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Read Harper Lee's forgotten article on the murders that became Truman Capote's In Cold Blood

Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote and Catherine Keener as Harper Lee in Capote, 2005.
Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote and Catherine Keener as Harper Lee in Capote, 2005.
Sony Pictures

Was there ever a literary friendship as charmingly incongruous as that of Truman Capote and Harper Lee?

She was most famous for writing a book so simultaneously brilliant and inoffensively uplifting that it became required reading for every eighth-grader in the country, and then retiring to live a life of quiet seclusion in a small town.

He was a prolific writer, famous, among other things, for inventing the true crime novel and for writing a serialized roman à clef so scandalous that he had to abandon it halfway through or risk being dropped by his wealthy friends after he revealed all their sordid secrets.

But Lee and Capote grew up together, and were so close that Lee used Capote as the basis for the character of Dill in To Kill a Mockingbird. Capote, in turn, used Lee as the basis for Idabel Thompkins in Other Voices, Other Rooms.

And now Smithsonian magazine has exclusively republished an article by Lee on one of Capote's most famous subjects: the Clutter family murder, the core of Capote's true crime masterpiece, In Cold Blood. They're republishing it under Lee's byline for the first time.

Capote and Lee researched the Clutter family murder together in 1959, shortly after To Kill a Mockingbird was published. Capote published the resulting piece in the New Yorker in 1965, and expanded it into one of his most celebrated books in 1966.

But in 1960, Lee wrote a profile of Kansas Bureau of Investigation agent Alvin Dewey, the hero of In Cold Blood, for Grapevine magazine — anonymously, five years before In Cold Blood was published. Lee’s biographer Charles Shields, who uncovered the story of Lee's anonymous article, theorizes that she didn't want to take anything away from Capote. As he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Harper Lee was so protective of Truman, the Clutter case was his gig … She didn’t want to steal from him."

Lee's profile of Dewey devotes a full paragraph to Capote's forthcoming coverage of the story, referring to her friend as a "well-known novelist, playwright, and reporter." Lee had her BFF's back, as always.

Check out Lee's story in full at the Smithsonian.

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