Who Was Truman Capote’s Mother? How Did She Die?

Hulu’s ‘Feud: Capote vs. the Swans’ focuses on the true events that unfold after Truman Capote publishes excerpts from his new book and reveals that he has based it all on the group of women in the high society of New York. Truman has many flaws, and he is haunted by a lot of things, but the ghost that never leaves his side is that of his mother, Nina Capote. Played by Jessica Lange, Nina remains a significant presence in Truman’s life even though she died years ago. Her portrayal in the show further makes one curious about Truman’s relationship with her and her eventual fate.

Truman Capote’s Mother Had a Turbulent Life

Born in Monroeville in 1905, Nina Capote was born Lillie Mae Faulk. While she was born miles away from the high society of New York, she always had a taste for better things. She was born in poverty, but she didn’t want to stay there for the rest of her life. Escape from the dullness of her town came in the form of Arch Persons. 17-year-old Millie married 25-year-old Arch in the hopes of turning over a new leaf, but most especially to leave Monroeville and enjoy the comforts of money.

Image Credit: Find a Grave Memorial

It didn’t take long after their wedding for Millie to discover that Arch hadn’t been truthful about his finances. He wasn’t as rich as he presented himself, and with that, whatever shred of compatibility Millie would have found with him fizzled away. She would have left him sooner, but she got pregnant, and even though she thought about aborting the pregnancy, her mind was changed, and in 1924, she gave birth to Truman Streckfus Persons.

If one hoped that the baby’s arrival would change things, they were proven wrong. The couple separated soon after, and Millie left a young Truman back in Monroeville, where he grew up with his aunts and cousins. His mother’s visits were few and far between, and even when she was in front of him, she never gave Truman the attention he always ached for.

By 1931, she’d divorced Arch and moved to New York, where she started working as a restaurant hostess. She also changed her name to Nina. After a while, Nina met Joe Capote, a Cuban businessman, and married him in 1932. It took her almost a year or so to get Truman out of Monroeville and to New York, even though she’d easily won his custody. By 1935, Joe adopted Truman as his own and lent him his surname, Capote.

Marrying Joe brought Nina everything she’d dreamed of, and she lived lavishly. First, they lived in Manhattan, then briefly moved to Greenwich in Connecticut, and then returned to New York and lived in Park Avenue. While there was no trouble money-wise, Nina’s mental health started to deteriorate, especially as she turned to alcohol. One of her main woes was credited to her inability to have children. Though she had Truman, she was troubled by his homosexuality and maintained a rocky relationship with her only son till the end of her life.

How did Nina Capote Die?

Image Credit: Find a Grave Memorial

Nina Capote died on January 4, 1954, at the age of 48, due to an overdose of sleeping pills. She is laid to rest in Baptist Cemetery in her hometown of Monroeville. The reason behind her suicide was largely credited to the sudden fall in the Capote family’s situation. In 1952, Joe Capote was found to have been embezzling money, which led to the legal repercussions that would take away the life that Nina had built for herself in New York. She also knew that her husband’s crime would become yet another reason for New York’s high society to ostracise her, and her alcoholism didn’t help a bit. She was consumed by her grief and could never recover from what would be the lowest point in her life.

At the time of her death, Truman was twenty-nine years old. Despite their differences, borne primarily out of his mother’s neglect, Truman had hoped to make peace with her someday, but all his hopes were dashed the day she died by suicide. Reportedly, he carried a framed photo of her with him wherever he went. While their relationship was complicated, to say the least, Truman wanted to make his mother proud, and it was perhaps her desire to enter New York’s high society that influenced his life decisions.

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