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Odds and Ends from the Capote Auction
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Odds and Ends from the Capote Auction


Odds and Ends from the Capote Auction
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As much as writer Truman Capote famously enjoyed himself until his death more than two decades ago, he would have relished the attention he's received in the last year: two feature films, a book about his legendary black and white ball, republication of his brilliant, In Cold Blood; and now, the auction of his personal effects in New York.

Here's reporter Jon Kalish.

JON KALISH: The auctioned items, everything from clothes and books to furniture and never-before-seen Polaroids of Truman Capote voguing in a swimming pool, belonged to Capote's good friend, Joanne Carson. Capote was a frequent guest in the Los Angeles home of Johnny Carson's ex-wife, who kept Capote's possessions for 22 years before deciding to capitalize on the momentum of the two movies. Carson, now 75, plans to donate a portion of the more than quarter million dollars taken in at the auction, to a Los Angeles nursing home for sick pets.

(Soundbite of chattering)

KALISH: At a reception earlier this week in the showroom of Bonhams's auction house, Carson stopped to admire Lot Number 1164, a collection of porcelain dinnerware.

Ms. JOANNE CARSON (Owner of Capote Memorabilia): Look at this service that he bought in France, every well-known celebrity has eaten off of these dishes: Princess Lee Radziwill, Jackie Kennedy, Richard Avedon, Gore Vidal. There's 188 pieces in there.

KALISH: The item with the most buzz at the auction was an unfinished essay Capote wrote the day before he died. Written in longhand in a spiral notebook, it recalls a chance encounter and subsequent dinner date with Willa Cather, a writer Capote adored. Vanity Fair paid $10,000 for the publishing rights and ran the essay in its November issue. At auction, the manuscript didn't meet its reserve price and went unsold.

Also offered, but not sold, was the tuxedo Capote wore to his black and white ball in 1966. A half-dozen collage boxes Capote made from snakebite kits were auctioned. One of these went for $9,000. A three-inch silk gingerbread man decoration, made in the late 1920s by Capote's beloved cousin, Sook Faulk, sold for $965.

Attorney Alan Naftalis(ph) was touched by the little trinket.

Mr. ALAN NAFTALIS (Owner of Capote Memorabilia): To me, that one little object, tells you probably more about him, than probably anything else in this room. The things you carry with you from your childhood, through your entire life, are few; and most adults don't do that. If you liked and respected him as a writer, it's a perfect thing to have.

KALISH: Truman Capote was a widely respected author whose works included the novella Breakfast at Tiffany's and the story A Christmas Memory. But he also lived a high-profile life and was a notorious social climber. Deborah Davis, who wrote a book about Capote's black and white ball, points out he lived in an era when celebrities earned their notoriety.

Ms. DEBORAH DAVIS (Author): In 1966, if you were famous, you were famous for accomplishment. You did something. Now, you're famous for being famous. And it's a completely different thing. And Truman really represents so much more than our notion of fame today. And he really fits in beautifully, though, because he's flamboyant but he was also a man of substance and a substantial talent. We really respond to that. We almost long for it in our cultural heroes, right now.

KALISH: For those who missed out on yesterday's Capote auction, there may be more Capote treasures in the wings. According to a published report, among the papers recently discovered in a house in New Mexico, that Capote rented back in 1976, were notes about a sensational murder trial in Texas Capote had planned to cover, and two handwritten manuscripts.

For NPR News, I'm Jon Kalish in New York.


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