Picks and Pans Review: Conversations with Capote

updated 03/11/1985 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/11/1985 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Lawrence Grobel

For fans of literary repartee who like to specialize, this book is vintage Capote, though it has been quoted so much in gossip columns that some of the juicy stuff seems familiar by this time. Grobel has interviewed Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Barbra Streisand (he takes the tough ones) and others for Playboy. Between July 1982 and August 1984, just before Capote died, Grobel met him several times, with his tape recorder on. Capote was not discreet. Of Streisand, Capote says: "She takes every ballad and turns it into a three-act opera. She simply cannot leave a song alone." Of the head of the Catholic Church, he says: "I think the present Pope is an excellent woman in drag...I think he's a real phony." Of Hemingway's writing: "I don't think anything Hemingway did was one of the best of anything." It would be difficult to accuse Grobel of being unfair or of taking advantage of Capote, to whom being outrageous was a way of life. Grobel makes it clear, however, that Capote was drinking heavily much of the time, and the dialogue often has that boastful quality, as if Capote were more interested in being entertaining than he was in giving thoughtful answers. The most accurate assessment of a personality in the book may come not from Capote but from his friend Tennessee Williams, who is quoted as having described Capote as "a sweetly vicious old lady." It's not all gossip. There are plenty of provocative comments. For instance, the man who wrote In Cold Blood—and who believed that he was a genuine literary innovator—also declared that journalism and fiction "are coming into a conjunction like two great rivers...The two rivers are going to suddenly flow together once and for all and forever." (New American Library, $14.95)

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