Jack Dunphy Biography

Playwright, Dancer, Author (1914–1992)
Jack Dunphy was a Broadway dancer and acclaimed novelist who was the partner of fellow writer Truman Capote.


Born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on August 22, 1914, Jack Dunphy went on to dance with the George Balanchine company and perform on Broadway in Oklahoma! with wife Joan McCracken. He later became a playwright and novelist with works like John Fury and First Wine, and entered into a romantic relationship with fellow writer Truman Capote. Dunphy also wrote a memoir about their time together. He died on April 26, 1992.

Early Life

Famed writer, playwright and performer Jack Dunphy was born John Paul Dunphy on August 22, 1914, in Atlantic City, New Jersey. An accomplished author himself, Dunphy is best remembered for his relationship with famed writer Truman Capote. He grew up in a poor Irish neighborhood in Philadelphia. The oldest of six children, Dunphy was often on the receiving end of his father’s nasty temper.

Dunphy quit high school to go to work. After a series of jobs, he trained to become a professional dancer. Dunphy met and eventually married his fellow dance student Joan McCracken. For a time, he toured with George Balanchine’s company in South America. Dunphy and his wife went on to become dancers in the original production of the musical Oklahoma, which debuted on Broadway in 1943.

After serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, Dunphy returned home in 1946 to discover that his wife had been unfaithful while he was away. The couple separated and later divorced. That same year, Dunphy’s first novel, John Fury, was published. It drew a lot of positive reviews for its depiction of an Irish American man raging against the decline of his life.

Relationship with Truman Capote

In 1948, Dunphy met the popular, young writer Truman Capote at a party. Capote had a crush on the older Dunphy, and the two soon started a relationship. An odd couple, Capote was known for his outgoing and sociable nature while Dunphy was more reserved and private—yet possessing a strong temper. Dunphy remained steadfastly antisocial during their relationship despite any efforts made by Capote.

A talented charmer, Capote had finally met someone who would not be swayed by his words. “I would have debased myself if I had done everything that Truman wanted me to do. And Truman would have hated me because I wouldn’t have been a person. . . . I never went on anyone’s yacht, even though I was invited. I think I would have become a drunk or a terrific pleaser if I had,” Dunphy said once, according to Gerald Clark’s Truman Capote: A Biography.

During their early years together, the couple spent a lot of time living abroad where they spent much of their time working on their writing. They sometimes encountered or were visited by Truman’s friends and acquaintances so that Dunphy begrudgingly got to know people such as playwright Tennessee Williams. One of their favorite spots was Verbier, Switzerland, where Capote eventually bought a place.

Novels and Plays

Published in 1952, Dunphy’s second novel, Friends and Vague Lovers, tells the story of a woman who flees her marriage after her son’s suicide and ends up in an Italian resort town. There she meets her late son’s boyfriend, and the two develop their own unusual relationship. While critics praised his talents as a writer, Dunphy remained largely hidden in Truman Capote’s shadow.

Four years later, Dunphy finished his first play, Light a Penny Candle, a comedy about an Irish American family in post WWI Philadelphia. Some reports indicate that it was produced off-Broadway while others state that it almost made it to Broadway, but the producers could not raise enough funds. Around this time, Dunphy also wrote Saturday Night Kid, which almost made it to the Broadway stage in 1957 with Shelley Winters as its star. Unfortunately, the play was taken off that season’s schedule after performances in Philadelphia failed to win over audiences. In 1959, Dunphy’s play, Too Close for Comfort, was included in an Italian theater festival along with Tennessee Williams’s The Night of the Iguana and William Inge’s The Tiny Closet.

Dunphy struggled professionally and relied on Capote for financial support, a situation that caused Dunphy some discomfort. In 1964, Capote bought two neighboring houses in Sagaponack, Long Island—one for him and one for Dunphy. Dunphy, wanting to have something of his own, asked Capote for the deed to his house. Capote responded with great generosity, giving Dunphy the titles for both houses.

Later Years

Capote also bought a place in Verbier, Switzerland, where he and Dunphy spent a lot of time together in the 1960s. After completing In Cold Blood (1966), Capote lost interest in the ski resort town, but Dunphy continued to spend many of his winters there.

In 1968, Dunphy had his third novel, Nightmovers, published. Again, his work earned praise from the critics, but it failed to find a commercial audience. He and Capote were drifting apart somewhat by this time. They had ended their physical relationship, but they stayed close companions. During the 1970s and 1980s, Dunphy found himself at odds with Capote over his escalating substance abuse problems and sometimes distanced himself from the situation.

While their final years together were strained, Capote and Dunphy remained friends until Capote’s death in 1984. Capote had once said that Dunphy was the only man that he had ever loved and he made Dunphy the heir to most of his estate.

A few years after Capote’s death, Dunphy wrote about their 35-year-long relationship in his memoir, Dear Genius: A Memoir of My Life with Truman Capote (1987). He also published his final work, The Murderous McLaughlins (1988), the following year.

Dunphy died of cancer in a New York City hospital on April 26, 1992.

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