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Archive for Sunday, April 16, 2006

Capote’s letters, photographs to go on display

April 16, 2006

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— 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 Capote and Lee, his childhood friend and neighbor. It was assembled by 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.

Carter said there has been a "lot of static" in his family about turning over the family memorabilia, but he said 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," Carter, 79, a retired crop-duster pilot, said in an interview at the museum.

The carefully restored Old Courthouse in southwest Alabama already draws about 30,000 visitors a year, mainly to an exhibit about 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.

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

A prolific correspondent, 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 Philip Seymour Hoffman, who played the writer.

In this photo provided by the Monroe County Heritage Museum shows Truman Capote, left, and his aunt Mary Ida Faulk Carter that was shot during a visit by Capote to his childhood home in Monroeville, Ala., in April 1963 while he was working on "In Cold Blood." An exhibit on Capote's childhood in Monroeville open April 27, 2006, at the Monroe County Heritage Museum and includes 12 letters Capote wrote home to his Aunt Mary Ida over three decades.

In this photo provided by the Monroe County Heritage Museum shows Truman Capote, left, and his aunt Mary Ida Faulk Carter that was shot during a visit by Capote to his childhood home in Monroeville, Ala., in April 1963 while he was working on "In Cold Blood." An exhibit on Capote's childhood in Monroeville open April 27, 2006, at the Monroe County Heritage Museum and includes 12 letters Capote wrote home to his Aunt Mary Ida over three decades.

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

In one, dated July 9, 1959, Capote tells his aunt that 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."

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 him 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, Capote told his aunt: "Oh I do wish I could have some butter beans. Now! This very minute."

Many of Capote's letters were published in "Too Brief a Treat," a collection edited by Gerald Clarke.

Clarke, who wrote a 1988 Capote biography, notes that Capote's letters can be found in libraries and personal collections throughout the United States and Britain. The largest collection is housed in the New York Public Library.

Clarke, who said he talked at great length with Carter's parents for his biography, has not seen the Carter collection but doubts it contains anything that would surprise him.

"I don't think there are many Capote letters that I have not seen for my biography and for 'Too Brief a Treat.' But there are undoubtedly some that I have not seen and that I hope will come to light someday," Clarke said.

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

As Carter, who took the photo, recalled in an interview: "He was just bubbling over. He was telling all of us he had created a new style of writing. I don't know whether he did or not, but it was an impressive book."

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