Capote profiles Brando
June 3, 2011 1:21 PM   Subscribe

"The Duke in His Domain" - a profile of Marlon Brando by Truman Capote, published in The New Yorker, November 9, 1957
posted by Trurl (22 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Okay, just a little way into the thing I thought wow, this was one month after I was born... if this represents what many thought were "the good old days," then damn, I'm grateful for whatever progress we've made. The sexism... the racism... and I've barely scratched the surface. Thanks for this--when we forget the past we're doomed to repeat it.

BTW I still think Capote is a terrific writer whose work reflects the times he lived in. And the profile does make for an entertaining read.
posted by kinnakeet at 1:32 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

It was therefore rather an experience to observe, later that afternoon, with what chameleon ease Brando acquired the character's cruel and gaudy colors, how superbly, like a guileful salamander, he slithered into the part, how his own persona evaporated—just as, in this Kyoto hotel room ten years afterward, my 1947 memory of Brando receded, disappeared into his 1957 self.

I remember reading this from some buddys dads stack of selected NYers. I loved this reptilian like observation, pure Capote.
posted by clavdivs at 1:40 PM on June 3, 2011

posted by joost de vries at 2:15 PM on June 3, 2011

I was involved with someone who treated me the same way Brando did his friends.
posted by brujita at 3:12 PM on June 3, 2011

This is better if you read it in Capote's own voice.
posted by stinkycheese at 3:21 PM on June 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

And worse if done by children
posted by IndigoJones at 4:03 PM on June 3, 2011

Fucker could write. That's a great piece.
posted by Trochanter at 6:27 PM on June 3, 2011

Dated, but entertaining: The casual racism and the sexism and the slightly syrupy he-man worship that coats Truman's writing, the display of a gay dude fascination with Japanese interior decoration is funny too. I guess that wasn't a stereotype yet.

And then this bit of weirdness:

The maid had reëntered the star's room, and Murray, on his way out, almost tripped over the train of her kimono.

Reëntered? What the hell is that? Is that some old English usage?

StinkyCheese: This is better if you read it in Capote's own voice.

Dude, if only I could stop hearing it in Capote's own voice. That overheated creepy nasal syrupy drawl begins to grate.
posted by Skygazer at 6:44 PM on June 3, 2011

Still not finished, but that wistful little boy voice thing Brando does about hyper- sensitivity, although sounding valid also seems like a performance play for Capote.
posted by Skygazer at 6:50 PM on June 3, 2011

Brando is reported to have seen this as a huge betrayal. He thought they were really palling around on an out of town junket, and that a lot of the hi jinks and confessions were off the record. In that sense it can remind us of the previous Janet Malcolm post.

What I love about Capote, is that he was a demi-god. Tremendously talented, and tremendously flawed. He's like a divine half-breed that walks among us, in the basement of Studio 54. Which has so much more impact for me than would some remote and perfect being on high.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:17 PM on June 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

Reëntered? What the hell is that?

That's a trademarked affectation of The New Yorker magazine. It's in their style book.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:20 PM on June 3, 2011

The Duke of What Exactly? Certainly not of Earl.
posted by jonmc at 7:32 PM on June 3, 2011

Duke of the Napoleonic Code .

And now I will stop commenting and go back to RTFA...
posted by Skygazer at 7:49 PM on June 3, 2011

Reëntered? What the hell is that? Is that some old English usage?

It's a diaeresis
The diaeresis mark has also been occasionally applied to English, indicating in a word with two same letters, side-by-side, that the second one is to be pronounced with its own independent syllable. English words of Latin origin such as zoölogy and reënact, as well as to native words such as seeër, are sometimes seen to have this mark, but this usage became rare by the 1940s.[citation needed] The New Yorker and MIT's Technology Review are two of the few publications that still spell coöperate and reënter (among other words) with a diaeresis.
I suppose The New Yorker affectation is to preserve a usage that has elsewhere gone out of style.
posted by muddgirl at 8:24 PM on June 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Well then shouldn't it be diaëresis?
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:13 PM on June 3, 2011

Brando is reported to have seen this as a huge betrayal. He thought they were really palling around on an out of town junket, and that a lot of the hi jinks and confessions were off the record. In that sense it can remind us of the previous Janet Malcolm post.

