A couple of new movies will likely renew interest in writer Truman Capote, the author of novels like "Breakfast at Tiffany’s" and "Other Voices, Other Rooms." One film called "Capote" stars Philip Seymor Hoffman. It has just been released in some cities. Another as-yet-untitled film will star Toby Jones (and Gwyneth Paltrow as North Dakota native Peggy Lee). It’s to be released about this time next year.
Although I’ve read quite a bit of Mr. Capote’s work, for some reason or other, I’ve never gotten around to reading his most famous book, "In Cold Blood," until now. I picked up a very old book club edition the other day. He called it a "non-fiction novel" and it really is. The true story of the Clutter family murders in Kansas in 1959 reads exactly like a novel. Writing it made him famous and, some say, destroyed his health and eventually his life. He never wrote anything of much importance after its publication in 1966.
I interviewed Truman Capote for television years ago at the University of North Dakota Writers Conference. It was not easy. He had declined to sit down for a more formal interview requested in advance, so we sort of "ambushed" him. He was something less than sober at the time. The time was about 1:30 in the afternoon.
He had famously called actors "stupid" not long before, even though he had just come from the set of the movie "Murder By Death" in which he played one of the lead roles. I asked him if he still thought actors were stupid. He said no, but that movie-making was. He thought that it was too much work for too little return.
There are lots of stories about how Truman Capote spent his time in Grand Forks. Probably, some of them are true. What I remember is people scrambling around town trying to find amber-colored "gels" for the spotlights that would illuminate him at his reading that evening. In the theater world, amber is a very flattering color. Amber gels were required in his contract. They were found. And the reading that night, like all the talk show appearances he made on television, was outrageously funny.