By Lori Perkins
For those who were alive and reading in the late 20th century, Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams were fixtures on the high end of the pop culture scene, especially if you lived in New York City. Truman & Tennessee is a delightful look into the life-long friendship (a real bromance, I believe) of these two great American writers who dominated the 50s and 60s, and who were both unapologetically gay at a time when that was very rare.
Using their own words from diaries and letters and interviews (and some fascinating televised ones with David Frost and Dick Cavett), this documentary spans nearly 40 years of their love/hate relationship as writers, friends and gay men in the competitive literary space. Actors Zachary Quinto and Jim Parson play the voices of Williams and Capote when their own voices are not available, and you definitely get the sense of hearing the authors talk to you from this film.
There are some insightful moments, such as when Tennessee William tells David Frost that the reason he wrote was because “I found life unsatisfactory.”
Or when Capote says he wanted Marilyn Monroe to play the part of Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (instead of Audrey Hepburn, who really made the role her own) because “there was something slightly unfinished” about Monroe and he felt the role required that. “All these girls who comes to New York and spin in the sun for a while and then disappear. I wanted to rescue the girl from that anonymity and recue her for posterity.” Just a fascinating glimpse into his perspective.
There are so many moments from their friendship that astound such as the fleeting black and white photo of a very young Truman Capote, a slighter older Gore Vidal, and a barely middle-age Tennessee Williams, when Capote and Vidal where the hot young gay writer studs around town. Williams and Capote vacationed together in Italy with their respective partners for years (and Williams comments on the tight pants of the Italian men in Southern Italy, which is so surprisingly out of place and delightful at the same time, because that horndog side of him never really made it out into the general literary world).
Tennessee Williams tells the story of returning from a night out in NYC to find that Capote and Vidal had broken into his apartment and were waiting for him outside his door, surrounded by female police officers who had been called to the scene.
Capote was one of the very few out gay writers of his time. Tennessee Williams not so much. He said his first consummated love affair was at 27, his first gay relationship was at 28 and he had a 14 year “love affair” with Frank Merlo. All of this information was on an interview on The David Frost Show, which I just can’t imagine happening today.
As they aged, they became a little more competitive. Williams said he was jealous of Truman Capote’s Broadway success with The Grass Harp even though he has already won two Pulitzers and a Drama Critics Award. Both men had a drinking problem as they grew older and both started going to Dr. Feelgood in the late 60’s, a Manhattan physician among the high society crowd of NYC, who gave his patients injections of who-knows-what. Capote was hanging out at Studio 54 with Andy Warhol and Jackie Kennedy Onassis in the 70s. Williams was languishing after his play, Night of the Iguana, received bad reviews.
They both died within a year of each other in 1983/84.