Sometime in September the ashes of celebrated gay author Truman Capote will be sold off at an L.A. auction house. Not since the sale of the Mommy Dearest mansion have we been so excited to own a piece of iconic gay history!
Lest you consider the purchase tacky, just know that he had originally bequeathed his ashes to Joanne Carson, the wife of former Tonight Show host Johnny Carson, telling her that he didn’t want them “just sitting on a shelf”. She recently died and so his ashes are on the auction block — the bidding starts at $2,000. If you’re not interested, here’s four reasons you might want to reconsider buying what’s being called “the ultimate conversation piece.”
He was openly gay decades before Stonewall
When Capote published his decidedly gay Southern Gothic novel Other Voices, Other Rooms in 1948, he dedicated it to Newton Arvin, a 46-year-old literature professor at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. They had met two years earlier (when Capote was 24-years-old), and shortly after meeting, they began a three-year relationship.
The author photo used in the book showed Capote reclining in a sweater vest on a couch, his eyes staring daringly, seductively into the camera. Remember, this was 1948, barely two years before the Lavender Scare when Senator Joseph McCarthy began ousting “known homosexuals” from the federal government. The photograph quickly gained Capote the admiration of gay fans (including then 20-year-old pop-artist Andy Warhol) as well as infamy from people who saw it for what it was: an unrepentantly homosexual man ready to seduce the American mind.
Two years later in 1950, Capote began a 30-year open relationship with then 36-year-old writer Jack Dunphy; the two lived in a house where gay author D.H. Lawrence had lived. While it’s been said that Dunphy and Capote were “were openly contemptuous” of the gay rights movement, he also added that Capote was unashamedly gay and encouraged others to be as well.
Indeed, as Capote gained celebrity status, he became known for his personal trademarks: a high-pitched voice, airy mannerisms, eccentric dress (including his love of scarves, bowties and fedoras) and his frequent though unverified claims that he had slept with many presumably heterosexual men.
He fucking invented the literary non-fiction novel
Although many writers had scribed memoirs, personal essays and tales based on personal experience, Capote was the first writer to pen a “non-fiction novel”, In Cold Blood, a story about the murder of the Clutter family in rural town Holcomb, Kansas. The book’s lyrical style and use of literary devices common to fiction helped In Cold Blood gain international appeal and make $2 million in its first year. It also helped highlight the growing popularity of so-called “new journalism”and true-crime novels.
Here’s the catch though: In Cold Blood can hardly be called “straight non-fiction”, not because a gay man wrote it but because Capote fabricated scenes in the book, made up a non-existent composite character and added details that weren’t corroborated by other Holcomb residents involved in the case. The fact that hr didn’t tape record his interviews should’ve been the first clue. He claimed to be able to recreate conversations with 90 percent accuracy, but only a rare prodigy could create long quotations from hours-long conversations; the exact thing Capote did in his book.
A 1992 Sunday Times Magazine article points out that Capote also fabricate the entirety of his “non-fiction” short story “Handcarved Coffins.” In it, Capote provides chilling details miniature coffins sent to victims who later die by suspicious rattlesnake bites and decapitation, but no such murders ever occurred in the town where Capote said.
Nevertheless, Capote still wrote beautifully. His revealing essays about Marilyn Monroe (a must-read) and late-night masturbation (skip it) make eyebrow-rising additions to his accomplished literary career.
He’s a character in To Kill A Mockingbird
Okay, so there’s not a character named “Truman Capote” in Harper Lee’s 1960 novel about innocence and racism in the South, but it’s oft-repeated that Lee based the character of Dill Harris on Capote.
Dill, the best friend of the book’s young female protagonist Scout, is known for being short, pale-skinned, cowlicked and for telling huge lies to cover up his unstable family life (at one point he claims that his parents kept him chained to a basement wall rather than admit that they neglect him). Dill is also charming, sensitive and mischievous as he repeatedly tries to lure the town recluse, Boo Radley, out of hiding.
The book’s fictional setting of Maycomb, Alabama was based on Monroeville where Capote and Lee were next-door neighbors and childhood friends. Like Dill, Capote moved to Alabama from an out of state and didn’t know his father and often felt lonely as a child. Lee’s father was also a lawyer much like Scout’s father, Atticus Finch. In an interview, Capote once said, “[Lee] and I used to go to trials all the time as children. We went to the trials instead of going to the movies.”
He once pissed off snobby master poet, Robert Frost
Legend has it that while staying at an inn where well-known poet Robert Frost — the guy who wrote “The Road Not Taken” — was holding a reading, Capote took ill and only attended the reading after being asked by the hotel management to do so since, at the time, Capote had a low-level job writing for The New Yorker.
Capote apparently felt so crummy that he walked out of the reading while it was still going on. This angered Frost so much that he reportedly threw his book of poems at Capote and then called The New Yorker, asking the editor, “Who the hell is this Truman Capote, anyway?” He succeeded in getting him fired.
Capote later got his revenge by telling Esquire magazine that Frost was “the meanest man who ever drew breath, an old fake dragging around with a shaggy head of hair and followed by pathetic old ladies from the Middle West”.
There’s also a story of Capote having beat Humphrey Bogart in a $50 arm wrestling match, but that’s mere hearsay.