Wednesday 31 January 2024

A Closer Look: Inside Swan Babe Paley’s Iconic New York Apartments | The Women of ‘Feud: Capote vs. the Swans’ Are Birds of a Feather /

The Women of ‘Feud: Capote vs. the Swans’ Are Birds of a Feather


Famous women play the famous women in Ryan Murphy’s new period drama. In a group interview, they discuss the series and the burdens of public life.


Alexis Soloski

By Alexis Soloski

Jan. 30, 2024


The first season of Ryan Murphy’s “Feud” aired in 2017. A juicy survey of the bitter rivalry between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, the co-stars of “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?,” the show earned 18 Emmy nominations, winning two. A second season, based on Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s troubled marriage, was developed then scrapped, mostly because Murphy felt that he could never outdo “The Crown.” Another iteration, centered on William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal, also fell apart. Murphy and his producers toyed with a half dozen other ideas, though never for very long.


“It’s very easy to do a show where people are just nasty to each other,” Murphy said in a an interview earlier this month. “But feuds are never about hate. They’re about love.”


Then Murphy read “Capote’s Women,” by Laurence Leamer, a gossipy, trenchant study of the novelist Truman Capote and the society women he befriended and later betrayed. Murphy had long been fascinated by Capote. He was equally entranced by the women Capote referred to as his Swans, self-created creatures whom he admired for their style, wealth and savoir faire. Their gift, as Capote wrote in his late collection “Portraits and Observations,” was to offer “the imaginary portrait precisely projected.”


Leamer’s tale had luxury, treachery, artistry and spite. It had love, too, “the very fragile, wonderful relationships that exist many times between gay men and straight women,” Murphy said. With a script by Jon Robin Baitz and direction by Gus Van Sant, the story became “Feud: Capote vs. The Swans,” an eight-episode series that premieres on FX on Wednesday. (Episodes will stream on Hulu the day after they air.)


Tom Hollander (“The White Lotus,” Season 2) was cast to play Capote at the height of his “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “In Cold Blood” fame and then long past it, stumbling over deadlines in a fog of vodka, cocaine and tranquilizers. When it came to casting the show’s bevy of Swans — Babe Paley, Slim Keith, C.Z. Guest, Lee Radziwill, Ann Woodward (a wannabe Swan) — Murphy had one thought: “I wanted icons to play icons,” he said. “Women who were iconic and had some degree of fame and success would understand what it was like to be Swans. I thought they would know the gravity and also the stress of being a star.”


He and Baitz made a list of their first choices for the roles, and perhaps because Murphy has almost single-handedly enlarged the possibilities for actresses over 40, all of those first choices agreed. (“He’s masterful at casting the stars or the fallen stars or the forgotten stars,” Van Sant, who directed six of the episodes, said of Murphy.) Which explains why, on a recent afternoon, my laptop screen was filled with a supergroup of film and television stars of the 1990s and beyond: Naomi Watts, Diane Lane, Chloë Sevigny, Calista Flockhart and Demi Moore.


“It feels like a sisterhood for actresses,” Lane, who plays Keith, said, beaming at her co-stars.


Watts noted that the woman she plays went to bed in full makeup and with painful false teeth because she didn’t want her husband to see her without them.Credit...Thea Traff for The New York Times


There is some irony, of course, in asking women who have done so much — made countless movies and shows, produced others, won a shelf of awards — to play women who did so little. Indifferent wives and dubious mothers, Paley, Guest and their ilk were famous for making best-dressed lists and hosting dinners that someone else had cooked. Women who were born into money or married it, they were celebrated for the élan with which they spent it.


Baitz found this poignant. “They were enslaved to their own mythology,” he said in a separate interview. “They devoted themselves to something absurd. They devoted themselves to imagery and beauty and posing and being seen and society culture. That’s a dead end. And that’s why I care about them, because they’re running into a dead end.”


But the actresses don’t see these characters as frivolous. “They all worked really hard to achieve this kind of status,” Watts, who plays Paley, said. “There were sacrifices made. There was huge discipline involved.”


Anytime these women appeared in public, they had to be perfectly dressed, perfectly coifed, perfectly made up and manicured. “It was a full-time job,” Moore, who plays Woodward, said. “There were no casual sweatpants.” Watts noted that Paley even went to bed in full makeup and with painful false teeth because she didn’t want her husband to see her without them. Recreating Babe’s look took several hours each day in the hair and makeup chairs.


And there was arguably more to them than beauty. They had, the actresses playing them insist, a genius for life and a talent for self-creation. “There is an art to life,” Lane said. “And they understood that. There is an art to the dance of grace.”


Murphy knew that the actresses he cast would be familiar with the pressure these women faced and that they could offer some of that same grace.


“We had a group of women starring on our show who came up in the ’90s,” Murphy said. “I don’t think people remember the scrutiny of the press and how people would write about literally how much women weighed. It was very moving to see this group of women who had survived that. Survived and thrived.” (In this regard, “Feud” is like a more glamorous “Yellowjackets,” another drama that benefits from the history and aura of its cast.)


Wisely, the women didn’t want to talk too much about survival. (A video call with a stranger is no place to unpack trauma.) But they did acknowledge a familiarity with the burden of having to maintain a public face. “It’s very brave to go out in the world knowing that you’re going to be judged and scrutinized and picked at,” Flockhart, who plays Radziwill, said.


Still Lane insisted that this was a burden that could be worn lightly. “Once you’re experienced, you know how much you’re supposed to be on duty or off duty or what’s being asked of you,” she said.


