Pop Culture

Truman Capote's a sensation — again

Two decades after he died broken and friendless, Truman Capote has been uncannily resurrected through an Oscar-nominated movie and the publication of his long-lost first book.

With plans also in the works to recreate a legendary party he threw in the 1960s, once again Capote is the toast of the town.

“Truman just wants to be famous again. He dominated the media in 1966 and 40 years later he’s doing it again,” said Deborah Davis, whose new book, “The Party of the Century,” celebrates Capote’s greatest social achievement, the Black and White Ball he threw at The Plaza hotel in New York.

The film “Capote,” the story of how he came to write the groundbreaking nonfiction novel “In Cold Blood,” is up for best picture at the Oscars Sunday.

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s portrayal of the writer best-loved for “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” has introduced a new generation to the flamboyant man who was as famous for his glamorous social life as for his writing.

His first novel, “Summer Crossing,” was published in October. Written when he was 19 and only recently discovered, the book portrays an upper-class 17-year-old girl who marries a parking lot attendant. Another Capote movie, titled “Infamous,” with Sandra Bullock and Gwyneth Paltrow, is due later this year.

Davis describes her book on the Black and White Ball as a social history that focuses on a pivotal event in Capote’s life. The 1966 ball was ostensibly in honor of Washington Post president Katharine Graham, but it amounted to a grand party for “In Cold Blood.”

It was attended by 500 of the top names in society, the arts and politics. They included Frank Sinatra, Norman Mailer, Andy Warhol and socialite Lee Radziwell, sister of Jacqueline Kennedy, as well as the friends he had made in Kansas researching the book.

“The Black and White Ball was a work of performance art,” Davis said. “It was a work that was every bit as important to Truman Capote as everything that he wrote.”

‘Era envy’?After publishing “In Cold Blood,” about two drifters who murdered a family of four in Kansas, Capote never wrote another full-length work. In the 1970s and 1980s he drifted into drug use and alcoholism. He died in 1984 at age 59, abandoned by his many high-flying friends who felt betrayed after he revealed their secrets in his writing.

“Three years ago when the book went out to publishers many of them said ‘Is anybody interested in Truman Capote?”’ Davis said. She attributes his revival to “era envy” for the 1960s when “life was more glamorous and sex was sexier.”

The book documents Capote’s meticulous preparations for the party, for which guests were instructed to wear black and white and to come in masks.

Gossip columns were filled with details of who would wear what. Crowds gathered outside the hotel to catch a glimpse of the chosen few, and CBS set up a television feed at the scene.

Auction house Christie’s plans to recreate the evening at a Black and White Ball on March 14 linked to a sale of furniture and artifacts from The Plaza, which closed last year and is being converted to shops and condominiums.

“The history of The Plaza is so rich but the thing that always stands out as the seminal event there was Truman’s Black and White Ball,” said Cathy Elkies of Christie’s.

On the guest list this time are David Bowie and his wife Iman, Donald Trump and fashion designer Vera Wang.

Davis said the social side of Capote’s legacy was as powerful and lasting as his literary work.

“With ’In Cold Blood’ he really awakened our appetite for reality entertainment, and with the Black and White Ball he ushered in the whole age of the red carpet,” Davis said.

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