The Real Story Behind ‘Feud: Capote vs. the Swans’

In the trailer for Feud: Capote vs the Swans, one of the Swans — a clique of beautiful, rich women — explains that they “tell [Truman Capote] everything, even the awful things we’ve all done to each other.” That was exactly what happened in real life: they shared their darkest secrets with the writer, only for him to betray them. Here’s the inside story.


In 1975 an article titled “La Côte Basque, 1965” was published in Esquire magazine. It was part of a new novel Capote was working on, