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Op-Ed: The softer, holiday-friendly side of Truman Capote (Includes interview and first-hand account)

Certainly, one of his most memorable works brought to the screen thanks in part to Hepburn’s iconic performance and Givenchy’s classic clothes that helped her bring Holly to the big screen. Yet as the holiday’s approach, few people know that Capote wrote three short stories for the holidays that were also brought to life, only on the small screen. They are the made-for-TV movies, “A Christmas Memory,” “The Thanksgiving Visitor,” and “One Christmas.”

The two, “A Christmas Memory and “The Thanksgiving Visitor” were originally produced in the 1960’s, the hour-long movies are simple and short in plot yet speak loudly, and at times profoundly at the importance of acceptance and love as strength against isolation and ignorance, among other negative things that allegedly Capote experienced as a child.

The two stories coincide with one another. They center upon Buddy and his Aunt Sook, a cousin-relative that has taken him under her wing as he is left in the care of relatives while his parents are separated and away. Both are based upon short stories that in their entirety don’t have much action, other than the goings on of preparing for the holiday season.

These two tender stories with their gentle but strong moral didactic nature stand in sharp contrast to many of Capote’s other stories, especially the two he is most well known for, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “In Cold Blood.”

While Hollywood softened or omitted much of loose morality in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” the portrayal of Holly by Audrey Hepburn makes the story delightful, especially at the end when she and the writer who lived in her building in NYC fall in love and presumably settle down. The original story did not say that at all. But since the movie was made in 1961, social mores of the time and Hollywood executives prevailed. “In Cold Blood,” Capote’s most riveting and for which he received critical acclaim, is about a true-life crime story which is conveyed in its title, senseless murder.

When this reporter approached author professor Tison Pugh about the contrast between Capote’s most famous works and the two holiday short stories, he noted that, “it’s pretty clear that Sook had a special place in Capote’s heart.” Prof. Pugh of the University of South Florida wrote a book in 2014 about Capote and his fascination with the movies; featuring behind-the-scenes details about movies big and small that are based on Capote’s works.

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“Toward the end of his life,” Pugh said, “Capote made a series of art boxes, one of which features the famous picture of him and Sook. I managed to purchase that box at the recent auction of Capote memorabilia–the auction that famously featured his ashes for sale.”

Back in 2012 I interviewed another professor who wrote a book about Capote entitled “Tiny Terror: Why Truman Capote almost wrote ‘Answered Prayers.” In that book William Todd Schultz puts together an outline of Capote’s personality based upon modern psycho-analysis. According to Schultz, Capote’s greatest fear was abandonment. “That had a monumental impact upon him,” said Schultz as he stressed that he was noting this from interviews and statements to the press that Capote made in public. “I am taking Capote at his word, even if at times what he said was embellished. I am looking at the facts.”

Likewise, Professor Pugh’s book seeks to separate fact from fiction, and that Capote craved the spotlight, which might be why he tended to embellish if not reinvent things as fodder for his stories. It is even noted in Wikipedia that Capote relatives spoke out concerning Capote’s depiction of his childhood in those short stories at the time when “A Thanksgiving Visitor” debuted on TV.
Wikipedia notes as the production was filmed in on location in The South, some of Capote’s relatives were present. It was said that Capote had invented a troubled childhood.

Regardless, Capote’s sensitivity is evident in his writings and while he did display contradictions to his real life persona and the characters he displayed, he was affected by the everyday trials and tribulations of life. Pugh points to some significant points in Capote’s life that tell of why he was the way he was.

“Capote’s mother’s suicide certainly affected his character profoundly, said Pugh. Also his long term partner Jack Dunphy,” Pugh noted Gerald Clarke’s “Capote: A Biography.”
“This remains the definitive source for Capote’s relationships with family and friends,” said Pugh.
In his book from 2014 “Truman Capote: A Literary Life at the Movies,” Pugh leaves nothing out when examining closely the life of a very talented but complicated man, who often charmed as well as alienated people at the same time.
“It certainly seems that Capote’s addiction to drugs and alcohol alienated him from friends and family alike. (One of the more chilling lots for auction included his many, many pill bottles…) It is difficult, though, to definitively identify whom he lost to drugs and whom he just . . . lost. The feud with Lee Radziwill, (younger sister of former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy) for example, might have transpired even if he were stone-cold sober.” Pugh notes in the book that Capote could be very harsh and unfair in his criticism of others, especially actors. Although, he did praise actress Geraldine Page in her performance as Aunt Sook for the two original TV productions back in 1966 and 1967 for which she won an Emmy Award both times.

As reported by The AP, Capote did not like Hepburn in the part of Holly Golightly. He wanted Marilyn Monroe and thought Hepburn was miscast. Ironically, according to MoviePhone, Hepburn and Capote were friends and she did not want to play the part until director Blake Edwards persuaded Hepburn to take it. Even if Capote was disappointed, in what finally appeared on the movie screen, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” which premiered 55 years ago this past October, made him best-remembered by movie fans.

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Still, even if he as relatives had said embellished his childhood in the two made-for-TV movies, the tenderness and and moral certainty of those holiday themes gives the audience a glimmer of what was once kept close to Capote’s heart. Both short stories, “A Christmas Memory” and “The Thanksgiving Visitor” are available to purchase as books at Amazon. And, the 1997 TV version of “A Christmas Memory” starring Pattie Duke as Aunt Sook is also available.

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