Capote was attractive to the Swans because he could appreciate them both on duty and off. He delighted in their public performances — his persona was also largely self-created — while also recognizing the women underneath the Hermès scarves and Mainbocher gowns.


“It worked for a period of time so beautifully,” Watts said. “They got to perform. They had this constant, wonderful audience member who let them be seen. And they shared more with him than they did with each other.”


But in November 1975, Capote betrayed that trust when Esquire published his short story “La Côte Basque, 1965.” A dishy, bitchy, wholly mediocre excerpt from his long delayed (and ultimately unfinished) novel “Answered Prayers,” the story contained unflattering portraits of many of the Swans, disguised with only the loosest veils. At the time, Gerald Clarke, eventually Capote’s biographer, had asked him if the Swans would recognize themselves.


“Nah,” Capote replied, according to Leamer’s biography. “They’re too dumb.” They were not too dumb.


Most of the Swans never forgave Capote. The women playing them were more sympathetic. They blamed it on Capote’s alcoholism, his writer’s block, even his literary gifts.


“Truman was attracted to power and privilege and glamour, and who isn’t, honestly?” Sevigny, who plays Guest, said. “He also knew the great lineage of literature exposing society — Proust, James, Wharton. I think he enjoyed our company, but he also wanted to capitalize on that.”


Sevigny was not the only one to use a pronoun like “our” when discussing the Swans, suggesting a particular identification. The actresses felt a duty to portray these women responsibly, not only because they related to much of what the women had experienced but also because the women have children and grandchildren who are still alive.


“It’s always tricky when you play somebody who really lived,” Lane said. “I was trying to be very gentle.”



Some of the actresses have wondered what the Swans might make of contemporary culture, in which celebrities have largely replaced society women and social media has encouraged a new openness. “Babe would be turning in her grave if she knew I was talking about menopause,” Watts said.


Have standards for public-facing women relaxed since the 1960s? Yes and no, Moore argued. “On one hand there seems to be room to be a little bit more human,” she said. “And then on the other hand, there’s even harsher judgment because we have so many outlets now where everybody has an opinion.” But that doesn’t matter, she added. “What matters is how we relate to ourselves.”


And how they relate to each other. “It was really amazing to be working with fantastic, talented actresses who are all age-mates, more or less,” Flockhart said. Even better, she said, these women weren’t playing wives and mothers. (Technically the Swans were wives and mothers, but the series, like the women themselves, often seems to neglect that.)


It is welcome, if still unusual, to see a prestige series centered on glamorous middle-aged women who occasionally snipe at but mostly support one another. This has come to be a specialty of “Feud,” and the actresses appreciate it. And in campaigning for the industry to continue to make more series like these, they are perhaps less polite than the Swans.


“It’s ridiculous, that notion that we should be all dried up and off to pasture by the time we’re 40,” Watts said. “Let’s bend and break and bulldoze those rules altogether, please.”


Alexis Soloski has written for The Times since 2006. As a culture reporter, she covers television, theater, movies, podcasts and new media. More about Alexis 

The Swan Is a Viper

Jan. 31, 2024, 5:03 a.m. ET3 hours ago

3 hours ago

Maureen Dowd Opinion Columnist

Calista Flockhart as Lee Radziwill.Credit...Pari Dukovic/FX


I’ve trained my Netflix algorithm to search for shows about betrayal, revenge, murder and lives ruined.


So naturally I was intrigued by Ryan Murphy’s FX series starting Wednesday night, “Feud: Capote vs. the Swans.” It spins the saga of one of the greatest betrayals in literary history, when the famous writer of “In Cold Blood” coldly turned his gimlet eye on his best friends, the stylish women who were the gatekeepers of New York society.


Jon Robin Baitz, who co-wrote the show with Murphy, told me that the women “clung to each other so as not to go insane. How long can you go to a private fitting with Givenchy and not begin to feel like you’re drowning in Chantilly lace? And your men are fornicating power devils and betraying you from the moment they wake up to the moment they fall asleep every day? And you go with the flow and take comfort in the Van Cleef & Arpels apology they give you or the Pissarro that shows up on your bed.”


Murphy wanted to give viewers a double dose of nostalgia. “It shows us that last gasp of New York society, when women wore gloves and used finger bowls and went to four-hour lunches where they drank and smoked,” he said. “But we’re also examining another type of nostalgia for the female stars of the ’90s, who had to get through that gantlet of tremendous tabloid journalism at the time and whom we have missed and are so glad to have back.”


I wasn’t sure which swan to request an interview with for The Times’s Styles section. They were all fascinating veteran actresses: Naomi Watts, Diane Lane, Chloë Sevigny, Calista Flockhart and Molly Ringwald. (And then there are Demi Moore and Jessica Lange, who are swan adjacent.)


I chose Flockhart because she had been a big part of my life — from afar. I loved her hit shows, “Ally McBeal” and “Brothers and Sisters.” The latter was created by Baitz, and he said the holiday columns about my politically divided family had helped inspire it.


When I asked for the interview, Flockhart’s publicist called to say she wanted to make sure I knew that the 59-year-old actress’s character wasn’t the lead swan. (Watts plays Swan No. 1, that epitome of elegance Babe Paley, the wife of the longtime CBS chief Bill Paley. Flockhart plays Lee Radziwill.)


Very unusual to play down your role, I thought.


When I interview celebrities, I’m prepared for them to be glamorous creatures from another planet. But Flockhart seemed like someone you’d want to hang out with here on Earth.


