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Truman Capote and Philip Seymour Hoffman: Greenwich Village Artists Entwined

Truman Streckfus Persons was born on September 30, 1924, in New Orleans. Truman started writing when he was eight years old — as a calling, and also as an answer to a truly difficult childhood. In 1932, he moved to New York City to live with his mother and her second husband, José García Capote, a bookkeeper from Union de Reyes, Cuba, who adopted Truman as his son and renamed him Truman García Capote. Capote’s life took him in and out of New York, in and out of jobs at the New Yorker. As he gained more literary success, Capote became a socialite and fixture on the Village scene, often found at places like the San Remo Café. He had complex relationships with fellow Villagers and habitués like Norman Mailer, Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal, and Andy Warhol.

Truman Capote in his youth

In 1967, the year after Capote’s astonishing “nonfiction novel” In Cold Blood was released, Philip Seymour Hoffman was born in upstate New York on July 23rd, just outside of Rochester. Like Capote, his parents divorced when he was young, and he found his calling in his youth — the theater. Unlike Capote, Hoffman studied his craft in academic settings. Capote scoffed at college, saying that one either is or isn’t a writer and it cannot be taught, whereas Hoffman studied acting at NYU and took dozens of small roles to slowly grow his career. Ultimately, Hoffman became a well-respected character actor, taking on the lives and personas of those he played. Capote especially.  

Truman Capote on the left, Philip Seymour Hoffman on the right

These two artists, whose lives in the Village and beyond never crossed, mirrored each other, and will always be intrinsically linked because of one of Hoffman’s most recognized roles, playing Capote in the 2005 film of the same name. Talking to David Letterman, Hoffman described Capote as “elusive; just when you think he’s one thing, it turns out he’s another.” Hoffman won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Capote. If you haven’t seen the film, I highly recommend it; it features scenes in Greenwich Village salons and social circles with glitz, brilliance, and mess, as Capote reported experiencing them and wrote about them in his famed Breakfast at Tiffany’s and more. 

Like Capote, Hoffman was offbeat, mercurial, shining in public with troubles in private, struggling to balance his artmaking with his life and the illness of addiction that both men shared. It’s not difficult to see those personal demons surfacing for Hoffman in his portrayal of Capote, which is certainly part of the power of his performance. Both men died alone of drug overdoses. 

Hoffman’s connection to the Village was quite a bit deeper than Capote’s; he lived in the Village for decades, was involved in the indie film scene here, and also was a member of the off-Broadway LAByrinth Theater Company, which until 2020 operated in the beautiful black-box space in the Westbeth Arts Complex facing Bank Street. There, he directed, produced, and appeared in numerous stage productions. It’s impossible to even list all the movies, shows, and productions in which Hoffman performed, but some include “The Big Lebowski,” “Twister,” “Boogie Nights,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley” (written by Villager Patricia Highsmith), “Doubt” and “Charlie Wilson’s War.”

Philip Seymour Hoffman in GQ

If you’re a West Villager, or were, or spent a lot of time in the West Village, you likely saw Hoffman out and about, getting ice cream with his children, or smoking quietly on a bench in Abingdon Square Park. Hoffman moved into this two-bedroom spread at 35 Bethune St. in the fall of 2013, after spending ten years prior at the Jane Street home he used to share with his girlfriend, Mimi O’Donnell, and their three children, Cooper, Tallulah, and Willa (no doubt inspired by Villager Willa Cather). 

Flowers and candles left outside 53 Bethune Street as the news of his death broke

According to DNA Info, the West Village theater community rallied together at the LAByrinth Theater. A steady stream of people poured into the space, congregating inside to hug and comfort one another. “He was family,” one theater company member said.

Whenever I walk down Bethune Street and see that building (Hoffman’s 2-bedroom apartment later sold for more than $2.5 million in 2019) I remember the flowers, candles, photos, and other ephemera that fans and neighbors left on the building’s stoop when he died, creating a neighborhood memorial that sweetly marked the care the neighborhood had for Hoffman.  

Hoffman on the left, Capote on the right

The (sensationalist) New York Times article reporting on his death called Hoffman “an ambassador of sorts for Greenwich Village.” No one called Truman Capote an ambassador of anything, but they do quote Capote, in his obituary, as saying he felt like ”a spiritual orphan, like a turtle on its back,” which could also describe Hoffman.  

One response to “Truman Capote and Philip Seymour Hoffman: Greenwich Village Artists Entwined

  1. I so enjoyed reading this beautifully-written and illustrated post , Ariel. What moving details about, especially, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s life and his legacy. I had not known he was a resident of the Village.

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