This post is about 10 of Truman Capote's 'swans' and other high society elite women connected to the writer. Some of these women will be featured in the upcoming season 2 of Ryan Murphy's anthology series Feud, entitled 'Capote's Women'. The series will focus on the scandal Capote caused in 1975 after revealing the secrets of his elite friends through thinly disguised characters in the 'La Côte Basque' chapter of his unfinished novel Answered Prayers. For anyone looking to brush up on the Capote universe before starting the show, this post is for you! Buckle up and enjoy!
Barbara Cushing Mortimer Paley was born in Massachusetts in 1915. She and her sisters were known as “The Fabulous Cushing Sisters” after they all married into prominent America families like the Astors, Roosevelts, Mortimer’s and Whitneys.
In 1938, Babe began working as a fashion editor for Vogue. She was married in 1940 wearing a Mabel McIlvain-Downs wedding dress.
In 1941, Time magazine voted her the world’s second best dressed woman after Wallis Simpson. She was also named in the best dressed lists of ’45 and ’46.
She married for the second time in 1947, to CBS president William S. Paley, and left her job at Vogue. She and her husband lived at the St.Regis hotel in New York.
By 1958, she had been named on the best dressed list 14 times and was then inducted into the Fashion Hall of Fame. She regularly bought entire haute couture collections from the likes of Givenchy and Valentino. Bill Blass once observed "I never saw her not grab anyone's attention, the hair, the makeup, the crispness. You were never conscious of what she was wearing; you noticed Babe and nothing else."
Their social circle included Truman Capote and Slim Keith. They threw some of the most elaborate parties of the 1960s. Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's character Holly Golightly was said to be based on a number of women in his circle but Paley is the most fitting candidate for Holly's exuberant personality. Capote has stated Paley was one of the three great obsessions of his life. “She was the only person in my whole life who I liked everything about…She was the most beautiful woman of the twentieth century.” However she was caught in an unhappy marriage and she suffered from depression. Capote had been her confidante and created Holly Golightly as a free, unmarried and untethered woman who was financially independent, living out her dreams in the big city.
Paley famously dropped Capote as a friend in the 70s when he published excerpts of his much-touted work in progress, Answered Prayers, a tell-all of New York's elite including Paley herself.
Her fashion sense was highly influential. She famously started the trend for tying scarves to handbags.
She planned her own funeral before she died from lung cancer in 1978. She also created a file system for how her belongings would be allotted to family and friends after her death.
She has been portrayed in many films and series’ including Life of the Party (1998), Capote (2005), Infamous (2006) and Halston (2021).
She is also depicted in the novels The Love Machine (1969) and The Swans of Fifth Avenue (2016).
She will be portrayed by Naomi Watts in the upcoming season 2 of the FX series Feud.
CZ was born Lucy Douglas Cochrane in 1920 to a family of Boston Brahmins. She had her debut in 1937 and was named 'Glamour Girl of Massachusetts North Shore' in 1939.
She dabbled in acting in the 1940s, appearing in a broadway revival of Ziegfeld Follies. After this, she moved to Mexico and was scandalously painted nude by Diego Rivera.
She married Winston Churchill Guest in 1947, a prominent member of British aristocracy, as well as heir to the Phipp’s steel fortune. She was thus related to Consuelo Vanderbilt, Duchess of Marlborough (the two are pictured below). We previously discussed Consuelo in this blogpost.
Ernest Hemingway was best man at their wedding, which took place at Hemingway’s house in Cuba. Prince Edward and Wallis Simpson were their daughter’s godparents. She became a society hostess, presiding over diners, balls and horse races!
She was a well known style icon and often sported Mainbocher, Givenchy and Adolfo couture.
She appeared regularly in the International Best Dressed List throughout the 50s and was named to the International Best Dressed list Hall of Fame in 1959.
In The Power of Style Bill Blass was telling author Annette Tapert: “I remember seeing C.Z. once in Paris in the 1950s. She came into the bar of the Ritz wearing a knee-length tweed skirt, a twin set, and moccasins – and in a time when everyone else was tarted up in Dior’s New Look, she stopped traffic.”
CZ appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1962.
She wrote a syndicated weekly column called ‘Garden Talk’ which appeared in over 350 newspapers. She then released a book on gardening in 1976, illustrated by Cecil Beaton.
Her social circle included Truman Capote (she was one of his ‘swans’), Doris Duke, Babe Paley and Diana Vreeland.
She was painted by Andy Warhol and Salvador Dalí amongst other artists.
