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I saw Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Oscar-polishing performance “Capote” at the Royal Oak Main Theater. [Special BTL thanks to the management for showing LGBT-themed films and hosting Triangle Foundation’s Reel Pride stellar, week-long events.]
Given that Capote’s everyday persona falls under the Jungle Red rubric of flamboyant (“I’m a writer, a genius, and a homosexual,” he often boasted) Hoffman’s interpretation is toned down for the movie’s “In Cold Blood” forensic story line. Yet it’s five-of-five stars; right on the mark.
But Hoffman plays up one intriguing Capote time-honored “gay” mannerism. And this bit of acting business sticks out somewhat like a sore thumb — actually, a sore pinkie finger. So much so, it piqued my curiosity.
What with Capote’s nelly body language, I wondered if he actually “trademarked” himself with that extended little digit when holding cocktails (and whatever else that fortuitously may have come his way) — a not unqueenly thing to do.
Determined to find out, I rented Capote’s only acting venture, “Murder by Death” (1976). It’s a Neil Simon farce — grossing $30 million — in which he plays a pivotal character named Lionel Twain. I wanted to see if Capote actually uses his pinkie to good thespian advantage — to highlight his lavender persona. He does.
(In passing: other gay authors appearing in movies — but without extending said members — include Somerset Maughan, Noel Coward, and Gore Vidal.)
I was on track for surprises with Lionel Twain. Pinkies abound in the script and in this surreal comedy of parodies of the world’s greatest detectives gathered to solve an improbable and convoluted crime. Twain gets murdered. (Or does he?)
I’ll give Capote credit. It takes nerve to “star” with Sir Alec Guinness, Peter Falk, Maggie Smith, James Coco, Elsa Lanchester, David Niven, Peter Sellers, Estelle Winwood, and rumored-butchie Nancy Walker. Unfortunately, Capote doesn’t quite measure up (although he was a Golden Globe nominee).
Yes; there’s a pinkie at start and finish . . . .
Falk, playing a Humphrey Bogart (Sam Diamond) hard-boiled dick type — later outed as gay –refers to Twain as a “queer bird,” and curiously says, “He doesn’t have any pinkies.” [But he does, Sam; he does.]
The film ends with Alec Guinness, as the butler who “did it” (as all well-read mystery readers know), pulls off a plastic face to reveal Capote, who, in turn, pulls off a plastic face to reveal Nancy Walker, who, in turn deftly pulls off both her plastic pinkie fingers. CURTAIN. (To paraphrase Freud: “Sometimes a pinkey’s just a pinkey!” Castration Complex, anyone?)
Truman Capote biographer Gerald Clarke writes in “Capote: A Biography” that Tru was delighted to “star” in “Murder By Death.” His appearance somehow evened the score with literary rival Gore Vidal, whose “Myra Breckinridge” hit the silver screen to acclaim (and Mae West’s boobs) in 1970.
Truman and Gore met in 1949, shortly after each achieved recognition for electrifying novels (“City and the Pillar,” and “Other Voices, Other Rooms.”) Capote introduced himself as a literary “enfant terrible,” knowing full well there could be only one alpha male in that exclusive club. What started out as a gossipy friendship ended in a nasty, lifelong rivalry.
Both were masters of wit, especially Capote. [When asked to autograph a stud’s pro-offered unzipped member, Capote said coyly, “Couldn’t I just initial it?”]
When Capote died at age 60 in 1984 — dissipated, snubbed by friends — Vidal dryly remarked, “Wise career move.” Maybe so. But with the success of “Capote,” Tru’s getting the last laugh and giving Gore, now 80, the cinematic finger — even if it’s only a pinkie.