Thirty-eight years after his death author Truman Capote (1924 – 1984) continues to fascinate. The documentary The Capote Tapes by Eb Burnough looks back on the life and work of this extraordinary American writer. His collection of short stories Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948) and his novella Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1958) attracted much attention. The documentary opens with a scene from the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) in which Audrey Hepburn captured the hearts of audiences all over the world. Capote was not at all pleased with this kitsch interpretation of his book, though.
Capote owes his greatest fame to his non-fiction novel In Cold Blood (1966). Kansas, where the book is set, was an unknown area for the New York dandy. His fascination for both its simple rural life and the bleak existence of two criminals is notable on every page. Despite his intimate friendship with Perry Smith, Capote wanted the killers to be hanged in order to give his novel a powerful ending.
During the last ten years of his life, Capote spoke to friend and foe alike about the Great American Novel he was writing, which he had given the working title Answered Prayers. Just as Marcel Proust (1871 – 1922) had roamed the upper echelons of Paris, Capote was part of Manhattan’s high society. Famous women like Lee Radziwill and Barbara ‘Babe’ Pailey adored him, partly because, as a homosexual, he was harmless to them.
The question of how extensive his manuscript had ultimately become remains unanswered in this documentary. Just as he had done with the executed Perry, Capote wrote ruthlessly about the people who had confided in him at cocktail parties. A pre-publication caused marriages to break down, led at least one person to commit suicide and further alienated Capote from those around him.
Kate Harrington, adopted by him, has a moving role in the documentary as carer for the decaying star author. Capote had long believed that he was the master entertainer at every party, but was now considered a tragic clown. He remained a popular television talk show guest, even when he was no longer funny.
According to Kate Harrington, Capote had worked on Answered Prayers at least three hours a day. With his sharpened pencils he filled many notebooks. He kept the key to the safe deposit box where he stored the manuscript. No one knows, however, to which safe it belongs.