"I thought about it all that November day and then I said to myself: Well, why not this crime? Why not pack up and go to Kansas and see what happens?" he told the Times in 1966. "If I had realized then what the future held, I never would have stopped in Garden City. I would have driven straight on. Like a bat out of hell."
Obviously, Capote was being disingenuous. As a huge bestseller, his "nonfiction novel" catapulted Capote from precocious imp to serious author. The powerful movie about the crime, In Cold Blood, screens at the Englewood Theatre October 5-11.
Appearing in the 1967 film are several young actors who would go on to successful theater careers in Kansas City. American Heartland Theatre's producing director, Paul Hough, had a role as Kenyon Clutter, the teenage son in the slain family. The Heartland's founder, the late Jim Assad, played a cellmate of one of the gunmen, and actor Ronetta Walman did a turn as the Clutters' housekeeper. Kip Niven portrayed an Olathe gas-station attendant whose only lines were to the killers after spotting their guns: "Fill 'er up? Perfect day for it. Hunting pheasants, I mean."
Niven recalls that filmmaker Richard Brooks was searching for "real, authentic Kansas young people -- and we were real, authentic Kansas young people." He and Hough and other members of the University of Kansas' theater department auditioned for Brooks at a casting call in Lawrence. "Dr. Jack Brooking, who headed up the acting program, had us doing improvisational, abstract auditions in class." When it came time for their audition, Hough and his mates did an improv bit based on the question "What do we choose to improv?" Five of them got roles: Niven and Hough, Brenda Curran as the Clutters' daughter, Nancy; Richard Kelton as Nancy's boyfriend; and Mary-Linda Rapelye as Nancy's friend.
"I wasn't initially cast as Kenyon," Hough says. "But three or four weeks later, Brooks said, 'Paul, could you get a flattop by tomorrow?' The role wasn't gigantic but it was important in the film and the credit was good to me when I moved to Los Angeles."
Brooks insisted on making the film look stark and realistic, going so far as to film in the Holcombe, Kansas, farmhouse where the Clutters were killed.
The actors playing the Clutters ate together at their own table during meal breaks. And Brooks made Robert Blake and Scott Wilson, who played the killers Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, stay at a separate hotel, away from the rest of the cast. "I didn't meet Bobby Blake until it was at the barrel of a shotgun," Hough recalls.
"The murder scene took close to a week to film and was pretty complex because the cameramen were moving through the house," he says. "It was technically spectacular. Brooks cuts away from the actual murders and you hear the shots from the next room -- a lot more tense than seeing the blood and guts. But there I was, taped and hog-tied in the actual basement."
Preston Burtis, who owned car dealerships in Garden City and who "sold Herb Clutter his cars," recalls one party at his home where the guests included Capote, To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee, and photographer Richard Avedon.
"He was an interesting little duck," Burtis says of Capote, "and created quite a tidal wave in town; he was more of a character than we were used to.
"But, oh, those murders rattled everybody," Burtis adds. "They were supposedly killed for their money, and I don't know if Herb had $50."
Hough is proud of his work -- and that of cinematographer Conrad Hall.
"Though I think the book was better, when the movie opened about a year after the filming, I remember how brilliantly filmed it was, and how brilliantly accomplished."