Truman Capote , 1974

Susan Gerhard November 1, 2006

By Susan Gerhard and Miriam Wolf

Will the real Truman Capote please stand up? So many Truman Capotes are out there now — Gerald Clarke’s, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s, Toby Jones’s, Johnny Carson’s, George Plimpton’s — it’s difficult to sort the fact from the fiction. But a visit to the 50th anniversary portion of San Francisco Film Society’s web site nets not just the real Truman Capote, but a real Truman Capote candidly essaying on life and the movies in a 1974 visit to the SF International Film Festival.

The infamous Capote — or was he just famous, at that point? — was on hand to receive the Festival’s first screenwriter tribute, with clips from “Beat the Devil,” “The Innocents,” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” and “In Cold Blood.” The festival showed 1969 film “Trilogy” in its entirety. Miguel Pendas, San Francisco Film Society Creative Director and mastermind behind the fascinating, reframed archives now viewable on SFFS’s web site, shared that in a recent oral history interview for SFFS, Marty Rubin, the producer of the Festival tributes at the time, explained, “There wasn’t a huge amount of material to work with. He really didn’t work on that many screenplays, so it was kind of a light tribute. He was not at all like the legendary Truman Capote. He wasn’t a prima donna at all. He was very cooperative, very low key, very intelligent and had very good suggestions to offer about his clips. “

“Maybe he was in a mellow mood or something, but he’s nothing like this character that you now read about or see represented in movies. This sacred monster kind of character. He wasn’t like that at all. The way that Philip Seymour Hoffman talks, Capote didn’t talk like that. He was a little peculiar, but it wasn’t nearly to that extent. And he was an extremely good storyteller. I remember on the stage, he was very good. He told the classic story of how he broke Humphrey Bogart’s arm.”

What follows are a few more Capote highlights from the SFFS collection (audio courtesy Pacifica Radio Archives).

Don’t Bogart my back

“Bogart was a very good friend of mine. He was one of those people who loved to come around and give you big hugs and punches and things like that all in the name of joviality. But he sort of came up and gave me this big clap on the back, and I told him to stop that. ‘Don’t do that again.’ And he said, ‘What’s the matter with you, anyway?” And he did it again. And I said, ‘Okay,’ and I just took my foot and put it behind his leg and gave him a good push, and he fell down and broke his arm. (Laughter). Which caused the film to go about $200,000 extra over budget because he couldn’t work for several weeks.”

On actors

“I don’t find actors or actresses that stimulating as people. I think they’re very great artists. Of the people today, we’ve seen some marvelous performances, you know. Geraldine Page, Maureen Stapleton: you know you can’t be any better than that. But my own feeling on the whole is that I just like to work with them inside their art, because I don’t find them stimulating as people.”

Early reader

“I was one of those rather isolated children who lived in a rural remote part of the country, but I had access to rather a lot of books and things, and I became intensely interested in writing and art in general — or creativity in general — at a very young age; 7 or 8 or something like that. And uh, [I] really pursued it like some people do baseball or something like that. I really worked at it all the time and read tremendously and began to publish when I was 16 years old. I mean publish in good magazines.”

Re-casting ‘Breakfast’

“I like all of my films, really, although had it been left to me, I would have cast ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ differently. What do I mean? Well I’ll tell you exactly. I think Audrey Hepburn is strong and she is delightful in the film and very very good. I’ve always liked Audrey Hepburn. That’s not the point. The point was that when Paramount was going to do the film I had a totally different concept of the character and I wanted it all to be completely unknown people and I wanted it scaled down. I think it was too blown up.