1. He was born Truman Streckfus Persons. His parents separated when he was just two years old and he was shuttled among relatives until his mother remarried. He was adopted by his stepfather and became Truman Garcia Capote.
2. He spent his early summers in Monroeville, AL, where he lived next door to Harper Lee. He was the model for Dill in To Kill a Mockingbird and the two authors remained friends throughout his life ... even though he was jealous that she won a Pulitzer, a prize that eluded him. He was quoted as saying that when it comes to Mockingbird, he didn't "know what the fuss is about."
3. Truman was a naturally talented writer who achieved greatness with only a 12th grade education. He was very proud of this.
4. His third novel, Breakfast at Tiffany's (1958) elevated his profile and inspired Norman Mailer to call Truman "the most perfect writer of my generation." In the movie version, Audrey Hepburn played Holly Golightly and it became her signature role.
5. Highly versatile and productive between 1944 and 1965, he published novels, short stories, and essays. He completed a screenplay (Humphrey Bogart's 1953 film Beat the Devil) and collaborated on a Broadway musical, House of Flowers. Both Diahann Carroll and Barbra Streisand made popular recordings of "A Sleepin' Bee" from that show.
6. His 1966 book, In Cold Blood, was not only brilliant, it was highly successful. It was #1 on the New York Times best-seller list for three months, and today it's still the second most popular true crime novel of all time. (Helter Skelter about the Sharon Tate murders is #1.)
7. It is a heartbreakingly beautiful book that concentrates on more than the details of a violent crime. It's the story of two Americas and what happened in 1959 when they collided. The Clutter family was well-respected and well-educated, murdered in their own home by a pair of loser repeat criminals, who were in turn put to death by the state.
8. Truman literally spent years visiting Kansas, learning about the Clutters and the impact of their deaths on the community of Holcomb, as well as getting the life stories of the two murderers. The result of his research was undoubtedly compelling, but his techniques remain controversial to this day. He flattered, wooed and perhaps even bribed prison officials to gain access to the accused. He then manipulated the murderers, leading them to believe that not only would his book be a sympathetic portrayal, he was looking for a high-powered New York attorney who could handle their appeal and keep them from facing the gallows. Neither was true. Do the ends justify the means? Does the creation of a timeless book mitigate the exploitation of the vulnerable?
9. In Cold Blood made Truman a celebrity. He threw what has been called the 20th century's most famous party, The Black and White Ball. He became a staple in gossip columns and often appeared with talk show hosts Dick Cavett and Johnny Carson. His long-time lover, Jack Dunphy, worried that life among The Beautiful People distracted Truman from his work. He was certainly less prolific as his fame increased. He was able to live for the rest of his life from the profits of In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany's, his share of the movie rights, and fees from speaking engagements ... and never finished another book.
10. Truman had many celebrity feuds during this period. He ended up in court when Gore Vidal sued him. His tempestuous relationships with his high society friends has inspired the next season of the Ryan Murphy's Feud series.
11. He used the secrets these famous women confided over decades of friendship to lead him out of writer's block. In magazine excerpts of his unfinished novel, Answered Prayers, it was obvious that names were changed but facts were not. He had gleefully told these famous women that he had the power to "break up any couple in New York." With Answered Prayers, it appeared he was trying to do so maliciously and for profit. These friends, who had no idea Truman was using them as fodder, retaliated by cutting him. Being banished from his social circle was more crushing to Truman than he'd anticipated. Being one of The Beautiful People had become his identity.
12. As his isolation increased, his drug use escalated and professional opportunities dwindled. Always a heavy smoker and drinker, he began regularly abusing cocaine and marijuana. He began spending less time with his long-time partner, Jack Dunphy. His speaking engagements dried up after he appeared on a New York talk show clearly intoxicated (he admitted to the interviewer, "If I don't quit drinking, I'll kill myself").
13. He died in the guestroom of his friend, Joanne Carson (ex-wife of Johnny). The coroner declared the cause of death liver disease "complicated by multiple drug intoxication." He was a month shy of his 60th birthday.
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