Friday, October 07, 2005


Capote's Screen Legacy

With Capote, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, now in theaters (having beaten the similarly plotted Have You Heard? to the screen) and receiving rave reviews, it got me thinking about the legacy Truman Capote has left on film. Capote, many may know, led an extravagant, celebrated, and outrageous lifestyle. Breakfast at Tiffany's, his popular 1958 novel of New York socialite Holly Golightly, became a film in 1961, starring Audrey Hepburn and directed by Blake Edwards. It was nominated for five Oscars (including one for Hepburn's performance) and won two for composer Henry Mancini (including one for the song "Moon River"). That same year, along with William Archibald, Capote adapted the famed ghost story by Henry James, "Turn of the Screw" into the film The Innocents, also to much acclaim. In 1965, with his landmark book of a murdered Kansas family and its killers, In Cold Blood, he pioneered a new literary genre, the Nonfiction Novel. The following year, that story went on to become a brilliant film directed by Richard Brooks. It earned four Oscar nominations, including Best Director and Best Screenplay. Capote was at the peak of his celebrity in 1966 when he hosted what would become known as the highlight of social events for years to come -- the famous Black and White Ball. But his natural talent for weaving truth with fiction and his unflinching descriptions of his friends soon led to his rapid descent in popularity in the social circles. In the 1970s, reportedly an alcoholic and drug addict, he had become somewhat of a caricature of himself, showing up regularly at the famed disco (and drug Mecca) Studio 54 and, numerous times -- as a curiosity -- on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Except for his acting debut in the campy send up of fictional detectives Murder by Death in 1976, Capote and his work was largely absent from the screen in the 70s and 80s. It was not until almost a decade after his death of a drug overdose on August 25, 1984, that his work began to be rediscovered. In 1992, actor Robert Morse (best known for the film How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying), reprised his stage performance as Capote in the one-man play Tru (written by Jay Presson Allen) for an American Playhouse production, and won the Emmy for Outstanding Actor. Other films based on Capote's work soon followed including: One Christmas (1994) also notable as Katherine Hepburn's last film; The Grass Harp (1995), based on Capote's 1951 novel; Other Voices, Other Rooms (1995), based on his first novel; a remake of In Cold Blood (1996); and A Christmas Memory (1997), based on a story he wrote in 1966. The film rights to the Capote novella, "Hand Carved Coffins" were held by producer Dino De Laurentiis and the project was offered (in the 80s) to directors Michael Cimino and David Lynch but to date, it has not been made into a film. The character of Truman Capote will show up on screen again next year in the films Have You Heard? (which, like the film Capote, also follows the writer's investigation of the murders that would lead to his penning the book "In Cold Blood") and The Hoax, directed by Lasse Hallstrom.

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