Shelved Dolls: Lillie Mae Faulk – The Real Holly Golightly

And so, Joe’s financial instability was revealed. He had never been able to make enough to really support Nina. He’d begun gambling in the volatile commodities market, and he soon began taking money from the company (Taylor, Pinkham & Co) that employed him. When the company was purchased by J.P. Stevens in 1952, they found close to $100,000 missing.

By that point, Truman had published his first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms about growing up in the South, and was working on movie scripts (Beat The Devil). He sent Nina almost all of the money he made so that Nina would not have to move to a “cold water flat in the Bronx.”

Nina began drinking heavily.

Truman wrote in a letter to a friend “Odd, I seem to think about money all the time, I used to not ever. But the whole Nina-Joe situation has given me such a jolt; and it goes on and on and on – and I have to pay straight down the line because I don’t know what else to do.”

Nina began avoiding all her old friends, terrified that they would realize her difficult financial situation.

Eleanor Freide dined with Nina at the Plaza shortly before her death and remarked that she was shocked to see Nina’s roots showing. Her hair had always been dyed so expertly that Freide had thought she was a natural blonde (in Breakfast at Tiffany’s Paul goes through Holly’s trash at one point, and discovers that she “dyes her hair, and receives love letters by the bale.”). Towards the end of her life Nina could no longer go to the beauty parlor to have it done.

One night, Nina had a fight with Joe, and he went to stay at the best hotel he could afford, the West Side Y.M.C.A. No one knows precisely what happened, but sometime in the next few hours, Nina swallowed a lethal dose of Seconal sleeping pills. The next morning, when he found her, Joe saw that the phone was off the hook, and wondered if she’d tried to call anyone. The windows were also open – it’s possible that she thought the cold air would stop her from passing out. It did not. She was taken to the Knickerbocker hospital where she died, a few weeks before her 49th birthday.

Upon hearing of her death, Truman, who was in Paris with Jack at the time, wept “she didn’t have to do it. She didn’t have to die. I’ve got money.”

His lover, Jack, describes taking Truman to the bus to fly to Nina funeral, in a way that sounds remarkably similar to Doc’s departure in the book. He said, “I put him on the bus to the airport – he was the only one – all the other passengers had driven out, presumably in their own cars. The Driver said “look, Mr. C, you hve the bus to yourself.” Truman was holding his dog. He looked at the driver, then at me, and then, to please the driver, he said something he would never say if he’d not been so desolate: “that’s because all the other passengers are so rich” he said – making a joke. Then he drove away in that big blue bus. It began to snow. It sounds like a story, but it really did snow – and the wind rose – and it was freezing cold.”

At the funeral, which was held at Frank Campbell’s funeral parlor on Madison Avenue, because it was commonly agreed to be the best in the city, Joe and Truman told everyone that Nina had died of pneumonia.

Shortly after, the district attorney concluded his investigation of Joe, and Joe was sent away to Sing Sing. Truman visited him consistently while he was there, but vowed never again to loan money to anyone.

I cannot help but feel that this explains so much, afterwards.

Share This Post:
    • Amy

      Fascinating story! Thanks so much for sharing

    • Caitlin

      Yes, this is great! Super interesting. Excellent work and thanks for posting

    • Samantha

      I love this column so much.
      This might be my favorite yet – it almost brought me to tears.

    • Nancy

      What they said! Keep them coming!

    • Erin

      Thank you for the Shelved Dolls articles. They are lovely.

    • Jaclyn

      Very well done. These pieces are fantastic and each one is more fascinating than the last.

    • Lindsey

      You should put these into a book and sell people the book.

    • Cate

      I agree with the stuff everyone else is saying. I love this series.

      • Jennifer Wright

        AW YOU GUYS!

        I think next week might be Evelyn Nesbit. She is saucy. Also, I need to find someone whose life isn’t incredibly sad. Which is not Evelyn Nesbit. I mean, she’s pretty sad.

    • Robin

      You know, for the longest time, I sort of assumed that Truman Capote had intended Holly Golightly to be a female version of himself (given how others who knew him, such as Harper Lee, had seemed to describe him). I don’t really have time to read past the first page at the moment, but I look forward to reading the rest of your case soon!

    • diane kaston

      thank you thank you, this just blew me away, see you at tiffany’s

    • Kate

      Just had to jump on the “God-this-series-is-fantastic-please-never-stop-writing-it!!” bandwagon. Great writing, fascinating subjects… I’m always so excited to see a new Shelved Doll article. So, please, keep it up!

    • Rod

      “In 1931, when Truman was 8, Lillie married a successful South American businessman Joe Capote (Joe, not Jose, the successful South American Holly wanted to marry in Breakfast at Tiffany’s)”

      But Joe is short for Joseph, isn’t it? That is, José in Spanish (and Joe was Cuban).

    • An Okie

      Loved the piece. But I have one thing. It’s Okie, not Oakie. We’re not made of wood.

    • Luisa

      Wonderful piece! I did have an issue with one tiny bit-Cuba is NOT in South America.