Other Voices, Other Rooms

In 1947, Truman Capote wrote Other Voices, Other Rooms, a Southern Gothic novel about familial estrangement and homosexuality, based on his experiences growing up in Monroeville, Alabama. To promote the book, cover artist Harold Halma took a photo of the then-23-year-old author reclining and gazing into the camera.

The photo was on the backcover of the novel, and instantly became the literary world’s pinup equivalent. Random House used it in “This is Truman Capote” ads, and large blowups were displayed in bookstore windows. The book made its debut at #9 on the New York Times Best Seller list, and gave Capote notoriety he yearned.

Although Capote publicly noted that it distracted readers from the book, he privately enjoyed the splash it had made, and delighted in retelling of an anecdote about Halma: walking on Fifth Avenue, the cover artist overheard two middle-aged women looking at a Capote blowup. One woman said, “I’m telling you: he’s just young,” to which the other responded, “And I’m telling you, if he isn’t young, he’s dangerous!”

The picture was reprinted along with reviews in magazines and newspapers, some readers were amused, but others were outraged and offended. The Los Angeles Times reported that Capote looked “as if he were dreamily contemplating some outrage against conventional morality.” The novelist Merle Miller issued a complaint about the picture at a publishing forum, and the photo of “Truman Remote” was satirized in the Mad (making him one of the first four celebrities to be spoofed in the magazine). The humorist Max Shulman struck an identical pose for the dustjacket photo on his collection, Max Shulman’s Large Economy Size (1948). The Broadway stage revue New Faces (and the subsequent film version) featured a skit in which Ronny Graham parodied Capote, deliberately copying his pose in the Halma photo.

In Capote: A Biography (1988), Gerald Clarke wrote, “The famous photograph: Harold Halma’s picture on the dustjacket of Other Voices, Other Rooms caused as much comment and controversy as the prose inside. Truman claimed that the camera had caught him off guard, but in fact he had posed himself and was responsible for both the picture and the publicity … [it gave Capote] not only the literary, but also the public personality he had always wanted.”

The photo made a huge impression on many artists. The 20-year-old Andy Warhol wrote fan letters to Capote, and when Warhol moved to New York in 1949, he made numerous attempts to meet Capote. His first New York one-man show was Fifteen Drawings Based on the Writings of Truman Capote (1952). In Paris, dying American prostitute, Denham Fouts (a literary muse and gay lover of European royals, writers and actors) sent a blank cheque to Truman Capote with only the word ‘come’ written on it after seeing the photo. Capote went to Fouts’ dark apartment on the Rue de Bac, and would later write a short-story, “Unspoiled Monsters”, based on Fouts’ life.

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