Documentary: Truman and Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation
Opening: June 25, 2021
Director: Lisa Immordino Vreeland
Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams are two of the greatest American writers of the 20th Century. Controversial in their own ways, both men would redefine American literature and theatre for more than one hundred years, becoming legends in their own rights. Their friendship crossed over four decades and has seeped into American history, legend and gossip. The friendship of these legendary gay men (both sincere and volatile) are now explored in a new, fascinating documentary directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland – granddaughter-in-law to Diana Vreeland; Truman & Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation. Premiering at the Tennessee Williams Festival (March 2021) the film includes voiceovers by Jim Parsons and Zachary Quinto. This documentary is a Must-See for anyone who appreciates the works and/or the lives of these two literary giants.
An Intimate Conversation with Lisa Immordino Vreeland
Eric Andrews-Katz: How did you get interested in filmmaking?
Lisa Immordino Vreeland: It was my husband Alexander’s grandmother that brought me into it in a weird way. My first project started as a book, The Eye Has to Travel, and others started to say, ‘you may get more access to people with your husband’s name’. It did get me access, and I just started to shoot it, and loved. It. That film was 10 years ago in 2011.
Eric Andrews-Katz: What drew you to the documentary format opposed to other types of film?
Lisa Immordino Vreeland: I don’t think I even thought of any other kind of filmmaking. It just happened that I did this. What I really like about this, and it isn’t limited to documentaries, is the research aspect of it, and delving into other characters. I like telling the stories of these incredible influential characters that are not always forgotten, but not always redefined for today’s society. I also like taking these characters and bringing them to life on the big screen.
Eric Andrews-Katz: What sparked the interest in Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams?
Lisa Immordino Vreeland: It originated as a Truman Capote film. Truman has always been a part of my orbit. Let’s not forget he was friends with Diana Vreeland, friends with and stayed at the Peggy Guggenheim palazzo, and was friends with Cecil Beaton (all which have been subjects of documentaries by Mrs. Immordino Vreeland). I wanted to do something with his words. The characterization of himself has become so exaggerated at a certain point, [by Truman himself], that we really never thought about his literary words. Because another film was being made, we decided to add Tennessee Williams, and a story developed out of it.
Eric Andrews-Katz: Truman and Tennessee handled their homosexuality differently. How did each of their approaches influence their work?
Lisa Immordino Vreeland: I think they handled it differently, but they both embraced it. In Truman’s case, he knew from a young boy that he was gay. He was certainly very open about it. He wrote about it in his work. He was just a very different person than Tennessee Williams. Tennessee came to his sexuality much later in life. [His first sexual encounter was at 26 and his first homosexual encounter was two years later] Then he was a sex addict, and really made up for it. I think they were both open about their sexuality at a time when people did not talk about it. They talked about and were open about it as much as they needed to. Tennessee wrote about it. He embraced himself, his depression, and sexuality in a much more open way than Truman did in his work, and it was something more honest that I connected to in his work.
Eric Andrews-Katz: Would either be as great if they weren’t homosexual?
Lisa Immordino Vreeland: I actually don’t think it would play a role. I think [with Tennessee] it goes back to the feeling of him being so honest in his work, and showing his true self. Do you think they would have been activists in today and today’s society? Would they be vocal?
Eric Andrews-Katz: As an activist? That’s another story. I don’t think they would be activists. From what I know of Capote, he didn’t become [publicly] vocal until the later years of his life when it didn’t matter – after In Cold Blood. I don’t believe Tennessee was ever an activist. He discussed it in his later years. There are very few plays that Tennessee didn’t write a gay character with a lot of them never appearing on stage. I believe that if he weren’t gay, he wouldn’t have those subliminal characters in his work that help define the main character’s actions.
Lisa Immordino Vreeland: I don’t think so. I think that Tennessee was so open as a persona that he was putting it all out there, and that’s how he was embracing it all. He wasn’t talking about it, and for me that is a much more open and honest way of approaching life. I do feel that Truman was always out to benefit Truman. It was a different approach to everything in life. You never really felt he was being up front about things. When you saw him on talk shows you always wondered, ‘Is that true?’ Either way, it doesn’t take away that he was a beautiful writer. We had so much more documentation on Tennessee (he documented so much of it himself). There’s so much I think that Tennessee deserves his own film.
