Music for Chameleons
Music for Chameleons is an anthology
An anthology is a collection of literary works chosen by the compiler. It may be a collection of poems, short stories, plays, songs, or excerpts...

 by the American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

An author is broadly defined as "the person who originates or gives existence to anything" and that authorship determines responsibility for what is created. Narrowly defined, an author is the originator of any written work.-Legal significance:...

 Truman Capote
Truman Capote
Truman Streckfus Persons , known as Truman Capote , was an American author, many of whose short stories, novels, plays, and nonfiction are recognized literary classics, including the novella Breakfast at Tiffany's and the true crime novel In Cold Blood , which he labeled a "nonfiction novel." At...

, which includes both fiction
Fiction is the form of any narrative or informative work that deals, in part or in whole, with information or events that are not factual, but rather, imaginary—that is, invented by the author. Although fiction describes a major branch of literary work, it may also refer to theatrical,...

 and non-fiction
Non-fiction is the form of any narrative, account, or other communicative work whose assertions and descriptions are understood to be fact...

. Capote's first offering of new material in 14 years, Music for Chameleons spent an unheard of (for a collection of short works) 16 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.


The book is divided into three sections. Part one, headed "Music for Chameleons", includes the title piece and five other stories ("Mr. Jones", "A Lamp in a Window", "Mojave", "Hospitality", "Dazzle"). Part two, the core of the book, is Handcarved Coffins, a supposedly "nonfiction account of an American crime" that brings to mind certain parallels with his best-known work, the difference being that Capote did not include himself in the narrative as a character when he wrote In Cold Blood
In Cold Blood (book)
In Cold Blood is a 1966 book by American author Truman Capote detailing the brutal 1959 murders of Herbert Clutter, a successful farmer from Holcomb, Kansas, his wife and two of their four children. Two older daughters no longer lived at the farm and were not there at the time of the murders...


In the third section, "Conversational Portraits", Capote recalls his encounters with Pearl Bailey
Pearl Bailey
Pearl Mae Bailey was an American actress and singer. After appearing in vaudeville, she made her Broadway debut in St. Louis Woman in 1946. She won a Tony Award for the title role in the all-black production of Hello, Dolly! in 1968...

, Bobby Beausoleil
Bobby Beausoleil
Robert Kenneth "Bobby" Beausoleil is a convicted American murderer and associate of the Charles Manson "Family" who is serving a life sentence. He killed music teacher and fellow associate Gary Hinman on July 27, 1969, and has been imprisoned since his arrest for that crime...

, Willa Cather
Willa Cather
Willa Seibert Cather was an American author who achieved recognition for her novels of frontier life on the Great Plains, in works such as O Pioneers!, My Ántonia, and The Song of the Lark. In 1923 she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for One of Ours , a novel set during World War I...

, Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe was an American actress, singer, model and showgirl who became a major sex symbol, starring in a number of commercially successful motion pictures during the 1950s....

 and others. These seven essays are titled "A Day's Work", "Hello, Stranger", "Hidden Gardens", "Derring-do", "Then It All Came Down", "A Beautiful Child" and "Nocturnal Turnings."


In the preface of the collection, Capote claims to have suffered a drug and alcohol-induced nervous breakdown in 1977, at which point he ceased working on his highly anticipated follow-up to In Cold Blood
In Cold Blood (book)
In Cold Blood is a 1966 book by American author Truman Capote detailing the brutal 1959 murders of Herbert Clutter, a successful farmer from Holcomb, Kansas, his wife and two of their four children. Two older daughters no longer lived at the farm and were not there at the time of the murders...

, Answered Prayers
Answered Prayers: The Unfinished Novel
Answered Prayers is an unfinished novel by American author Truman Capote, published posthumously in 1986 in England and in 1987 in the United States.- History :...

, portions of which had elicited a riotous reaction in the jet set
Jet set
"Jet set" is a journalistic term that was used to describe an international social group of wealthy people, organizing and participating all around the world in social activities that are unreachable to ordinary people...

 when excerpted in Esquire
Esquire (magazine)
Esquire is a men's magazine, published in the U.S. by the Hearst Corporation. Founded in 1932, it flourished during the Great Depression under the guidance of founder and editor Arnold Gingrich.-History:...

magazine throughout 1975 and 1976. This is most likely the truth, although Capote would often contradict that statement and claim that the publication of the novel was imminent until his death in 1984.

Publication history

In 2001, Music for Chameleons was reprinted in a Penguin Modern Classics edition with a Jamie Keenan cover design and a cover photograph showing Capote dancing with Marilyn Monroe.

Literary significance and reception

Debates abound on the degree of fictionalization in Capote's nonfiction, but that viewpoint is usually tempered with comments on the mood, atmosphere and range of human emotions Capote captured when creating such character studies. Writing in the New York Times, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt reviewed Music for Chameleons on August 5, 1980:
According to Gerald Clarke in his biography Capote, many of the pieces contained in this book were written during what was inarguably the author's last burst of productivity in 1979. Locking himself in his First Avenue apartment for days and spending very little time partying or carousing, this burst of creativity gave brief hope to those who felt that Capote's addictions were beyond help. Ten of the fourteen pieces had been commissioned for Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol
Andrew Warhola , known as Andy Warhol, was an American painter, printmaker, and filmmaker who was a leading figure in the visual art movement known as pop art...

's Interview magazine
Interview (magazine)
Interview is an American magazine which has the nickname The Crystal Ball Of Pop. It was founded in late 1969 by artist Andy Warhol. The magazine features intimate conversations between some of the world's biggest celebrities, artists, musicians, and creative thinkers...

 and initially published in the then-regular "Conversations with Capote" feature. By this juncture Warhol was one of Capote's few champions, likely necessitating the completion of the material in an atypically speedy fashion for the author. The artist reluctantly submitted to Capote's demands for full creative and editorial control, though editor Brigid Berlin
Brigid Berlin
Brigid Berlin is an American artist and former Warhol superstar.-Early years:Berlin was the eldest of three daughters born to socialite parents, Muriel Johnson "Honey" Berlin and Richard E. Berlin, into a world of Manhattan privilege. Her father was chairman of the Hearst media empire for 32 years...

 proved capable of charming Capote over when changes were necessitated. After the publication of the collection Capote all but terminated his relationship with Interview and continued to decline.

In a 1992 piece in the London Sunday Times, which had earlier serialized "Music for Chameleons", reporters Peter and Leni Gillman investigated the source of "Handcarved Coffins", the piece Capote subtitled "a nonfiction account of an American crime". They found no reported series of American murders in the same town which included all of the details Capote described—the sending of miniature coffins, a rattlesnake murder, a decapitation, etc. Instead, they found that a few of the details closely mirrored a case on which Al Dewey, the investigator portrayed by Capote in In Cold Blood
In Cold Blood
In Cold Blood is a 1966 book by Truman Capote.In Cold Blood may also refer to:* In Cold Blood , a 1967 film and 1996 miniseries, both based on the book* In Cold Blood...

, had worked. Their conclusion was that Capote had invented the rest of the story, including his meetings with the suspected killer, Quinn.
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