Truman Capote Narrates “A Christmas Memory,” a 1966 TV Adaptation of His Autobiographical Story

It’s fruit­cake weath­er, so bust out your han­kies.

You’ll need them by the end of this 1966 tele­vi­sion adap­ta­tion of Tru­man Capote’s auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal 1956 sto­ry, “A Christ­mas Mem­o­ry,” above.

As hol­i­day spe­cials go, it’s bless­ed­ly free of raz­zle daz­zle. Capote’s Depres­sion-era Christ­mases in rur­al Alaba­ma were short on tin­sel and long on wind­fall pecans.

Com­bined with flour, sug­ar, dried fruit, and some hard-pur­chased whiskey, these gifts of nature yield­ed deli­cious cakes the main char­ac­ters send to a long list of recip­i­ents rang­ing from FDR to a young man whose car broke down in front of their house, who snapped the only pho­to­graph of the two of them togeth­er.

The nos­tal­gia may feel a bit thick at times. Both the sto­ry and the hour-long adap­ta­tion are a love let­ter to an eccen­tric, much old­er cousin, Nan­ny Rum­b­ley Faulk, known as Sook. She was part of the house­hold of dis­tant rela­tions where Capote’s moth­er, Lil­lie Mae, spent a por­tion of her child­hood, and on whom she lat­er dumped the 3‑year-old Tru­man.

Sook was “the only sta­ble per­son” in his life, Capote told Peo­ple mag­a­zine thir­ty years after her death.

And accord­ing to Capote’s aunt, Marie Rud­is­ill, “the only per­son that Sook ever cared any­thing about was Tru­man.”

Her inter­ests, while not in keep­ing with those of a lady of her time, place, race, and class, held enor­mous appeal for a lone­ly lit­tle boy with few play­mates his own age. Believ­ing in ghosts, tam­ing hum­ming­birds and cur­ing warts with an “old-time Indi­an cure” are just a few of Sook’s hob­bies he men­tions in the sto­ry, where­in her only name is “my friend.” She is:

small and spright­ly, like a ban­tam hen; but due to a long youth­ful ill­ness, her shoul­ders are piti­ful­ly hunched. Her face is remarkable–not unlike Lin­col­n’s, crag­gy like that, and tint­ed by sun and wind; but it is del­i­cate too, fine­ly boned, and her eyes are sher­ry-col­ored and timid.

Actress Geral­dine Page, then 43 and a favorite of Capote’s con­tem­po­rary, play­wright Ten­nessee Williams, imbued the “six­ty-some­thing” Sook with wide eyes and wild hair.

But the real star of the show is Capote him­self as nar­ra­tor. That famous nasal whine sets his “Christ­mas Mem­o­ry” apart from more gold­en-throat­ed hol­i­day voiceover work by Burl Ives, Greer Gar­son, and Fred Astaire. It also cuts through the trea­cle, as Bart Simp­son would say.

You can find “A Christ­mas Mem­o­ry” in this col­lec­tion.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

John Waters Makes Hand­made Christ­mas Cards, Says the “Whole Pur­pose of Life is Christ­mas”

Bob Dylan Reads “‘Twas the Night Before Christ­mas” On His Hol­i­day Radio Show (2006)

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Her play Zam­boni Godot is open­ing in New York City in March 2017. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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