“She’s not a Hollywood actor,” Baitz said. “She’s a strange salamander that lives in her own rainforest. She has a strangely rich, quiet inner life.”


Murphy was thrilled with all his swans and happy that Flockhart emerged from her private rainforest to be part of his show. The Master of Macabre gave her his highest compliment: She makes a very, very good viper.

Capote's Women: A True Story of Love, Betrayal, and a Swan Song for an Era Kindle Edition

by Laurence Leamer (Author)  Format: Kindle Edition


New York Times bestselling author Laurence Leamer reveals the complex web of relationships and scandalous true stories behind Truman Capote's never-published final novel, Answered Prayers—the dark secrets, tragic glamour, and Capote's ultimate betrayal of the group of female friends he called his "swans."


“There are certain women,” Truman Capote wrote, “who, though perhaps not born rich, are born to be rich.” Barbara “Babe” Paley, Gloria Guinness, Marella Agnelli, Slim Hayward, Pamela Churchill, C. Z. Guest, Lee Radziwill (Jackie Kennedy’s sister)—they were the toast of midcentury New York, each beautiful and distinguished in her own way. Capote befriended them, received their deepest confidences, and ingratiated himself into their lives. Then, in one fell swoop, he betrayed them in the most surprising and startling way possible.


Bestselling biographer Laurence Leamer delves into the years following the acclaimed publication of Breakfast at Tiffany’s in 1958 and In Cold Blood in 1966, when Capote struggled with a crippling case of writer’s block. While en­joying all the fruits of his success, he was struck with an idea for what he was sure would be his most celebrated novel…one based on the re­markable, racy lives of his very, very rich friends.


For years, Capote attempted to write An­swered Prayers, what he believed would have been his magnum opus. But when he eventually published a few chapters in Esquire, the thinly fictionalized lives (and scandals) of his closest fe­male confidantes were laid bare for all to see, and he was banished from their high-society world forever. Laurence Leamer re-creates the lives of these fascinating swans, their friendships with Capote and one another, and the doomed quest to write what could have been one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century.

Saturday 27 January 2024

FEUD: Capote Vs. The Swans | Official Trailer | FX

Truman Capote Cashed In on His Friends’ Secrets. It Cost Him Everything.


The rarefied social circle that embraced Capote, and eventually banished him, is up for re-evaluation in the new television series “Feud: Capote vs. the Swans.”


Ginia Bellafante

By Ginia Bellafante

Ginia Bellafante writes the Big City column, a weekly commentary on the politics, culture and life of New York City.


Jan. 26, 2024, 3:00 a.m. ET


In 1979, five years before he died and four years after his exile from the Upper East Side’s social cockpit, Truman Capote appeared on a talk show as a friend of the common man. The host, David Susskind, remained unpersuaded. “You are always on people’s yachts” and in “great mansions on Long Island,” he pointed out. “The thing in Spain with the Pamplona bull runs.” Come on.


Capote gave up, reverting to a defense of his affection for the moneyed class. It had come to define him as much as his written work, the output of which had notoriously stalled after the publication of “In Cold Blood” in 1966. “I like rich people,” Capote said, “because they aren’t always trying to borrow something from me.”


The joke sprang from the underbrush, inadvertently poignant. If Capote was not on loan, he was there — at the most rarefied parties and dining halls, as the favored guest at Cap Ferrat — to be bartered. The terms of the exchange were relatively simple: his wit and company, his brocaded stories and dazzlingly foul mouth, traded for the devotion of the thin, beautiful, unhappily married women, up and down Fifth Avenue, who were still wearing white gloves past Stonewall and Woodstock, past Watergate and the fall of Saigon.


This world and the writer’s place in it has come up for re-evaluation with the arrival of “Feud: Capote vs. the Swans,” an eight-part television series on FX. The impressive cast includes Naomi Watts, Demi Moore and Diane Lane as women who contained their subversions to bed, sleeping with men who were not their husbands, and to lunch with Truman — “Tru” — Manhattan’s most celebrated gay confidant.


Whatever implicit contract existed among them was violated to very unhappy consequence in 1975, with the publication of Capote’s “La Côte Basque, 1965” in Esquire magazine. A short story that bears almost no adherence to the form, it was meant to exist as a chapter of “Answered Prayers,” the novel that famously went unfinished.


At just under 12,000 words, the story is all chatter, plotless and full of vulgar cruelties. Capote had betrayed his friends who, perhaps naïvely, did not think of themselves as material. And he had done it in service of a piece of literature that in language and sentiment reads like a set of story-meeting notes for an episode of “As the World Turns.”


Those closest to him were the angriest — Babe Paley, the wife of the CBS chairman William Paley, and the former model Slim Keith, whose identities were barely concealed. Some women, like Gloria Vanderbilt, were named outright. Esquire paid Capote $25,000 for the story, but the cost to him was incalculable, beginning with his expulsion from a world he seemed to value above all others and ending with a descent into the drug and alcohol addiction that took his life at the age of 59.


“His talent was his friend,” as Norman Mailer put at the time. “His achievement was his social life.”


There is a challenge to watching “Feud” from the vantage of a culture in which exposure is in such blood-sport demand, in which billionaires come at you on social media with book-length accounts of their narcissistic wounds. It is the work of understanding how valuable discretion remained to a certain group of people in New York in the middle of the 1970s, as the city and country were unraveling. What might seem like virtue can also read as oblivious self-regard.


