The transcript of Truman Capote’s interview with Manson murderer Bobby Beausoleil, conducted in the latter’s cell at San Quentin Prison in 1972, is fascinating for a number of reasons, ranging from the two men’s sheer, exotic incongruity, to its exposure of Capote’s flirtatious/confrontational approach to interviewing killers. Most intriguing of all, however, is its revelation that, while Beausoleil may have been quite singularly star-crossed and known many notorious criminals himself, he didn’t have nothin’ on Capote…
Capote begins the conversation by bringing up a mutual acquaintance, Sirhan Sirhan, whom he has just visited at the same prison earlier that day.
Bobby Beausoleil (laughs): Sirhan B. Sirhan. I knew him when they had me up on the Row. He’s a sick guy. He don’t belong here. He ought to be in Atascadero. Want some gum? Yeah, well, you seem to know your way around here pretty good. I was watching you out on the yard. I was surprised the warden lets you walk around the yard by yourself. Somebody might cut you.
Truman Capote: Why?
Beausoleil: For the hell of it. But you’ve been here a lot, huh? Some of the guys were telling me.
Capote: Maybe half a dozen times on different research projects.
The two talk execution chambers for a while, and then Capote mentions that his knowing Sirhan Sirhan must make him the only person alive to have been acquainted with Jack Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy—and their respective assassins!
Beausoleil: Oswald? You knew Oswald? Really?
Capote: I met him in Moscow just after he defected. One night I was having dinner with a friend, an Italian newspaper respondent, and when he came by to pick me up he asked me if I’d mind going with him first to talk to a young American defector, one Lee Harvey Oswald. Oswald was staying at the Metropole, an old Czarist hotel just off Kremlin Square. The Metropole has a big gloomy lobby full of shadows and dead palm trees. And there he was, sitting in the dark under a dead palm tree. Thin and pale, thin-lipped, starved-looking. He was wearing chinos and tennis shoes and a lumberjack shirt. And right away he was angry—he was grinding his teeth, and his eyes were jumping every which way. He was boiling over about everything: the American ambassador; the Russians—he was mad at them because they wouldn’t let him stay in Moscow. We talked to him for about half an hour, and my Italian friend didn’t think the guy was worth filing a story about. Just another paranoid hysteric; the Moscow woods were rampant with those. I never thought about him again, not until many years later. Not until after the assassination when I saw his picture flashed on television.
Beausoleil: Does that make you the only one that knew both of them, Oswald and Kennedy?
Capote: No. There was an American girl, Priscilla Johnson. She worked for U.P. in Moscow. She knew Kennedy, and she met Oswald around the same time I did. But I can tell you something else almost as curious. About some of those people your friends murdered.
Capote: I knew them. At least, out of the five people killed in the Tate house that night, I knew four of them. I’d met Sharon Tate at the Cannes Film Festival. Jay Sebring cut my hair a couple of times. I’d had lunch once in San Francisco with Abigail Folger and her boyfriend, Frykowski. In other words, I’d known them independently of each other. And yet one night there they were, all gathered together in the same house waiting for your friends to arrive. Quite a coincidence.
Beausoleil (lights a cigarette; smiles): Know what I’d say? I’d say you’re not such a lucky guy to know.
Consider yourself told, Truman Capote!
Stranger still is the shadow of another coincidence, seemingly unbeknownst to both interlocutors, that knits these remarkable coincidence clusters together. Who was it that Bobby Kennedy dined with before being driven to his notorious date with Sirhan Sirhan at the Ambassador Hotel? Why, none other than Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate.
It’s a small world—smaller still if you’re Truman Capote and Bobby Beausoleil.
Below, Truman Capote razzes Johnny Carson on The Dean Martin Roast: