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Truman Capote

A Literary Life at the Movies

Tison Pugh

Publication Year: 2014

Truman Capote once remarked, “My primary thing is that I’m a prose writer. I don’t think film is the greatest living thing”; nonetheless, his legacy is in many ways defined by his complex relationship with cinema, Hollywood, and celebrity itself. In Truman Capote: A Literary Life at the Movies, Tison Pugh explores the author and his literature through a cinematic lens, skillfully weaving the most relevant elements of Capote’s biography— including his highly flamboyant public persona and his friendships and feuds with notable stars—with insightful critical analysis of the films, screenplays, and adaptations of his works that composed his fraught relationship with the Hollywood machine.

Capote’s masterful short stories and novels ensure his status as an iconic author of the twentieth century, and his screenplays, including Beat the Devil, Indiscretion of an American Wife, and The Innocents, allowed him to collaborate with such Hollywood heavyweights as Humphrey Bogart, John Huston, and David O. Selznick. Throughout his professional life he circulated freely in a celebrity milieu populated by such notables as Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, and Marilyn Monroe. Cinematic adaptations of his literature, most notably Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood, play with or otherwise alter Capote’s queer literary themes, often bleaching his daring treatment of homosexuality in favor of heterosexual romance.

Truman Capote: A Literary Life at the Movies reveals Capote’s literary works to be not merely coincident to film but integral to their mutual creation, paying keen attention to the ways in which Capote’s identity as a gay southerner influenced his and others’ perceptions of his literature and its adaptations. Pugh’s research illuminates Capote’s personal and professional successes and disappointments in the film industry, helping to create a more nuanced portrait of the author and bringing fresh details to light.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

Cinema Stills and Photographs

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

Truman Capote: A Literary Life at the Movies was born, like Capote himself, in Louisiana but, unlike Capote, in a high school classroom in Baton Rouge. I am indebted to my teacher, Mitch Billings, for his magnanimity of vision in assigning a yearlong series of reports...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xiii-xvi

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1. Capote and the Cinema: An Overview

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pp. 1-18

Truman Capote once remarked, “My primary thing is that I’m a prose writer. I don’t think film is the greatest living thing.”1 In privileging his professional and artistic identity as an author of literary fiction, Capote diminishes the role of the cinema in his career, yet...

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2. Capote in the Queer House of Fame: Stars and Celebrity Personas

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pp. 19-42

In Music for Chameleons Capote famously declared: “I’m an alcoholic. I’m a drug addict. I’m homosexual. I’m a genius” (MC 261). This statement from the twilight of his career reflects his determination to live his life openly, as it also reveals his canny understanding

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3. Scriptwriter for the Stars: Capote’s Screen Adaptations of Indiscretion of an American Wife, Beat the Devil, and The Innocents

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pp. 43-86

Long before he penned his first screenplay, Capote rewrote films spontaneously and exuberantly, employing his quick wit and ear for dialogue to amuse his friends when they found themselves bored with a picture playing on the screen. As many dissatisfied filmgoers...

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4. Holly Golightly’s Queer World: Blake Edwards’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s

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pp. 87-108

Notwithstanding his screenwriting experiences, Capote criticized cinematic adaptations of fiction. He believed that transforming a written work into a visual one invariably degraded the source: “The transposition of one art form into another seems to me a corrupt...

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5. Capote, Crime, and Capital Punishment: Richard Brooks’s In Cold Blood

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pp. 109-141

With In Cold Blood, his account of the slaughter of Herb, Bonnie, Nancy, and Kenyon Clutter at the hands of Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, Capote credited himself with inventing the nonfiction novel, one that couples the linearity of a journalistic account with...

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6. Turning a Princess into a Star: Capote, Lee Bouvier Radziwill, and Laura

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pp. 142-153

Before Capote remade Laura for television in 1968, Otto Preminger’s 1944 film was acclaimed as a noir classic for its sexual intrigue, smoky allure, and shocking mystery. Based on Vera Caspary’s novel, the film opens with the mysterious murder of beautiful...

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7. Capote for the Holidays: A Christmas Memory (and Trilogy),The Thanksgiving Visitor, and One Christmas

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pp. 154-177

How does an openly gay writer in the 1960s, whose fame skyrocketed due to his portrayal of a gruesome crime and its aftermath, become simultaneously associated with holiday tales of emotional resonance and southern nostalgia? It is one of the great paradoxes...

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8. Capote’s Southern Childhoods: Other Voices, Other Rooms, The Grass Harp, and Children on Their Birthdays

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pp. 178-199

A dangerous child: such is the image that some readers formed of Capote from the louche dust jacket of Other Voices, Other Rooms. As Cecil Beaton and Kenneth Tynan recall, the author delighted in his decadent persona of defiled youth: “Capote tells a story of how he saw two Philadelphia matrons...

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9. Capote’s Unfinished Business: Abandoned and Unproduced Projects

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pp. 298-218

Despite his prodigious talents as a writer, Capote drafted numerous screenplays and teleplays that were never produced. New York Public Library’s Truman Capote Archive holds much of this fascinating collection of material, including an early teleplay of his...

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10. Playing Capote: Tru, Capote, Infamous, and Other Parodic and Iconic Portrayals

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pp. 219-240

When asked who should play him in a movie of his life, Capote cheekily replied, “Greta Garbo. It’ll be her great comeback part.”1 Although Garbo never abandoned retirement to undertake the challenges of portraying Capote, numerous other talents have...


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pp. 241-260

Cinema Capoteana

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pp. 261-264

Works Cited

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pp. 265-280


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pp. 281-287

E-ISBN-13: 9780820347097
E-ISBN-10: 0820347094
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820346687

Page Count: 328
Illustrations: 25 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2014