How The Cast of 'Feud: Capote vs The Swans' Compares to Their Real-Life Counterparts

Our current cultural iteration of ladies who lunch might be the Real Housewives, but before Bravo brought cameras to capture the lives of self-proclaimed upper society women, Truman Capote showed his readers the shadow side of Manhattan’s elite wives. Dubbing them his “swans,” the legendary Mid-century writer followed that old Joan Didion axiom that a writer is always selling someone out. After becoming a central figure in the social and private lives of his circle of sophisticated female friends, Capote published a thinly veiled fictionalized account of their most salacious secrets in Esquire magazine. The 1975 story, “La Côte Basque, 1965” was an excerpt from Capote’s last novel, Answered Prayers—which was only published after his death from complications related to alcoholism in 1984. The title referenced the West 55th Street French restaurant where the ladies often gathered to catch up over wine and cigarettes, to gossip and commiserate over their marriages to some of American society’s most powerful men.

The short story violently fractured Capote’s relationship with the women, resulting in the “feud” that Ryan Murphy’s new anthology season covers. Though the Breakfast at Tiffany’s author tried to get back in their good graces—in particular, he missed Babe Paley, his favorite swan—he never was able to reconcile with them, which ultimately contributed to his long, slow decline. The Gus Van Sant-directed Feud is based on Laurence Leamer’s 2021 book, Capote’s Women: A True Story of Love, Betrayal, and a Swan Song For an Era, and though the eight-episode series takes some artistic liberties, the main characters were all real people. Below, the true life characters behind this season of Feud, along with their on-screen counterparts:

Truman Capote (played by Tom Hollander)

R: Photo by PhotoQuest/Getty Images. L: Pari Ducovic/FX

Tom Hollander had big shoes to fill in playing the self-destructive writer, after the late Philip Seymour Hoffman won the Academy Award for best actor for his performance in 2005’s Capote. In Feud, Hollander portrays Capote as a complicated, self-effacing creative genius grappling with his demons following the massive success of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and his 1965 magnum opus, In Cold Blood, which launched both Capote into fame and riches (and true crime as a commercially successful genre.) He’s also facing writer’s block, which he deals with by drinking, taking drugs, and having a series of relationships, including an abusive one with a closeted suburban father, John O’Shea.

The series also explores Capote’s difficult relationship with his deceased mother, played by Ryan Murphy regular Jessica Lange. Capote was raised in Monroeville, Alabama by relatives after his parents divorced. He eventually joined his mother, Lillie May Faulk, and her new husband, José Garcia Capote in New York City; his mother killed herself after his stepfather was convicted of embezzlement. Feud includes a series of flashbacks with Capote’s mother and visits from her ghost, in which the writer considers how her desperation to be part of elite society (and her painful exclusion from it) both fueled his own desire to join the ranks of the swans and perhaps his subconscious desire to ultimately expose and take them down.

Babe Paley (played by Naomi Watts)

R: Bettmann / Contributor. L: Pari Ducovic/FX

Of all the swans, Barbara “Babe” Cushing Mortimer Paley, the wife of CBS founder William S. Paley (more on him below), was Capote’s favorite. The daughter of a prominent neurosurgeon, Babe spent her youth in Brookline, Massachusetts, with her two sisters—the trio were dubbed ‘The Fabulous Cushing Sisters,’ and all went onto marry into prominent American families, including the Roosevelts and the Astors. After moving to New York City, Babe worked as a fashion editor at Vogue for two years, quickly becoming a favorite of best dressed lists herself (she stopped working after marrying Paley).

In Feud, Babe is the glue that holds the swans together. The HBIC swan, if you will. Her impeccable style and fabulous hosting skills earn her a reputation of being the ideal socialite. Capote remarks in the series, as he did in real life, that Babe’s only flaw is being perfect. However, all that glamour hides a darker interior, as she has a cold, distant relationship with her children (all of the swans were terrible mothers, Capote observes) and an unhappy marriage filled with cheating, on both sides—which Capote exposed in “La Côte Basque,” leading to the painful end of their friendship.

In her final years, Babe was diagnosed with lung cancer following years of heavy smoking. True to form, she planned her own funeral, down to the food and wine to be served. In Feud, as Babe comes to terms with her life and the reality of her impending death, she considers the importance of her relationship with Capote, whom she considers her true soulmate, and the importance of the unique bond between gay men and their female friends. Sadly, she and Capote never made amends, at least not in this lifetime.

William S. Paley (played by Treat Williams)

R: Bettmann / Contributor. L: Pari Ducovic/FX

The late Treat Williams, who was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident in 2023 after filming Feud, plays CBS founder Bill Paley. Born in 1901 to a Jewish family in Chicago, Illinois, Paley built the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) from a small radio network into one of the biggest media operations in the world. He changed broadcasting’s business model, recognizing the importance of advertisers and sponsors in addition to providing networking programming to affiliate stations at a low cost, ensuring the widest distribution possible for both programming and advertising. He also made sure CBS played a fundamental role in delivering news coverage to Americans during World War II.

