It was 1976. Just a half dozen years old,  already The UND Writers Conference was a well-established and highly-regarded cultural event. But conference founder John Little had outdone himself that year, booking two of the country’s best-known authors, Tom Wolf and Truman Capote. Wolf, ever the clothes horse, opened the week-long conference with a reading of his works wearing a blazing yellow three-piece suit, I remember. Mr. Capote closed it wearing black on black. (There must have been a metaphor in there somewhere.)

I was just a year into a very long reporting stint at WDAZ. I very badly wanted an interview with Truman Capote who became world-famous with the publication of his “non-fiction novel” In Cold Blood. But like a lot of others, I was scared to death of the “tiny terror” as he was known.

I believe we caught him somewhat off guard sticking a camera and microphone in his face just before a panel discussion he was a part of in the UND ballroom. The smell of liquor was on his breath. It was just after noon.

Interestingly, he had just come from the set of the movie Murder by Death in which he played the train-loving Lionel Twain (get it?), a murderous host to a gang of literary dinner party guests. Interesting because he had recently, and famously said, “The better the actor, the more stupid he is.”

Now he was an actor. I asked him about that. Because of the enormous amount of time, money and effort that goes into making movies, he told me he thought “the whole thing is stupid.” Later that year, Murder by Death turned out to be highly entertaining, in no small part because of Mr. Capote. Netflix it.

Later in the day I (vaguely) remember someone called WDAZ asking if the station had any amber gels. In the theatre, amber lighting is very flattering. Conference organizers were scrambling at the last minute to fulfil Mr. Capote’s contract which included the use of amber gels. Apparently, Burtness Theatre and the Chester Fritz Auditorium were fresh out. As I recall, some were located and rushed from Fargo.

At any rate, Truman Capote put on a killer show that night under amber lighting. People who were there, myself included, have used words like mesmerizing ever since to describe it. There was just something about him. His reading that night included “A Christmas Memory,” then as now, one of my favorite stories.

Joel Vig was also in the audience that night. The Grand Forks native and UND student would go on to become a professional actor whose career has included working with a slew of famous actors and directors. He would create several characters as a member of the original Broadway cast of Hairspray.

Inspired by meeting Mr. Capote and his reading that Friday night, Joel would create a one-man show called “Truman Talks Tennessee.” He’ll be performing the show in Grand Forks next month along with a dramatic reading of A Christmas Memory.”

You can see “A Christmas Memory” October 7 & 8 at 7 pm at the Fire Hall Theatre and “Truman Talks Tennessee” at Central High auditorium in Grand Forks October 9 at 2 pm. Tickets are available at 701-777-4090.

I’ve got a feeling this is going to be good. I’m not usually wrong about this sort of thing.


3 Responses

  1. James McKenzie

    Nice blast from the past, How well I remember all of it, Terry, including Joel Vig. He will likely be very good at that gig. You might be interested to know that I published an account of all of that in CONFRONTATION (out of Long Island U) in its summe1978 issue. It is called “in Cold Print” and would be an interesting read if you can find it. It is not on the net. The Fritz? Interlibrary loan? And if you can find Ted Quaday, ask him about Tom Wolfe and the keys to his (Ted’s) Beetle one day that week. Carry on, as I try to do here in Saint Paul.

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