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The ‘swans’ betrayed by Truman Capote: Glamorous socialites he surrounded himself with

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Tom Hollander has been cast as author Truman Capote in the second series of TV show Feud, while Calista Flockhart and Chloe Sevigny have been brought on to play two of his ‘swans’.

The former Ally McBeal star will play Jackie Kennedy’s younger and more vivacious sister Lee Radziwill and Sevigny will star as socialite and actress C.Z. Guest.

The first series of Ryan Murphy’s anthology programme, Bette and Joan, followed the rivalry between Hollywood actresses Bette Davis and Joan Crawford both during and after the production of their psychological horror thriller film What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

But HBO has now announced series two will follow the Breakfast at Tiffany’s author, who worked the social scene in New York in the mid 20th century and surrounded himself with high-profile, glamorous women dubbed his ‘swans’.

With his circle including top actresses and even Jackie Kennedy’s sister, Capote impressed the upper classes with his works, including his 1966 true crime ‘non fiction novel’, In Cold Blood.

Slim Keith, Babe Paley, CZ Guest and Lee Radziwill were pillars of the New York society world that initially embraced Truman – only to freeze him out after he aired out their dirty laundry in an explosive short story. 

Truman Capote was welcomed into the New York social scene after thrilling socialites with his novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s – but he was eventually shunned when he betrayed his friends

His third work, Answered Prayers, which was never finished, saw him shunned from the high society social scene after it betrayed the trust of the swans.

When an extract from the novel was published in Esquire magazine in 1975 the swans immediately recognised themselves in his fictional characters.

In a move described as ‘social suicide’ by Vanity Fair, Capote’s book exposed secrets the swans had confided in him over the years, which caused them to abandon him altogether until his death in 1984.

Here, FEMAIL takes a look at some of Capote’s most glamorous and powerful friends – and how they shunned him when they learnt of his betrayal…

C. Z. GUEST 

American-born C. Z. Guest was a cool and elegant blonde who regularly made the Best Dressed lists (pictured beside the pool of her ocean-front estate, Villa Artemis in Palm Beach, Florida, circa 1955)

American-born C. Z. Guest was a cool and elegant blonde who regularly made the Best Dressed lists (pictured beside the pool of her ocean-front estate, Villa Artemis in Palm Beach, Florida, circa 1955)

The actress, who will be played by Chloë Sevigny in the new series,  married polo champion Winston Frederick Churchill Guest in Havana, Cuba

The actress will be played by Chloë Sevigny in the new series

The actress, who will be played by Chloë Sevigny in the new series (right)  married polo champion Winston Frederick Churchill Guest in Havana, Cuba (left) 

American-born C. Z. Guest was a cool and elegant blonde who regularly made the Best Dressed lists. 

She will be played by Chloë Sevigny in the new series of Feud. 

C.Z’s maiden name was Lucy Douglas Cochrane but she became C. Z. because her brother could not pronounce the word ‘sister’.

She was a stage actress who became well known for her sense of style, and was inducted into the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1959.

Capote, in his introduction to her book, described the first time he ever saw C.Z. – at the opening of My Fair Lady in New York. 

Capote wrote: ‘As Raymond Chandler remarked of his femme fatale in ‘The Long Goodbye’: ‘There are blondes, and then there are blondes.’ Mrs. Guest, shimmering in the blue smoky light, was one of the latter. 

‘Her hair, parted in the middle and paler than Dom Perignon, was but a shade darker than the dress she was wearing, a Mainbocher column of white crepe de chine. No jewelry, not much makeup; just blanc de blanc perfection.’ 

‘Who,’ wrote Capote, ‘could have imagined that lurking inside this cool vanilla lady was a madcap, laughing tomboy? Well, I suppose anyone who knew her background: a trimly, tautly brought up Boston girl, the daughter of a Brahmin, she left society for stage, films and, finding no satisfaction there, went adventuring in Mexico, where Diego Rivera painted her, aged 22, as a honey-haired odalisque desnuda, a famous portrait that, according to legend, adorned a bar in Mexico City.’

C. Z. was married to polo champion Winston Frederick Churchill Guest, the son of British politician Frederick Guest (and a relative of Sir Winston Churchill), in a lavish ceremony in Havana, Cuba.

