This week marks the 30th anniversary of Truman Capote’s death. He was just 59, but the decades of drinking and drugging made him look much older and pathetic when you’d see him on The Johnny Carson Show, silly and chatting away in that nasal, high-pitched voice.
That’s all I knew of him until I was old enough to discover his talent as a writer and aim to emulate it – or, at least, a lot of it. I wanted to become a journalist, and Capote was one of the generation of great American writers to merge a poet’s precision with a reporter’s eye – and a novelist’s sweep, most successfully, of course, with “In Cold Blood.”
That book showed reportage as art. And one of his later books, “Music for Chameleons,” further jazzed me with Capote’s first-person tenderness and uniquely vivid descriptions.
To celebrate the great words Capote left, here are nine segments and quotes that have stuck with me over the decades. And if you haven’t yet, do yourself a favor and read “In Cold Blood,” “Music for Chameleons” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (and no, the Audrey Hepburn movie doesn’t count).
1. “To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music that words make.”
2. “You know those days when you’ve got the mean reds…. the blues are because you’re getting fat or maybe it’s been raining too long. You’re sad, that’s all. But the mean reds are horrible. You’re afraid and you sweat like hell, but you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Except something bad is going to happen, only you don’t know what it is.”
~ Holly Golightly in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”
3. “The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call ‘out there.’ ”
~ The opening of “In Cold Blood”
4. “I thought that Mr. Clutter was a very nice gentleman. I thought so right up to the moment that I cut his throat.”
~ Perry Smith from “In Cold Blood”
5. “… he called after her as she disappeared down the path, a pretty girl in a hurry, her smooth hair swinging, shining – just such a young woman as Nancy might have been. Then, starting home, he walked toward the trees, and under them, leaving behind him the big sky, the whisper of wind voices in the wind-bent wheat.”
~ The closing lines of “In Cold Blood”
6. Marilyn: Remember, I said if anybody ever asked you what I was like, what Marilyn Monroe was really like—well, how would you answer them? (Her tone was teaseful, mocking, yet earnest, too: she wanted an honest reply.) I bet you’d tell them I was a slob. A banana split.
TC: Of course. But I’d also say…
(The light was leaving. She seemed to fade with it, blend with the sky and clouds, recede beyond them. I wanted to lift my voice louder than the seagulls’ cries and call her back: Marilyn! Marilyn, why did everything have to turn out the way it did? Why does life have to be so rotten?)
TC: I’d say…
Marilyn: I can’t hear you.
TC: I’d say you are a beautiful child.
~ from his memoir of Marilyn Monroe in “Music for Chameleons”
7. “She sounds like banana tastes.”
~ from a profile of a cleaning woman in “Music for Chameleons”
8. “More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones.”
~ from “Answered Prayers — The Unfinished Novel”
9.”That’s not writing; that’s typing.”
Capote about “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac
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