Breakfast at Tiffany's: Biography: Truman Capote
Truman Capote was born on September 30, 1924, in New Orleans. His parents divorced when he was very young, and in 1927 he was sent to live with four elderly relatives in rural Alabama. He was a lonely child and to combat the loneliness he became interested in writing. In 1933, at the age of ten, he joined his mother who had moved to New York. He attended schools in New York and Connecticut, spending summers in Alabama.
Capote’s ambitions always focused on writing. He was influenced by the work of Willa Cather, Gustave Flaubert, Marcel Proust, Charles Dickens and Mark Twain, and when he was only fifteen he began submitting short stories to literary journals. He decided not to go to college, believing that it would not help him in his desire to become a writer. His formal education ended when he was seventeen, and he was later said that even that was a waste.
In 1942, at the age of seventeen, he began working for the New Yorker in the art department, a rather humble position that he later described as little more than being an errand boy. Capote remained at the New Yorker for two years, during which time he had several short stories published in literary magazines. Soon after that his stories began to appear in high-profile magazines such as Mademoiselle and Harper’s Bazaar, and his literary career was launched. A sociable, openly gay man, Capote, also made a striking impression in the social life of New York’s elite.
Capote’s first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms, was published in 1948, followed by a short story collection, Tree of Night and Other Stories in 1949. Another novel, The Grass Harp, followed in 1951. He also did some writing for stage and film. The short novel Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1958), proved to be one of his most popular and enduring works, and was made into a movie starring Audrey Hepburn in 1961.
During the first half of the 1960s, Capote spent most of his creative time gathering research on a notorious murder case. This was the murder of the Herbert Clutter family in western Kansas in 1959 by two men, Perry Smith and Richard Hickock, who were later hanged for the killings. Capote interviewed the killers, and everyone else in the case, extensively. The result was In Cold Blood (1965), which was described as a non-fiction novel. The book was highly acclaimed by reviewers and the general public. It was made into a movie in 1967. Capote was now at the height of his fame. In 1966, he entertained hundreds of his friends at what became known as the social event of the decade, the Black and White Ball at the Grand Ballroom at the New York City Plaza Hotel.
During the 1970s, however, Capote’s career faltered. He worked on and off for many years on what would become a collection of stories, Answered Prayers, which was not published in its entirety until 1987, after Capote’s death. However, part of it appeared in Esquire in 1975, and Capote’s cruel, thinly veiled descriptions of his friends and the social world in which they moved alienated many who feared he would betray their secrets.
Capote also during this decade was afflicted by alcoholism and drug use. He did have one more literary success, the best-selling Music for Chameleons (1980), a collection of short fiction and nonfiction pieces.
Capote died of liver disease on August 24, 1984, in Los Angeles, at the age of fifty-nine.