After selling her palatial home in the 60s, fashion designer’s Lisa Perry and Bill Blass lived in it.
In 1985, she designed a fashion collection, mainly consisting of cashmere sweaters, which was introduced at an Adolfo show. The following year, she expanded into sportswear which was sold under license.
She battled with cancer in her later years, remaining chic by wearing headscarves to cover her head, before dying in 2003.
She is remembered as embodying classic clean-cut American style. John Fairchild of Women’s Wear Daily described her as a ”Southampton, Long Island American, Ivy League blond.”
Suzanna Salk released the book ‘C.Z. Guest: American Style Icon’ in 2013. She also featured C.Z. in her 2007 book ‘A Privileged Look: Celebrating WASP Style’.
She will be portrayed by Chloë Sevigny in FX's upcoming season two of Feud ‘Capote’s Women’.
Caroline Lee Bouvier was the socialite sister of First Lady Jackie Kennedy, born in New York in 1933.
She dropped out of college and started working as Diana Vreeland’s assistant at Harper’s Bazaar. She married a Polish count in 1959 and became Lee Radziwill with an honorary princess title.
She attempted an acting career in the 1960s, starring as Tracy Lord in a Chicago stage production of The Philadelphia Story. She brought in Yves Saint Laurent to design the costumes for this. She then appeared in a television adaption of noir classic Laura. Both performances were highly publicized and highly deprecated.
She also appeared in fashion ads such as for DuPont fabrics. After this, she briefly worked as an interior decorator for wealthy clientele.
Though not as well known as her sister, Lee was a fashion icon in her own right and was even responsible for some of Jackie’s fashion choices while she was in the White House. Her style was decidedly refined, glamorous and elegant.
She was frequently photographed by Horst P. Horst and Cecil Beaton.
Toronto based vintage dealer Cherie Balch of @Shrimptoncouture sponsored a restoration of a custom Givenchy dress Radziwill had worn in 1961 that was uncovered by London based costume designer @Henryjjwilkinson in a theatre in 2021. She was a big fan of the theatre and it’s thought that she donated the dress to the theatre where it was cut up and found by Wilkinson years later.
She was a close friend of Truman Capote, who he referred to as ‘Princepessa’ and attended his famous Black and White Ball in 1966. The Mila Shön dress she wore to this is now at the V&A museum. Though Radziwill publicly denied any jealousy or rivalry with her sister, Capote insisted that she confessed to him that she was consumed by it.
She had many celebrity acquaintances and was a staple of New York society. She toured with The Rolling Stones in 1972 along with Capote. Also that year, she hired moviemakers Albert and David Maysles to work on a documentary about the Bouvier family. That film was never completed. However, the Maysles’ turned their attention to Radziwill’s aunt and cousin Big Edie and Little Edie Bouvier-Beale, resulting in the famous film Grey Gardens (1975), widely considered a documentary masterpiece. A follow-up documentary containing the original documentary footage from 1972 was released in 2017 entitled That Summer, featuring Radziwill. Check out this blogpost for more on Grey Gardens and see our style edit in ode to little Edie Beale.
She appeared on the cover of Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine in 1975 and donated some of her designer pieces to the Met in 1977.
She was a muse for Marc Jacobs and inspired a Tory Burch purse. She worked in PR in the fashion industry and became the director of special events for Giorgio Armani, wearing his designs everywhere.
She was named to the Best Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1996.
She featured on the cover of New York Times Style Magazine in 2013 and was listed by The Guardian as one of 50 best dressed people over 50 the same year.
She married and divorced 3 times.
She passed away in 2019. Her funeral was attended by many fashion industry titans including Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors, Carolina Herrera and André Leon Talley. "Stylish, curious, beautiful, smart and with a sly sense of humour, Lee had it all,” Kors told WWD. "Her passing is the end of an era of elegance and style that cannot be created ever again."
Capote was quoted as saying "I can't think of any woman more feminine than Lee Radziwill—not even Audrey Hepburn."
Radziwill will be portrayed by Calista Flockhart in Feud.
Click the photo below to check out a first edition of Jackie and Lee's book 'One Special Summer' from 1974 which we currently have for sale.
Nancy “Slim” Gross was born in California in 1917.
She left school at 16 and travelled to a Death Valley resort where she met William Powell, William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies. This provided her gateway into the glamorous Hollywood life and so started her career as a socialite. It is rumoured that she was pursued by everyone from Clark Gable to Ernest Hemingway.
She met director Howard Hawks in 1938 and despite the fact that he was married to Norma Shearer’s sister, he did everything in his power to win Slim. Three years later, they married.
