaving The Yellow House last January and Camus’s The Growing Stone in February; since then you’ve had a long Stegner, a Williams, and a Wilner, a Shaw, and now a Capote.

Three years later, the film version was released, starring Audrey Hepburn as Holly. Capote had wanted Marilyn Monroe in the lead role, and was disappointed with this adaptation.

In 1958, Capote wrote one of his best-known creations and American icon, Holly Golightly, in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Holly Golightly was described by Capote as an “American Geisha”, socializing with wealthy men and receiving gifts, but not a prostitute. The narrator becomes fascinated with the young lady’s lifestyle and personality. Truman Capote is said to have based the character off of several of his female social light friends. The novel highlights the popular pursuit of the idea of happiness, but the uncertainty his character feels in attaining it.
1959: Travels to Kansas with Harper Lee to research Clutter murders.

Richard Hickock and Perry Smith had been convicted for the brutal murders of Holcomb, Kansas, farmer Herb Clutter, his wife and their two children: Hickock had heard from a former Clutter employee that this farmer, and former member of the Federal Farm Credit Board, kept a safe in his house with $10,000 in it. No such safe existed.  Hickock and Smith earned $43, a radio and a pair of binoculars. After an extensive manhunt, they were apprehended in Las Vegas and hanged 5 years after the trial, just after midnight on April 14, 1965. Capote was present at the execusion. 

Harper Lee

1960 - Begins work on In Cold Blood .
1965: In Cold Blood runs in the New Yorker in 4 installments.In Cold Blood was originally published in The New Yorker as a four-part series, beginning on September 25, 1965. It sold out immediately. It was published by Random House for the first time as a novel in 1966
With the publication of In Cold Blood, Truman Capote debuted a new literary genre: the non- fiction novel. The non-fiction novel presents real events through the use of literary techniques generally associated with fiction narratives. In the case of In Cold Blood, Capote used news- paper accounts, investigative reports, letters, and interviews to piece together the story of the Clutter murders and the subsequent hunt for and eventual execution of Richard Hickock and Perry Smith. Capote traveled to the Holcomb area just months after the murders, and he spent six years collecting information, interviewing residents, and observing the work of the Kansas Bureau of Investigations under the leadership of Al Dewey. Yet, like a novel, the story is presented in vivid sentences and filled with evocative
In 1966, Truman published his final masterpiece, In Cold Blood, his revolutionary novel that details the four murders of the small-town Kansas family. Reuniting with childhood friend and fellow author, Harper Lee, they traveled to the town where they interviewed local residents and investigators, taking enormous amounts of notes. Capote had traveled to the scene before the killers were even caught, but later used their side of the story for his material. This novel is considered as one of the best books of its type ever written. Capote spent six years putting In Cold Blood together, and although accusations of fabrication have been brought up, the novel is still highly regarded.
After his exponential success with In Cold Blood, Capote never again created a great work. His publishers re-released some of his previous writings, and he continued to write brief articles for magazines, but Capote took a larger interest in the social scene of New York.

1966: Hosts first Black and White Ball.

After deciding to throw the party, Capote had to select a guest of honor. Throwing the party for himself would have been viewed by his society friends as vulgar. Rather than selecting from amongst his stable of beautiful society women he called his "swans", Capote chose The Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham. "Truman called me up that summer and said, 'I think you need cheering up. And I'm going to give you a ball.'...I was...sort of baffled....I felt a little bit like Truman was going to give the ball anyway and that I was part of the props."

For his venue, Capote chose the Grand Ballroom of the Plaza Hotel in New York City. Capote had long held a deep affection for the Plaza, even setting the opening scene of his attempted first novel, Summer Crossing, in a Plaza dining room. Capote enlisted Evie Backer, who had decorated his apartment at United Nations Plaza, for the event's decor. Initially Capote planned to cover the ballroom's white and gold walls with heavy red drapes but Backer and Capote's friend Babe Paley convinced him to abandon this idea. Instead he brought in the color with red tablecloths. Rather than flowers, Capote had the tables adorned with gold candelabra wound with smilax and bearing white tapers. The night's menu, to be served at midnight, consisted of scrambled eggs, sausages, biscuits, pastries, spaghetti and meatballs and chicken hash, a specialty of the Plaza and one of Capote's favorite dishes. To drink Capote laid in 450 bottles of Taittinger champagne.

