Truman Capote: Superstitions, Feuds & Murder

Today marks what would have been Truman Capote’s 90th birthday. Here are five facts about the author whose writing and flamboyant life made him an iconic figure of 20th century American culture.
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Truman Capote Photo

Truman Capote photographed in 1959. (Photo: New York World-Telegram and the Sun staff photographer: Higgins, Roger. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

From dysfunctional beginnings, Truman Capote rose to fame as one of America’s most iconic literary figures. He was equally renown for his love of fame, partying with celebrity friends, and his high-pitched voice. His first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms, with its risqué author photo on the book jacket, was published when Capote was just 23. His 1958 novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s was made into one of the most beloved films in history. And his non-fiction crime novel In Cold Blood about the murder of a Kansas farm family made him a literary superstar. Capote was also his own best publicist, and his frequent gossipy appearances on television talk shows fueled his celebrity. Here are five unexpected facts from his life story.

“I invented myself, and then I invented a world to fit me.”  Truman Capote

Unlucky Numbers

Capote wouldn’t telephone people whose numbers added up to an unlucky figure. He also would be similarly inclined about changing rooms when the hotel room number he was given added up to 13. Although Capote smoked and socialized, he would not allow three cigarettes to burn out in the same ashtray.

Literary Feuds

In his late teens, Capote upped his literary ambitions by working as a copyeditor at The New Yorker magazine. During a reading by poet Robert Frost, Capote walked out. Frost was so enraged by this, he called The New Yorker to complain and Capote was fired. As Capote’s fame rose, so did his propensity for literary feuds. With particular zeal, he traded jibes and jabs with Carson McCullers, Gore Vidal, and Jacqueline Susann. McCullers formed what she called the "Hate Capote Club," and Vidal sued him for libel, and won. 

Arm Wrestling With Bogey

Despite the fact that Capote was only 5’ 3”, Capote once defeated the manly Humphrey Bogart in an arm-wrestling match - and hustled him out of $50 while doing so. 

Manson Murders

During an interview with Manson murderer Bobby Beausoleil at San Quentin Prison in 1972, Capote revealed he knew four of the five people killed in the infamous crime. “I’d met Sharon Tate at the Cannes Film Festival. Jay Sebring cut my hair a couple of times. I’d had lunch once in San Francisco with Abigail Folger and her boyfriend, Frykowski. In other words, I’d known them independently of each other. And yet one night there they were, all gathered together in the same house waiting for your friends to arrive. Quite a coincidence.”

In Cold Blood

Capote’s greatest literary success was In Cold Blood, which he claimed represented a new literary form - the “non-fiction novel.” In the wake of the book’s success, he was widely reviled when a remark he made at a dinner party was made public: "[In Cold Blood] can’t be published until the [convicted killers Perry Smith and Dick Hickock] are executed, so I can hardly wait,” he said. In 2013, the bodies of the convicts were exhumed to see if there was a DNA link to a decades-old 1959 murder of a family in Florida. No conclusive match was made.

"'Enfant terrible?' Well, I'm scarcely an enfant! And on that happy note, thank you all for coming."  Truman Capote