Truman Capote was born today, September 30, in 1924. He was a novelist, 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 of 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. The "new book," In Cold Blood: A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences (1965), was inspired by a 300-word article that ran on page 39 of The New York Times on November 16, 1959. The story described the unexplained murder of the Clutter family in rural Holcomb, Kansas.
Fascinated by this brief news item, Capote traveled with Harper Lee to Holcomb and visited the scene of the massacre. Over the course of the next few years, he became acquainted with everyone involved in the investigation and most of the residents of the small town and the area. Rather than taking notes during interviews, Capote committed conversations to memory and immediately wrote quotes as soon as an interview ended. He claimed his memory retention for verbatim conversations had been tested at "over 90%". Lee made inroads into the community by befriending the wives of those Capote wanted to interview.
In Cold Blood was published in 1966 by Random House after having been serialized in The New Yorker. The "nonfiction novel", as Capote labeled it, brought him literary acclaim and became an international bestseller, but Capote would never complete another novel after it.
Capote was openly homosexual. 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 died in Bel Air, on August 25, 1984, at 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."