It's not uncommon for literary fans to snap up mementos of their favorite authors in auctions: letters, early manuscripts, even typewriters. But it takes a special kind of admirer to place a bid on an author's ashes.
A Los Angeles-based auction house is hoping it can find a Truman Capote fan willing to part with a few thousand dollars in exchange for the "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and "In Cold Blood" author's cremains.
Capote died in 1984 at the age of 59 in the Los Angeles home of Joanne Carson, ex-wife of "Tonight Show" host Johnny Carson. He bequeathed his ashes to Joanne Carson, who died in 2015.
Carson's estate "didn’t know what to do with" the ashes, Julien's Auctions Chief Executive Darren Julien told Vanity Fair, eventually deciding to auction them off along with some of Capote's possessions, including a papier-mache parrot, a set of "risque photographs" and the polo shirt the author was wearing when he died.Truman Capote and Joanne Carson in Palm Springs; the photo is inscribed to actor Roddy McDowall Joanne Carson Truman Capote and Joanne Carson in Palm Springs; the photo is inscribed to actor Roddy McDowall Truman Capote and Joanne Carson in Palm Springs; the photo is inscribed to actor Roddy McDowall (Joanne Carson)
Capote's ashes have had something of an exciting life of their own. They were initially split between Carson and Capote’s partner, Jack Dunphy. The ashes that went to Carson were stolen and returned in 1988; later, a thief tried to take them from Carson's house, but was thwarted. They were later interred at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery, where they sat undisturbed — until recently.
Julien has already anticipated a possible backlash from the decision to auction off the writer's ashes.
"I am sure people are going to think this is disrespectful," he said, "But this is a fact: Truman Capote loved the element of shock. He loved publicity. And I’m sure he’s looking down laughing, and saying, ‘That’s something I would have done.’"
Best known for the novella “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” which was sanitized for the beloved 1961 film starring Audrey Hepburn, and his landmark 1966 work of nonfiction, “In Cold Blood,” Capote was also the author of the novels “Other Voices, Other Rooms” and “The Grass Harp,” as well as essays and television screenplays. He traveled with socialites, throwing the famous Black and White ball with Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham, and had a public profile, appearing on television shows in the 1970s and ‘80s.
Julien acknowledged that the decision to sell a human being's ashes is unusual, but, he said, it's not quite unprecedented.
"I will say, Christie’s sold Napoleon’s penis years ago," Julien said.
"And we sold William Shatner’s kidney stone for $75,000. There’s all kinds of precedents for this. Like I said, if it wasn’t Truman Capote, we would pass because we wouldn’t want to be disrespectful. And the antics he was always up to, and how much he loved press — it’s no question that that is something he would have wanted done.”
The lot containing Capote's cremains describes the item as "a box of Truman Capote's memorial ashes from Westwood Village Mortuary, dated August 28, 1984. Housed in a carved Japanese wooden box."
Julien's estimates the ashes will sell for between $4,000 to $6,000. As of Tuesday morning, there were already four bids for the item, with the highest one $2,750.
The auction of Capote's ashes, along with other items from Carson's estate, will be Sept. 23 at 10 a.m. Pacific.
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