In fact, the 1947 wedding took place at the home of Ernest Hemingway, who was the best man.

However when she settled down to marry Winston, it appeared Capote was unimpressed, penning: ”Oh, it must have been fun – but at heart she was too conservative, too countrified for all that – she needed a home and a husband and dogs and horses and children (in that order) and flower gardens and vegetable gardens; and when she met the right man, the very massive but very gentle Winston F.C. Guest, she got them: houses, with gardens galore, in Old Westbury, Middleburg and Palm Beach.’ 

C. Z. Guest, who was painted by the likes of Andy Warhol and often considered to be a muse for many famous artists, went on to design her own fashion collection in the 1980s.  

She also starred on the cover of TIME Magazine in 1962 to illustrate a feature on American high society, with many seeing her as having particularly American style.

She shared two children with Winston, Alexander and Cornelia, whose Godparents were the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

As well as being one of Capote’s ‘swans’, C.Z had other friends in high places, including Salvador Dalí. 

Of all the women in the author’s inner circle, it is thought C.Z Guest was the most distrusting of her friend Truman Capote – and had even advised other swans to be careful about what they told him.

According to publisher Penguin, Ms Guest once urged the other women close to Capote to tell their secrets to a psychiatrist, rather than the author.

After the extract from the novel was published in Esquire and most of the swans abandoned Capote, C.Z was the only socialite from his former close group to accompany him to rehab following his slide into drink and drugs.

BABE PALEY

Babe Paley became the editor of Vogue after choosing a career over the debutante life, but she still mixed with people in high places

Babe Paley became the editor of Vogue after choosing a career over the debutante life, but she still mixed with people in high places

Babe, who will be played by Australian actress Naomi Watts in series two of Feud (pictured) , fascinated people with her glamorous lifestyle

Babe, who will be played by Australian actress Naomi Watts in series two of Feud (pictured) , fascinated people with her glamorous lifestyle 

Babe Paley, who will be played by Naomi Watts in series two of Feud, made up one third of the Cushing sisters – alongside siblings Minnie and Betsey – whose romances, style trends and parties captivated the American public during the poverty-stricken Great Depression.

The women fascinated people with their glamorous lifestyles marked by wealth, privilege, country homes, designer clothes, yachts, fancy apartments and six high-profile marriages. 

The first married was 21-year-old Betsey, the middle sister who ensnared the affections of James Roosevelt II. James, also known as ‘Jimmy’ to his classmates at Harvard, was the eldest son of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Betsey’s time as a Roosevelt in Washington DC was important for Babe because she arranged for her teenage sister to be introduced to the debutante circuit by hosting a ball at The White House. 

Babe (born Barbara) had long been regarded as the most beautiful of the three girls; she was tall, slender, stylish and had aristocratic appeal. 

But much to her mother’s disappointment, Babe decided to enter the workforce after two seasons of smashing success as a debutante.

Babe became an editor at Vogue Magazine, hired by Condé Nast himself, and quickly became a style icon, having believed to have started two 20th century trends – mixing high-low pieces and tying a scarf to her handbag.

She was married to oil heir Stanley Grafton Mortimer for six years, having two children, Amanda Jay Mortimer and Stanley Grafton Mortimer, before wedding CBS founder William S. Paley.

Motherhood was not Babe’s forte and she was said to have ignored her children while in pursuit of social status.

Babe and William lived in a luxurious apartment at the St Regis in New York. At the weekend, they would host lavish parties at their 80 acre farm on Long Island, attended by celebrity guests.  

She maintained her position on the best-dressed list 14 times before officially being inducted into the Fashion Hall of Fame in 1958. She stayed married to William until her death in 1978 from lung cancer.

One of Babe’s closet friends was Capote, who admitted in his journal that her only fault was that she was perfect. 

However this friendship was destroyed after Capote published his Answered Prayers chapter, ‘La Cote Basque 1965’, in Esquire Magazine – detailing a thinly-veiled account of William Paley cheating on his wife.

He said that Babe had walked in on her husband washing their sheets after a woman he was having an affair with menstruated on their marital bed. 

After reading the extract, Babe immediately called her friend and fellow swan, Slim Keith after recognising herself. She never spoke to the writer again. 

