- Season two of “Feud” chronicles the fallout of Truman Capote betraying his close circle of friends.
- In 1975, he wrote a short story featuring thinly veiled portraits of several socialites he knew.
- Ann Woodward, one woman he wrote about, took her life shortly before it was published.
After a seven-year hiatus, Ryan Murphy’s anthology series “Feud” has returned for a second season. This time, it focuses on the acclaimed American writer Truman Capote and his ostracization from New York society after publishing a scandalous short story.
“Feud: Capote vs. The Swans,” which showrunner and writer Jon Robin Baitz adapted from Laurence Leamer’s bestselling book “Capote’s Women,” depicts how Capote (Tom Hollander) ruffled the feathers of high society in 1975 after an excerpt of his unfinished novel “Answered Prayers” was published in Esquire.
The short story, titled “La Côte Basque 1965” — named after a Manhattan restaurant where Capote and his coterie of jet-setting, glamorous women once dined — was a thinly veiled fictionalization of their lives that exposed to the wider world their scandals and secrets .
The fallout of the story’s publication caused irrevocable rifts between Capote and his so-called “swans.” According to Leamer, the excommunication that followed caused the “In Cold Blood” author to sink deeper into a dependence on alcohol and drugs, which contributed to his death at the age of 59 in 1984.
But that wasn’t the only untimely death that can be traced back to the publication of “La Côte Basque 1965.” Ann Woodward, one of the women whom Capote’s pen appeared to take aim at in the Esquire story, died by suicide before the issue hit newsstands, with many believing that Capote’s words had pushed her over the edge.
Woodward’s suicide is depicted in the first episode of “Feud: Capote vs. The Swans,” which premiered Wednesday on FX and Hulu. Here’s the real story of what happened to Woodward and her relationship with Capote.
Ann Woodward had a run with Truman Capote where she reportedly called him a homophobic slur
Ann Woodward (portrayed on “Feud” by Demi Moore) was an American socialite whose entry into society mirrored that of Capote’s famed “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” protagonist, Holly Golightly. Born Angeline Lucille Crowell, she reinvented herself as “Ann Eden” and swapped Kansas for New York in search of a better life.
That came quickly, and in 1943, she became a permanent fixture of New York high society after she married wealthy banking heir William Woodward Jr.
Twelve years later, in 1955, she became something of a permanent fixture in the tabloids, too, after she shot her husband at their Long Island home. His death was ruled an accident, and Woodward faced no indictment after she alleged that she had mistaken him for an intruder.
The case was labeled “The Shooting of the Century” by Life magazine, and Woodward found herself cast out of the world she had fought so hard to enter. In the aftermath, she chose to leave New York for Europe, according to a biography on the Woodwards titled “This Crazy Thing Called Love” by Susan Braudy.
Per Roseanne Montillo’s “Deliberate Cruelty,” a book that explores the circumstances surrounding the socialite’s death, Woodward’s only chronicled run-in with Capote was when they were both in St. Moritz a year after the shooting.
According to Montillo, Capote recognized Woodward and approached her table; after a brief conversation, she reportedly called Capote a homophobic slur. In response, he called Woodward “Mrs. Bang Bang,” a “moniker that would stick to her for the rest of her days.”
It’s not known exactly why Capote chose to dramatize Woodward’s killing of her husband for the short story nearly two decades after that exchange. The offense he took from her insult itself may have been enough ammunition, but Montillo speculates that Capote “loathed” Woodward because “she reminded him so much of his mother.”
“But he may also have been so cruel to her because Ann Woodward seemed too much like him as well,” she writes.
Capote’s “La Côte Basque 1965” featured a thinly disguised character based on Woodward
By the time “La Côte Basque 1965” was published in November 1975, 20 years had passed since Woodward had been exonerated for the death of her husband. But the story, which sees two characters named Lady Ina Coolbirth and PB “Jonesy” Jones discuss a woman who “got away with cold-blooded murder” when she killed her husband, features startlingly similar circumstances to the Woodward case.
In Capote’s story, Woodward’s fictional stand-in is named Ann Hopkins, and her husband is David Hopkins. The two women discussing the scandalous incident are also widely speculated to be based on Capote’s close confidantes Babe Paley (played by Naomi Watts in “Feud”) and Nancy “Slim” Keith (played by Diane Lane). Both women also fell out with Capote over the story.
Woodward was found dead days before the story was published — but there’s no evidence she had received an advance copy
On October 10, 1975, a few days before the issue of Esquire featuring “La Côte Basque 1965” was published, Woodward was found dead at her apartment on Fifth Avenue, having consumed a cyanide pill, according to Vanity Fair.
There is no evidence that Woodward knew the excerpt would mention her. Still, it has been heavily speculated over the years that she had received an advance copy of the story, which influenced her decision to take her life.
Gerald Clarke, Capote’s biographer, told Vanity Fair in 2012: “We’ll never know, but it’s possible that Truman’s story pushed her over the edge.”
Per Braudy’s book, Woodward’s mother-in-law, Elsie Woodward, was among those who believed Capote’s forthcoming story had been the last straw, stating six weeks after her suicide: “She shot my son, and Truman just murdered her, and so now I suppose we don’t have to worry about that anymore.”
However, as BuzzFeed’s Alessa Dominguez points out in her review of “Deliberate Cruelty,” other factors, including stress and loneliness, were likely plaguing Woodward in her final weeks and days.
Despite the two decades since her husband’s death, Woodward’s reputation was still in tatters among those who remembered the headline-making incident. Her younger son Jimmy had tried to take his life sometime before her death too (he died by suicide a year later, and William, her older son, also died the same way in 1999).
“Feud: Capote vs. The Swans” airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on FX.