It was actually the women who stood outside Capote’s immediate circle who were held up for the most damning and misogynistic appraisal in the Esquire story — for example, the character known as “the former governor’s wife,” someone who had had an affair with William Paley. Capote calls her “somewhat porcine,” then “a homely beast” and then “a cretinous Protestant size 40.” While Mrs. Paley might have conceivably leaned into the schadenfreude that would come from such a description of her husband’s mistress, she was instead activated by the humiliation. She died of lung cancer in 1978 never having spoken to Capote again.


The greatest emotional damage seemed to accrue to Ann Woodward, a showgirl of the World War II era who had married into a prominent New York banking family. She was only an acquaintance of Capote’s and one he did not especially like. In the fall of 1955, Mrs. Woodward shot and killed her husband at their estate in Oyster Bay, in the middle of the night, believing that he was a burglar.


A Nassau County grand jury determined that it was an accident. Capote decided it was not, even though someone eventually pleaded guilty to trying to rob the Woodward house on the night of the shooting. The tragedy had receded, but “La Côte Basque” sent it right back into circulation 20 years later, with an account of a woman, “Ann Hopkins,” whom Capote characterizes as “brought up in some country-slum way,” an ex-call girl and bigamist who murders her husband after he discovers that they were never technically married and she realizes she would end up with more money as a widow than as a divorcée.


In mid-October, just as Capote’s story was set to drop, Mrs. Woodward killed herself in her uptown apartment. While she had had a difficult life and there was no way to know why she did it, many speculated about the correlation.


Esquire editors had no sense of the impact “La Côte Basque” would deliver. “They just didn’t know what they had,” Alex Belth, who curates the magazine’s archive, told me recently. This was clear in the choice of cover for that issue, which featured the comedian Rich Little.


When Esquire bought the story in the summer of 1975, it was reasonable to assume that it would not resonate. There was a lot going on. In June, police officers started showing up at New York airports to hand out “Welcome to Fear City” pamphlets, which warned the newly landed not to take public transportation or walk around after 6 in the evening. On Oct. 17 came the morning news that the city would face bankruptcy in a matter of hours if it could not come up with the $453 million it owed creditors. The national unemployment rate was around 9 percent.


It would have been easy to forget, two years after the birth of People magazine — at a time well into the sexual revolution when formality had been widely decommissioned, when union leaders were celebrated, when the once-dominant social hierarchies were being democratized, when Elaine’s supplanted established French restaurants as the place to be seen — that “society,” in the most sclerotic sense, persisted no matter how irrelevant it seemed beyond a very narrow field.


“Feud,” written by the playwright Jon Robin Baitz and directed by Gus Van Sant, relies almost entirely on interior shots, presumably because the realities of the outside world would seem confoundingly intrusive, jeopardizing the possibility of sympathy for the grievances and obsessions of people who seemed to have so little engagement with it. Capote may have alienated his friends unintentionally, believing that they would find his account of their banter hilarious. Or that at least they would be game enough to forgive him if offended.


It was also possible that he wrote the story as an act of revenge. The portrayal of the women in such shallow terms conveyed the attraction-repulsion to big money that generations of literary figures have had. As much as Capote craved the attention of these women, he saw them ultimately as indifferent, terrible mothers.


Regardless of Capote’s motivation, the story around his painful banishment, already the subject of books, documentaries and a library of reported pieces, endures. At its heart it suggests the limits of a certain kind of inclusion. As a bounder, you might make it to the top, but really you’re always on probation. Capote used to pride himself on being able to see so many things at once, observing lives and worlds from every angle. When he missed, he couldn’t live with his error.


Ginia Bellafante has served as a reporter, critic and, since 2011, as the Big City columnist. She began her career at The Times as a fashion critic, and has also been a television critic. She previously worked at Time magazine. More about Ginia Bellafante

Feud: Capote vs the Swans: How a scandalous Truman Capote story exposed the secrets of US high society

By Caryn James

26th January 2024


A star-studded new miniseries from Ryan Murphy looks at how the author betrayed the confidence of some of America's most elite women – and destroyed his career in the process.


A caricature on the cover of New York Magazine in 1975 depicted author Truman Capote as a yappy little French poodle, nipping at the fingers of a stunned woman at a black-tie party. The headline read: Capote Bites the Hands That Fed Him. The article, by the gossip columnist Liz Smith, pulled back the curtain on the real identities of the society women Capote had recently betrayed in print. Babe Paley and Slim Keith – who at the time filled the society pages and best-dressed lists – confided in him about their affairs, their philandering husbands and their insecurities, only to have their close friend mock them and reveal their most intimate secrets. His barely-veiled fiction – a story called La Côte Basque, 1965 – appeared in the widely-read Esquire magazine. The betrayal helped ruin his life.


That true story of a long-lost social era and of friendship gone wildly wrong is deliciously told in Feud: Capote vs the Swans, the colourful, star-filled second instalment of Ryan Murphy's franchise that began with Bette and Joan, about the Hollywood rivalry of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. Capote, played by Tom Hollander, is well known, if not for his books (notably Breakfast at Tiffany's and In Cold Blood), then for the 2005 film Capote with Philip Seymour Hoffman. But who were these women he called his swans, and why did he turn on them so viciously?


"They were like the original Real Housewives," Murphy told Town and Country magazine, but that seems like hype. None of Capote's refined swans ever screamed and tossed a table at La Côte Basque, the restaurant where they regularly lunched together, the way the women in that reality show have. But they did have a similar hold on the public imagination. They were elegant influencers. None of them married poor men, or dreamed of having a real career. They drank, they smoked, they wore extravagant but tasteful jewellery. And although their style can seem stodgy now – Paley's helmet hair never moves ­– they were the fashion leaders of their day. Paley was regularly named on best-dressed lists. 


