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A warm blooded portrait of Truman Capote; INTERVIEW Lifestyle Editor Carole Ann Rice meets the writer and actor w ho has specialised in bringing back to life towering but troubled literary gian ts like Truman Capote.

For personal reasons, Truman Capote tells us, he died. The arch wit and genius imp who was one of the leading lights of 20th century American literature left life's soiree in 1984.

"I went to LA (from New York) to lie low and that's what LA does to you", he quips from beyond the grave, in a voice drier than a gin and martini and now the bitch is back for sweet revenge.

An uncanny Lazarus-style comeback from the other side, Truman Capote, the legendary author of In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany's, struts to his chair, with Sinatra's New York New York as his fanfare, and returns to the one place on the planet where he felt truly at ease -enveloped in an audience.

The Truman Capote Talk Show is a brilliant, bitchy, wry and occasionally melancholic masterpiece written and performed by Bob Kingdom.

His eerie portrayal of the socialite writer has won him rave and respectful reviews both sides of the pond.

The New York Times described the work as "a tour de force," "it's gold" said the Independent on Sunday and "hugely entertaining" glowed The Times - all accolades that are richly deserved.

The show is a delicious confection for literary-biased sadists and masochists who relish the stinging barb of the perfectly honed one-liner and the agony that comes with being the bearer of such a talent.

Writer/actor Bob Kingdom, a slight baby-faced man of indeterminate age, has no illusions about the life and works of this tormented genius.

"Capote, like Dylan Thomas, started out as innocent and both became lushes at the end of their lives. They are the giver of the gift and it's a responsibility they couldn't handle, they lived in constant fear of losing it.

"The drugs and booze assist when they fall from the lionising and the stimulants creep in when they feel vulnerable, and instead of prolonging the gift it destroys it".

A multi-faceted writer and performer, Kingdom is sympathetic to the cause of the supremely gifted but humbly acknowledges that though he can visit their world, he can never live there.

Bob Kingdom was born in Cardiff and he joined the Cardiff Little Theatre before eventually moving to London where he entered the cut-throat world of advertising copywriting.

There then followed a period of TV and radio voice-overs, radio comedy shows which he wrote and performed, poetry reading of his own work and London exhibitions of his unique "fold" portraits and op-art pictures.

But the diminutive polyglot is perhaps best known for his celebrated performance of Dylan Thomas which has toured the world to universal acclaim as one of the great solo shows.

It took him a year to write and research the Truman Capote Talk Show and it was first performed at the Edinburgh Festival in 1993 winning a Fringe First for best new play. Speaking from his Fulham flat, which is a triumph of ordered clutter, his habitat, complete with signed cartoons, photographs and artworks, is a living showcase of his showbiz connections.

"My main spur is whether I can look and stand like the people I wish to perform. If I am like them in my physical purview then I start reading," he says of his work.

"I've captured as much as I can about the person and if I hear any personal anecdotes about my subjects I add them to the script as I go along. That is the beauty of being the writer too.

"I learned that Andy Warhol had always idolised Capote and had written to him every day when he was still a kid squeezing pimples in Pittsburgh but Bill Morrissey, who made all those Warhol films, explained that Warhol didn't write but sent Capote doodle s of the most trivial things to which Truman once said: "How do you reply to a doodle of a foot?"

The Truman Capote Talk Show offers many personal and previously unrecorded gems like that and as the Capote estate owns his work and disallows any use of his written word Kingdom developed new and original ways to present the voice of the legend.

"When I had gathered the patina of knowledge and information I sat down to write as though I was Truman Capote so it really is a two-man show. But do I find myself becoming TC now? No, I'm only Truman when I get paid for it," he insists.

His physical likeness and mannerisms are said to be uncanny when he is in character as friends of Capote have testified. In the Talk Show we are privy to the four ages of fame. 1, Who is Truman Capote? 2, Get me Truman Capote. 3, Get me someone likeTrum an Capote, and 4, Who is Truman Capote?

We learn how his parents split up when he was a baby ("it was before I was two so it wasn't something I said"), how he grew up watching his beautiful mother entertain her boyfriends in hotel bedrooms before being shifted off to his family of Baptistrela tives in Alabama who "hid their hooch as well as their feelings."

He worked as a copy boy for the New Yorker magazine, with his blonde hair and flowing cape he says "a breath of fresh air I was not." He cleaned up Dorothy Parker's vomit and had to dress the ilumoured and almost blind James Thurber after illicit lunchti me sessions with his secretary.

Then came the sensation of his first book Other Voices, Other Rooms when Capote rose to his rightful place among the galaxy of literary stars in Europe. "In England I visited some old relics - Noel Coward and Somerset Maugham." And he took an instant dis like to Simone De Beauvoir - "it saves time."

Unashamedly malicious and endearingly insecure, Capote adored his own celebrity while being envious of others. He invited 400 of his "closest" friends to his historic black and white ball at the Plaza but says archly, "Can you imagine giving the party of the decade and forgetting to invite Dorothy Parker? That's style!"

Warhol and Capote became natural companions. "Andy had little vocabulary - yes, no, and wow!" Addicted to fame and Quaaludes we hear the poignant demise of the puckish child man as he slips into the final stage of his fame and notoriety - who is Truman C apote?

"What Capote and Dylan didn't realise is that they do not own themselves, none of us do, we are merely on loan. When I write a show like this it is my take on their lives. I get to say the things that they wouldn't even admit to themselves," says the man who has resurrected these literary giants.

Kingdom's latest production, Elsa-Edgar, about the lives of society hostess Elsa Maxwell and FBI director J Edgar Hoover, opened at the Edinburgh Festival in 1997 and transferred to the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith and Bay Street Theatre, New York.

Sadly there are no immediate performances of the Truman Capote show in production at the moment but lovers of the fine wit and wisdom of this great American writer can hear the show broadcast on Radio 4 later this month.

Speaking as though his work is a vocation as much as a profession, Bob Kingdom rues the current dumbing down of culture: "People's attention and knowledge of key figures of this century seem only to go back five years. It is the Lottery culture thathas polarised those who know the names of the Spice Girls and those who don't."

And sighing, he adds: "Mediocrity will always have unlimited resources." Words that could well have tripped off the tongue of old TC himself.

The Truman Capote Talk Show can be heard on The Friday Play, Radio 4, July 24 at 9 pm.
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Author:Rice, Carole Ann
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jul 15, 1998
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