Wednesday, February 14, 2024

About Capote's Swans, from Blair Sabol, who was there

Blair Sabol, No Holds Barred: From Capote’s Swans to Bravo’s Housewives, New York Social Diary, February 14, 2024.

I “grew up” in New York City in the late ’60s/early ’70s. It was a special time where overall culture — art, music, fashion — collided with big stores like Bendel, Bonwit, Bloomingdale’s and Bergdorf, and all of Madison Avenue. Most of all, society’s stars beamed brightly — Babe Paley, Gloria Guinness, Mariella Agnelli, Jackie Kennedy (of course), Lee Radziwill, Nan Kempner and Pat Buckley. Even Andy Warhol’s Edie Sedgwick was an uptown girl who went downtown to become a Velvet Underground celebrity. Manhattan became the center of the universe.

High style and legitimate class ruled the city, if not the world. It was a new Gilded Age. John Fairchild (publisher of Women’s Wear Daily) became the scribe of all this, and WWD became everyone’s daily Bible. Fairchild was responsible for making “The Ladies Who Lunch” true stars of the era (even Stephen Sondheim composed one of his greatest hits “Here’s to the Ladies Who Lunch” for his 1970 Company hit show).

How they maintained:

They were the experts. In fact, no body trainers, and not much plastic surgery. Instead, they went to Elizabeth Arden Red Door Salon for massages and maybe a vibrating belt session. Or twenty leg lifts in a private stretch class. They lived on cigarettes, pills and booze — maybe a bite of a hamburger — and no one went to spas. They flew to European “clinics” to dry out or to get yak urine shots for energy, not longevity. Most of them died from lung cancer. But “The Ladies” were the real deal. They were not “rich bitches” (those were the gay guys who came later). They held great stature and a quiet influence over fashion and culture in general. They were silent but could be deadly, and, unlike the Bravo housewives, they never acted out.

Along came Truman:

Obviously, Babe and The Ladies weren’t considered “liberated,” and used marriages as “career moves.” Many today would consider them limited in their abilities. But were they? I think The Ladies looked and acted better than what is considered “brand name” today. But again, these different times.

And then writer Truman Capote brought them all to center stage. I remember wanting a gay pal like Truman to listen and solve narcissistic problems. He could make it all safe and intimate while keeping sex off the playing field. Eventually many women did get a “Truman” in their lives. Gay closets remained closed but open for homosexuals who desired to be “walkers” or true (“TRU”) blue style teachers and confidants. Till they weren’t.

So with all this nostalgia, you can imagine how excited I was to hear Ryan Murphy producing the eight part series FEUD: Capote Vs. The Swans. After all, Murphy did so well with his former Feud Series on Betty Davis and Joan Crawford. He nailed Hollywood’s sexism, ageism and misogyny. The new one is based on Lawrence Leamer’s book, Capote’s Women: A True Story of LoveBetrayal, and a Swan Song for an Era.

As the series states (I am paraphrasing); “Acclaimed writer Capote surrounded himself with society’s elite ladies he called Swans. He befriended them all and sinisterly betrayed them in a chapter of his final book Answered Prayers which was famously republished in Esquire. The ladies ended up banishing him from the high society world he so loved and adored. It sent him spiraling to his demise.” Juicy premise to be sure. But tough to pull off in the end.

In conclusion (what a let down): 

I really wanted FEUD: Capote Vs. The Swans to work. But now I see why it was shown on FX. A strange network that features Fargo, Sons of Anarchy, Guardians of the Galaxy and other grittier productions. You can also stream it on Hulu minus the commercials, which for me wrecks any series.

Sadly, I walked away from Swans realizing you can’t go home again or even revisit a historic time and place of serious sophistication and true elegance. None of that plays in our current world. Certainly not when Lauren Sanchez and Jeff Bezos are considered today’s Babe and Bill Paley.

There's much more at the link, and plenty of photos. 

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Note: Setting the names of important people in bold-face is characteristic of Society journalism and "Bold-faced names" is a term of art. 

New York Social Diary is produced and written by David Patrick Columbia and various columnists, such as Sabol. I've got a number of posts that mention Columbia. Here's an old post of my from The Valve where I discuss Columbia's writing style.


  1. Although Kitty Carlisle wasn't one of The Swans, I mention her because her contributions to the arts -- separate from her own career as an opera singer -- were notable, all of which she carried out with grace, sophistication, and humility. A far cry from Lauren Sanchez who looks like a cheap hooker and . . . well, the duck quacks here.

    1. I once attended a lunch she hosted at the UN for the Institute for Music and Neurologic Disorder at Beth Abraham Hospital in the Bronx.