Truman Capote figures in one of my top films of all time, Woody Allen‘s Annie Hall (1977). In a scene where Allen and Diane Keaton‘s characters are observing people passing by in the park. Allen’s character Alvy Singer comments: “Oh, there’s the winner of the Truman Capote Look-Alike Contest”. The passerby is the real Truman Capote.
He was born Truman Streckfus Persons in New Orleans and he left this world in Bel Air, California, in 1984. He was only 59 years old when he was taken by liver cancer and complications from “multiple drug intoxication”. Capote died at the home of his best friend Joanne Carson. She was the ex-wife of Johnny Carson, on whose program, The Tonight Show, Capote had been a frequent guest. After he was cremated, his ashes spent two decades in the care of Joanne Carson, a proudly strange woman. She told interviewers that Capote’s remains “were my sanity for years”, only reluctantly placing them in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery after someone lifted them at a Halloween party where Carson said that Alan Thicke was dressed as a scarecrow, Jim Backus had come as Mr. Magoo, and Phyllis Diller was there as an albino. Then the ashes were returned a week later by someone tossing them from a passing car into Carson’s coiled-up garden hose.
Carson left this world in spring 2016. Capote’s remains were auctioned in Los Angeles in September 2016. They went for $61,000 and came in an antique Japanese hand-carved wooden box, so it was totally worth the price. I am certain that they now make a smart accessory at the home of some lucky fan.
You need to be familiar with Capote’s life and friends. Begin with Capote: A Biography (1988) by Gerald Clarke, or maybe Bennett Miller‘s film, Capote (2005), which covers the period when he was working on In Cold Blood. The film was nominated for five Academy Awards. Philip Seymore Hoffman‘s performance (God rest his soul) as Capote earned him many awards, including: a BAFTA, a Golden Globe, a Screen Actors Guild Award, an Independent Spirit Award and the Academy Award .
I so admired Capote that I waited a couple of years before watching another film that covers much of the same story, but somehow seemed less dynamic. But I was mistaken (which rarely happens). Infamous (2006), has Toby Jones, even better than Hoffman and extremely convincing as Capote, plus Sandra Bullock as his childhood pal, Harper Lee. This movie is an adaptation of Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances And Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career (1997) by George Plimpton. I liked this film even more than Capote. You could think that two Capote biopics at the same time was unnecessary, but Infamous is funny and fizzy, and Capote is smart, grave and important. The two films make nice bookends (block that metaphor).
So, we have those two excellent films about Truman Capote, but I think a good film about that infamous Black And White Ball might make for a rather extraordinary project. Social snubs and rough rivalries swirled through the ballroom at the Plaza Hotel on that November night in 1966. Tallulah Bankhead insulted Norman Mailer, Lauren Bacall declined all eager dance partners, and the host himself tried to physically block the exit when Frank Sinatra and his wife Mia Farrow departed at midnight.
Famed photographer Harry Benson:
“To this day, that was the biggest party I ever shot. Capote’s ball was unique. Everyone wanted to be there. People who weren’t invited went out of town. I was at the top of the stairs at 9 o’clock and caught Sinatra as he was walking in. He couldn’t get past me. He felt really stupid in that mask. Someone had just yelled to him, ‘Hey, there’s Frankie Batman’. You can see the anger in his eyes behind the mask. He was this tough guy, thinking, ‘What the hell am I doing here?’’Mia Farrow had that precious, elfin look, but she was as tough as nails too. You had to wear a mask, but they all came off in the first hour. Everyone was afraid of Capote, even Norman Mailer. Capote had a name for everyone. He called Jackie Kennedy and Lee Radziwill ‘the geishas’.”