Revisiting Truman Capote: “I’m an alcoholic. I’m a drug addict. I’m homosexual. I’m a genius.”

Brandon Judell
5 min readSep 8, 2021
Truman does the light fantastic with Marilyn Monroe.

When James Agee noted in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, “You never live an inch without involvement and hurting people and fucking yourself everlastingly,” he could have been describing the highly self-destructive Truman Capote to a T.

Best remembered today for the romanticized film adaptation of his novel Breakfast at Tiffany’s — the Audrey Hepburn starrer — and for his acclaimed mega-seller “non-fiction novel,” In Cold Blood (1966), Capote is what might have happened if Fran Lebowitz had been born an effeminate gay boy with literary ambitions.

If you arrived too late on the planet to have been enamored by Capote’s antics — he did die in 1984 after all — fear not. The joy he wrought and the outrage he often elicited is captured in Ebs Burnough’s deliciously wry new documentary, The Capote Tapes.

The inspiration for this project was the discovery of hundreds of hours of taped interviews that the late journalist George Plimpton conducted for a projected bio of Capote that was never to be. With these reel-to-reel chats with the likes of Lauren Bacall plus new remembrances (e.g. Dick Cavett), a plethora of photos, snippets of TV interviews, and random found footage, Burnough chronicles Capote from his early abandonment by his mother to his mail-clerkdom for The New Yorker. Then it’s on to his immediate fame on being published. That takes about fifteen or so minutes. What follows is Capote’s embrace by the “Beautiful People; his mingling with Marilyn Monroe, Mick Jagger, and the like; his trysts, some with married men; the film adaptations; plus his continued battle with homophobia.

Truman and beau: a scene from “The Capote Tapes”

Poor Truman! The gent, who was once America’s most famous living author, never had the option of hiding in the closet. His whole being screamed “Queer!” at a time when gaining gay rights…

Brandon Judell

For half a century, Brandon Judell has covered the LGBTQI scene and the arts. He currently lectures at The City College of New York.