On Truman Capote and “Feud”

Picture this: It’s the 1970s. My grandmother and I are walking in Manhattan, where I spent the first few years of my life. (She is the same grandmother from my Halloween story, if you were wondering.) Maybe we’re grocery shopping, or maybe she’s collected me from kindergarten and is taking me home. I can’t quite remember. I only remember what happens next. 

While we’re walking, Grandmom glances in the window of a salon as we pass by. And she freezes in place, riveted by someone inside. 

“That’s Truman Capote.”  

I’m probably no more than six. I have no earthly idea who Truman Capote is. But Grandmom is not an easily-impressed sort and yet I can tell by her tone of voice that she’s clearly impressed by whoever this is. (And no wonder. If this story takes place when I think it did, he was pretty much the king of New York at that point.)

So I join her by the salon window. 

Inside, an older man with a round, ruddy face and sparse pale hair is getting what looks like some kind of vigorous scalp massage. A salon attendant notices us peering in at Capote and says something to him. And Capote glances around and gives us a small smile and a little Yes dears, hello, it’s me wave. 

That satisfies Grandmom. It satisfies me, too. This very important person who I’ve never heard of just waved at me. Things like that seem monumentally important when you’re so young. 

The name “Truman Capote” stuck with me from that day on, and when I saw In Cold Blood in our middle school library several years later, I immediately checked it out. A music teacher saw me with it and kicked up quite a fuss over me reading such a “horrible” book, but my parents never minded me reading above my age bracket. 

By the time I was in college and had read almost all of Capote’s published output and would have loved to spot him in Manhattan—or anywhere else—he and my grandmom were both long gone. 

This winter I’ve been watching Feud: Capote vs. The Swans on FX. The way Capote committed social suicide by publishing a short story skewering his glamorous society friends, the “swans” in question, has always fascinated me. Talk about authors behaving badly. Why would he do that? What could he possibly have been thinking? 

With one episode left to go of Feud, I have to say I’m none the wiser. 

This series probably should have been a movie, or a much shorter miniseries. It’s not much of a feud if one side drops the rope and walks away, as most of the real-life swans did, and so Feud is loaded with redundant filler and a lot of inventions. There are only so many times that even the finest of actresses can make “Should we forgive Truman?” “Hmph!” “But I miss him!” “Harrumph, I say!” “Oh, I suppose you’re right” very compelling.

Also, I realize that non-linear timelines in movies and TV shows are all the rage right now and will probably become even more so thanks to Oppenheimer’s wild success, but that doesn’t mean every story benefits from being told that way.

However, the performances are top notch. Tom Hollander is a truly uncanny Capote. Naomi Watts, who deserves to be way more famous and awarded than she has been, is wonderful as Babe Paley, Capote’s favorite swan. I also loved Joe Mantello as Capote’s long-suffering companion Jack. I will never say no to more Jessica Lange, appearing as Capote’s mother Lillie Mae. And as an 80s teen, I always love seeing Molly Ringwald again.

And if Feud inspires some people to seek out Capote’s work, that’s a good thing. With true crime being all the rage, there’s no better time to check out In Cold Blood, the “nonfiction novel” that catapulted him to the very social heights from which he’d later be exiled.

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