When Truman Capote Wrestled Humphrey Bogart

“When we know our own strength, we shall the better know what to undertake with hopes of success.” —John Locke, “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding”

In A Nutshell

If you were to imagine a tough guy celebrity, you might picture Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone. You probably wouldn’t pick Truman Capote, the guy who wrote In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. But despite his diminutive size and sophisticated personality, Capote was actually a pretty tough dude . . . something Humphrey Bogart found out the hard way.

The Whole Bushel

Before he died in 1957, Humphrey Bogart and director John Huston collaborated on six films, many of which became classics. There are the ever-popular films like The Maltese Falcon and The African Queen. Then there are films like Beat the Devil, one of the quirkiest films to come out of 1950s Hollywood.

Revolving around a gang of scoundrels trying to steal uranium deposits, the movie was filmed on location in Italy. But while the landscapes were scenic, behind the scenes it was anarchy, largely thanks to the screenplay. Evidently, the original script was awful. The censors labeled it unacceptable, but that didn’t matter as John Huston hated the darn thing so much he tore it up.

That’s when Huston hired Truman Capote, the guy who would one day pen In Cold Blood, to do a rewrite. Capote had his work cut out for him as he had to churn out new pages of the script each day, just hours before filming. Yeah, Beat the Devil was filmed on the fly, but Bogart and Huston really admired Truman’s talent.

Of course, they also probably thought he was a weirdo. Capote wasn’t the kind of guy they usually palled around with. Bogart and Huston were hard-drinking, tough-as-nails men-of-action. Capote was tiny, urbane, and incredibly eccentric. He was the kind of guy who called back to the US every day to talk with his pet raven.

So it probably came as a shock when Capote beat Bogart in a wrestling match.

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One day, Bogart was challenging people to arm wrestling matches and destroying everyone who dared to compete. Thinking Truman was an easy mark, he asked the writer if he wanted to try his luck and maybe wager $5. Capote accepted and upped the ante to $50. Bogart accepted, and seconds later, his hand was pinned to the table. Stunned, Bogie demanded a rematch, which he also lost. Unable to accept defeat, Bogart wanted to go around a third time, and soon he owed the writer $150.

Bogart was incredibly impressed at Capote’s strength, but Truman insisted it wasn’t brute force. “It’s not that I’m strong,” he said. “It’s just a trick. For instance, I could put you right on your bottom like that.” Now this was going too far, and Bogart challenged Capote to a full-on brawl. It turned out that Capote knew a thing or two about martial arts and judo-flipped Bogart onto the floor. In fact, he injured the actor’s elbow, and Humphrey had to take a break from filming for three days.

And yes, there were witnesses to this crazy showdown. Director John Huston was notably impressed. “He put Bogie on his ass,” the director said. “He was a little bull.”

Show Me The Proof

Featured photos via Wikipedia (1 2)
Truman Capote: Conversations, by Truman Capote, M. Thomas Inge
Turner Classic Movies: Beat the Devil
Roger Ebert: Beat the Devil

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