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“Capote’s Women: A True Story of Love, Betrayal, and a Swan Song for an Era” By: Laurence Leamer

“Capote’s Women: A True Story of Love, Betrayal, and a Swan Song for an Era”

Author: Laurence Leamer

Publisher: G. P. Putnam’s Sons

New York


Price: $28.00 (Hardcover)

Pages: 345

Group Biography Charts Course of Friendship and Betrayal

The scandal surrounding the publication of three chapters of Truman Capote’s “Answered Prayers” was 35 years ago, and thus may not be fresh in everyone’s mind.

The story is, briefly, this. Capote had had a magnificent triumph with “In Cold Blood,” the book in 1966 then the movie, and then the Black and White Ball at the Plaza Hotel. He was at the top of his game and the apex of his career. He was rich and famous, a celebrity.

He would write several more books after “In Cold Blood,” but, feeling he needed not merely to add to it, but to top it, Capote began speaking of his forthcoming masterpiece. He was writing, he said, a study of some of America’s elite, the most beautiful, fashionable people in our country, by which he meant women, his so-called “swans.” His new book would rival Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past,” but focus on American high society.

Time passed. Truman appeared often—on late night television, at the disco Studio 54, at lunch with his glamorous lady friends, but “Answered Prayers” did not appear. He got advances. He got delays in delivery dates.

He even had to return the money he had received for film rights. But still no book.

All this while he had been the darling of a group of rich, beautiful, elegant and powerful women. He vacationed on their yachts, spent time at their Long Island and Florida homes. The husbands had no worries about sexual infidelities with Truman.

Always witty, he entertained them and they loved him and trusted him.

They gossiped about one another and told him their own secrets. Babe Paley was most revealing even though C.Z. Guest warned her.

Truman was writing it all down.

In 1975 and 1976 Truman began publishing chapters in “Esquire.”

The stories were very thinly disguised versions of the swans’ darkest secrets, their addictions, their infidelities, their husbands’ vices and infidelities, which were often sensational, and their jealousies.

His biographer and editor had warned him not to.

They warned him: your lady friends will be furious.

He responded “Naaah, they’re too dumb. They won’t know who they are.”

These women were most definitely not dumb. They certainly did recognize themselves and most of them cut Truman completely, never spoke to him again and broke his heart. He never recovered.

This book, “Capote’s Women,” is a collection of interwoven short biographies of these women, a lively, entertaining, if infuriating read.

The women: a real princess, Italian Marella Agnelli, married to Gianni Agnelli, the head of Fiat; Lee Radziwill, sister of Jacqueline Kennedy, married to a Polish aristocrat who had in fact given up his title; Babe Paley, known as the most beautiful woman in the world, married to

the head of CBS; Gloria Guinness, married to Loel Guinness, one of the richest men in the world; C. Z. Guest, a Boston Brahmin; and California girl Slim Keith, who had been married over time to director Howard Hawks and producer Leland Heyward.

Keith, at the time of her divorce from Hawks, had thirty-five evening gowns, nine fur coats and 120 pairs of shoes.

Her second husband, Heyward, had 300 pairs of shoes.

And there was Pamela Harriman, who was married over time to Randolph Churchill and Leland Heyward, and had affairs with Edward. R. Murrow, the playboy Aly Khan and Gianni Agnelli, before he married his princess.

Leamer is mostly kind, even somewhat admiring, of these women but of Pamela he says: “In the Renaissance she would have been renowned as one of the great courtesans of the age.”

Readers will judge these women for themselves. They were raised to marry rich men, be beautiful, to wear clothes elegantly, to dance, decorate a house, give a great dinner party, and be witty and sexy.

If you feel that is enough, that, like the lilies of the field, their job on earth is to be beautiful, there you are.

(Remember though, ordinary people, walking by, get to enjoy the lilies of the field. No commoners ever enjoyed the interiors or the gardens of the very rich or tasted their fine wines.)

Don Noble , Ph. D. Chapel Hill, Prof of English, Emeritus, taught American literature at UA for 32 years. He has been the host of the APTV literary interview show "Bookmark" since 1988 and has broadcast a weekly book review for APR since November of 2001, so far about 850 reviews. Noble is the editor of four anthologies of Alabama fiction and the winner of the Alabama state prizes for literary scholarship, service to the humanities and the Governor's Arts Award.