Capote spent a total of $16,000 on the ball.

The Black and White Ball was a masquerade ball held on November 28, 1966 at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. Hosted by author Truman Capote, the ball was in honor of The Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham.

1967: Movie In Cold Blood released
Interesting side note: Robert Blake starred in the film as Perry Smith. In 2002, Blake was arrested and later tried for the shooting murder of his wife. He was found not guilty despite evidence that he tried to hire a hit man to kill her.

By this time(1976), Capote's relationship with Jack Dunphy was becoming strained. Dunphy wanted Capote to stop drinking and taking drugs, which—despite numerous trips to rehabilitation centers over the years—Capote seemed unable to do. While no longer physically intimate, the two remained close, spending time together at their neighboring homes in Sagaponack, Long Island. Capote also had other relationships with younger men, which did little to improve his emotional and psychological state.
All throughout the seventies, Truman Capote was in and out of rehab due to alcoholism. It was well-known to the public his addiction to alcohol, and depressed state, that his hard-earned reputation was no longer relevant. Capote became fairly reclusive after leaving his New York Residence and experiencing a hallucinatory seizure that resulted in hospitalization.
1981: Arch Persons, Capote’s birth father, dies.
1984: Capote dies on August 25, 1984 at the age of 59. 

Capote traveled to California to stay with old friend Joanne Carson, the ex-wife of Johnny Carson and died from liver cancer, in the Bel Air, Los Angeles home of hers.
He died at her Los Angeles home.

After Capote’s death, on August 25, 1984, just a month shy of his 60th birthday, Alan Schwartz (his lawyer and literary executor), Gerald Clarke (his friend and biographer), and Joe Fox (his Random House editor) searched for the manuscript of the unfinished novel. Random House wanted to recoup something of the advances it had paid Truman—even if that involved publishing an incomplete manuscript. (In 1966, Truman and Random House had signed a contract for Answered Prayers for an advance of $25,000, wth a delivery date of January 1, 1968. Three years later, they renegotiated to a three-book contract for an advance of $750,000, with delivery by September 1973. The contract was amended three more times, with a final agreement of $1 million for delivery by March 1, 1981. That deadline passed like all the others with no manuscript being delivered.)

More about "Breakfast at Tiffany's"

1958: Short story “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is published in the Esquire.

Shortly afterward, a collection of the novella and three short stories by Capote was published by Random House — and the glowing reviews caused sales of the Esquire issue to skyrocket.

In 1958, Capote wrote one of his best-known creations and American icon, Holly Golightly, in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Holly Golightly was described by Capote as an “American Geisha”, socializing with wealthy men and receiving gifts, but not a prostitute. The narrator becomes fascinated with the young lady’s lifestyle and personality. Truman Capote is said to have based the character off of several of his female social light friends. The novel highlights the popular pursuit of the idea of happiness, but the uncertainty his character feels in attaining it.

The story is set in 1943, but was conceived in the mid-Fifties and published in 1958. Capote seemed to occasionally forget he’d set his story during the war years, as when he has Holly buying furniture from the William Randolph Hearst estate: Hearst died in 1951.
Capote drew on some of his contemporaries in his creation of Holly, beautiful party girls of his acquaintance like Carol Marcus and Oona Chaplin, but it seems significant that before Holly reinvented herself in Hollywood and New York she was Lulamae Barnes, from rural Texas; Capote’s mother was Lillie Mae Faulk, a rural beauty from Monroeville, Alabama.
Like Holly she longed to escape home, eventually moving with her feckless new husband to New Orleans, where she gave birth to her only son, whom she soon sent off to live with her cousins in Monroeville.
Like Holly, Lillie Mae was promiscuous, avidly pursuing extramarital affairs in New Orleans and eventually moving to New York, which had always been the focus of her yearning. There she fell in love with Joe Capote, a stylish, successful textile broker of Cuban heritage, and eventually, after marrying Capote and moving to an apartment on Park Avenue, retrieved her son from Monroeville.

There were some changes in the film. Capote was not happy about it.

Three years later (1961), the film version was released, starring Audrey Hepburn as Holly. Capote had wanted Marilyn Monroe in the lead role, and was disappointed with this adaptation.

Neverthless, Audrey Hepburn as Holly became widely popular and it's difficult to imagine anyone else in this role now.