That's true. I just read Carlo Fiore's memoir (Bud: The Brando I Knew) and the 14th and 15th chapters discuss this article. He got Marlon drunk, baited him, and a majority of the article was culled from a conversation that Marlon believed was 'off the record.' I've got the Fiore book right here, so here's a few excerpts (for context):

'There was a knock, and the maid opened the door. Capote stood there, posed on the threshold, framed in the doorway. He made a very pretty picture. He was dressed in harmonic tawny tones: desert shoes, corduroy trousers of light brown, and a tan cardigan sweater of thick wool. He moved into the room with that odd, graceful gait of his, cradling a bottle of vodka in the crook of his arm. I had heard that Capote was small, but I was surprised to see how really small he was. He was slim and trim as a boy, and his feet and hands were as tiny as a child's. Although he was thirty years old or more, he had the frank gaze and smooth features of a twelve-year-old innocent. I had never heard him speak, and the high-pitched nasality of his voice softly slurring the words gave me the feeling that an amateur ventriloquist was speaking through this smaller-than-life-size but perfectly proportioned doll.

Neither I nor anyone else, however, would dare laugh or smile in ridicule of his figure or speech. It was too well known that behind those baby-blue eyes there was a quick intelligence that could cripple you with the spoken word, or murder you with the written one...' ....

'Capote's arriving with the vodka made me suspicious. I had a strong foreboding that Capote, after he gained Marlon's confidence, would chop him up into small pieces, then go around telling people that mayhem was the writer's art...An hour later, I called Marlon and was a little alarmed to find him already as high [read: drunk] as the proverbial kite. He spoke rapidly, rattling on with all his defenses down. He rarely drank, and sometimes, after only a drink or two, his natural distrust of strangers would evaporate and he would be sentimental, maudlin, and ready to unfold the story of his life, freely trotting out all the skeletons in his closet...And anyone who had ever heard Capote in action knew that he was a fascinating conversationalist.

"Be cool, man," I said. "Don't say anything you might regret later."

"Truman's already gotten his interview. We're just chatting now, entre nous. Which means, just between us, off the record, not for publication, you ignorant wop."

That piece of information made me all the more suspicious.

"Sometimes 'off the record' means the actual interview has only just begun," I said. "So cool it, man. Why chance it?" ...

"Marlon, you remember that interview in Japan with Capote? Well, I've just read the galleys. Everything--everything--that was said between you two will be published in The New Yorker." [spoken by John Logan, director of Sayonara]

Remembering what he had said to Capote about Logan's ability as a director, Marlon went quite pale under his makeup. Naturally, Logan was hurt when he read what had been said about him. He didn't want the world to know that Marlon, whom he had declared freely was America's finest actor, held him in such low esteem as a director.

As for Marlon, he was shaken by Capote's betrayal. He went directly to his dressing room when Logan told him the news and wrote a letter to Capote, pleading with him to delete the unkind things he had said about his colleagues, his family, and his friends...He also reminded Capote about his promise that certain parts of their talk would be off the record and not to be published.

The letter was a waste of time. Capote never bothered to answer it.

Years later, in an interview with a reporter for the magazine section of the Los Angeles Times, he was quoted as saying: "I realized that the most banal thing in journalism would be an interview with a film star, so I put a number of names in a hat and pulled out, God knows why, Marlon Brando.... So I went to Japan (where Marlon was making Sayonara) and spent the prescribed time--one evening--and then spent a year on the piece because it had to be perfection, because my part was to take this banal thing and turn it into a work of art. Lots of people can't understand why I wrote it. He sent me the longest, most confused letter...."

