The author was unafraid of being frank about his homosexuality, but it made TIME uncomfortable
When Breakfast at Tiffany’s author Truman Capote died in 1984, TIME’s obituary remarked that he was famous “for his lyrical, funny and gothic” writing, and for being “as much a member of the glitterati as the literati.” When his posthumously published Answered Prayers came out in 1987, the magazine wrote that he had been “on his way to a spectacular best seller, an irresistible piece of malicious mischief.”
But this magazine wasn’t always so kind to Capote, who would have celebrated his 90th birthday this Sept. 30.
When Other Voices Other Rooms, the novel that made his name, was published in 1948, the review was skeptical of the publishing-world brouhaha that had surrounded its release, and somewhat harsh to its author. He was probably “safe from smothering in laurels,” wrote TIME’s critic, because the book was merely “a literary contrivance of unusual polish.” And the critic didn’t stop at that. The following letter, which shines a light on the magazine’s practices of the era, appeared in the Feb. 16, 1948, issue in response to that review:
You seem to advocate tolerance for the customary things discriminated against: race, color, creed, religion, etc. However, I do not believe you have ever made a reference to homosexuality (a perfectly legitimate psychological condition) without going specially out of your way to make a vicious insinuation, caustic remark, or “dirty dig.”
Your review of Truman Capote‘s Other Voices Other Rooms (TIME, Jan. 26) concludes . . . : “For all his novel’s gifted invention and imagery, the distasteful trappings of its homosexual theme overhang it like Spanish moss.”
I have seen a great deal of Spanish moss in a lot of places . . . and I must confess that some of it is quite beautiful. . . .
R. E. BERG
San Francisco, Calif.
The editor’s response? “It gives TIME the creeps. — ED.”
The tone of that snarky retort, and of the review itself, has faded into history, as has that attitude toward homosexuality. TIME’s Letters section is now generally snark-free, the magazine’s review of a 1988 biography of Capote called Other Voices Other Rooms “well written and convincingly atmospheric, with no word out of place” — and recent TIME covers have featured prominent LGBTQ activists and issues.
Truman Capote is still noted as having been ahead of his time in his openness about his own sexuality. R.E. Berg, in his or her willingness to speak up for that openness, remains noteworthy too.
Read TIME’s original review of Breakfast at Tiffany’s here, in the archives: Bad Little Good Girl