Stream On: the rise and fall of Truman Capote

By on February 22, 2024

The lore of the Manhattan restaurant La Côte Basque reached a fever pitch in 1975, when Truman Capote’s short story of the same name, a chapter from his forthcoming novel Answered Prayers (never finished; published posthumously), was published in Esquire magazine. His main character, Lady Ina Coolbirth (a stand-in for Slim Keith), gossips there about the various scandals of New York’s elite: Ann Hopkins, a “jazzy little carrot top” who killed her husband (a story that closely mirrored starlet Ann Woodward’s), as well as the sordid indiscretions of Sidney Dillon (a thinly veiled William S. Paley).

The vicious roman à clef led to Capote’s swift ousting from high society and sent him into a spiral of self-destruction, recounted in FX’s Feud: Capote vs. the Swans.


/Streaming /🍅78%🍿74% /Trailer /2024 /TVMA

“Nothing in nature pretends to love you and then tries to eat you.” (Slim Keith, looking for a corollary to Truman Capote)

In 1968 flamboyant writer Truman Capote (Tom Hollander, The Ipcress File, apparently having the time of his life) visits his friend Babe Paley (Naomi Watts, BoJack Horseman), wife of William S. Paley (Treat Williams), the founder of the Columbia Broadcasting System, and hears her complaint about her husband’s latest antic with Happy Rockefeller (Rebecca Creskoff, Bates Motel), the wife of then-New York governor Nelson Rockefeller. The story that Babe tells Truman is repulsive, but he counsels her to forget it: “He’ll buy you anything you want right now, so make him pay. But follow my advice. Don’t tell anyone. This is our secret.”

Back in 1955, Truman meets Bill Paley for the first time, and at a dinner party polishes his reputation as a raconteur by sharing his tale of how Ann Woodward (Demi Moore) killed her husband, banking heir William Woodward Jr. (which a Nassau County grand jury determined to be accidental): “He was gonna divorce her; she blew him away!” To Bill Paley: “Bill, you should tell your boys at 60 Minutes ’cause it’s a killer story! But let me sell it first.”

The thing is, by 1975, Capote would rather drink than write, and his publisher is threatening to sue over his undelivered “nonfiction novel” Answered Prayers. He meets aspiring author John O’Shea (Russell Tovey, Sherlock)—in a bathhouse—and takes him to lunch with his “swans,” socialites Babe Paley, C.Z. Guest (Chloë Sevigny) and Slim Keith (Diane Lane). They are unimpressed by O’Shea, “a bank teller from the middle of Long Island,” and tell Truman as much.

Truman’s long-time target Ann Woodward, at a nearby table, spots him and throws a drink in his face. O’Shea leans back; he’s appalled but excited. On the subway home (Truman is cash-poor), O’Shea tells him, “So you need to finish your book, huh? Write about the world you’re showing me. Nobody can show us these women, how they really are. You’re not blocked. You’re just not looking at what you got.” Truman, half drunk, looks up and murmurs, “La Côte Basque!”

Truman writes and sends the chapter to Esquire; everyone’s names had been changed, but Bill Paley recognizes himself in it; so do the “swans.” Babe Paley, humiliated, meets Slim at the restaurant, who tells her, “Someone slipped Ann an advance copy. She committed suicide because of Truman’s story. At least we’re still alive.”

“Well, I want to die, too.”

“No. That’s enough now. Now we close ranks. No more being deceived by these men. Truman, the husbands, the men! Enough! He killed Ann! And we are going to kill him. He will have nowhere, nothing, and everyone will see it. And he will die. Just like Ann Woodward died. But it will be much … slower.”

Adapted from Laurence Leamer’s book Capote’s Women: A True Story of Love, Betrayal, and a Swan Song for an Era, Capote vs. the Swans is a delicious treat.

Sources include Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED) and Vogue.

(Pete Hummers is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to earn fees by linking Amazon.com and affiliate sites. This adds nothing to Amazon’s prices.)

Click here for more Stream On: What to watch on TV columns by Pete Hummers. Columns are archived and updated when necessary on Substack.

Comments are closed.