Slim saw a then unknown Lauren Bacall on the cover of Harpers Bazaar and convinced her husband to cast her in To Have and Have Not (1944), with her character and style modelled after Slim, which catapulted Bacall’s career.
Hawks sadly conducted affairs and after the birth of their first child Kitty, Slim moved to Havana to stay with Ernest Hemingway. While there, she met producer Leland Hayward who would become her second husband in 1949. Leland unfortunately left her for Winston Churchill’s daughter-in-law (see Pamela Harriman below). Slim has said that Leland was the love of her life. She was mentioned briefly in Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954) as ‘Slim Hayward’.
Her third husband was British Aristocratic banker Kenneth Keith, giving her her final name of ‘Lady Keith’.
She was considered the original “California Girl” for her tall, slim, blonde looks paired with her casual style.
By age 22, she had appeared on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar. She was included on the international best dressed list 6 times from 1944-50. Her style was iconic, exuding a crisp American sense of chic. Throughout the 50s and 60s, she maintained her status as a style queen.
“Slim believed in having what she called a ‘house uniform’ by day. She favored khakis, tailored shirts, trousers and jackets, soft moccasin-like loafers and thick angora socks she knitted herself.”- Annette Tapert writing about Slim Keith
She and Babe Paley were the inspiration for unflattering characters in Capote’s infamous ‘Answered Prayers’ with the character of Lady Coolbirth said to have been based on Keith. She consequently banished him from her life. Pamela Harriman's biographer has claimed that Coolbirth was actually based on Harriman. Keith will be portrayed by Diane Lane in Feud.
Slim released her autobiography in 1990 and died the same year at the age of 72 from lung cancer.
She was portrayed in the 2006 film ‘Infamous’ by Hope Davis.
Vogue wrote in 2020 that “Out of a slew of society swans—and they are legion—she epitomized a certain sort of proto-American sportswear ideal: the Northern Californian all-American dream girl; cool, but not one of Hitchcock's ice queens. She wasn’t as “perfect” as Babe Paley or as hyper-chic as Nan Kempner, but she held her own, opting for a long, lean silhouette: sporty, easy clothes that accented her lithe figure and delicate features that she could still move in.“
Guinness was born Gloria Rubio y Alatorre in Mexico in 1912. Her father was a journalist who died in exile in the United States during the Mexican revolution. Her mother came from a Spanish colonial family who were descended from Christopher Columbus. When her family lost everything, she worked in a nightclub to earn a living. She often downplayed or lied about her origins, insisting her mother was a laundry maid.
The socialite married 4 times in total with the final being to a member of the Ascendancy Guinness family (of stout brewing fame) in 1951.
She was dressed by couturiers like Dior, Schiaparelli, Chanel and Givenchy but she was particularly devoted to Spanish designers Balenciaga and Antonio Dell Castillo. She donated seventeen outfits to the V&A museum including a hand painted gown by Marcelle Chaumont.
She appeared on the International Best Dressed list between 1959 and 1963 and was initiated into its hall of fame in 1964.
She came second in Time magazine’s Best Dressed Woman in the World list in 1962 (after Jackie Kennedy). However, Eleanor Lambert insisted that Gloria was truly “the most elegant woman in the world”.
She was one of the first to adopt Pucci’s capri pants in the early 60s and helped to popularize the trend in America.
She began a series of columns for Harper’s Bazaar in 1963 which ran until 1971.
She was photographed herself for Harper’s, WWD and Vogue by the likes of Cecil Beaton, Horst P. Horst, Slim Aarons and Richard Avedon.
She was a close friend of Truman Capote’s and one of his ‘swans’. She frequently travelled around with other wealthy society friends, a member of the Jet Set, and is said to have had a rivalry with Babe Paley. Truman thought that the two women (along with Greta Garbo) were the most beautiful in the world.
At Truman’s Black and White Ball, she wore a long white glittering Mainbocher gown.
She passed away in 1980 of a heart attack at 68.
She is remembered as one of the most prominent fashion and cultural icons between the 50s and 70s. Her style was understated and elegant, favouring bold solid colours and eschewing trends. She was “the queen of chic”.
Donna Marella Caracciolo di Castagneto was born into aristocracy in Florence in 1927. She grew up in Rome and Turkey, obtained a diploma in Switzerland and studied art in Paris.
Her career included modelling, design and art collecting. She began working in photography as an assistant to fashion photographer Erwin Blumenfeld in New York in the early 1950s.
