My Dad and Truman Capote

My sister sent me a collection of my father’s writing: a 3-ring binder with 4 1/2” of single sided, single spaced typewritten pages with handwritten corrections from his unfinished and unpublished autobiography, A Country Doctor in Washington, and several years worth of handwritten diaries. The following is from pages 126 through 129 of A Country Doctor and recounts his one meeting with the famous author, Truman Capote.

Saturday, January 5, 1974. A telephone call was received from Kay Graham requesting that I see her houseguest, Truman Capote. I agreed to meet him at the office in the Burns Building on Pennsylvania Avenue. Because it was a Saturday morning I decided to perform a reasonably complete initial visit workup.

Mr. Capote gave his address as 854 Paseo El Mirador, Palm Springs, California. DOB 9/3/24.

His complaints consisted of postnasal drip with cough of 4-5 years duration, with superimposed shortness of breath for the past 2-3 months; some paroxysms resulted in gagging and regurgitation of bitter yellow '”bile”; some night sweats since September, intermittent; coughing spells often followed by pain in the back of his head and neck with radiation into the eyes which can interfere with reading for several hours. He also complained of anxiety which awakens him at night and terminates in a coughing spell. The dyspnea is only on exertion and he does not regard it as severe.

For conditioning he patronizes a spa daily with an hour of massage. “Two pack a day smoker since age 13” although some effort to stop in the last few months. He has gained 30# in the last 3-4 years.

He has just finished a book, and a screen play. He is en route via auto to southern California with a friend, and plans shortly thereafter to return to Houston to cover a mass-murder trial about which he expresses some anxiety “because it is an arena in which I may be uncomfortable”.

He also confides that on September 6, 1969 he sustained a “fantastic shock”, the pattern of which he revealed in confidence to me stating that it was followed by progressive depression to the point that he became unable to function and “I’ll never get over it completely”. The result was a nervous breakdown in 1970 manifest by moderately severe depression and hospitalization for three weeks in the Regency Hospital in New York. Following discharge he was treated by a psychiatrist with anti-depressant medications for a year and a half but he felt little rapport and discontinued treatment after about 1 1/2 years. Subsequently he identified a former priest now in psychiatry whom he respects intellectually and with whom he believes he can establish a meaningful therapeutic relationship.

He also recognizes a drinking problem consuming one-half quart of alcohol per day, beginning with a double vodka screwdriver in the morning and progressing throughout the day. He also consumes two meprobamate upon awakening, two during the day and another two at bedtime. If this is ineffective he takes another two with another double screwdriver. Valium has been ineffective; doriden helps but he doesn’t resort to it often. Takes some tequila, and occasional marijuana which he finds quite relaxing.

In 1970 he had some rectal bleeding with two operations for a “giant wart” with no mention of malignancy.

He is allergic to peaches, manifest by rash, increased lacrimation and pruritus.

Mr. Capote was born in New Orleans; appendectomy at 9; UCD without sequelae. No fractures. Tonsillectomy at age 24 with considerable trouble with his throat including “strep” infections. In 1969, at 11 a.m., he experienced an auto accident when he turned to quiet a dog in his car, lost control and ran into a tree. He lost some front teeth and sustained some damage to his eyes and forehead with resulted in plastic surgery at Roosevelt Hospital.

His father is living, aged 73, and has been married six times. His mother was deceased at age 44 from suicide via an overdose of pills. Both maternal grandparents died in their twenties from tuberculosis. No siblings. Paternal grandfather died from cancer of the stomach; a paternal great-uncle also had malignancy of some sort.

Physical revealed a short, stocky stature. (He had once characterized himself as “tall as a shotgun and just as noisy”). BP 145/110 RA and 136/110 LA. P 100 reg. Hgt. 64 1/2” Wgt. 169 1/2# Hacking cough present and non-productive, but was noted to be stimulated by cold air on crossing the street. Some increased tortuosity of retinal vessels. Several front teeth absent, especially lower. No sinus tenderness. Thyroid not enlarged or tender. Carotid pulses 2+ and symmetric without bruits, as are those in the extremities. Mild limitation of motion in the neck, esp. on rotation to the right with trapezium discomfort. Some erythema of hypothernar eminences bilaterally. No lymphadenopathy noted anywhere. Heart not enlarged; no murmurs or rubs. Lung fields clear. Diaphragms descend a bit sluggishly but without rales, ronchi or posttusssive wheezing. Well-healed RLQ surgical scar which is somewhat widened. In lower extremities some tendency to genu varum (or tibial bowing) bilaterally. No edema; SLR normal; ROM within normal limits.

Patient was accompanied across the street from the hospital to radiology for PA and lateral. Heart/lungs unremarkable but there is mild R. pleural thickening and may be a little increase in the intercostal spaces bilaterally.


  1. Bronchitis, probably allergic or nervous in origin with element of COPD being possible.
  2. Diastolic hypertension (warrants further evaluation)
  3. Obesity
  4. History of excessive use of tobacco, alcohol and tranquilizers
  5. Element of chronic depression

Treatment: Symptomatic; see for follow-up if unimproved. Also, should have above findings confirmed and further evaluated. Given name and number of an internist in Houston in view of his proposed travel.

Truman Capote was a colorful personality. His literature contribution in 1958 of Breakfast at Tiffany’s was a classic and the technicolor movie version with Audrey Hepburn a big success (and remains so). His literature masterwork was In Cold Blood in 1965 about two drifters who murdered a Kansas farm family for no apparent reason. In it he used techniques of fiction to tell a factual story. When he indicated his plans to attend another trial in Houston one could but wonder whether it would prove to be background for another triumph of the author.

I never saw Mr. Capote again, nor did he pay the modest bill which I had sent to him. He had quite a lot of press coverage in the ensuing years, especially related to his book '”In Cold Blood” stimulated by his presence at the Houston trials.

He died in his sleep on August 25, 1984 at the home of Joanne Carson from liver disease complicated by phlebitis and multiple drug intoxication but not an OD according to the LA coroner. He was only 59.

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