Truman Capote's Mardi Gras Mommy Issues

6.3.2013

By Andrew Belonsky

The reason why Truman Capote feared his hometown's biggest party.

Truman Capote had a major heart on for New Orleans. The author may have spent his formative years in Alabama and New York City, but the Big Easy was his true love.

He was born there in 1924, and it was where he would return in 1945 to work on Other Voices, Other Rooms, his debut novel about a fey boy who, like Capote, was sent from Nola to live with a strange family in Alabama. And it was to New Orleans that Capote would regularly retreat when the pressures of fame and his own self-destructiveness became too much.

He sometimes attended church at St. Louis Cathedral, the longest-running cathedral in the United States, and often supped in the Caribbean room at the Pontchartrain, a legendary hotel in that is being converted into senior housing. In his twenties, Capote picked up truckers at the old French Market — "Wow, did this used to be a sexy place," he told People magazine journalist Andrea Chambers in 1981. "The truckers used to try and lure me to the backs of their trucks" — and strolled the tony streets of the Garden District. Of all the places he frequented in The Big Easy, however, Capote was most emotionally invested in Hotel Monteleone.

Captote's mother, a 17-year-old beauty queen named Lillie Mae Faulk, lived at the Monteleone when she was pregnant, and Capote frequently claimed he came into the world there, rather than at the nearby Touro Infirmary. His parents did live there when he was born, but Capote soon moved to 1801 Roberts Street, on the other side of town, and then to Kentucky with his mother and eventually, after his mother and businessman father called it quits, to live with maternal cousins in Alabama. When he was 9, his mother remarried and took him to New York.

However large and long-lasting Capote's love for New Orleans may have been, his memories of the city were tinged with darkness. In that same 1981 People profile, Capote spoke to Chambers about his isolated childhood at the hotel, and while the dramatics may be part of his own self-constructed myth, this excerpt shows how much personal stock Capote invested in the hotel-as-origin story:

The first stop will not be the place he spent the first years of his life, the Hotel Monteleone. Memories of those years still haunt him. "My mother, Nina, would go out and lock me in the room and tell people not to pay attention if I banged," Capote recalled. "I'd become hysterical. That was the beginning of my chronic anxiety in life. Once, when I was 5, I got lost during Mardi Gras and they took me to the police station. I was there all night before my mother came. I was terrified. I was never interested in Mardi Gras after that."

Capote's macabre impression of Mardi Gras' is on full display in Other Voices, Other Rooms, in which old, queer cousin Randolph hovers about in his old Mardi Gras costume, looking like an old, faded lady. But it is ultimately Randolph, misunderstood and ostracized, who helps the protagonist overcome his fears, setting him, and Capote, on a journey of self-acceptance.

Many years, demons fought, and headlines later, Capote became a regular at the Hotel Monteleone's Carousel Bar (pictured above). He was such a fixture, and his name still carries so much cachet, that the hotel named a suite in his honor. It includes a parlor that can fit about 25 people for cocktail hour, which would be perfect for the hyper-social Capote, as well as a velveteen couch and ruffled curtains like the ones Randolph, and maybe Capote himself, hid behind, though we advise you lose the shroud and instead stand proud you gaze down upon the beautiful turmoil that is the French Quarter.

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