The piece was called, "The Duke in His Domain," and was published in The New Yorker. It was a work of art, all right. It was also a masterpiece of maliciousness, condescension, and simple deceit.'
posted by Mael Oui at 9:30 PM on June 3, 2011 [4 favorites]

Cool info, Mael Oui. Thanks. We know this about Capote though. He was out to get what he was out to get. The manipulation of Perry Smith for In Cold Blood was pretty blatant, too.

But the work, both in that book and in this article are really something.

The Duke piece seems prescient. Don't you see the ground work here for all the funkiness of the later-in-life Brando?
posted by Trochanter at 10:28 PM on June 3, 2011

Incidentally 'Murray' was Carlo Fiore (known by Brando as Freddie). The 'Burst of Vermilion' (which ended up being One-Eyed Jacks) clutter was a last-minute ruse to cut the Capote interview short. Brando instructed Carlo to leave them alone and call on him a few hours later to pretend that they needed to work on their screenplay. But Capote got Marlon drunk and that was the end of that.

Actually, I think Marlon comes off alright in this article. The root of his wanting to make a difference, to say something, to deliver a message had long been planted before his controversial Oscar win for The Godfather, and he became disillusioned when he finally realized that no one was open to his idealism. While he wanted to spread a message, the rest of the world wasn't really listening. They wanted Stanley Kowalski and he really wasn't Stanley Kowalski. He was a more fragile, vulnerable person who had an unhappy childhood. He distrusted most people (and, as this article proved, he was not being overly paranoid in that distrust). His excesses food-wise were legendary even by his early twenties when he was working on The Men. Really, for all I've read, his worst habit was his womanizing. He was constantly stealing his friends' girls. Still, he was human, and while he certainly seemed to have some maddening habits (and eccentricities)... and was overly contrary ('Don’t pay too much attention to what I say. I don’t always feel the same way.'), the knee-jerk assumption that Brando was a self-absorbed diva who was so much more into himself and so out of touch with reality and prone to excessive, bad boy behavior was only a part of who he may have been, if he was that at all.

Also, think: if you get someone who is relatively restrained drunk you might be seeing some aspect of their personality that is really being taken out of context. I think that is the 'Brando Persona' in a nutshell.. It's been so blown up and taken out of context.

'I think—in fact, I’m sure—Tennessee has made a fixed association between me and Kowalski. I mean, we’re friends and he knows that as a person I am just the opposite of Kowalski, who was everything I’m against—totally insensitive, crude, cruel. But still Tennessee’s image of me is confused with the fact that I played that part.'

If anything, this article just makes me pity him. As far as his neuroses, they're hardly unrelatable. His end monologue sounds like a typical drunken slur from someone who's mistaken a stranger for a friend.. or an analyst, really.
posted by Mael Oui at 2:01 AM on June 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

It's nice to read something that isn't so proud of itself, like everything I've seen lately. He actually takes the time to describe a scene in a way that one can envision it.
posted by gjc at 6:07 AM on June 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you haven't read Answered Prayers, read it. The introduction in itself is fascinating.

(It was one of the overdue library books in the film 'Wonder Boys').
posted by ovvl at 8:45 AM on June 4, 2011

Finally got around to finishing the article and Capote's presentation of Kyoto was stunning and beautiful. It really made me want to re-read my favorite book by him Other Voices, Other Rooms.

In regards to Brando, I think it's a more or less honest presentation of the complexities of the man, and it definitely shows the man slowly morphing into the curious eccentric contradiction he would be known as later in life. The strength and vulnerability, idealism, pettiness and ego.

It's strange how childish he could be, and political at times with the people he worked with and his friends, and then turn around and give a performance that would be mind bogglingly and breathtakingly genius. Just incredibly one of a kind. Part buffoon, part angel.

Capote humanized him, and went after tearing away the myth, and not be part of the movie star apparatus, and for that he deserves credit.
posted by Skygazer at 5:14 AM on June 5, 2011

Capote was an infamous little shit, a shameless self-promoter, a publicity whore and a controversy junkie.

I have long held a desire to drop-kick his man-child head over a field goal.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:02 PM on June 5, 2011

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