Truman Capote: The Frenzy of the Edit

Between 1944 and 1962, Truman Capote’s image-wielding film editors relentlessly tore through his raw-tortured writings, over his 40-plus books, and even snipped the image of his high-society adoring Swans, concerned that some of their…

Between 1944 and 1962, Truman Capote’s image-wielding film editors relentlessly tore through his raw-tortured writings, over his 40-plus books, and even snipped the image of his high-society adoring Swans, concerned that some of their lines—with “low humanity” in them—would threaten the authenticity of his vision.

In a study of this scandalous incident, excerpts from the edited books of The Lonely Crowd, After the Auction and She and Her Girls and Making It, and essays by Kent Libby and F. Janet Wein, curator Nina Goldstein uses the post-production archives as a window into the tortured author’s psyche, and the way he both embraced and internalized being a “professor of the damned.”

The painstaking way in which they adapted his prose—and with what Goldstein describes as an “increasing turn to the vicious, vulgar” voice—was made possible by the close ties among the artists at his house in Los Angeles, not to mention his own “explosively extreme” personality. She also reveals some revelations of her own, thanks to the bygone investigative reporting of Thomas Appleby and Ina May Gaskin.

In The Lonely Crowd, they show that:

Capote’s “misfortunes as a writer proved to be more compatible with his charming and self-destructive personality than with anybody would have expected.”

The editing for which the writer said he was unsatisfied “resulted in a perfect storm of complacency, boredom, insult, anger, and emotional repression.”

However, when he expressed an unappetizing view of, say, “body odor,” the editors “added to and not destroyed the author’s character” by eliminating his “sex and anti-politeness (and self-absorption).”

The author was to learn from producer Betty Comden, no pal of his, that “underlying herself as an intellectual and accepting the ‘revulsion’ of his sensibility was the firm belief that he was a ‘great man’ ” who was nevertheless one of the “highest products of the arts.”

The Reader

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