Harper Lee started out as a bold girl, a tomboy in Southern society where feminine attire is prized.
She found acceptance in one of the unlikeliest friendships, with Truman Capote, who lived next door. He was small in size but such a sharp dresser that his teacher said he stood out like a bird of paradise. Both of them didn’t fit in the small town of Monroeville, Alabama.
They both loved detective novels and devoured Sherlock Holmes. When Lee’s father brought them a typewriter, they took turns pounding out stories while the other dictated.
Capote’s mother soon moved to New York, and after dropping out of law school, Lee joined him in the City. While working at the airline reservation desk, she wrote her novel. Eventually, with guidance from her agent and an editor at Lippincott, she produced To Kill a Mockingbird.
She reportedly modeled her character Dill in the book after Capote. When her old friend asked her to go to Kansas in 1959 while she was waiting for her novel to be published, she went as an assistant researcher. Capote was investigating the murder of the Clutter family, working on a nonfiction work that would become his blockbuster, In Cold Blood.
Lee helped him with the interviewing, did the final editing, and even entertained some of the people involved in the case when they visited New York. For all her work, Capote simply dedicated the book to her and to his long-time partner, with no mention of her extensive contributions.
Even more infuriating was the claim that Capote wrote the novel himself. The rumor is attributed to a literary critic and book editor Pearl Belle, who said that Capote had implied to her that he wrote the book. Capote’s father boasted to a reporter that his son had written almost all of the book. Capote did nothing to refute the claim.
Lee was offended. So was her older sister Alice, who told to a Chicago Tribune reporter in 2002 “That’s the biggest lie ever told.”
The friendship cooled. Capote would go on to be a member of the jet set, while Lee became a recluse, refusing to give reporters interviews.
A private person, she decided to live her life on her own terms.