Capote & Amis

Truman Capote died on this day in 1984, and Martin Amis was born on this day in 1949. The two meet, literally, in 1978, Amis arriving at Capote’s Manhattan hotel to conduct a scheduled interview and finding his subject incapacitated:

…Then, from the gloom at the end of the passage, emerged the helpless, tottering figure of Mr. Capote, who let out a soft wail of greeting and extended a tiny hand. For pity’s sake, I wanted to say—never mind the interview. Let’s call an ambulance. Or I can take him there in my briefcase, I thought, as I contemplated the childish, barefoot, night-shirted figure, sixty-three inches tall and barely a hundred pounds.

Amis’s Observer interview describes Capote as if near death, so ill or befuddled by his “cross-addictions” that he inscribed a copy of his latest book with this:

        for Martin
        I tried!
        and you were so patient
        Truman Capote
        198

“That ‘198’ wasn’t his apartment number,” writes Amis, “it was a shot at the date.” (And the “Martin” was very nearly “Tony,” Capote having to be reminded of Amis’s name.)

Many describe Capote’s eighteen years after In Cold Blood as a long slide downward. Apart from Music for Chameleons (the short story collection Amis had brought with him), he wrote little more than the beginning chapters to his high society novel, Answered Prayers—this described by Amis and others as more a hoax novel than an unfinished one, a waste of Capote’s last decade and of his considerable talent. One of the entries in George Plimpton’s Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances, and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career (1997) is this swipe from Gore Vidal:

Jason Epstein at Random House told me the news about Truman’s death over the phone…. I said, “Good career move.” I said nothing to the press. But Jason chattered. I was much quoted. I did send a message to Johnny Carson: “You know, John, I know how upset you must be by Joanne’s [Joanne Carson's] publicity coup in having Capote die in her house. Out of friendship to you, I promise I’ll die in yours.”

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.