Queer Places:
1613 Park Ave, Monroe, LA 71201
Harvard University (Ivy League), 2 Kirkland St, Cambridge, MA 02138
Old City Cemetery Monroe, Ouachita Parish, Louisiana, USA

The Poor Man's Truman Capote - 64 ParishesHillyer Speed Lamkin (born Monroe, Louisiana, November 2, 1927[1] - Monroe, Louisiana, May 3, 2011[2]) was an American novelist and playwright. He is best known for his first novel Tiger in the Garden (1950) and was called "the poor man's Truman Capote" by the composer Ned Rorem.[3] He was a recipient of a 1950 O. Henry Award for his short story Comes a Day. He was part of the inner circle of American authors such as Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams.

Lamkin was the son of Ebb Tyler Lamkin (1893–1958) and Eugenia Layton Speed (born 1901). He was named for his maternal grandfather, Hillyer Rolston Speed, an insurance executive. Lamkin graduated Harvard University in 1948, which he had entered at the age of 16. He had one sibling, Marguerite Lamkin, who became a voice coach for Southern-themed films such as Baby Doll, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Long, Hot Summer, and Raintree County.[4]

Described as "short, porcine, and effeminate" by biographer Fred Kaplan[5] and a "niggery, flirty, shrewd, frivolous, perceptive young person" by Christopher Isherwood,[6] Lamkin was often compared to Truman Capote because of his Gothic prose and literary precocity. Tennessee Williams, however, observed, "He doesn't write as well but is more agreeable". Similarly jaundiced was Dodie Smith, an English novelist and playwright, who described Lamkin as "a nice bright child but with an ounce of talent only, and not a reliable critic". He became a sensation at age 22 with the publication of his 1950 novel, Tiger in the Garden. The New York Times called the Southern tale "a diffuse examination of the retirement of aristocrats before the vitality of 'new' crude opportunists" but criticized its "overall sense of a low-powered, highly polished Hollywood product".[7] Lamkin and his friend Gus Field wrote a dramatic adaptation of Isherwood's story Sally Bowles but it was rejected in favor of an adaptation by John van Druten. He also contributed fiction to Mademoiselle and wrote a 90-minute television script about the life of Washington, D.C. hostess and ambassador Perle Mesta in 1956; its intended star was Rosalind Russell though the role was eventually played by Shirley Booth. In 1950 he was hired to write an English-language version of La Otra, a Mexican film starring Dolores del Río; it was reportedly being written as a vehicle for Joan Crawford.[8]

Speed Lamkin by Jean de Gaigneron

Lamkin decamped to Hollywood, where he wrote for television and published a second novel, The Easter Egg Hunt (1954), a Beverly Hills farce dedicated to Christopher Isherwood. Christopher Isherwood recalled a longer guest list from the night in 1955 when he, William Faulkner, and Gore Vidal went to see Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. He included Carson McCullers and Marguerite Lamkin as well. Lamkin was an employee of the director Elia Kazan, whom Kazan “had hired to coach his actors in simulating Southern accents”. Perhaps her southern background led to Faulkner’s interest in her, though Lamkin ultimately makes only minimal appearance in the biographical record. No evidence suggests that they engaged in an affair, but Shelby Foote claimed that Lamkin was responsible for introducing Faulkner to Jean Stein, whose friendship would prove significant in Faulkner’s life thanks in large part to Stein’s interview of him for the Paris Review in 1956. Stein journeyed to Mississippi in late 1955 along with Lamkin, who was working with Kazan on his film Baby Doll. Faulkner introduced both to Ben Wasson and another famous Greenville native, Hodding Carter. Stein would recall how highly she regarded Carter. Conversely, she explained of Wasson that he “seemed very effeminate, homosexual, old when she saw him.” Faulkner did not share her disregard for his old friend; nor, for that matter, would Lamkin have shared Stein’s opinions either. According to Foote, Lamkin had a reputation for being part of a gay social milieu: “Her brother, Speed Lamkin, the writer, was apparently King of the perverts. Apparently she was the Queen.” Foote’s wife “admired Lamkin extravagantly.” Foote himself “seemed to think she was disgusting.” Foote’s disgust clearly emanated from his opinion of her sexual taste, an opinion he extended to Lamkin’s brother.

Speed Lamkin relocated to New York and secured a Broadway debut for his play Comes a Day. Yet again he was compared to a gay literary luminary. Comes a Day was a 1958 play starring Judith Anderson, Brandon deWilde, Michael J. Pollard, Eileen Ryan, and George C. Scott. Produced by Cheryl Crawford and Alan J. Pakula, the play was not a success, being described by The New York Times as "a puzzling drama" that was "uneven and baffling" and which bore "a surface resemblance to art in the Tennessee Williams manner."[9] The Harvard Crimson, in its review, called the play's dialogue "spotted with clichés" and observed that the plot echoed other dramatic works of the day.[10]

He never published again and moved back to his family’s Monroe home in the 1960s. There, he built a sizable collection of Continental European decorative arts, specializing in the Louis XV and XVI eras, and eventually donated a good portion to the New Orleans Museum of Art.

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