- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 16, 2006


Some rare family photos and a collection of Truman Capote’s letters to his favorite aunt in Alabama — on topics ranging from Harper Lee to Tallulah Bankhead to his longing for down-home butter beans — are going on permanent display in the state’s literary capital, where the writer spent some of his boyhood.

The collection, while apparently containing no riveting new material on his life and times, is a coup for the town that was spun into memorable works by Mr. Capote and Miss Lee, his childhood friend and neighbor. It was assembled by Mr. Capote’s cousin Jennings Faulk Carter, who donated it to the Monroe County Heritage Museums for an exhibit that opens April 27 in Monroeville’s Old Courthouse on town square.

Mr. Carter says there has been a “lot of static” in his family about turning over the family memorabilia, but he says he’s making it public so people will learn more about his famous cousin.

“I’m the only one that tried to accumulate the stuff that related to Truman and put it in a scrapbook,” Mr. Carter, 79, a retired crop-duster pilot, said in an interview at the museum.

The carefully restored Old Courthouse in southwestern Alabama already draws about 30,000 visitors a year, mainly to an exhibit about Miss Lee, famous for her novel “To Kill a Mockingbird.” A stage production of the book is performed each April and May, with the 16 performances drawing sold-out crowds to the 250-seat courthouse auditorium.

Mr. Capote, who died in Los Angeles at age 59 in 1984, was a prolific correspondent who had close emotional ties to his aunt, Mr. Carter’s mother, Mary Ida Faulk Carter, a younger sister of Mr. Capote’s mother.

Mr. Capote wrote the best seller “In Cold Blood,” the Kansas murder story of the Clutter family that was featured in the movie “Capote,” which won an Academy Award for actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who played the writer.

The memorabilia preserved by Mr. Carter includes a dozen handwritten letters, which he says accumulated in dresser drawers, though some were lost over the years.

In one, dated July 9, 1959, Mr. Capote tells his aunt that Miss Lee — known to family and friends by her first name, Nelle — has a novel in the works: “Yes, it is true that Nelle Lee is publishing a book. … I liked it very much. She has real talent.”

In another letter to his aunt, Mr. Capote, who loved gossip, discussed a planned trip to Alabama with another Alabama native, Tallulah Bankhead, that he canceled to go to Hollywood to work on the movie version of his book “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” He wrote that Marilyn Monroe would play Holly Golightly in the film — a role that producers instead gave to Audrey Hepburn.

He wrote that Miss Bankhead — whose father was a member of Congress from Alabama — would be disappointed in not going to Alabama, but it probably was good that she didn’t stay in Monroeville because, he wrote, “Tallulah stays up all night every night and never gets up till five in the afternoon. She is a marvelous woman, and very amusing — but oh so exhausting.

“Two evenings with her would be enough to last you a lifetime.”

Mr. Capote also wrote about his stepfather’s bad behavior after his mother’s death in 1954, saying he shouldn’t be expected to financially support the older man if he “wants to stay out all night dancing in nightclubs with a stable of girlfriends.” He underlined “stable.”

In closing the July 9, 1959 letter, Mr. Capote told his aunt: “Oh I do wish I could have some butter beans. Now! This very minute.”

In a 1963 photo included in the collection, Mr. Capote has an arm around his aunt. During that visit, Mr. Capote was working on “In Cold Blood,” which was released in 1966 and billed by Mr. Capote as an innovative “nonfiction novel.”

As boys, Mr. Carter and Mr. Capote played together.

“I was sort of young and impressionable. He was sort of a hero because he always had a pocket full of money — always. You’d never go to the drugstore where he couldn’t treat you — if he would. He was also pretty stingy,” Mr. Carter recalls.

On visits home, Mr. Carter says, Mr. Capote loved to brag about where he had been and what he had done. “Half of it was lies, I’m sure,” Mr. Carter says, laughing at the memory. The collection includes 13 postcards dated from the 1950s through the late 1970s, mostly from European vacations.

Mr. Capote was born in New Orleans in 1924, but his parents often left him in Monroeville with his distant cousins, the Faulks — three sisters and a brother. The sisters are easily recognized as characters in some of Mr. Capote’s most popular works, including “A Grass Harp,” “A Christmas Memory” and “The Thanksgiving Visitor.”

Mr. Capote was dropped off in Monroeville in the summer of 1930 and remained there until two years later, when his mother took him to her new home in New York.

The collection includes family photos, including two rare photos of Mr. Capote’s mother, Lillie Mae Faulk Persons, holding baby Truman; and photos of Mr. Capote’s father, Arch Persons, who was never a large part of his life. The couple divorced. She changed her name to Nina and married Joe Capote, the writer’s stepfather, who adopted him and moved the family to New York.



Click to Read More

Click to Hide