Feud plays with the chronology and facts a bit, but mostly holds up against the truth. In 1975, Capote was at the different stage of his life from the one depicted in the film Capote. Those two fictional versions complement each other well. Hoffman's is the serious writer, researching In Cold Blood, the 1965 true-crime book that made him rich and famous. Feud finds Capote at the height of that fame. Hollander captures the campiness and wit, and also the tragedy of a brilliant, troubled man. He had achieved his lifelong dream of being accepted by high society, but was also self-indulgent and alcoholic. He was in and out of a relationship with John O'Shea (Russell Tovey), a married, middle-class banker who the swans barely tolerated. And he was seriously blocked as a writer.


La Côte Basque, along with two less explosive stories published in Esquire, were meant to be part of Answered Prayers, a novel that he told friends and editors was his counterpart to Proust's In Search of Lost Time, the definitive account of the upper class of his day. No one ever accused him of having a tiny ego. But he seemed unable to finish it. 


Who the 'swans' were

Capote's favourite swan and best friend, a perfect Proustian specimen, was Paley (Naomi Watts), serenely perfect in her demeanour and taste. Her husband, Bill Paley (played by the late Treat Williams), was the powerful head of the CBS television network, and as she well knew, a womaniser. Watts captures the brittleness of someone who needs to be perfect, and the loneliness that made her need a sympathetic shoulder like Truman's.


In the first episode of Feud, Truman convinces her not to divorce Bill after he has slept with Happy Rockefeller, the New York governor's wife. Paley has found him scrubbing Happy's menstrual blood from their bedroom carpet and has had enough. With razor-like clarity, Truman advises her to stay married, keep her pampered life, and make Bill buy her a Gauguin and a Matisse instead. But that episode also sets up the real-life conflict, with Paley's devastated reaction to La Côte Basque.


In Capote's story, a wealthy businessman named Dillon – soon shortened to Dill, so close to Bill – sleeps with the governor's frumpy wife and later tries to scrub away a bloodstain "the size of Brazil". Bill was Capote's target, but Babe felt humiliated that her husband's cheating was publicised to the world. Ebs Burnough, the director of The Capote Tapes, a 2022 documentary about the writer using previously unheard audio interviews with those close to him, told British Vogue, "This was an era when no one even talked about the fact that Franklin Roosevelt was in a wheelchair, let alone the affairs people were having, let alone as graphically as Truman did." Paley never spoke to Capote again.


Although Paley was the most injured by the story, the main character in La Côte Basque is the fictional version of Slim Keith. Of all the actresses playing swans, Diane Lane may be the most fun to watch, giving her character a bold directness. Keith's first husband was the movie director Howard Hawks, who, legend has it, used her as the model for Lauren Bacall's tough, seductive character in To Have and Have Not, also called Slim. Her second was the producer Leland Hayward, and her third was the British businessman Kenneth Keith, whose knighthood made her Lady Keith.


Clarke, Capote's friend and biographer, allegedly warned him that his society friends would react badly to the story. Capote's reply was "Nah, they're too dumb. They won't know who they are"


La Côte Basque turns her into Lady Ina Coolbirth, "a big breezy peppy broad" who lunches with the Capote stand-in, PB Jones, a writer and sometime hustler. It is Ina who spills her friends’ secrets, name-dropping Ernest Hemingway (in fact, a friend of Slim's) and recalling the time Joseph P Kennedy, JFK's father, raped her (Kennedy Sr was dead by then so he couldn't sue Capote for libel).


In Feud, Keith insists that the swans freeze Truman out of society for his betrayal, a fate that to him was almost worse than death. "We will destroy him," she says. Years later, the real Slim Keith told Capote's biographer, Gerald Clarke, of her horrified reaction to Lady Ina. "She looks like me, she talks like me, she's me!" she said. About Capote, she said, "I had adored him, and I was so appalled by the use of friendship and my own bad judgment".


CZ Guest (Chloe Sevigny, cooly understated in a major role) was also a close member of their set, a socialite and notable gardener, who appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in 1962 under the line, "What It's Like in Society Today". Perhaps because she did not appear in La Côte Basque, she continued to see Capote in the aftermath. She and her husband even took him to rehab when he was at his worst, drunkenly slurring his words on television talk shows. His recovery didn't last long.


Lee Radziwill (Calista Flockhart) is in La Côte Basque, undisguised and lunching wih her sister, Jacqueline Kennedy. In the show she joins the other swans in casting Capote out, although in life they remained friends for years after. It probably helped that, in his fiction, Ina and PB agree that Lee is so much more beautiful and elegant than Jackie. 


Jon Robin Baitz, who wrote the show, told EW: "This story exists at this point where a world of elegance, ritual and class is being supplanted by a fervour of youth: disco, Studio 54, drugs." When the middle-aged Capote, dismissed by his swans, embraced that drug-fuelled disco world, it seemed more desperately sad than thrilling.  


The greatest mystery

Why he published La Côte Basque in the first place is the subject of many theories. Clarke, Capote's friend as well as his biographer, wrote that he warned him that his society friends would react badly. Capote's reply, he said, was "Nah, they're too dumb. They won't know who they are." Liz Smith wrote in that 1975 article that the swans regarded him as "their favorite house pet", there for their amusement. Was La Côte Basque his revenge? Capote had a standard response to the debacle, heard in his own voice in The Capote Tapes: "What did they expect? I'm a writer. I use everything."


