Today in French Quarter History, we celebrate the life of author, Truman Capote, who passed away in Los Angeles on August 25, 1984. Though he was born in Touro Infirmary in the Garden District, Capote spent much of his early life in the French Quarter. His first, rather unhappy, home here was within the Hotel Monteleone, which today offers a suite bearing his name.

Truman Capote’s early life in the French Quarter

Most of what we know of Capote’s early life in the French Quarter comes from his own recorded recollections. His mother was a beauty queen who gave birth to him when she was 17. Capote has told of being locked in alone in the family apartment at the Monteleone by his uncaring mother while she went out on the town. He also related how, at age 5, he got separated from his mother at a Mardi Gras parade. Capote ended up spending the night inside the police station and his mother retrieved him the next morning.

Capote moves to Alabama and befriends Harper Lee

The same year, Capote was sent to Alabama to live with his mother’s relatives. There, he became close friends with “the girl next door,” Harper Lee. Her first novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, features a character based on Capote, and his first novel features a character based on Lee. Before Mockingbird was published in 1960, Lee accompanied Capote to Kansas as his assistant researcher. The two were working on an article that would later expand into Capote’s signature “non-fiction novel,” In Cold Blood. In 1965, Lee edited the final draft of the book. Although Capote did not credit her for the writing, he dedicated the book to her. Lee and Capote remained close friends for life.

Summers in New Orleans

Capote would always return to New Orleans for holidays and most summers for a month or two. Over the summers, he frequently accompanied his father who was a purser on a steamboat on the New Orleans-St. Louis run. Later in life, Capote reminisced that he tap danced for passengers to the accompaniment of the great Louis Armstrong. He claimed that Satchmo gave him a boater hat and that he collected tips after each dance. Some believe this reminiscence was a figment of his famous imagination.

Capote completes his first novel at age 23

In 1945, Capote moved to New Orleans to live on his own. He took up residence in an apartment at 811 Royal Street in the French Quarter. It was here that he worked on his first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms that was published in 1948 when he was just 23 years old. The novel was semi-autobiographical and debuted at number nine on the New York Times bestseller list. It is the story of a troubled, slightly effeminate, 13-year-old boy whose mother passes away and who is then sent from New Orleans to live with his father in Alabama. The novel dealt with coming of age and homosexuality and would launch Capote’s career. After its publication, Somerset Maugham claimed Capote, “was the hope of modern literature.”

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