Truman Capote's Fictional Portrayals in Film and TV (Media)

Feb 8, 2024
Dimitris Passas

His offbeat persona and distinctive mannerisms made him one of the most talked-about and controversial authors of the twentieth century American literary canon. Truman Capote was the lettered authors of classics such as Breakfast at Tiffany's and his emblematic nonfiction piece In Cold Blood and his work had been adapted into cinema more than 20 times. A prodigy child raised in the American South during the 1930s, Capote had famously scored 215 IQ tests while he started writing fiction at the tender age of 11. Nothing short of a literary genius in the making, Capote made his breakthrough with the 1945 short story Miriam, published by "Mademoiselle", that earned him a Random House contract for his next novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms. In his early work, the late American author with the characteristic piping voice of a little girl mingled the fictional and the autobiographical and the reader, unknowingly, gets a glimpse into the workings of a brilliant, though set in a perpetual mode of procrastinated self-destruction, mind and a restless spirit. His relationship with his mother was complicated to say at least and Truman largely grew up on his own, even learning to read and write before he even went to school. Regarding his childhood days, Capote had said: "I was writing really sort of serious when I was about 11. I say seriously in the sense that like other kids go home and practice the violin or the piano or whatever, I used to go home from school every day, and I would write for about three hours. I was obsessed by it." (Oakes, Elizabeth- "American Writers" [2004]

Capote is widely known for his witticisms and sense of sarcasm. When talking about his short stature, he liked to remark that he may not have been tall but he was compact and noisy as a little handgun. According to historian Amy Henderson: " “He was only 5′ 3″, he was a little elfin creature. But he was very amusing, and he liked being that social butterfly,” (SMITHSONIAN) However, despite his fondness for socializing, especially with female members of the New York elite aristocracy, Capote remains notorious for his vendettas with other eminent figures of the American literary scene. The most famous was his long-standing brush with Gore Vidal who was also a combative man who thrived in admonishing his contemporary peers. Both men were openly gay at a difficult historical period for homosexuals when "coming-out" was perceived more as an eccentricity rather than a declaration of identity. However, this did nothing to reduce the simmering tension between them which was manifested through acrimonious quotes and gestures of explicit antipathy when meeting in social situations. Many claim that the true reason that lurked behind the feud was the fact that Capote and Vidal were on the pedestal of American literature at the same time. 1948 was the year during which Capote published his first novel (Other Voices, Other Rooms) and Vidal delivered his breakthrough masterpiece The City and the Pillar.

It certainly makes sense that biographers would find a major source of inspiration in Capote's life, and onscreen media couldn't lag behind. In 2005, Bennett Miller directed Capote casting the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in the role of the author. Miller's biopic was loosely based on Gerald Clarke's book Capote: A Biography and narrated the painstaking research that the author made to write his archetypal true crime novel In Cold Blood. It was this work that established Capote's reputation as one of the greatest American writers of the previous century and to complete it, he spent 6 years travelling back and forth to Kansas in order to conduct personal interviews with the defendants of the atrocious crime committed in 1958 in Holcomb. Bennett focuses on the relationship between Capote and one of the two alleged killers, Perry Smith, played in brooding perfection by Clifton Collins Jr. The author earned the criminal's trust gradually and manipulated Smith in various ways, while struggling to finish the book. His longtime friend Harper Lee, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of To Kill and Mockingbird, helped him during throughout that strenuous process.

Hoffman's extraordinary performance set the bar high for those who would later make an attempt at providing a faithful onscreen depiction of Capote. For this role, Hoffman won the 2006 Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role, a well-deserved award for the subtle, nuanced representation of the complex author. Hoffman absorbed each and every quirk and eccentricity that Capote exhibited and brought fourth his pervading queerness in an authentic way, a true acting tour de force that will remain a point of reference for future biopics of any kind. Two years after the release of Miller's film, another biography of Capote hit the silver screen. Infamous was directed by Douglas McGrath and revolved around the exact same story chronicled in Capote. It is for that reason that the two films are considered to be "twins".

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