Bridge: Ocean to Ocean Highway YUMA
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
COVID-19 Coverage

'Warholcapote' recreates a play conceived by Andy Warhol and Truman Capote

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Andy Warhol and Truman Capote once told each other, hey, let's write a play. It was 1978. Andy Warhol, who put the pop of popular into pop art, and Truman Capote, who had written popular books about a Southern girl who becomes New York's Holly Golightly in "Breakfast At Tiffany's" and the true story of the murder of a Kansas farm family in "In Cold Blood." recorded conversations over a few months like this one.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANDY WARHOL: So we should work on our show.

TRUMAN CAPOTE: Oh, yeah.

WARHOL: I think it should be a situation comedy.

CAPOTE: No. I know exactly what it should be, and I want you to be serious about it.

WARHOL: Why can't it be a situation comedy?

CAPOTE: Because it can't be, because it's going to be a success.

WARHOL: Oh, OK.

CAPOTE: It's going to be something that's going to run for a long time by being an actual institution.

SIMON: But the play was never written. The tapes were put away. And now Rob Roth, the acclaimed musical director, has put a play together that is taken from those tapes. His new book - "WARHOLCAPOTE: A Non-Fiction Invention," the text of a play that has been presented. And Rob Roth joins us now. Thank you so much for being with us.

ROB ROTH: Oh, thank you, Scott. Happy to be here.

SIMON: Where have these tapes been?

ROTH: Andy recorded approximately 10 years of his life all day, and he kept what he called his wife - his Sony Walkman - inside his jacket pocket, and he would just tape people. So when he died in 1987, they found over 3,000 cassettes. They were undated. Many of them had no notation on them at all. So I came upon this idea in "The Andy Warhol Diaries" by Pat Hackett, and I read an entry that said, went to Truman's apartment, got six good tapes for the play. And then it was like a treasure hunt. I called the Warhol Foundation. I called the Capote Trust. The tapes were in storage at the Warhol Museum, and there was an embargo on listening to any of these until 2037 because he recorded surreptitiously, which was illegal in New York at the time.

So when I went and asked permission to find these Truman tapes, they said no. And I realized, wait a minute, Truman knew he was being recorded. So that maybe changed things. So I called the Warhol Foundation back, and I said, I don't mean to be a bother. And so I was eventually given permission to have an archivist look through the 3,000 cassettes to see if any of them said Truman. And indeed, they found 59 90-minute cassettes with Truman in Andy's handwriting. And so this play - I called it a nonfiction invention, because every word of the play they spoke. They just didn't have the conversations in the way that I've created them. They are from my imagination.

SIMON: What do you think they saw in each other?

ROTH: I think they saw the talent in each other, and I think they saw mutual pain. The cost of making art was very high to both these men, and I think they recognized that in one another. Also, I think they just enjoyed each other's art. Andy loved Truman's writing. Truman liked some of Andy's paintings.

SIMON: Truman Capote has some truly amazing anecdotes about Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy, and I must say, with giving nothing away, especially Humphrey Bogart.

ROTH: Yes.

SIMON: Do you think they're true?

ROTH: You know, I don't know, to tell you the honest truth. The Humphrey Bogart thing - can I give it away?

SIMON: Yeah, go ahead. It's your play.

ROTH: Well, Truman says that he slept with Humphrey Bogart while they were working on a movie called "Beat The Devil." I knew that Stephen Sondheim was the clapper boy on "Beat The Devil." So I actually showed him this part of the play, and he said, I knew it. I knew there was something going on between the two of them, and this confirms what he had thought. So that made me think, oh, maybe it was true.

SIMON: Can I ask you to let both of us read a section from your play?

ROTH: Oh, sure.

SIMON: Because I want to give some idea on how things like the dialogues or conversation we just heard wind up becoming a play. And I'm going to ask you to be Andy Warhol. You get most of the good lines. I'll be Truman Capote - OK? - which I find a great honor.

ROTH: OK. Should I start?

SIMON: Please.

ROTH: (As Andy Warhol, reading) Truman, we should work together.

SIMON: (As Truman Capote, reading) Really?

ROTH: (As Andy Warhol, reading) Let's write a new play. We've got to do eight plays on Broadway, all running at the same time - fast plays.

SIMON: (As Truman Capote, reading) Oh, yes, Broadway - everybody always says it's dead, it's gone, but it always comes back. Theaters last year made more money than ever.

ROTH: (As Andy Warhol, reading) Gee, Truman, can't I just tape you - you know, the real thing - and do plays about real people, actually, if we just tape it?

SIMON: (As Truman Capote, reading) See, that's the kind of thing I want to do - reality and art intertwined to the point that there's no identifiable area of demarcation.

ROTH: (As Andy Warhol, reading) And then what do we really talk about?

SIMON: (As Truman Capote, reading) I mean, it'll be like a small play in which you see everything about a person. Every word of it is true. Let's make this some absolutely fantastic thing.

ROTH: (As Andy Warhol, reading) I don't think plot is important. If you see two people talking, you can watch it over and over again without being bored. You get involved. You miss things. You come back to it. You see new things. But you can't see the same thing over and over again if it has a plot because you already know the ending.

SIMON: My God, that last line I find extraordinary.

ROTH: Yeah, they were - they're amazing.

SIMON: When you read over the play, there's so many parts that touch you. I mean, at one point, Capote talks about - he says, my mind is like a fantastic generator. And Andy Warhol says, the machine is always going, even when you sleep. You feel sorry that they don't seem to have an off switch.

ROTH: Yes. I mean, I think that that generator killed Truman Capote. You know, he was desperately trying to turn off, and he used drugs and alcohol to attempt to do that. And it ended up killing him.

SIMON: I mean, it's - you can't help but reflect on the fact that neither of them seemed especially happy. Did they need a certain note of despair to try to fathom the world and turn it into art?

ROTH: I think that their despair provoked the art. And, you know, I don't think they were always in despair. There's lots of funny parts to the play, and they certainly were enjoying life in New York City in the late '70s. I think that they were lonely. In the play, Andy says something about when he was young, he used to come home to his fifth floor walk-up and be happy to see a cockroach. I believe they both thought, if I work really, really hard and pursue my art and get famous, it's going to fix me. And, in fact, it just exacerbated their aloneness, which is sad.

SIMON: Rob Roth - his new book taken from his play, "WARHOLCAPOTE: A Non-Fiction Invention" - thank you so much for being with us.

ROTH: Oh, thank you very much, Scott. It was fun.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.