Home CELEBS Inside Truman Capote's real betrayals fueling TV's 'Feud'

Inside Truman Capote’s real betrayals fueling TV’s ‘Feud’

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By the mid-1970s, Truman Capote was an easy joke. Still riding the laurels he earned as the author of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “In Cold Blood,” the pip-speak literary master’s legendary bon mots had warped into a cartoon bitchiness better suited to “Hollywood Squares” than a Paris Review soirée. Addled by drugs and alcohol and twisted by the suicide-death of his social-climbing mother, Capote hAcesparks’t published anything of real significance in a decade.

But for nearly as long, he had dangled a tantalizing promise to the press and public: a quintessentially Capote-ian “nonfiction novel,” titled “Answered Prayers” that would tattle-tale on high society’s most salacious scuttlebutt. In 1975, the first chapter of the work appeared in Esquire under the title “La Côte Basque, 1965” (a reference to the restaurant where the swans gathered for lunch on East 55th Street).

He described the book like a weapon to People magazine: “There’s the handle, the trigger, the barrel, and, finally, the bullet. And when that bullet is fired from the gun, it’s going to come out with a speed and power like you’ve never seen — wham!”

The unlucky victims of this shooting would be his closest and most influential friends, the gaggle of glamorous girls memorialized as his “Swans.” The story mocked their husband’s affairs, their sorrows and their vanity. It made them look ridiculous. It named names. It hinted at even more.

Capote burned a few bridges by lampooning his lady friends in an Esquire story.

The fallout from the unfinished novel — only published posthumously after his 1984 death, from liver disease, at age 59 — is now the subject of the second installment of the FX series “Feud.”

This week, Deadline revealed the cast of the eight-episode mini-series, “Feud: Capote’s Women,” by executive producer Ryan Murphy and Oscar-nominated director Gus Van Sant. It’s set to air sometime next year. The story is an adaptation of Laurence Leamer’s book “Capote’s Women: A True Story of Love, Betrayal, and a Swan Song for an Era.”

An all-star cast will play the roles of Capote’s swans, including Naomi Watts (as fashion fantastic Babe Paley), Chloë Sevigny (as Boston Brahmin CZ Guest), Calista Flockhart (as Jackie Kennedy’s jealous sister Lee Radziwill) and Diane Lane (as jet setter Slim Keith). “Gosford Park” and “Pride and Prejudice” actor Tom Hollander is cast as Capote.

Friends to enemies, here is a look at the lives of the socialites that made and unmade America’s loudest, smallest man of letters.

Babe Paley (played by Naomi Watts)

Babe Paley (left) and Naomi Watts, who will portray the fashionista on “Feud: Capote’s Women.”

Boston’s answer to England’s marvelous Mitfords was the “fabulous Cushing sisters.” The daughter of a top brain doctor, debutantes Mary, Betsey and Barbara Cushing would marry some of America’s most important (read: richest) men.

Mary was the second wife of Vincent Astor. Betsey first hitched up with FDR’s son James Roosevelt and then New York Herald Tribune publisher and president of the Museum of Modern Art, John Hay Whitney. Betsey, who went by “Babe,” didn’t do so bad herself, ringing the bells with oil heir and Tuxedo Park royal Stanley Grafton Mortimer Jr. and later William “Pasha” Paley, the executive who built CBS into a network powerhouse.

With the latter, she ruled New York society from a Billy Baldwin-designed perch in the St. Regis, and an 80-acre estate in Manhasset.

In 1938, while still in her early 20s, she had started working as an editor at Vogue, using her position to collect a wardrobe of Balenciaga, Valentino and Givenchy and enforce her name as a by-word for haute style with au currant flair.

Capote is said to have lampooned the extramarital affairs of Paley’s husband in his notorious Esquire story “La Côte Basque, 1965.”

But not all was well. The spotlight and pressure to be the mid-century’s most glamorous woman, coupled with her husband’s poorly-hidden philandering, left her nervous. As the Paleys’ constant house guest and companion, Capote knew all.

In “La Côte Basque,” ​​he cruelly lampoons Mr. Paley’s affairs and desires to be accepted by WASP society, humiliating Babe in the process. The scene devolves into revolting camp, with Mr. Paley’s stand-in frantically cleaning a menstrual blood stain “the size of Brazil” left on his bedsheet following an affair with “a cretinous Protestant size forty who wears low-heeled shoes and lavender water.”

Babe, who was dying of lung cancer at the time of the publication, never spoke to Capote again and when she passed in 1978, he was not invited to the funeral.

Lee Radziwill (played by Calista Flockheart)

Lee Radziwell (left), who will be played by Calista Flockhart
Lee Radziwell (left), who will be played by Calista Flockhart

Born to famed New York stockbroker John Vernou Bouvier III and raised in the city’s most prestigious co-op, 740 Park Ave., alongside her soon-to-be-famous sister Jacqueline, Caroline Lee Bouvier was ready to host those with the most from the start.

Better known as Lee, she was sent to the Chapin School, Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, Conn., and Sarah Lawrence College and after all that, at the age of 20, she married Michael Temple Canfield, a diplomat at the US embassy in London.

