famous American eccentrics #22

In his review of the film "Capote," David Denby indicates that the filmmakers used the character of William Shawn, the editor of The New Yorker during the period depicted in the film, as "an aggressive force who moves the plot along" (The Current Cinema, October 10th). As William Shawn's sons, we would like to amplify Denby's comment by noting, for the record, that in detail and in substance the William Shawn depicted in "Capote" is invented out of whole cloth by the filmmakers. In the film, Shawn speaks of "building interest" in Capote's piece, organizes a book reading for the writer at which he introduces him personally, arranges to have Richard Avedon go out to Kansas to photograph the author and the two murderers, and flies out to Kansas himself to visit with Capote. The real-life William Shawn did not believe that articles or their authors should be publicized. He resisted even putting a table of contents in the magazine itself to trumpet what each issue contained. He never organized a reading for Capote or any other writer, and never addressed one, as he never spoke in public on any occasion. He didn't arrange Richard Avedon's photographic trips or publish any photographs by Avedon, as he didn't think there should be photographs in The New Yorker. The film's Shawn expresses rapt interest in the details of the crime Capote wrote about, whereas the actual Shawn found even the mention of blood disturbing, and, much as he revered Capote's writing, found editing "In Cold Blood" upsetting. Quiveringly empathic by nature, the real William Shawn was literally the last man on earth who would make a joke about the killer Perry's impending death, as the character Shawn in the film does. The real Shawn never went to Kansas to visit with Capote, and in fact he never had the experience of flying on an airplane.

Allen and Wallace Shawn
Bennington, Vt., and New York City

(letter in the April 3, 2006 New Yorker)

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