Thursday, October 22, 2009

"A Diamond Guitar" and "The Gold Violin"

My copy of Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's contains three short stories in addition to the novella: the classic and beautiful "A Christmas Memory," the adapted-into-an-obscure-Broadway-musical "House of Flowers," and the wholly forgotten "A Diamond Guitar." When I read the title of that story, though, it immediately made me think of a Mad Men episode from Season 2 called "The Gold Violin." Stringed instrument + precious metal or gemstone... they're the only works I can think of whose titles follow this pattern. (Perhaps they're even the only works in existence with this kind of title. I doubt that anyone has written "The Platinum Cello" or "The Sapphire Ukulele.")

"The Gold Violin" is the Mad Men episode where Salvatore, the closeted gay art director (who never fails to engage my sympathy), invites his colleague Ken to dinner at his apartment, and we realize that Sal has an unrequited crush on Ken. The episode's title comes from the fact that Ken, an aspiring author, has just completed a short story called "The Gold Violin" and asks Sal to read it.

So is there any connection between this episode and "A Diamond Guitar," apart from their similar titles? Well, "A Diamond Guitar" is an extremely homoerotic story by 1950s standards. The plot: in a prison farm in the South, an intense friendship springs up between Mr. Schaeffer, a middle-aged inmate, and Tico Feo, a handsome young Cuban boy who has just arrived, a rhinestone-studded guitar in tow. "Except that they did not combine their bodies or think to do so, though such things were not unknown at the farm, they were as lovers," Capote writes. How appropriate, then, that the Mad Men episode whose title recalls this story should also be an episode that focuses on Salvatore! Like Mr. Schaeffer, Sal is defeated and imprisoned (at least metaphorically); like Tico Feo, Ken is a cheerful golden boy with an artistic talent.

The Mad Men writers definitely make a habit of paying homage to (or, if you are feeling less charitable, stealing ideas from) the American literature of the period. For instance, Don Draper lives on Bullet Park Road, and John Cheever wrote a novel called Bullet Park. In another episode, someone reminisces about the sweltering weather they had "the summer they executed the Rosenbergs," which is an obvious lift from the first line of Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar: "It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs." And speaking of Capote, it just occurred to me that the Mad Men scene where Duck Phillips abandons his dog on the streets of New York might be inspired by the scene where Holly Golightly abandons her cat there. So it's not hard to imagine that the Mad Men writers read "A Diamond Guitar" in the course of researching the early '60s, and, realizing that its themes related to the story they were trying to tell about Salvatore, paid homage to Capote by titling their own episode (and Ken's story-within-the-story) something similar!

Image: From "The Gold Violin": Sal, his wife Kitty, and Ken.

1 comment:

javieth said...
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