LEE RADZIWILL

Lee Radziwill (left with her sister Jackie Onassis in 1970) established herself in her own right after being born into a noteworthy family

Lee Radziwill (left with her sister Jackie Onassis in 1970) established herself in her own right after being born into a noteworthy family

The sisters (pictured in 1951 arriving back in the US after a trip to Europe) were pitted against each other from a young age, with Lee branded 'the pretty one'

The sisters (pictured in 1951 arriving back in the US after a trip to Europe) were pitted against each other from a young age, with Lee branded ‘the pretty one’

Actress Calista Flockhart is set to play the younger sister of Jackie Kennedy in the upcoming series of the show

Actress Calista Flockhart is set to play the younger sister of Jackie Kennedy in the upcoming series of the show 

Born Caroline Lee Bouvier in New York in 1933 to Janet Norton Lee and New York stockbroker and socialite John Vernou Bouvier III, Lee came from a famous family but established herself as a noteworthy figure in her own right.

She boasted an exclusive list of close friends, from Andy Warhol to Truman Capote, and worked briefly as an actress before turning her hand to interior design and public relations.

For a time, the social doyenne was also an American ‘Princess’. After her first marriage to Michael Canfield collapsed, she married Prince Stanisław Albrecht Radziwill, a Polish aristocrat, in 1959.

Lee, then 26, lived in London with Prince Radziwill, where she insisted on being addressed as ‘Princess’ Lee Radziwill, even though her husband surrendered his royal status when he took British nationality in 1951.

Adopting the name ‘Her Serene Royal Highness’, the pair had two children together, before they divorced in 1974.

She married a third time to film director Herbert Ross in 1988. Their union lasted 13 years and they split in 2001, just months before his death. Lee died in 2019, aged 85, in New York City.

As her friendship with Capote blossomed Lee confided in him about her rivalry with sister Jackie. 

The New York Post reports she once said of the author: ‘I feel as if he’s my brother, except that brothers and sisters are rarely as close as we are.’

When she learnt he was writing his new novel, Answered Prayers, she gifted him a gold-lined cigarette case. It was inscribed with: ‘To my Answered Prayer, with love, Lee. July 1967.’

At the time, she was unaware of the content of the novel, which eventually saw her end her friendship with the author. 

Lee and her sister Jackie Kennedy Onassis, who became First Lady of the United States as the wife of President John F. Kennedy in 1961 up until his death in 1963, were two of the most glamorous women of their generation.

But from a young age the pair pitted themselves against one another, with Lee regarded as the ‘pretty one’, and Jackie the ‘smart one’. 

The sister is said to have even helped Jackie with her First Lady wardrobe, encouraging her to wear Givenchy despite her husband Mr Kennedy preferring she wore American-only, according to Tatler

Before her retirement, Lee served for many years as a Public Relations executive for Giorgio Armani.

She was a stalwart attendee of New York Fashion Week, and regularly attended other fashion events around the world right up until her death.

In a New York Times interview in 2013, she commented: ‘When I was young, I used to think that everyone should die at 70… but my closest friends like Rudolf and Andy [Warhol] and to an extent Capote, let alone my close family… didn’t even reach that age.’ 

MARELLA AGNELLI

Marella Agnelli was the daughter of a Neapolitan aristocrat - but swapped her conservative background for a lavish lifestyle

Marella Agnelli was the daughter of a Neapolitan aristocrat – but swapped her conservative background for a lavish lifestyle

Marella Agnelli was the daughter of a Neapolitan aristocrat but she soon swapped her conservative upbringing for a life of streamlined yachts, fast cars, and glamorous parties following her marriage to Giovanni Agnelli in 1953.

She became an international jetsetter following her wedding to the Italian industrialist, who was the richest man in Italy at one point and the party-loving heir to the Fiat automobile empire.

Marella, who died in 2019, was known for stylishly decorating all ten of her homes, being a serious art collector and frequent contributor and model for Vogue.

Capote relished being part of Marella’s circle, often taking part in her summer cruises in the Mediterranean.

They had met one another in New York in the early 60s and soon became friends, with Marella having enjoyed both of his first books.

During the 1960s, Marella previously revealed that she regarded the writer as one of her closest friends, finding him warm and amusing and had shared her secrets with him.

‘But he was waiting like a falcon,’ she told Vanity Fair in 2014. ‘He called us his ‘swans,’ but now it seemed there were just too many swans.

