Partner Jack Dunphy, buried together
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Truman Garcia Capote (born Truman Streckfus Persons, September 30, 1924 – August 25, 1984) was an American novelist, short story writer, screenwriter, playwright, and actor. Many of Capote's short stories, novels, plays, and nonfiction are recognized as literary classics, including the novella Breakfast at Tiffany's (1958) and the true crime novel In Cold Blood (1966), which he labeled a "nonfiction novel". At least 20 films and television dramas have been produced from Capote novels, stories, and plays.
Capote rose above a childhood troubled by divorce, a long absence from his mother, and multiple migrations. He had discovered his calling as a writer by the age of 8, and for the rest of his childhood he honed his writing ability. Capote began his professional career writing short stories. The critical success of one story, "Miriam" (1945), attracted the attention of Random House publisher Bennett Cerf, and resulted in a contract to write the novel Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948). Capote earned the most fame with In Cold Blood, a journalistic work about the murder of a Kansas farm family in their home. Capote spent four years writing the book aided by his lifelong friend Harper Lee, who wrote To Kill a Mockingbird (1960).
A milestone in popular culture, In Cold Blood was the peak of Capote's literary career. In the 1970s, he maintained his celebrity status by appearing on television talk shows.
One of his first serious lovers was Smith College literature professor Newton Arvin, who won the National Book Award for his Herman Melville biography in 1951 and to whom Capote dedicated Other Voices, Other Rooms. However, Capote spent the majority of his life until his death partnered to Jack Dunphy, a fellow writer. In his book, "Dear Genius ..." A Memoir of My Life with Truman Capote, Dunphy attempts both to explain the Capote he knew and loved within their relationship and the very success-driven and, eventually, drug- and alcohol-addicted person who existed outside of their relationship. It provides perhaps the most in-depth and intimate look at Capote's life, outside of his own works. Although Capote's and Dunphy's relationship lasted the majority of Capote's life, it seems that they both lived, at times, different lives. Their sometimes separate living quarters allowed autonomy within the relationship and, as Dunphy admitted, "spared [him] the anguish of watching Capote drink and take drugs."
Capote was well known for his distinctive, high-pitched voice and odd vocal mannerisms, his offbeat manner of dress, and his fabrications. He often claimed to know intimately people whom he had in fact never met, such as Greta Garbo. He professed to have had numerous liaisons with men thought to be heterosexual, including, he claimed, Errol Flynn. He traveled in an eclectic array of social circles, hobnobbing with authors, critics, business tycoons, philanthropists, Hollywood and theatrical celebrities, royalty, and members of high society, both in the U.S. and abroad. Part of his public persona was a longstanding rivalry with writer Gore Vidal. Their rivalry prompted Tennessee Williams to complain: "You would think they were running neck-and-neck for some fabulous gold prize." Apart from his favorite authors (Willa Cather, Isak Dinesen, and Marcel Proust), Capote had faint praise for other writers. However, one who did receive his favorable endorsement was journalist Lacey Fosburgh, author of Closing Time: The True Story of the Goodbar Murder (1977). He also claimed an admiration for Andy Warhol's The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B & Back Again.
Although Capote never fully embraced the gay rights movement, his own openness about homosexuality and his encouragement for openness in others makes him an important player in the realm of gay rights nonetheless. In his piece "Capote and the Trillings: Homophobia and Literary Culture at Midcentury," Jeff Solomon details an encounter between Capote and Lionel and Diana Trilling – two New York intellectuals and literary critics – in which Capote questioned the motives of Lionel, who had recently published a book on E.M. Forster but had ignored the author's homosexuality. Solomon argues:
When Capote confronts the Trillings on the train, he attacks their identity as literary and social critics committed to literature as a tool for social justice, capable of questioning both their own and their society's preconceptions, and sensitive to prejudice by virtue of their heritage and, in Diana's case, by her gender.
Capote died in Bel Air, Los Angeles, on August 25, 1984, age 59. According to the coroner's report, the cause of death was "liver disease complicated by phlebitis and multiple drug intoxication." He died at the home of his old friend Joanne Carson, ex-wife of late-night TV host Johnny Carson, on whose program Capote had been a frequent guest. Gore Vidal responded to news of Capote's death by calling it "a wise career move."
Capote was cremated and his remains were reportedly divided between Carson and Jack Dunphy (although Dunphy maintained that he received all the ashes). Carson said she kept the ashes in an urn in the room where he died. Those ashes were reported stolen during a Halloween party in 1988 along with $200,000 in jewels but were then returned six days later, having been found in a coiled-up garden hose on the back steps of Carson's Bel Air home. The ashes were reportedly stolen again when brought to a production of Tru but the thief was caught before leaving the theatre. Carson bought a crypt at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles. In 2013 the producers offered to fly Carson and the ashes to New York for a Broadway production of Breakfast at Tiffany's. Carson declined the offer. Dunphy died in 1992, and in 1994, both his and Capote's ashes were reportedly scattered at Crooked Pond, between Bridgehampton, New York, and Sag Harbor, New York on Long Island, close to Sagaponack, New York, where the two had maintained a property with individual houses for many years. Crooked Pond was chosen because money from the estate of Dunphy and Capote was donated to the Nature Conservancy, which in turn used it to buy 20 acres around Crooked Pond in an area called "Long Pond Greenbelt." A stone marker indicates the spot where their mingled ashes were thrown into the pond. In 2016, some of Capote's ashes previously owned by Joanne Carson were auctioned by Julien's Auctions.
860 and 870 UN Plaza
Capote also maintained the property in Palm Springs, a condominium in Switzerland that was mostly occupied by Dunphy seasonally, and a primary residence at 860 United Nations Plaza in New York City. Capote's will provided that after Dunphy's death, a literary trust would be established, sustained by revenues from Capote's works, to fund various literary prizes, fellowships and scholarships, including the Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism in Memory of Newton Arvin, commemorating not only Capote but also his friend Newton Arvin, the Smith College professor and critic who lost his job after his homosexuality was revealed. As such, the Truman Capote Literary Trust was established in 1994, two years after Dunphy's death.
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