FEUD: Capote vs. The Swans - Pilot
February 2, 2024 12:17 PM - Season 2, Episode 1 - Subscribe

In 1975, famed author Truman Capote published a chapter from his novel in progress Answered Prayers in Esquire magazine, which spilled some ugly, gossipy secrets about the lives of some of New York City's richest, most famous women - who had also, up to that moment, been Truman's best friends.

The pilot episode of season two in this anthology series flits around in time to give us scenes of Capote meeting his new best friend Babe Paley, wife of CBS founder Bill Paley; Babe later spilling the unsavory details of how she caught her husband cheating; and the beginning of the storm as that scandalous tale shows up in the pages of Esquire.

A couple of primers and "who's who's":
Vulture.com: How Feud’s Capote, His Swans, and His Demons Compare to Real Life (archive.ph)

Vanity Fair: Who Were the Swans? A Deep Dive into Truman Capote’s Best Frenemies (archive.ph)
posted by dnash (6 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I have high hopes for this season. The cast they've assembled for this is absolutely stellar. Tom Hollander and Naomi Watts both have some truly stand out scenes in the first episode.

I had heard the broad strokes of this story before, and when I heard this new season was coming I read the Lawrence Leamer book it's mainly based on, Capote's Women. It's interesting to me that Capote's stated goal with his planned book was to write about NYC high society in a way similar to how Proust wrote about Paris aristocrats in the early 1900s. Having read Proust years ago, I think that's actually a marvelous idea for a book, and Capote was a perfect candidate to do so. Did he fail simply by not disguising his characters? Was he trying to be mean and vindictive, or was he really that clueless as to what the reaction would be? (He was warned by some who'd seen the chapter pre-publication.)
posted by dnash at 12:41 PM on February 2

I have high hopes too! I didn't expect the first episode to jump back and forth in time. I found that a little confusing because, while Truman looks different as he ages, the "Swans" seem timeless. Which I suspect is probably accurate. Those women were all about appearances, so their aging would be carefully concealed. The cast is really wonderful and I can't wait for more episodes.

Truman is such a tricky character, I sympathize with him one moment, and then am aghast at his cruelty the next. Tom Hollander is fantastic. He really captures the voice and mannerisms of Capote. I at one point thought he was a little over the top. But all you have to do is watch a video clip of any interview Capote ever did and you realize Hollander nails it.
posted by pjsky at 6:33 AM on February 4 [1 favorite]

Did he fail simply by not disguising his characters? Was he trying to be mean and vindictive, or was he really that clueless as to what the reaction would be? (He was warned by some who'd seen the chapter pre-publication.)

A bit of both, I think. I've read La Cote Basque and it really is very mean and (imo) deeply unfunny. But I think if you are taking as many substances as Capote was by that time, you can just about convince yourself something like that is amusing. And Lady Coolbirth, the character in La Cote Basque, sounds just the way Slim Keith does in her own memoir, so maybe he thought that was OK? But I don't get why people think it's good fiction. It's anecdotes. You can read Proust and not know who the characters are supposed to be and still appreciate the quality.

I don't know what Capote was like before he wrote In Cold Blood, but I've always felt with that book he made a Faustian bargain. Daphne Merkin wrote about the moral ambiguity of In Cold Blood as showcased in the film starring Philip Seymour Hoffman. (Merkin's view is fairly balanced; Kenneth Tynan said flat out that Capote should have done more to save Smith and Hickock from execution. I think-- if you take a look especially at the decription of Smith that's quoted in the Merkin piece-- Capote was truly haunted by that experience, if not by his own decisions. Honestly I think he was largely just messed up in the head after that, but he may have been before, too.
posted by BibiRose at 11:09 AM on February 4 [2 favorites]

Close-up shots of Russell Tovey jacking off Tom Hollander to orgasm in a steam room was definitely not on the list of things I expected from this show. Bravo.

The acting is so marvelous, and Capote's dialogue so well-done, and the sets and costumes for the various periods we jump around in so wonderfully on-point, that this was a ton of fun to watch. The worst part of the pilot was Capote's telling-not-showing introduction of the other swans; it felt glib and superficial, so by the ending lunch scenes I had no idea who the swans other than Babe Paley were or why I should care that they'd been hurt, especially since the way the show introduced us to Babe was so excellent. Pilots are weird, so I'll put that aside, and hope the others will be more fleshed-out soon. Very much looking forward to seeing how this unfolds, especially after learning that James Baldwin makes an appearance at some point.
posted by mediareport at 5:42 AM on February 5 [1 favorite]

I was just watching The Capote Tapes (2019) on Netflix which filled some things in for me. It suggested-- I think deliberately-- that Capote had this huge wound which was his relationship with his mother, who ultimately rejected him and who had a somewhat similar personality to the swans. Maybe he was attracted to them but was ultimately harboring a lot of anger that he was eventually going to unleash on them. He was just that conflicted. He seemed to be conflicted about a lot of stuff, and Answered Prayers may have been an expression of that.

The series' focus on Babe Paley doesn't do Capote any favors. If one person was really a victim in all of this, it was Babe I think. She seems to have a sort of gentleness and vulnerability about her that makes her the most sympathetic of that group, even more so because she was dying when all that stuff came out. It may be that Capote painted her as innocent and her husband as the villain, not realizing how much it would hurt her to be depicted as a victim. By contrast, reading Slim Keith's autobiography I get a sense of someone who's giving as good as she gets. She is mean and funny and stylish and toxic. If this was depicted as a battle between the two of them, it would have made a much different impression.
posted by BibiRose at 8:35 AM on February 5 [3 favorites]

Another (fictional) perspective is provided by the novel The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 3:53 PM on February 6 [2 favorites]

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