She returned to Italy and was an occasional editor and photographic contributor to Vogue for the rest of the 50s and into the 60s.
She married Fiat tycoon Gianni Agnelli in 1953 in a dress by Balenciaga and the two became a stylish power couple. She said "if one isn't very very beautiful, one should be elegant. I had to be elegant then. Mr. Balenciaga was my defense".
Richard Avedon captured a famous photo of her in 1953 that accentuates her long neck and is currently in the collection of the MET.
She was among Valentino Garavani’s earliest and most beloved customers.
She was named to the International Best Dressed List each year from 1959 to 1962 and was added to its Hall of Fame in 1963.
She was known for her inclusion in Truman Capote’s swan circle. According to Capote, Agnelli was the number one European swan! In Katherine Graham’s autobiography, she recalls a comment from Capote that if Babe Paley and Agnelli were "both in Tiffany’s window, Marella would be more expensive."
She holidayed with the Kennedy’s on the Amalfi coast in 1962.
She wore a white gown made by Italian designer Federico Forquet to the Black and White Ball in 1966.
In 1973, she created a textile line which won her the prestigious Resources Council Roscoe design award. She designed furnishing fabrics for a number of companies in the 70s.
She authored two books on gardening in the 80s and 90s and oversaw the opening of an art gallery in Turin in 2002.
Isabella Rosselini portrayed Agnelli in Infamous (2006).
She released her autobiography ‘The Last Swan’ in 2014.
After a life described by The New York Times as being ‘of palatial estates, ornamental gardens, fine art, high fashion and lofty society’, she passed away in 2019 at the age of 91.
Mona Von Bismarck
Mona Strader was born in Kentucky in 1897. She was twice divorced by the time she opened a dress shop in New York in 1925. She married Harrison Williams the following year, who was perhaps the richest man in America at the time. She lived a life of luxury travelling around the world and was a foremost member of Café Society.
In 1933, Mona was named "The Best Dressed Woman in the World" by a group of haute couturiers including Chanel, Molyneux, Vionnet, Lelong and Lanvin, becoming the first American to be so honoured.
She was one of the most revered socialites of her day. Salvador Dali painted her portrait in 1943.
After the death of Williams, she married again and took up residence at the Hotel Lambert in Paris.
She was named to the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1958.
When Cristobal Balenciaga, who used Mona as his muse, closed his atelier in 1968, Diana Vreeland quipped that Mona did not leave her bedroom for three days in mourning. Once, when much of her wardrobe was lost in a train accident, she ordered 150 pieces from Balenciaga in a single season.
She was widowed again in 1970 and married Count Umberto De Martini.
Mona donated her papers and photos to the Filson Historical Society in 1976, which included several correspondences with Hubert de Givenchy and other figures in fashion.
Several items of unique jewelry were also donated to the Smithsonian Institution, including the Bismarck Sapphire Necklace.
She died in 1983 at the age of 86 and was buried in a Givenchy gown.
In Truman Capote's Answered Prayers chapter 'Kate McCloud', she was the model for the eponymous character and supposed heroine of the overall novel.
The Mona Bismarck American Center was open in Paris from 1986 to 2022, and fostered artistic and cultural Franco-American relations.
She is remembered as one of the most stylish women of the 20th Century for her colourful and bold taste.
Socialite Pamela Digby was born into an aristocratic family in England in 1920. Her great-great aunt was the great Victorian courtesan Jane Digby, whose life Pamela went on to emulate.
Pamela married Winston Churchill’s son Randolph in 1939. Cecil Beaton photographed her with her newborn child for the cover of Life magazine; its first cover with a mother and baby.
Randolph turned out to be a big gambler and racked up huge debts. Pamela started an affair with American envoy Averell Harriman (son of a Gilded Age railroad tycoon) in the early 1940s and got a divorce from Randolph soon after. She had many romances with men of wealth and prominence including Gianni Agnelli, Marella Agnelli’s husband, with whom she had a 5 year long affair. William S. Paley (Babe Paley’s husband) said that “she is the greatest courtesan of the century”.
In 1959, she met The Sound of Music producer Leland Hayward, who was married to Slim Hawks at the time. Hayward divorced Slim and married Pamela, making her his fifth wife. They remained married until his death in 1971.
She reconnected with Averell Harriman after Leland’s funeral at a party held by Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham (and guest of honour of Capote’s Black and White ball) and married him a few months later, becoming a great Washington hostess. This began her political career and involvement with the Democratic Party. Averell died in 1986 and Pamela inherited his $115 million fortune.