That may have been bravado. Joseph M Fox, in an editor's note to the book published posthumously in 1986 as Answered Prayers – which simply collects the three Esquire stories – said of the backlash, "There's no doubt he was shaken by the reaction." Fox believed that was one reason he stopped working on the novel. Capote kept telling friends he had written much of it and even read excerpts, or at least pretend excerpts, aloud. But after he died in 1984, no trace of a manuscript ever surfaced. Babe Paley died of cancer in 1978. One of Capote's great regrets was that she never forgave him.


The swans are having their moment now, and not just because of the show. Women's Wear Daily recently called them "fashion icons whose influence still resonates today", noting that Radziwill and Paley inspired Lanvin's 2020 spring/summer collection. The Washington Post featured the show in an article titled, "Ladies Who Lunch Have Become 2024's Unexpected Fashion Icons".


But it is the real-life drama that continues to be spellbinding. In his preface to Music for Chameleons, his 1980 collection of short pieces, Capote addressed the start-and-stop process of writing Answered Prayers, and explained – perhaps with a dash of fabulism – why he had no trouble remembering the details. "All the characters were real," he wrote. "I hadn't invented anything."


Feud: Capote vs The Swans premieres on 31 January on FX in the US and will be available to stream on Hulu from 1 February.

CAPOTE'S SWANS │ The Rise and Fall of New York's Elite

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin / VÍDEO : Vanity Fair's The Best-Dressed Women of All Time: Babe Paley

The Swans of Fifth Avenue

The New York Times bestselling author of The Aviator's Wife returns with a triumphant new novel about New York's "Swans" of the 1950s—and the scandalous, headline-making, and enthralling friendship between literary legend Truman Capote and peerless socialite Babe Paley.

Of all the glamorous stars of New York high society, none blazes brighter than Babe Paley. Her flawless face regularly graces the pages of Vogue, and she is celebrated and adored for her ineffable style and exquisite taste, especially among her friends—the alluring socialite Swans Slim Keith, C. Z. Guest, Gloria Guinness, and Pamela Churchill. By all appearances, Babe has it all: money, beauty, glamour, jewels, influential friends, a high-profile husband, and gorgeous homes. But beneath this elegantly composed exterior dwells a passionate woman—a woman desperately longing for true love and connection.

Enter Truman Capote. This diminutive golden-haired genius with a larger-than-life personality explodes onto the scene, setting Babe and her circle of Swans aflutter. Through Babe, Truman gains an unlikely entrée into the enviable lives of Manhattan's elite, along with unparalleled access to the scandal and gossip of Babe's powerful circle. Sure of the loyalty of the man she calls "True Heart," Babe never imagines the destruction Truman will leave in his wake. But once a storyteller, always a storyteller—even when the stories aren't his to tell.

Truman's fame is at its peak when such notable celebrities as Frank and Mia Sinatra, Lauren Bacall, and Rose Kennedy converge on his glittering Black and White Ball. But all too soon, he'll ignite a literary scandal whose repercussions echo through the years. The Swans of Fifth Avenue will seduce and startle readers as it opens the door onto one of America's most sumptuous eras.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue’ review: Would you trust Truman Capote?
By Caroline Preston February 1

For those of us who are women of a certain age and have subscriptions to Vanity Fair, the star-crossed friendship between Truman Capote and socialite Babe Paley was the stuff of tabloid legend. They met cute in the mid-’50s when he hitched a ride on the Paleys’ private plane. When her husband, CBS titan Bill Paley, heard that “Truman” was coming, he was expecting the former president, not the flamboyant boy author. Capote soon became Babe’s favorite lunch date and weekend guest who could be counted on for gossip, flattery and a sympathetic ear. Over the next 20 years, he became “her analyst, her pillow, her sleeping pill at night, her coffee in the morning.” She entrusted him, unwisely, with the most shameful secrets of her sexless marriage.

Like many great loves, theirs ended in a tragic betrayal. In 1975, Capote published “La Cote Basque, 1965,” an excerpt from his unfinished novel, “Answered Prayers.” Over a long, drunken lunch at the famous restaurant, Lady Ina Coolbirth shares some of the most lurid tales of her high-society friends. One is about a multimedia tycoon, Sydney Dillon, who has a squalid one-night stand and desperately tries to wash the stained bedsheet before his wife gets home. Babe, who was dying of lung cancer at the time, recognized the similarity to her husband. Capote had, literally and literarily, aired her dirty laundry; she refused to speak to him ever again.

In her highly entertaining new novel, “The Swans of Fifth Avenue,” Melanie Benjamin investigates the bonds between this mismatched pair and Capote’s self-destructive urges that eventually ruptured them. The novel’s narrative structure is a bit like wandering through La Cote Basque at lunchtime and overhearing snippets of conversation. In alternating chapters, Capote and Babe offer their own versions of their friendship. Celebrity characters also weigh in with their two cents: socialites Slim Keith and Pamela Churchill Harriman, Truman’s lover Jack Dunphy, Diana Vreeland and Bill Paley.

Benjamin has proved an able chronicler of the inner lives of women partnered to famous, narcissistic men. In her bestselling novel “The Aviator’s Wife,” the introspective narrator, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, examined her suffocating marriage to the chilly, autocratic Lindy.

But what was the inner life of Babe Paley, a woman renowned solely for her exteriors — her Vogue-model face, her best-dressed-hall-of-fame wardrobe, her exquisitely decorated homes? Benjamin looks for an answer in an oft-repeated description by none other than Capote himself: “Babe Paley has only one fault — she’s perfect. Other than that, she’s perfect.”