Eric Andrews-Katz: I’ve actually seen more interview clips of Truman than of Tennessee. I want to say thank you because in your documentary, you don’t show the much more common segments of when Truman was sh*t-faced on these talk shows. All one usually sees are the later years when he was trashed.
Lisa Immordino Vreeland: That’s one of the exact premises of the film was that there is no reason he needs to be remembered that way – no reason either of them need to be remembered that way.
Eric Andrews-Katz: Truman converted his novella The Grass Harp to a Broadway musical. Was this due to his influence by Tennessee or his competition with him?
Lisa Immordino Vreeland: I think it was definitely his way of competing. [The Grass Harp] got very good notices, by the way. That DID get Tennessee jealous, but he wasn’t that successful at other things. Even other [Hollywood] adaptations, Truman didn’t do as good work. He was competitive with everybody, but at a certain point, he was definitely competitive with Tennessee.
Eric Andrews-Katz: Your film mentions the friendly trio of Tennessee, Truman and Gore Vidal. Why do you think Tennessee was able to maintain a friendship with Gore Vidal, while Truman’s relationship became a recognized feud?
Lisa Immordino Vreeland: First of all because their personas were so different. Gore and Tennessee also had this idyllic life in Rome together. Their relationship was an intellectual type of friendship. Truman made it strictly catty. If someone got better notices it really incites a definite competitiveness with Truman.
Eric Andrews-Katz: In an interview given (shown in the documentary) Truman separates sex, love, and friendship. Much speculation has been given to the relationship of Truman and Perry Smith (convicted murderer, In Cold Blood). Do you think (speculatively) their relationship was sex, love, or friendship?
Lisa Immordino Vreeland: When Perry Smith was executed [by the state of Kansas] he left everything, papers, clothes, his guitar, to Truman. That’s more friendship than sexual. Was there sexual longing on Truman’s part? That’s another subject. I think there was certainly longing but still not sexual. I don’t think Truman was that sexual of a person; I think Tennessee definitely was. I didn’t give you a ‘straight’ answer. No, I don’t think their relationship was sexual. Maybe in Truman’s head it was, but I don’t think it happened.
Eric Andrews-Katz: In what ways did Censorship castrate their works?
Lisa Immordino Vreeland: It obviously played a big, big role with Truman, and especially with Tennessee. It didn’t stop them. That’s for sure. It definitely stopped Hollywood (adaptations) but not on from putting them on stage, and having people talk about it.
Eric Andrews-Katz: Why do you think both men turned heavily to drinking?
Lisa Immordino Vreeland: I do feel that there is a patter, a pattern that comes from your family. It’s hard to break it. Truman had a mother that was alcoholic. Tennessee had a father that was, too. I think it was a combination of the pressures of churning out something and not being able to live up to the expectations, or one bad review after another, add in personal loss (Tennessee’s long time lover, Frank Merlot, as well as Truman’s mother). I do believe when you are children of alcoholics, that you are more prone. Then there were both of their stints with “Dr. Feel-Good”.
Eric Andrews-Katz: Truman & Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation opens on June 18th. How can people see this wonderful documentary?
Lisa Immordino Vreeland: In theatres and in some cases, virtual cinema*.
Tennessee Williams’ first play (“The Glass Menagerie”) appeared on Broadway in 1944. Truman Capote’s first published short story (“Miriam”) was published by Mademoiselle magazine in 1944. His first novel (“Other Voices, Other Rooms”) was published in 1948. Despite a 13-year age difference, both men became great friends, rivals, and legends in American literature. While both men shared many of the same common interests (Southern, gay writers) their ways of approaching life and their work couldn’t have been more different.
Truman & Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation is an excellent documentary with a focus on two geniuses of their craft.
Lisa Immordino Vreeland first documentary, Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel – 2011), was based on her grandmother in-law, the creative fashion designer Diana Vreeland. It was followed by: Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict (2015), Love Cecil (2017), and currently Truman & Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation (2020).
* Seattle’s venue will be virtual. Click here for tickets and more information.
YouTube movie trailer: