Portraits and Observations

BOOK: Portraits and Observations
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2013 Modern Library Edition

Copyright © 2007 by Truman Capote Literary Trust

Biographical note copyright © 1993 Random House, Inc.

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Modern Library, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

and the T
Design are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

“Elizabeth Taylor” was originally published in
Ladies’ Home Journal
, December 1974 issue. “Extreme Magic” was originally published in
, April 1967 issue. “Remembering Tennessee” was originally published in
magazine, January 1984 issue. “Music for Chameleons,”
The Muses Are Heard
(originally titled “Porgy and Bess in Russia”), and “The Duke in His Domain” were originally published in
The New Yorker
. Other selections were originally printed in the following periodicals:
The Atlantic Monthly, Botteghe Oscure, Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Harper’s, Harper’s Bazaar, Holiday, Interview
Junior Bazaar, Ladies’ Home Journal, Mademoiselle, New York
Redbook, Saturday Evening Post, Travel and Camera
magazine, and
. “Remembering Willa Cather” was originally published in
Vanity Fair
, November 2006.

Most of these selections originally appeared in book form in the following collections:
Other Voices, Other Rooms
. Copyright 1948 by Truman Capote. Copyright renewed by Truman Capote in 1975.
A Tree of Night and Other Stories
. Copyright 1949 by Truman Capote. Copyright renewed 1976 by Truman Capote.
Local Color
. Copyright 1950 by Truman Capote. Copyright renewed 1977 by Truman Capote.
The Grass Harp
. Copyright 1951 by Truman Capote. Copyright renewed 1979 by Truman Capote.
The Muses Are Heard
. Copyright © 1956 by Truman Capote. Copyright renewed 1984 by Truman Capote.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
. Copyright © 1958 by Truman Capote. Copyright renewed 1986 by Alan U. Schwartz.
Selected Writings
. Copyright © 1963 by Random House, Inc.
The Dogs Bark: Public People and Private Places
. Copyright © 1973 by Truman Capote.
Music for Chameleons
. Copyright © 1980 by Truman Capote.
A Capote Reader
. Copyright 1987 by Alan U. Schwartz.

eISBN: 978-0-8129-9512-1


Jacket design: Eric White
Art direction: Greg Mollica
Jacket photograph: Harris & Ewing Collection



Truman Capote was born Truman Streckfus Persons on September 30, 1924, in New Orleans. His early years were affected by an unsettled family life. He was turned over to the care of his mother’s family in Monroeville, Alabama; his father was imprisoned for fraud; his parents divorced and then fought a bitter custody battle over Truman. Eventually he moved to New York City to live with his mother and her second husband, a Cuban businessman whose name he adopted. The young Capote got a job as a copyboy at
The New Yorker
in the early forties, but was fired for inadvertently offending Robert Frost. The publication of his early stories in
Harper’s Bazaar
established his literary reputation when he was in his twenties. His novel
Other Voices, Other Rooms
(1948), a Gothic coming-of-age story that Capote described as “an attempt to exorcise demons,” and his novella
The Grass Harp
(1951), a gentler fantasy rooted in his Alabama years, consolidated his precocious fame.

From the start of his career Capote associated himself with a wide range of writers and artists, high-society figures, and international celebrities, gaining frequent media attention for his exuberant social life. He collected his stories in
A Tree of Night
(1949) and published the novella
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
(1958), but devoted his energies increasingly to the stage—adapting
The Grass Harp
into a play and writing the musical
House of Flowers
(1954)—and to journalism, of which the earliest examples are “Local Color” (1950) and “The Muses Are Heard” (1956). He made a brief foray into the movies to write the screenplay for John Huston’s
Beat the Devil

Capote’s interest in the murder of a family in Kansas led to the prolonged investigation that provided the basis for
In Cold Blood
(1966), his most successful and acclaimed book. By “treating a real event with fictional techniques,” Capote intended to create a new synthesis: something both “immaculately factual” and a work of art. However its genre was defined, from the moment it began to appear in serialized form in
The New Yorker
the book exerted a fascination among a wider readership than Capote’s writing had ever attracted before. The abundantly publicized masked ball at the Plaza Hotel with which he celebrated the completion of
In Cold Blood
was an iconic event of the 1960s, and for a time Capote was a constant presence on television and in magazines, even trying his hand at movie acting in
Murder by Death

He worked for many years on
Answered Prayers
, an ultimately unfinished novel that was intended to be the distillation of everything he had observed in his life among the rich and famous; an excerpt from it published in
in 1975 appalled many of Capote’s wealthy friends for its revelation of intimate secrets, and he found himself excluded from the world he had once dominated. In his later years he published two collections of fiction and essays,
The Dogs
(1973) and
Music for Chameleons
(1980). He died on August 25, 1984, after years of problems with drugs and alcohol.

The Complete Stories of Truman Capote
Too Brief a Treat: The Letters of Truman Capote
were published in 2004. In 2005,
Summer Crossing
, his long-lost first novel, was published for the first time around the world.


In the courtyard there was an angel of black stone, and its angel head rose above giant elephant leaves; the stark glass angel eyes, bright as the bleached blue of sailor eyes, stared upward. One observed the angel from an intricate green balcony—mine, this balcony, for I lived beyond in three old white rooms, rooms with elaborate wedding-cake ceilings, wide sliding doors, tall French windows. On warm evenings, with these windows open, conversation was pleasant there, tuneful, for wind rustled the interior like fan-breeze made by ancient ladies. And on such warm evenings the town is quiet. Only voices: family talk weaving on an ivy-curtained porch; a barefoot woman humming as she rocks a sidewalk chair, lulling to sleep a baby she nurses quite publicly; the complaining foreign tongue of an irritated lady who, sitting on her balcony, plucks a fryer, the loosened feathers floating from her hands, slipping into air, sliding lazily downward.

BOOK: Portraits and Observations
4.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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