‘I had always thought my relationship with Truman was personal. The intimacy, the laughs, the giggles …

‘I thought it was a special friendship between Truman and me, unaware he was also giggling and laughing with Babe or Gloria or Slim.’

She went on to say that her departure from Truman happened before the chapter from his novel Answered Prayers appeared in Esquire magazine.

Capote had reportedly told Ms Agnelli in 1969 that Answered Prayers was ‘going to do to America what Proust did to France’.

Marella had two children, Edoardo Agnelli and Margherita Agnelli. 

GLORIA GUINNESS 

Capote's swan Gloria Guinness (pictured in Acapulco, Mexico in 1975) married into the brewing dynasty and was the wife of former MP Thomas 'Loel' Guinness

Capote’s swan Gloria Guinness (pictured in Acapulco, Mexico in 1975) married into the brewing dynasty and was the wife of former MP Thomas ‘Loel’ Guinness

She was also a Harper's Bazaar contributing editor in the 60s and a regular on international best-dressed lists

She was also a Harper’s Bazaar contributing editor in the 60s and a regular on international best-dressed lists 

Gloria Guinness, the wife of former MP Thomas ‘Loel’ Guinness, was a central figure of the postwar social scene.

She was also a Harper’s Bazaar contributing editor in the 60s and a regular on international best-dressed lists.

Gloria grew up in poverty in Mexico, according to Tatler, before marrying into the renowned Guinness brewing dynasty following two failed marriages.

However, her husband’s particular branch of the family made its fortune in banking and real estate.

Despite being a fixture on best-dressed lists, stylish Gloria previously insisted she didn’t always think of fashion.

‘I think everyone envisions me sitting at Alexandre’s all day, picking out beautiful clothes from passing couturiers,’ she told W magazine in 1980. ‘My God, could you imagine the boredom?’

Often considered the most elegant of Capote’s swans for her excellent fashion sense, Gloria struck up a friendly rivalry with Babe Paley as the pair subtly competed for star status. 

She maintained residences in Normandy, London, Paris, Switzerland, Mexico and Palm Beach and loved hosting her high-society friends, who included the likes of Babe and William Paley.

Despite a long-running, light-hearted feud with Babe, Gloria was the first to shun Capote after the excerpt from Answered Prayers was published, after he exposed how Babe’s husband had had an affair. 

Gloria died in November 1980 from a heart attack in Switzerland, and has three children from her different marriages.

SLIM KEITH 

American socialite Nancy 'Slim' Keith (pictured on New Providence Island in 1974) was a close friend of Babe Paley

American socialite Nancy ‘Slim’ Keith (pictured on New Providence Island in 1974) was a close friend of Babe Paley

The socialite (pictured talking to star Jimmy Stewart at a dinner at the Waldorf) was married to film director Howard Hawks

The socialite (pictured talking to star Jimmy Stewart at a dinner at the Waldorf) was married to film director Howard Hawks

Slim, who was known for being the original Californian girl, will be played by Diane Lane in the new series of the show

Slim, who was known for being the original Californian girl, will be played by Diane Lane in the new series of the show

US socialite Nancy ‘Slim’ Keith was a friend of Babe Paley, with the two operating in the same circles.

She will be played by Diane Lane in the new series of the show.  

After receiving the call from Babe when the Esquire extract came out, she told writer George Plimpton she was ‘absolutely horrified’.

Vanity Fair reports she said: ‘The story about the sheets…There was no question in anybody’s mind who it was.’

Slim was known for being the original Californian girl, and landed her first cover for Harper’s Bazaar when she was just 22. 

She was also photographed in Vogue, and regularly made it on to the best-dressed lists.

After being pursued by the likes of Clark Gable and Ernest Hemingway, she married her first husband, the film director Howard Hawks.

Her influence over her husband is thought to have been great, with Slim credited with showing him a magazine with Lauren Bacall on, launching the classic Hollywood star’s career.

However, Slim divorced Hawks in 1949 after eight years of marriage and moved on with Hollywood agent Leland Hayward, who also produced the original Broadway stage production of The Sound of Music. 

Her final and third marriage was to British banker Baron Keith of Castleacre, meaning she adopted the title of Lady Keith. The couple separated after 10 years of marriage, in 1972. 

