Read Capote: A Biography by Gerald Clarke Free Online
Book Title: Capote: A Biography|
The author of the book: Gerald Clarke
ISBN 13: 9780671228118
Edition: Simon & Schuster
Date of issue: 1998
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 32.85 MB
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Reader ratings: 5.8
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Usually biographies begin with the more dutiful, laboured and frankly tiresome parts – the family background, the growing up, the education, the roots and the shoots, great author as 10 year old, etc. I always want to get past all that to the start of the action. Capote is a complete exception. The family circumstances, the growing up, the odd microscopically small place that TC grew up in, (which also produced another great novelist, how strange can you get, Harper Lee), the Southern gothic trappings, the lurid characters, the borderline crazy constantly-abandoning parents, and of course being gay but not just gay, being outrageously effeminately screaming-queen-style gay in Alabama in the 1930s and 40s, and never quite growing up, so that he looked eleven when he was 20, and being only 5 feet three, what a story. Gerald Clarke tells it beautifully. Far and away, that’s the best part of the book.
How TC became famous was that he mooched into the New Yorker and tried to get a job and did but got fired then mooched into Harper’s Bazaar, a ladies’ fashion magazine which happened also to publish a lot of top short fiction, and got a little menial job there, then pushed a couple of his short stories at them, which they read from kindness, and then fell of their chairs, and published them. In those days, the late 40s and 50s, short stories were big. We see this when Shirley Jackson wrote "The Lottery" (1948) – it was a major event across America – very hard to believe now, who the hell reads short stories now? So the same thing happened with a story called "Miriam" by TC (1945) – it’s brilliant and he was 20 years old. It was a smash hit.
After that he knocked out more short stories and got busy with his first novel and started on his second, and arguably more important career, which was charming and smarming everyone who was anyone in Manhattan. The major romance between Truman and rich people was underway. It was totally requited. Turns out that New York society was just waiting for a tiny Southern gay wunderkind to smother with their collective bosoms. TC was the boylita of the late 1940s. TC’s real genius was in socialising.
That part is the least fun you can have with this biography. The endless merrygoround of chichi restaurants, ermine-covered yachts, vomitous parties, lots of little dogs, wonderful times in exotic jettery settery places throughout the planet can make the sensitive reader turn several shades of green, which may be caused by envy or bilious reaction.
TC AND MAILER : A FUN COMPARISON
One or the other was the Most Famous Living American Author from the 50s to the 80s but look at the difference in terms of productivity (I know we don’t judge value by volume, but still):
Total pages of fiction by TC, counting Collected Stories, Other Voices, The Grass Harp, Breakfast at Tiffany’s In Cold Blood, Music for Chameleons and Answered Prayers :
Number of pages of one single novel by Mailer, Harlot’s Ghost : 1170.
If we throw in all of TC’s journalism, that’s another 500 pages. Mailer could churn out that much in a couple of months. Few giant literary reps have been erected on such slender volumes as Truman’s.
WHAT HAPPENED IN KANSAS
TC : We would drive out to some lonely ranch or farmhouse to interview the people and almost invariably they had a television set on. They seemed to keep it on twenty-four hours a day. They would sit there talking – and never look at us! They would go on looking straight at the TV screen, even if there was just a station break or an advertisement. If the television wasn’t on, if the light wasn’t flickering, they began to get the shakes. I guess television has become an extension of people’s nervous systems.
If ever anything demonstrated Truman’s greatness, the Kansas experience was it. How this effete, precious writer of lapidary prose and frothy concoctions saw a few columns about the slaughter of a family in the mid-west and thought – that’s my next book right there. And how when he went there he took with him Harper Lee. And how the people of Holcombe, Kansas perceived him as a freakish, dwarfish New Yorker who had come to leech off their misery, and how after weeks of meeting and talking and driving and not quitting Truman won all their hearts and in his words practically became the mayor of Holcombe.
And, of course, how he wrote the book itself, and got intimately involved with the murderers, and having spent three years writing the book, and knowing he was sitting on his greatest work, and the world gagging for it, throwing money at him for it, and not being able to publish until there was a conclusion, i.e. the execution of the two killers, and appeal after appeal, until he was creased up with the horror of wanting the appeals to fail so they could be hanged and he could publish his book…
TC : Will Hickock and Smith live to a ripe and happy old age? Or will they swing and make a lot of other folks very happy indeed? For the answer to these and other suspenseful questions tune in tomorrow to your favorite radio program Western Justice, sponsored by the Slow Motion Molasses Company, a Kansas product.
Clarke: His entire future awaited their walk to the Big Swing.
TC: As you may have heard, the Supreme Court denied the appeals (this for the third damn time) so maybe something will soon happen… I’ve been disappointed so many times I hardly dare hope
At the last moment their lawyer suggested to him that they might get a new trial and eventually be released:
TC: And I thought, yes, and I hope you’re the first one they bump off, you sonofabitch
The whole process took six years. They would write him hundreds of letters :
Forty two months without exercise, radio, movies, sunshine, or any physical means of occupation, is a steady strain on a man’s nervous system
In Cold Blood was a book which inspired three entirely separate films, the one with the same name plus Capote plus Infamous.
A STRANGE OMISSION
There's not one word about the persistent rumour that TC had a hand in the writing of To Kill a Mockingbird. You might think Mr Clarke would address this curious part of the TC legend, but no, not a word.
This is an understandable canard by the way – Harper Lee came out of nowhere and wrote America’s favourite novel and went back to nowhere and the only thing anyone knew about her was that she co-incidentally came from the same tiny tiny town and was a friend of TC who was a brilliant author. And she never wrote anything else. It turns out that TC had nothing to do with TKAM but of course Harper Lee had a whole basketful to do with the creation of In Cold Blood.
WHAT HAPPENED AFTER KANSAS
ICB was a huge success. TC got very rich and even more famous because six people died horribly. Well, I guess every journalist makes a living off other people dying. ICB is a great book and an original one too. No one had thought that crime deserved the attention of the literate world before. Crime was previously just for fun, like Miss Marples. ICB was not fun.
Also what happened after Kansas was a long slow and then quick slide into oblivion. He never published anything substantial again. 18 years of footling around. In 1967 he announced he was witing a dark comedy about high society called Answered Prayers (there are more tears shed about answered prayers than unanswered ones) and he received $25 grand advance from the publishers and $350 grand from 20th Century Fox for the picture rights without anyone seeing a line of it. And no one did see a line of it for many many years. In 1969 Random House gave him a $750,000 advance against his next three books, which he didn’t write.
His private life was a series of inappropriate dumpy boring middle aged boyfriends who none of his many glamorous friends could figure out or make conversation with. He became a full time drunk and pillhead. The last 100 pages of this book are a torture to read. Old man Capote smokes his peyote. One little whiff and he’s right back in Tiffany’s. Actually peyote was one drug he didn't try. So, there are stories about wanting to hire heavies to break his ex-boyfriend’s legs, or about threatening to sue an ex-boyfriend to get the capped teeth back TC had paid for (They’re my teeth and I want them! I want to string them on a necklace round my neck!). Stories about TC bragging so much about the physical qualities of his latest boyfriend that when the said guy conked out at a party another guest went into the room where he was sprawled and unzipped him and took a look – “It’s pretty good – TC wasn’t exaggerating!”. Endless hospitalisations, endless brouhahas. TC incoherent on a tv chat show. TC falling down in public. TC crashing cars. TC dead.
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Read information about the authorGerald Clarke is a journalist and biographer.
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