Bill Clinton appointed her United States Ambassador to France in 1993. She was named on the Best Dressed List that year, then in her 70s.
She died in France in 1997 and was the first female diplomat to have the Grand Cross of the Légion d’Honneur on her coffin. Clinton dispatched Air Force One to retrieve her body. The Los Angeles Times wrote in her obituary that “right up till the end, she possessed an inimitable sense of style”.
She has featured as a character in a number of novels, films and plays including the 1998 film ‘Life of the Party: The Pamela Harriman Story’ in which she was played by Ann-Margaret.
Truman Capote was enthralled by her ruthless amatory career despite the fact that she was involved with the husbands of at least 3 of his swan friends. As mentioned previously, she is speculated to have served as inspiration for the Lady Coolbirth character and is set to be included in season 2 of Feud, but her casting is under wraps so far.
She said about her advantageous love life “those were the people I met; everything in life, I believe, is luck and timing”. She also, at the end, acknowledged the notoriety that came with her remarkable trajectory. “I’d rather have bad things written about me,” she said, “than be forgotten.”
Joanne Copeland was born in Los Angeles in 1931 and raised in a convent. She was a model, air stewardess and TV host. Joanne met Johnny Carson in 1960. They married in 1963 a year after he started hosting The Tonight Show.
They remained married for almost a decade before the marriage broke down and they divorced in 1972. Joanne received a settlement of $6,000 per month in alimony until Carson's death.
After the divorce, she hosted a talk show called Joanne Carson’s VIP’s and became close with Truman Capote. He kept a writing room at her house on Sunset Boulevard, which is where he died in 1984.
She wanted to write a book about her friendships with the people she knew in Hollywood but the publisher’s wanted something juicy so she abandoned the project. She did however complete one 38-page chapter about meeting Johnny, which Capote edited.
She earned a master’s degree in psychology and a Ph.D. in nutritional biochemistry and physiology.
She had a second marriage that also ended in divorce, and died in California, aged 83, in 2015. She had no children and was interred next to Capote in LA.
She will be played by Molly Ringwald in Feud.
The most tragic consequence of Capote's writing happened to be a fellow southerner.
Born Evangeline Lucille Crowell in Kansas in 1915, Ann moved to New York in 1937 to work as a model and landed a role as a radio actress. She was voted ‘Most Beautiful Girl in Radio” in 1940.
She was working as a showgirl at a nightclub when she met William Woodward Sr., a wealthy banker from an old money family. She had an affair with him and later married his son William Woodward Jr. in 1943. Her mother-in-law, well known hostess Elizabeth “Elsie” Ogden Cryder Woodward, objected to the marriage. Elsie was one of the famous Gilded Age Cryder Triplets, who amongst other things modelled for Charles Dana Gibson, illustrator of the Gibson Girl.
Ann was eventually accepted into New York high society and became a leading figure. The couple had 3 children but the marriage was unhappy with both parties having a string of affairs before William asked for a divorce in 1947, which Ann refused.
She was photographed by many leading fashion photographers of the day including Horst P. Horst and John Rawlings. Her portrait was painted by Salvador Dalí.
In late 1955, there was a string of burglaries in their neighbourhood. One night after a party for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Ann shot her husband twice in the middle of the night, killing him. She said that she had mistaken him for a burglar and was not charged with any wrongdoing in the end (rumoured to be a result of a generous cash payment). However, she was shunned by society for the rest of her life.
In 1975, Truman Capote published “La Côte Basque, 1965” in Esquire. He based the character of Ann Hopkins clearly on Ann Woodward (who he had only met briefly once), implying that she murdered her husband. The publication of this writing caused such a scandal that Ann killed herself with cyanide shortly after. Both her sons went on to also die by suicide in 1976 and 1999.
The incident was portrayed in Dominck Dunne’s 1985 novel ‘The Two Mrs. Grenvilles’ which was turned into a 2 episode miniseries starring Ann Margaret (who coincidentally also went onto play Pamela Harriman in another biopic).
Capote was shunned by society after La Côte Basque just like Ann had been in 1955.
Demi Moore is set to play her in the upcoming season 2 of Feud: Capote’s Women.
With so much to say about Miss Vanderbilt, she has her own dedicated post. Check it out here.
Phew! These ladies lived full lives! We're just thrilled they became friends with Capote because we now get to see them in what is set to be a thrilling series! Watch out for an upcoming style edit we are putting together inspired by all of these women and check back in with us when the show drops so we can dissect the 1970s fashion together!