Melanie Benjamin is the author of the New York Times and USA Today bestselling historical novel, The Aviator's Wife, a novel about Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Her previous historical novels include the national bestseller Alice I Have Been, about Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland, and The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb, the story of 32-inch-tall Lavinia Warren Stratton, Melanie Benjamin
Photo by Deborah Feingold a star during the Gilded Age. Her novels have been translated in over ten languages, featured in national magazines such as Good Housekeeping, People, and Entertainment Weekly, and optioned for film.

Melanie is a native of the Midwest, having grown up in Indianapolis, Indiana, where she pursued her first love, theater. After raising her two sons, Melanie, a life-long reader (including being the proud winner, two years in a row, of her hometown library's summer reading program!), decided to pursue a writing career. After writing her own parenting column for a local magazine, and winning a short story contest, Melanie published two contemporary novels under her real name, Melanie Hauser, before turning to historical fiction.

Melanie lives in Chicago with her husband, and near her two grown sons. In addition to writing, she puts her theatrical training to good use by being a member of the Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau. When she isn't writing or speaking, she's reading. And always looking for new stories to tell.

Friday 26 January 2024

BREAKING: King admitted to central London hospital for prostate treatment

Royal Insight: Unprecedented health scares highlight the mortality of the family

Why King Charles went public with his diagnosis while Kate Middleton chose to keep hers private


By Social Links for Samantha Ibrahim

Published Jan. 25, 2024, 3:34 p.m. ET


Kate Middleton and King Charles’ medical illnesses were announced to the public just hours apart from one another but the way the royals handled their health diagnoses with the public is completely different.


Kate Middleton’s camp announced on Jan. 17 that she had previously went through a “planned abdominal surgery” and would be in the hospital for up to two weeks.


King Charles disclosed that same day that he would be entering a medical institution this week to correct his enlarged prostate.


But a question remains: Why did the monarch, 75, choose to reveal his diagnosis in full while his daughter-in-law did not?


According to a People source, “it was sensible” for Charles “to be more open about it, as otherwise, people might have thought the worst.”


As the reigning king, Charles’ health is of the utmost importance to the monarchy and the citizens of the UK and his decision to share his health status with the public has caused a surge in interest in the disease.


According to the UK’s National Health Service website, last week there was a 1,000% surge in searches about prostate enlargement.


When she revealed her diagnosis, the Princess of Wales, 42, said in a statement that she “appreciates the interest this statement will generate.”


“She hopes that the public will understand her desire to maintain as much normality for her children as possible,” the memo added.


Middleton shares children Prince George, 10, Princess Charlotte, 8, and Prince Louis, 5, with husband Prince William.


The Duchess of Cambridge “wishes to apologize to all those concerned for the fact that she has to postpone her upcoming engagements.


The Princess of Wales was hospitalized on Jan. 16 for a planned surgery.


“She looks forward to reinstating as many as possible, as soon as possible,” the statement concluded.


She will not undertake any public engagements until after Easter as she recuperates.


While the Firm has yet to divulged what issues exactly the princess was suffering from, an insider told People that she is “doing well” and the problem is noncancerous.


“It does sound serious with the length of time [she’s taking]. But she is in great hands and will have lots of care and support at home and is a fit young woman,” a separate source told People earlier this week. “I am sure she will bounce back.”


Us Weekly noted however, that she might reveal more information about her surgery “in due course.”


Middleton also kept her surgery secret from her inner circle.


William, 41, has been stepping up to help out ever since his wife has been out of commission.


Charles’ former butler Grant Harrold told the Post last week that Middleton’s operation will have a “huge impact” on the royal family.


“Kate is arguably one of the most favorable royals. Everybody loves seeing her,” Harrold said. “No doubt, Kate’s absence will be a setback here, with William likely to take it upon himself to keep up the momentum.”


“William is extremely comfortable carrying out his royal duties on his own. He did them for many years before he was married to Kate, and I’m sure he will pick up some solo duties here,” Harrold also said on behalf of Slingo.

Kate Middleton hid abdominal surgery from inner circle, may disclose information ‘in due course’

By Social Links for Nika Shakhnazarova

Published Jan. 24, 2024, 9:56 a.m. ET


Kate Middleton didn’t tell those close to the royal family about her surgery, according to a new report.


The Princess of Wales, 42, is currently recovering at the London Clinic after undergoing a “planned abdominal surgery” last week.


Sources told People that the news took Middleton’s loved ones by surprise, especially as “there had been no indication that anything was wrong” with her before her hospitalization on Jan. 16.


Middleton, 42, was last seen in public for Christmas Day service on Dec. 25 alongside her husband, Prince William, and their three children, Prince George, 10, Princess Charlotte, 8, and Prince Louis, 5.


She was all smiles at the outing and appeared to be in good spirits at the festivities.


What’s more, the outlet adds that Middleton seemed fine as recently as Jan. 9 when she celebrated her birthday with her family in Windsor, England.


However, just one week later, she was admitted to the London Clinic where she underwent a “planned abdominal surgery,” Kensington Palace announced.


While the surgery has been “successful,” Middleton will remain under the watchful eye of doctors and nurses for up to two weeks and will not return to royal duties until after Easter, March 31.


The palace declined to disclose more information out of respect for her privacy, and said any further updates that will be issued will be “significant.”


Us Weekly reported, however, that Middleton might disclose more information about her condition “in due course.”


“She is in great hands and will have lots of care and support at home,” a source close to the royal household told People.


