Alabama Literary Town To Open Capote Exhibit

By Garry Mitchell
Associated Press
Monday, April 17, 2006

MONROEVILLE, Ala. -- Rare family photos and a collection of writer Truman Capote's letters to his favorite aunt in Alabama -- on topics ranging from Harper Lee to Tallulah Bankhead to his longing for down-home butter beans -- are going on permanent display in Alabama's literary capital, where the writer spent some of his boyhood.

The collection is a coup for the town that was spun into memorable works by Capote and, under the name Maycomb, by Lee, his childhood friend and neighbor. It was assembled by Capote's cousin Jennings Faulk Carter, who donated the collection to the Monroe County Heritage Museums for an exhibit that opens April 27 in Monroeville's Old Courthouse on the town square.

Carter said that there had been a "lot of static" in his family about turning over the memorabilia but that he was making it public so people would learn more about his famous cousin.

"I'm the only one that tried to accumulate the stuff that related to Truman and put it in a scrapbook," said Carter, 79, a retired crop-duster pilot, in an interview at the museum.

The carefully restored Old Courthouse in southwest Alabama draws about 30,000 visitors a year, mainly to an exhibit about Lee, author of the autobiographical novel "To Kill a Mockingbird," whose character Dill is modeled on Capote as a boy. A stage production of the book is performed each April and May, with the 16 performances selling out the 250-seat courthouse auditorium.

Capote, who died in Los Angeles at age 59 in 1984, had close emotional ties to his aunt, Carter's mother, Mary Ida Faulk Carter. She was a younger sister of Capote's mother.

Capote wrote the bestseller "In Cold Blood," the Kansas murder story that was featured in the movie "Capote." The film won an Academy Award this year for Philip Seymour Hoffman, who played the writer.

The memorabilia preserved by Jennings Carter includes a dozen handwritten letters, which he said accumulated in dresser drawers. In one, dated July 9, 1959, Capote tells his aunt that Harper Lee -- known to family and friends by her first name, Nelle -- has a novel in the works: "Yes, it is true that Nelle Lee is publishing a book. . . . I liked it very much. She has real talent."

In another letter to his aunt, Capote, who loved gossip, discussed a planned trip to Alabama with another Alabama native, actress Tallulah Bankhead, that he canceled to go to Hollywood to work on the movie version of his book "Breakfast at Tiffany's." He wrote that Marilyn Monroe would play the heroine, Holly Golightly, in the film -- a role that producers instead gave to Audrey Hepburn.

He wrote that Bankhead -- whose father was a congressman from Alabama -- would be disappointed not to visit her native state. It was probably good, however, that she didn't stay in Monroeville because, Capote wrote, "Tallulah stays up all night every night and never gets up till five in the afternoon. She is a marvelous woman, and very amusing -- but oh so exhausting! Two evenings with her would be enough to last you a lifetime."

Capote also wrote about his stepfather's bad behavior after the death of Capote's mother in 1954, saying he wouldn't be likely to financially support the man if he "wants to stay out all night dancing in nightclubs with a stable of girlfriends." He underlined "stable."

In closing the July 9, 1959, letter, Capote told his aunt: "Oh I do wish I could have some butter beans. Now! This very minute."

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