March 30, 2011

Capote, Taylor, Warhol, Williams

Truman Capote, Elizabeth Taylor, Andy Warhol, and Tennessee Williams were not only giants of their respective fields, but their mutual friendships inspired some of their greatest works. As a young artist in New York, Warhol idolized Capote, modeling his path to fame on the writer's own journey to celebrity. Taylor, who passed away last week at the age of 79, just days before the 100th anniversary of the birth of playwright Williams, brought four of his dramatic characters to life on screen.

Image: Phillips de Pury
After Williams died in 1983, Capote penned an article for Playboy titled "Remembering Tennessee," illustrated with a Warhol portrait. This coming May, Warhol's "Liz #5," a rare beauty, goes up for auction, expected to bring in at least $20 million. These friends constituted a mutual appreciation society of high accomplishment and fame. Only the others could really understand what that level of fame was like. What follows is a list of selected intersections between two or more of these fab four, with a special emphasis on their crossroads in New York.

First, the vital stats:

Truman Capote. Born Truman Streckfus Persons, New Orleans, LA.,, September 30, 1924 – Died Los Angeles, CA., August 25, 1984, age 59

Elizabeth Taylor. Born Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor, Hampstead Garden Suburb, near London, February 27, 1932 – Died Los Angeles, CA., March 23, 2011, age 79

Andy Warhol. Born Andrew Warhola, Pittsburgh, PA., August 6, 1928 – Died New York, NY February 22, 1987, age 58

Tennessee Williams. Born Thomas Lanier Williams, Columbus, MS., March 26, 1911 – Died New York, NY, February 25, 1983, age 71

Capote/Taylor. Upon the passing of screen legend Elizabeth Taylor last week, the mass media offered many multimedia tributes to her life and work, highlighting pictures of her gorgeous violet eyes, her film and charity work, her life with several husbands. It all seemed the same after awhile, so it was a great pleasure to read an insightful essay from 1974 by her friend, Truman Capote, reprinted in The Telegraph, that brought many aspects of her personality to life. Capote's essay was first published in Ladies’ Home Journal in 1974.

Capote/Williams. One of Capote's final essays, "Remembering Tennessee," captures both the sadness and humor of the playwright. Capote reminisces that he first met Williams, thirteen years his senior, when he was just sixteen, while waiting tables at the Greenwich Village Cafe. He writes, "We became great friends -- it really was sort of an intellectual friendship, though people inevitably thought otherwise." Capote helped act out the playwright's earliest one acts as well as the play that would become The Glass Menagerie, assuming the role of the daughter. (What Capote or Williams fan wouldn't have liked to overhear that?!) Williams's issues with drugs and alcohol became more problematic over time, Capote remembered, and his Blanche-like sadness set in. Beset with similar issues, Capote died the next year. From Portraits and Observations: The Essays of Truman Capote. Random House, 2007. Capote dedicated his 1980 book of stories, Music for Chameleons, to Williams. A chapter of Answered Prayers, Capote's unfinished novel, titled "Unspoiled Monsters," is a satire on his playwright friend.

Warhol/Williams. The two were friends as well. Warhol made screenprint portraits of the playwright, too. Here's a picture made by a staff photographer for the New York World-Telegram & Sun, donated as part of a collection to the Library of Congress. The date is 1967, and Warhol and Williams are aboard the SS France. Filmmaker and frequent Warhol collaborator Paul Morrissey is standing between them in the background.


[Andy Warhol (left) and Tennessee Williams (right) talking on the S.S. France] Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-121294 (b&w film copy neg.)Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. 1967. Kavallines, James, photographer.

Warhol/Capote. When Warhol moved to New York City from Pittsburgh, he tracked Truman Capote around the city. They eventually became good friends, often making social appearances at Studio 54 and at Warhol's Factory. To get a glimpse of them together, check out this ‪film (no sound), posted by ‬antonperic on YouTube,‪ of an autograph event for Warhol's magazine Interview in 1977. The event was held at Fiorucci, a happening Italian fashion store‬ on East 59th Street. (The store closed in 1984).




Taylor/Williams. Taylor possessed a great range of experiences to bring to her acting roles, including convincing portrayals in four film adaptations of plays by Tennessee Williams - Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), Suddenly Last Summer (1959), Sweet Bird of Youth (TV movie, 1989), and the flamboyantly weird flop known as Boom (1968). The latter, a film version of Williams' The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore, co-starred her then-husband Richard Burton and featured playwright Noel Coward as The Witch of Capri.

Warhol/Taylor. On May 12, Phillips de Pury auction house will be offering a Warhol portrait from 1963 of his friend Taylor titled "Liz #5." A public viewing of this and other works in their Contemporary Art auctions will take place April 28 - May 11, 2011 at 450 Park Avenue. See their website for more information.

"One might imagine Warhol following the details of Elizabeth Taylor's life from child-star to adult. He fashioned his own story of her life in paintings based on press and publicity images." - from Andy Warhol photography : the Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, Hamburg Kunsthalle, Andy Warhol, Christoph Heinrich, Candice Breitz, Edition Stemmle, 1999.

As singular sensations, here are few additional links of interest -

Capote. Listen to ‪Truman Capote reading from Breakfast At Tiffany's on April 7, 1963‬ at the 92nd Street Y on this YouTube recording posted by the Y.

Taylor. Read the NYT City Room article, "Elizabeth Taylor's New York."

Williams. New Orleans wrapped up its annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival this past Sunday with the popular Stella! Shouting Contest, where mostly men in T-shirts do their Marlon Brando best. This story from AOL News includes video of the shouting and news of the surprise winner.

Warhol. On March 30, the Public Art Fund in New York unveils artist Rob Pruitt's monument to Andy Warhol on the northwest corner of Union Square. The site is near one of the iterations of The Factory, the one in the Decker Building at 33 Union Square West (1967-1973). Read more about "The Andy Monument" at the Public Art Fund's website page. Read Walking Off the Big Apple's review here.

Still, the lives and careers of these four should be considered in tandem. It's never about how one person achieves fame. It's about who you bring to the party.

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Read also this recent post on Walking Off the Big Apple - New York Scenes from the Life and Death of Tennessee Williams.

For a self-guided walk to Truman Capote's neighborhood, read The Advantages of a New Perspective: A Literary Walk in Brooklyn Heights. For more on Holly Golightly's neighborhood, read Mapping Holly Golightly: Walking Off Breakfast at Tiffany's.

For a story of Andy Warhol and another famous movie star, Greta Garbo, read Garbo Walks: Andy Warhol and the Crumpled Butterfly.

Thanks: Many thanks to Robert Burdock of Rob Around Books for pointing out the Capote article in The Telegraph and to Rodney Welch for reminding me of Taylor's four appearances in films by Williams. All via the Twitter.

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