The first insider added that the mom of three’s parents, Michael and Carole Middleton, “will be a reassuring presence when [Kate] goes back to Windsor to recuperate.”


The Post has reached out to Kensington Palace for comment.


Following Prince William’s brief visit to the hospital last week, it’s said that the princess has kept in touch with her three children via FaceTime as they remain at their home in Windsor with their dad.


Following news of Middleton’s surgery, the royal family’s health woes began to snowball.


Both King Charles and Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, revealed their own ailments within the last week, as the monarch, 75, revealed that he’s set to undergo a “corrective procedure” for an enlarged prostate this week.


The king’s former butler, Grant Harrold, exclusively told The Post that William is no doubt feeling “anxious” that both his wife and father are sitting out of royal engagements amid their respective medical procedures.


Harrold added that Middleton’s abdominal surgery recovery is having a “huge impact” on the royal family behind closed doors.


Ferguson, 64, for her part, revealed that she had been diagnosed with malignant melanoma less than a year after her breast cancer diagnosis.


Estranged royal family members Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, 42, have reportedly offered “get well soon” wishes to Charles and Middleton.


It’s been reported that Harry, 39, found out about his father’s medical procedure through a news alert, rather than a private message. He and the “Suits” alum are currently in Jamaica, where they attended the premiere of Reinaldo Marcus Green’s film, “Bob Marley: One Love,” on Tuesday.

Thursday 25 January 2024

A Spy Alone, by Charles Beaumont’


'Five stars. One of the best books I've read in a very, very long time' James O'Brien, LBC


'This is first class' The Times


'A highly accomplished novel from a new writer of great promise' Financial Times


'What this novel shows is how powerful a book can be when the writer looks the country straight in the face and writes about what they see. Le Carré used to be very good at doing that... Now Charles Beaumont has done it, too' Private Eye #1615


‘A marvellously confident debut, sharply observed and exceptionally well written’ Charles Cumming, author of Box 88


Everyone knows about the Cambridge Spies from the Fifties, identified and broken up after passing national secrets to the Soviets for years. But no spy ring was ever unearthed at Oxford. Because one never existed? Or because it was never found…?


2022: Former spy Simon Sharman is eking out a living in the private sector. When a commission to delve into the financial dealings of a mysterious Russian oligarch comes across his desk, he jumps at the chance.


But as Simon investigates, worrying patterns begin to emerge. His subject made regular trips to Oxford, but for no apparent reason. There are payments from offshore accounts that suddenly just… stop.


Has he found what none of his former colleagues believed possible, a Russian spy ring now nestled at the heart of the British Establishment? Or is he just another paranoid ex-spook left out in the cold, obsessed with redemption?


From Oxford’s hallowed quadrangles to brush contacts on Hampstead Heath, agent-running in Vienna and mysterious meetings in Prague, A Spy Alone is a gripping international thriller and a searing portrait of modern Britain in the age of cynical populism. Perfect for readers of Charles Cumming, Mick Herron and John le Carré.


Praise for A Spy Alone

'Beaumont is at the forefront of the espionage genre, capturing the changing nature of intelligence: soft influence and business deals are overtaking stolen secrets; long-term insinuation is replacing Cold-War tradecraft. Brilliant' I. S. Berry, author of The Peacock and the Sparrow


'The best spy novel I’ve read for years... An astonishing debut... and a brilliant portrait of how Britain allowed Russia to game our recent politics, including with Brexit' Luke Harding, author of Invasion: Russia's Bloody War and Ukraine's Fight for Survival


'A post-Brexit take on the classic British spy novel, combining a cynical ex-spy protagonist and a major role for Bellingcat-OSINT types' Shashank Joshi, Defence Editor, The Economist


'Beaumont ... catches the zeitgeist of (le Carré) .... He conveys all the world of espionage with relish, in its murky motives and surveillance techniques and the book races along and makes for a stunning debut' Maxim Jakubowski, Crime Time


'A clever, thrilling spy story that brings the feel of Eric Ambler's shadowy political intrigues right into today's world' Jeremy Duns, author of Free Agent


‘Tense, compelling and remarkably timely... Shades of some of the greats of spy fiction – it might even be better than Charles Cumming’ Dominick Donald, author of Breathe


‘Beaumont takes the intrigue, atmosphere and subterfuge of the Cambridge Spies and brings it bang up to date with a what-if tale of an Oxford spy ring at the service of modern-day populist politicians and malevolent regimes. Chilling’ Chris Lloyd, author of The Unwanted Dead


Publisher: Canelo

ISBN: 9781804364789

Number of pages: 336

Dimensions: 198 x 129 x 20 mm

Best new thrillers — spies, plot twists and sky-high adventure

Adam LeBor


(…) “So is Charles Beaumont’s debut A Spy Alone (Canelo £9.99). Simon Sharman, a former MI6 operative, is scraping by as a consultant in the private sector. But when he’s asked to investigate a shadowy Russian oligarch, something much bigger looms: a possible spy ring buried deep inside Oxford university.


The author — writing under a pen name — is a former MI6 officer, who spent two decades working undercover in war zones and international business, and the precisely engineered story feels authentic, from Sharman’s time at Oxford (where he learnt the skills of “watching, imitating and role-playing”) to his complex relationship with Vasya, a veteran of Russia’s GRU military intelligence service.


Beaumont is suitably cutting about the British ruling class’s hunger for dirty money. When Vasya sets up in Geneva as an information broker, he is soon overwhelmed with British clients swarming “into the shadiest corners of the Russian economy like bees to honey”. This is a highly accomplished novel from a new writer of great promise.”