She was a popular society figure on both coasts and thanks to her elegance and style, she made an alluring companion to Truman Capote.

However, she cut off contact with the writer when she found he had  based an unflattering character, Lady Coolbirth, on her in his unpublished book Answered Prayers. 

Smith died aged 72 of lung cancer. She had only one child, a daughter, Kitty Hawks, with her first husband. 

Tom Hollander to play Truman Capote in Feud season two…

Truman, who was born in the south and was a childhood friend of To Kill A Mockingbird author Harper Lee, was launched into the New York beau monde after achieving phenomenal literary success in the 1950s and 60s. 

His books Breakfast At Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood became smash bestsellers and instant classics, and the Manhattan elite enfolded him in their midst.

A hard-drinking homosexual with a waspish sense of humor and a flair for gossip, he became particularly beloved of society ladies like Babe Paley and Gloria Vanderbilt.

The peak of his social ascendancy in his rarified new circle was the legendary Black And White Ball he threw at the Plaza Hotel in 1966.

Truman’s masquerade ball welcomed a dazzling guest list that included not only the wealthy women he called his ‘swans,’ but also such celebs as Frank Sinatra and his then-wife Mia Farrow, as well as Harry Belafonte, Andy Warhol and Candice Bergen.

When an extract from his third work, Answered Prayers, was published in Esquire Magazine, Capote was shunned from the social scene

When an extract from his third work, Answered Prayers, was published in Esquire Magazine, Capote was shunned from the social scene

Foreign royals ranging from the Duke and Duchess of Windsor to the Maharani of Jaipur dotted the scene, as did America’s then-first lady Lady Bird Johnson.

Within the decade though, Truman was rejected wholesale by his ‘swans’ after he betrayed their secrets in the service of his career.

In 1975 Esquire published his short story La Cote Basque 1965, which was named after a swank Manhattan restaurant popular with the city’s upper crust.

The story, which was written to be included in Truman’s upcoming book Answered Prayers, bared a raft of seething society gossip.

Some of his targets were even mentioned by their real names, including Gloria Vanderbilt, depicted as a ditz who has been married so many times she fails to even recognize her first ex-husband when he waves at her in a restaurant.

However the most scandalous dish was served up with pseudonyms, including a thinly veiled anecdote about Babe Paley, the wife of CBS founder Bill Paley.

‘Cleo’ and ‘Sidney,’ stand-ins for Babe and Bill, appear in the story as a glamorous couple whose marriage is threatened by his ravenous infidelity.

In one especially indiscreet passage, ‘Sidney’ finds himself alone at a party and picks up a governor’s wife described as a ‘porco’ and a ‘bull d***.’

Sex with the governor’s wife is like ‘sloshing around in some strange puddle’ – and as she leaves with the lights still off, ‘Sidney’ discovers that she has had her period all over his bed to rebuke him ‘for his Jewish presumption’ in making a move on her.

Panicking that ‘Cleo’ will come home and see the bloody sheets, ‘Sidney’ has to rush with them into the bathroom and frantically scrub them clean himself.

The anecdotes in La Cote Basque 1965 are relayed by a drunken socialite called Lady Ina Coolbirth, who is herself supposed to be a stand-in for Slim Keith and who claims to have been raped during her teen years by John F. Kennedy’s father.

Truman’s story exploded across New York City and his old ‘swans’ instantly closed ranks against him, plunging him deeper into the depths of his alcoholism.

A small group of rich ladies remained loyal to him, such as Old Hollywood star Ava Gardner, who had been spared his acid pen in spite of her own colorful love life.

However he was overwhelmingly shunned by his old friends, including Babe Paley, who never spoke to him again until her death of lung cancer in 1978.

Thunderstruck by the backlash, Truman insisted: ‘What did they expect? I’m a writer, and I use everything. Did all those people think I was there just to entertain them?’

He wafted into Andy Warhol’s drug-fueled circle, defiantly kicked up his heels at Studio 54 and slid further and further into his addictions.

Multiple trips to rehab were insufficient to dry him out, and Truman eventually succumbed to the drink and drugs in 1984, dying of liver disease a month before his 60th birthday at the Bel-Air home of one of Johnny Carson’s ex-wives.

He never finished Answered Prayers, though an incomplete version was published posthumously – including the short story that provoked his fall from grace.

 

 

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