The Scandalous True Story Behind ‘Feud: Capote Vs. the swans


AFTER AND LENGTHS hiatus, Ryan Murphy’s anthology series Feud is back. The first season delved into the well-documented animosity between Hollywood icons Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, and this long-awaited second installment borrows from equally juicy real-life drama.

Capote vs. The Swans fictionalizes a key chapter in the life of Truman Capote, the renowned American author best known for incepting the form of the true crime novel with In Cold Bloodand creating one of the most enduring figures in 20th century pop culture, Holly Golightly, in his novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

When we meet Capote in Feud, however, he is suffering from a severe case of writer’s block. Once the toast of uptown Manhattan’s literary scene, he finds himself unable to work. However, he has finessed his way onto the guest list of the best parties in the upper echelons of society—and into the confidences of some of the wealthiest women in the city, who delight in the author’s well-known talent for a witty rejoinder.

These socialites, whom Capote nicknames his Swans, eventually become the inspiration for his next book, a ruthless skewering of the private affairs of the rich and privileged.


But when chapters from the manuscript of Answered Prayers (which remains unfinished to this day) make their way into the public sphere, they provoke the ire of Capote’s inner circle, who feel betrayed that he would use their secrets in such a way, and they vow to take their revenge. What follows is a sensational and at-times tragic account based on the experiences of five very real women: Babe Paley, Lee Radziwill, Slim Keith, CZ Guest, and Ann Woodward.

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

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

Previously portrayed in two separate biopics by Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Toby Jones respectively, this time around Capote is played by Tom Hollander (Pride & Prejudice, The Night Manager). The Swans meanwhile, are played by a who’s who of respected actresses, for some of whom this represents a long-overdue return to the screen: Demi Moore, Chloë Sevigny, Molly Ringwald, Diane Lane, Calista Flockhart, and Naomi Watts.

Capote’s entanglement with—and subsequent expulsion from—New York society is bound to capture viewers’ imaginations, as it has for readers over the decades. The story has been recounted and examined in books like Deliberate Cruelty: Truman Capote, the Millionaire’s Wife, and the Murder of the Century by Roseanne Montillo, as well as reimagined in the novels Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott and The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin

For the TV show, Murphy and his co-creators mined inspiration and insight on this “coterie of gorgeous, witty and fabulously rich women” from the pages of Capote’s Women: A True Story of Love, Betrayal, and a Swan Song for an Era by Laurence Lerner, the biographer who also wrote Hitchcock’s Blondes. While Learner’s tome attempts to deliver a coherent, fact-checked version of events and their participants, many of whom where never in the same place at the same time, the series (directed by Gus Van Sant, Jennifer Lynch and Max Winkler) takes artistic license with certain elements in order to ensure the level of lurid camp that fans have come to expect from a Ryan Murphy production.

Headshot of Philip Ellis

Philip Ellis is News Editor at Men’s Health, covering fitness, pop culture, sex and relationships, and LGBTQ+ issues. His work has appeared in GQ, Teen Vogue, Man Repeller and MTV, and he is the author of Love & Other Scams.

The article is in Czech

Tags: Scandalous True Story Feud Capote swans


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