In Feud, the accomplishments of the men barely register, as the swans are the center of the show. Paley is portrayed as a bit of a philandering dunce, having affairs with all manner of women including Happy Rockefeller and Babe’s friend, Lee Radziwill. He continually seeks his wife’s forgiveness—which he eventually receives in the days before her death.

C.Z. Guest (played by Chloë Sevigny)

L: Photo by Slim Aarons/Getty Images. R: Pari Ducovic/FX

Also a Boston-native, the enigmatic C.Z. (a play on her nickname, Sissy) is well cast as Chloë Sevigny, who depicts her in Feud as she was in real life—a lifelong gardener, equine enthusiast, muse to great artists (including Andy Warhol, Salvador Dalí and Diego Rivera), and the most sympathetic to Capote’s troubles. Married to Winston Frederick Churchill Guest, who was a polo champion, heir to a steel fortune and second cousin of Winston Churchill, C.Z. first dabbled in acting in Los Angeles before becoming a doyenne of New York society. After the falling out with the swans, C.Z. was the only New York swan to remain friends with the ostracized Capote, though she was unsuccessful in her attempts to bring him back into the fold.

Ann Woodward (played by Demi Moore)

R: Bettmann / Contributor. L: Pari Ducovic/FX

In Feud, Ann Woodward, played by a delightfully deranged Demi Moore, is the first casualty of Capote’s penchant for gossip. Though eventually accepted as an influential socialite, Woodward’s entry into New York society was far from seamless; she first met William Woodward Sr., a wealthy banker from a prominent old money family, when she was working as a showgirl at FeFe’s Monte Carlo nightclub. It’s rumored she became his mistress before marrying his son, William Woodward Jr.

Later, Woodward was infamously accused of murdering her husband after he died mysteriously by gunshot wound in 1955. A jury determined that it was an accident, but Capote wrote another barely veiled account of the story, implicating Woodward in the murder. Shortly before the story was published in Esquire, Woodward ingested cyanide and died.

This all takes place at the beginning of the series, when Capote is still comfortably ensconced in the swan’s good graces. Capote humiliates Woodward by kicking her out of his famous 1966 Black and White Ball (which takes place in episode three), foreshadowing his own eventual banishment from high society.

Slim Keith (played by Diane Lane)

R: Bettmann / Contributor. L: Pari Ducovic/FX

Another socialite, Slim Keith is played as a hard-headed force to be reckoned with by Diane Lane. Keith, born Mary Raye Gross, came to New York City by way of Salinas, California, where her father owned successful canneries in nearby Monterey. Dubbed the original “California Girl,” Keith had already appeared on the age of Harper’s Bazaar by the age of 22, and like the other swans, frequently topped best dressed lists. After a chance meeting with William Randolph Hearst in Death Valley, Keith entered Hollywood society. As a young woman, she was pursued by the likes of Clark Gable and Ernest Hemingway, and throughout her life was married three times—to film director Howard Hanks, produced Leland Hayward (to whom Keith is credited with introducing Lauren Bacall), and British Banker Kenneth Keith.

In Feud, Keith is perhaps the most adamant about excluding Capote after he betrays the women’s secrets. Even when Babe is close to death and expresses a desire to reconcile with him, Keith is steadfast in her refusal to waiver, upholding the gilded walls of the vaulted society she’s part of.

Lee Radziwill (played by Calista Flockhart)

R: Bettmann / Contributor. L: Pari Ducovic/FX

Born Caroline Lee Bouvier Lee Radziwill was a leading figure in high society as early as her coming out party; a full-page photograph of the debutante’s gown was featured in a 1950 issue of Life magazine, after all. The younger sister of former First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis (and therefore the sister-in-law of John F. Kennedy), Radziwill had aspirations of being an actress that went largely unfulfilled. She worked briefly as an interior designer—as depicted in Feud, though, she didn’t like being told what to do. What she did best, was being fabulous—in 1972, she and Capote travelled with The Rolling Stones during their 1972 tour, she was named to Vanity Fair’s International Best Dressed Hall of Fame, and her homes were frequently featured in magazines like Elle Décor.

Like Keith, Radziwill was also married three times: first to publishing executive Michael Temple Canfield, followed by Polish aristocrat Prince Stanislaw Albrecht Radziwill, a marriage which gave her the title of Her Serene Highness Princess. Lastly, she married movie director and choreographer Herbert Ross, whom she later divorced in 2001 (Radziwill died at the age of 85 in 2019). And yes, she is the mother-in-law of Carole Radziwill, former Real Housewife of New York.

L: Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images. R: Pari Ducovic/FX

Lastly, Joanne Carson rounds out the group—though she both lived on and represents, in Feud, the West Coast. She was a struggling model in Los Angeles when she met TV game show host Johnny Carson—the two were married from 1963 to 1972, after which Joanne lived on the fringe of Bel-Air for the rest of her life. In Feud, Capote is often seen traveling to stay with Joanne, either to write, take a break from drinking, or drink more than ever. Though he makes fun of her Mexican-inspired California decor and unexciting house guests and parties behind her back, Joanne is perhaps the most loyal friend he has. It was at Joanne’s house that he died in 1984, which is depicted in the show.

Feud: Capote vs The Swans premieres January 31 at 10pmET on FX, with episodes later available on Hulu.

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top