Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Truman Capote

Truman Capote (1924-1984) was a notorious, back-stabbing liar who had a keen facility for making enemies. He tossed off outrageous, barbed comments like hand grenades, and his life –  a non-stop orgy of drinking, parties and gossip – was a sordid mess, almost from day one. While attending prep school he worked as a copyboy for New Yorker magazine, but was summarily fired after angering Robert Frost.

Capote was openly homosexual, with physical and vocal affectations that alienated many people. He was five-feet three-inches tall with a lisping, high pitched voice. Capote’s rehab treatments (for drugs, depression and heavy drinking) and various breakdowns frequently became public.

He hobnobbed with authors, critics, business tycoons, philanthropists, Hollywood and theatrical celebrities, royalty and members of high society, both in the U.S. and abroad. He was also an extraordinarily talented writer.

His novel Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948, on the New York Times best seller list for nine weeks) was a thinly veiled autobiography of his Alabama childhood. It introduced the character Joel, a young man who, through a meeting with a transvestite, discovers and learns to accept his own homosexuality; he wrote about what was going on sexually in own his life. The Harold Halma photograph on the dust jacket created a sensation, inspiring Andy Warhol to craft his first NYC one-man show as Fifteen Drawings Based on the Writings of Truman Capote (1952). The Halma photo (not shown here) was widely reproduced and often satirized.

The novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1958) introduced the character of Holly Golightly, becoming  one of Capote's best known creations, and the prose style prompted Norman Mailer to call Capote "the most perfect writer of my generation." Most critics agree that in the 1961 film version, Holly Golightly was Audrey Hepburn’s defining role (shown at right), although Capote was highly critical of the film’s many digressions from the original source. But it was a 1959 Kansas quadruple murder that inspired Capote’s 1966 non-fiction novel and movie that made him rich and famous: In Cold Blood. The highly praised biopic film Capote (2005), in which Capote was played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, spanned the years Capote spent researching and writing the wildly successful book.

While he had two serious relationships with men – Smith College professor Newton Arvin (1946-1949) and ballet dancer/novelist/playwright Jack Dunphy (1949 until Capote’s death) – they were not exclusive; Arvin lost his teaching job after his homosexuality was exposed, but Dunphy became the chief beneficiary of Capote’s will. Capote confessed to a sexual liaison with actor Errol Flynn and other high-profile bisexuals, but he famously claimed to know many high-profile people he had in fact never met, such as Greta Garbo. Capote and Gore Vidal were arch rivals. Vidal once observed, "Truman Capote has tried, with some success, to get into a world that I have tried, with some success, to get out of." Lee Radziwill, the sister of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, supplanted the older Babe Paley as Capote’s primary female companion in public appearances.

In 1966 Capote hosted a gala honoring Katherine Graham, Washington socialite and publisher of The Washington Post. Held in the grand ballroom of the Plaza Hotel, the Black and White Ball was a legendary social event. Capote dangled the prized invitations for months, snubbing early supporters as he determined who was “in” and who was “out”. In this photo Capote, host of the Black and White Ball at the Plaza Hotel, escorts the guest of honor, Katharine Graham (1966).

The much-delayed publication of Answered Prayers (1986, posthumously) brought about his fall from grace with high society. Various chapters published in Esquire magazine (1975-76) betrayed the confidences of high profile friends such as Tennessee Williams and William S. and Babe Paley. Although Capote subsequently underwent a facelift, lost weight and experimented with hair transplants, he became a recluse after the revocation of his driver's license and a hallucinatory seizure in 1980. He died of liver cancer in 1984 at the Los Angeles home of Joanna Carson, ex-wife of TV host Johnny Carson, on whose show Capote had been a frequent guest. After Capote’s death, rival Gore Vidal described Capote's demise as "a good career move".

Photo of Truman Capote by Henri Cartier-Bresson:

A Christmas Memory, narrated by Truman Capote. This 1966 Emmy-award winning television version of his 1956 short story (published in Mademoiselle magazine) reveals Capote’s distinctive, quirky voice, starting at the 0:47 timing mark. Have a listen.


  1. My twin brother (now deceased) was gay.... I lived the life through him...(for better AND worse).

    Studio 54 - Halloween - I made up my own costume (blue all over, tendrils of blue violet so on - A head dress over two feet high (out of balloons I used something one could obtain at a NYC all night pharma) I was an artist and paper mached the thing!..... basically nude save for blue paint!!! (well I was 20).... Some lovely man decided to dance with me... yes Truman Capote.

    Regardless of what ever (I am sure he was just "observing, studying me") - his writing is Brilliant!

  2. 'Other Voices, Other Rooms' is peerless in its exoticism which moves into elegance at the end. An atrocious Canadian film was made in the 90s based on it, and instead of 'going to the filligreed Randolph' (I've always wondered what they did--really quite perverse the possibilities), he tells Randolph he hates him and runs away from his dying father's house.

    'Breakfast at Tiffany's' is a fine story, and he was furious about the movie, casting-wise (wrong) and ending-wise (right, but the Hepburn-Peppard ending works too).

    He was mostly sentimental and drunk. Tried to be tough when doing 'In Cold Blood', which is overrated. You mentioned Porfirio Rubirosa in a much later post, that may have been the Aidan Shaw one, but Capote wrote about PR's Prick as 'an 11 1/2 inch cafe-au-lait sinker--in the first of the three chapters of 'Answered Prayers'. Or maybe it was 13 1/2, like Hercule's in 'The 120 Days of Sodom' by Sade. I can't remember.

    Lee Radziwill stayed beautiful a long time. She still was in about 1993 at a Valentino show, but began to fade by 2003 and 2004, when I saw her at two lectures at the Met Museum. When Vidal and Capote were feuding, she (who had actually gone to Alabama with him once and met his father) told Liz Smith, "oh Liz, they're both just a couple of fags". And he went on Stanley Siegel's show and was screamy about 'how much mileage' Lee had on her. Jackie had dropped him long before. He was definitely a better writer than Vidal, but was just so embarassing so often. Had a kind of 'white trash' quality about him, as overdoing the 'Miss Sook' stuff ad nauseum.