Most Charismatic #9: Truman Capote

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

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The 1950’s and 60’s saw the rise of the Television Author. That person called upon to be the Voice of Literature for the video-numbed masses on talk shows hosted by David Susskind, Johnny Carson, Dick Cavett and the like. Of course, the writer was supposed to behave like a celebrity– a character– and Truman Capote was very good at it. Here he is on the Tonight Show:

This was a time when literature and writers mattered.

Others such as Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal also embraced the spotlight, but Truman Capote edges them out in our assessment by being a more distinctive character, with a memorable persona and voice (immortalized in two recent movies, one starring Philip Seymour Hoffman). He was, if you will, a stronger, more recognizable brand. With his innovative non-fiction “novel,” In Cold Blood, Capote created a bigger, more noteworthy work. (Which Mailer tried to match, and failed to.)

Truman Capote then takes the #9 spot as a Charismatic American Writer.

NEXT: Also-Rans #3.
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Most Charismatic #13: Gore Vidal

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

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WHY are we doing this series about charismatic writers? To show that, at one time in this society, creative writers mattered. They were at the epicenter of society’s debates. One of those figures was Gore Vidal.

An intelligent and glib rich kid from a well-connected family of politicians, Vidal was raised to believe he could be President. Instead he became a novelist and essayist. A competent novelist. A brilliant essayist. At that time– the 1950’s and 60’s– in the wake of Hemingway and other literary giants, “novelist” was one of the most prestigious and valued roles a young man could aspire to. Right after President. The new television age pushed the most articulate and photogenic writers into the media spotlight– Gore Vidal among them.

We’ve made him #13 on our list of Charismatic American Writers.. Here’s his most famous appearance– his argument with William F. Buckley (himself a writer and editor) on national TV during the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

Contentious campaigns in American politics are not new!

NEXT: Also Rans #1
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Most Charismatic #14: Walt Whitman

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

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Walt Whitman created a persona and his poems were performative (he famously titled one of them “Song of Myself”) to the extent that they were more personal, more about himself– drawing attention to himself– than those of any poet or writer before him. A forerunner of, and inspiration for, the Beats, Whitman was a famous and public figure, whether writing eulogies for Presidents, being one of the first (supposedly) to read a poem for a phonograph recording, and having a public funeral attended by thousands of mourners. The first American literary rock star? Possibly so.

1231668(Photo of Walt Whitman’s funeral procession.)

NEXT: Charismatic Writer #13
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Most Charismatic #15: Norman Mailer

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

Norman Mailer

NO WRITER tried harder to be charismatic. No author worked harder at being a celebrity– from running for mayor of New York City to directing and starring in low-budget movies to trying to levitate the Pentagon to writing a book about Marilyn Monroe to appearing on television talk shows to stabbing his wife, Norman Mailer was always chasing headlines. Mailer took the phrase “Advertisements for Myself” (one of his book titles) literally. The Harvard grad’s main problem was he didn’t have a lot of charisma. Articulate? Yes. Verbose? Very much. Norman Mailer could talk all day. But his writing and persona lacked the certain “Oomph!” which goes along with being a true celebrity.

Still, we give him an “A” for trying, and place him at Number Fifteen of America’s Most Charismatic All-Time Writers.

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NEXT: Who is #14?
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