But her 1953 wedding was largely overshadowed months later when her sister Jacqueline married then-Senator John F. Kennedy.

In 1958, Lee divorced Canfield, and a year later married the defunct Polish prince Stanisław Albrecht Radziwiłł, taking up residence in the 18th-century Buckinghamshire estate Turville Grange, which they bought in 1966 for the then-massive sum of £55,000.

Her pal Capote ate up her glamorous lifestyle — and was her confidante as Radziwill privately stewed over her sister’s fame, according to biographer Laurence Leamer.

Radziwell was said to be intensely jealous of her sister, first lady Jackie Kennedy.
Radziwell was said to be intensely jealous of her sister, first lady Jackie Kennedy.

“Lee was so jealous of Jackie she could hardly speak,” Leamer told People. “If your older sister is the first lady of the United States, maybe you might be a little bit jealous… But she was just consumed with jealousy.”

He added that Capote understood and related to Radziwill’s insecurities, and spared her from the worst impertinence in Esquire. She even stood up for Capote in his darkest hours, claiming that it was he who had been “taken advantage of by a lot of people he thought were his friends,” according to Vanity Fair.

In 1988, Radziwill married Academy Award-winning director Herbert Ross. She died in 2019 at the age of 85 on the Upper East Side, where her funeral was attended by fashion figures including Carolina Herrera, Marc Jacobs, Tory Burch and Sofia Coppola.

Slim Keith (played by Diane Lane)

Slim Keith (left), who will be played by Diane Lane
Slim Keith (left), who will be played by Diane Lane

Born Mary Raye Gross to unremarkable parents, Slim Keith arrived into New York society from a small agricultural California town, having left school at 16 and met “Thin Man” actor William Powell, who introduced her to William Randolph Hearst and the star power of the Era.

Almost overnight, and without ever acting in a film, she was a Hollywood “It” girl, canoodling with Gary Cooper, Cary Grant and Clark Gable and dodging the advances of Ernest Hemingway. But in 1941, Slim married “To Have and Have Not” director Howard Hawkes — she’s credited with discovering Lauren Bacall.

After their marriage fell apart, she moved in with Hemingway in Havana, where she met theatrical producer Leland Hayward. They married at the Manhasset estate of William and Babe Paley. That marriage, too, didn’t last but she picked up a title with round three.

In 1962, she married Kenneth Keith, Baron Keith of Castleacre, who chaired Rolls-Royce.

Keith never forgave Capote for portraying her as catty.
Keith never forgave Capote for portraying her as catty.

Capote called Slim “Big Mama,” and confided his darkest emotions to her. “I’m a freak,” he told her on a recorded phone call preserved by Paris Review founder George Plimpton. “People are amused by me. People are fascinated by me. But people do not love me.”

But Capote also turned on his mother.

“La Côte Basque” describes a thinly-veiled Keith as “a big breezy peppy broad” from the American West who is comically married to an English aristocrat. Her character, dubbed Lady Coolbirth, presides over the champagne-soaked table, dishing out the cat scratches.

Wounded that Keith cut him off after the article, Capote wrote to her.

“Merry Christmas, Big Mama. I’ve decided to forgive you. Love, Truman.”

But Keith never forgave Capote, and even considered suing him. In 1990, she died of lung cancer at age 72.

CZ Guest (played by Chloë Sevigny)

CZ Guest (left) will be played by Chloë Sevigny.
CZ Guest (left) will be played by Chloë Sevigny.

Lucy Douglas Guest, better known as “CZ” after a childhood nickname, was born to prominent Boston investment banker Alexander Lynde Cochrane. Despite a short-lived episode of experimentation in the early 1940s when she briefly joined the Ziegfeld Follies and posed for Diego Rivera in Mexico — “aged 22, as a honey-haired odalisque desnuda,” as Capote puts it — CZ embraced a life as the face of America’s upper-crust.

“I’m not ashamed of the way I live,” she told the Washington Post in 1977. “Look at the jobs I’ve given people. If you have money and servants then you’re helping somebody. If rich people didn’t spend money the country would be in much worse shape than it is today. If you have money then you give people pleasure. I wish I had more money. I’d spend more.”

Guest and her husband got Capote into rehab at Hazelden after an intoxicated appearance on TV.
Guest and her husband got Capote into rehab at Hazelden after an intoxicated appearance on TV.

Luckily for her, money flowed from both directions.

In 1947, she married heir to the Phipps steel fortune Winston Frederick Churchill Guest, a first cousin of Sir Winston Churchill. Bucking tradition, the couple opted to wed not in a cathedral but at Ernest Hemingway’s home in Havana, with Capote as best man.

In 1978, after giving a TV interview while heavily intoxicated, Capote was escorted by the guests to Hazelden, a rehab center in Minnesota.

For their unconditional support, Capote rewarded the couple with mostly kind words. After The Post tapped Guest for a gardening column, resulting in the book “First Garden,” Capote wrote the introduction: “Do you know the difference between the rich and — well, you and me? Vegetables,” he cracked.

Guest spent her later years gardening and designing cashmere sweaters. In 2003, she died at age 83 in Old Westbury, NY.

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