THE WOMEN OF CAPOTE
A true story of love, betrayal and a swan song for an era
By Laurence Leamer
There is a poem by Thomas Hardy, “The Convergence of the Twain”, which chronicles the construction of the Titanic, in all its opulence, and the simultaneous formation of its “sinister companion” – the iceberg that is about to destroy it. : “And as the intelligent ship grew / In stature, in grace and in hue, / In shadow and silence, the iceberg grew too.
This poem came to mind while reading “Capote’s Women”, the story of high society women of the 1950s and 1960s who befriended, then betrayed, by their sinister companion Truman Capote. In frothy prose – meals are “splendid meals”, the apartments are “mansions” – Laurence Leamer describes this “coterie of magnificent, witty and fabulously rich women”. They married well and often spent their days buying lunch, clothes and houses.
Capote called them his “swans”. One of them was the “gorgeous and vivacious” Barbara “Babe” Paley, who “never left the best dressed list” and created “amazing”, “exquisitely decorated” homes. “Superb” is one of Leamer’s favorite adjectives.
Another swan was Gloria Guinness, another “usual on the best dressed” list. She underwent three starting marriages – with the manager of a sugar factory in Veracruz, a German count and the son of an Egyptian ambassador – and had relations with, among others, a high-ranking Nazi and the British ambassador to France, before ending up with bank heir Loel Guinness, who, coincidentally, had recently left today’s equivalent of $ 2.39 billion in his father’s will.
Other swans included Nancy “Slim” Keith, “a gorgeous Californian girl,” the bitter little sister of Jackie Kennedy, Princess Lee Radziwill, and Pamela Harriman, who, despite a “ample butt,” remained, at least in the Leamer’s eyes, “incredibly attractive.” . “Leamer helpfully informs us that Pamela” hasn’t gone anywhere without being delightfully assembled. “
After an early marriage to Randolph, the drunken son of Winston Churchill, Pamela had affairs with men including Jock Whitney, General Frederick Anderson Jr., Prince Aly Khan, Gianni Agnelli (who owned “at least 10 magnificent residences” ), a Greek shipping magnate called André Embiricos and Baron Elie de Rothschild. She eventually married Leland Hayward, Slim Keith’s ex-husband. Five and a half months after her death, she managed to rekindle an old flame, Averell Harriman, 79. “Only men of power and substance intrigued him,” Leamer notes.
The problem with reading Capote’s swans, all so fluffy and fickle, is that it quickly becomes difficult to tell them apart, a struggle further complicated by Venn’s increasingly dizzying diagram of their intersecting romantic relationships.
Their iceberg was outlined in the form of “Answered Prayers”, which Capote had surreptitiously announced to his publisher (“a great novel, my magnum opus, a book of which I must be very silent, so as not to [to] alarming my “sitters” in 1958, shortly before the publication of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”.
Over the years, Capote, so much more captivating than the boorish husbands of these women, had managed to slip into their hearts. Charmed by his attention, they were happy to exchange their intimacies for those of others.
Leamer talks about a manicurist who worked on Paley’s nails while Capote told wild stories about the other swans. When the manicurist was going to do the nails of one of the other swans, Truman would be there again, this time telling some sordid tales about Paley.
The story of how Capote published a hurtful excerpt from his book promised in Esquire in 1975, his ostracism by wounded swans and his untimely death from liver disease, has already been ably told in the biographies of Gerald Clarke. and George Plimpton.
His long-awaited masterpiece never materialized; like so many authors led astray by the flattery of high society, he had never really set out to write it. Its editor called the thin, disjointed manuscript that it left “unfinished” when it appeared in book form in 1987, but it was closer to “not started.” Seen from another perspective, maybe the swans were the iceberg and Capote the Titanic.