In the High Peaks

Monday, May 31, 2010

Back to Harper Lee & Truman Capote!

I know I blogged very recently about Truman Capote, his "nonfiction novel" classic In Cold Blood, and the two movies, both released in 2006, which told the story of those times in Capote's life.

The direction of my reading often follows the path of my unanswered questions. Viewing the movie Infamous and remembering the movie Capote, has once again beckoned me to follow in the footsteps of Capote and Nelle Harper Lee back to Kansas, to the time of their research into the Clutter Family murders in 1959.

On this long Memorial Day Weekend, I've been captivated by Charles Shields's biography, Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee. Before I saw the movie Capote, I never connected him with Harper Lee. And even after seeing the film I thought they were just writer friends who became acquainted in New York City, their mutual home. Boy, am I dumb.

As it turns out, Harper Lee, the author of the #1 classic of mid-20th-century American literature, To Kill a Mockingbird, grew up with Truman Capote as her next-door neighbor in Monroeville, Alabama! They became writers together the day that Nelle's father gave them both a typewriter, when they were about eight or nine years old.

In any case, I dug up the bio Mockingbird at Crandall Library because I have always had many, many questions about Harper Lee. Why did she never write another book? How much of To Kill a Mockingbird was fiction, and how much was based on fact? Why did she sacrifice her own writing time and energy to help Truman with his project and why did he never give her the credit she was due?

I'm getting the answers to these questions, and no one I know is interested in talking with me about it. Oh, dear. How I do pity myself that--sometimes there is no one to talk to when these literary headlines come pounding into my brain.

I hope that someday, a really savvy biographer with impeccable research skills ferrets out what happened to Truman Capote after he wrote In Cold Blood. It's a literary mystery. The movie Capote tries to answer the question, suggesting it was a crisis of conscience that Truman failed and could never get over, but that's conjecture, though I believe that explanation was part of what haunted him for the rest of his life. I'm sure there's more to it--I can feel it in my bones.


  1. I know absolutely nothing about Capote. I suppose I should remedy that, but I have often wondered why Harper Lee didn't write any more books. I often reread To Kill a Mockingbird and love the film too. Gregory Peck was just perfect.

  2. Nelle Harper Lee thought Gregory Peck was "just perfect," too. When she first met him, however, she wasn't sure at all. In fact, she wanted Spencer Tracey to play Atticus.

    BUT during the first day of filming in Hollywood, Peck went into his dressing area and when he came out, she was bowled over. He had aged at least 15 years, suddenly had a paunch, and looked exactly like a beleagured middle-aged attorney. She found it an amazing transformation. And she no longer had any regrets about Peck.

  3. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment on my blog (I've added your blog to my feed reader now so I don't miss any more of these excellent posts!) I think I need to read this looks fascinating and I have had the same questions you have had. Thanks for a great post!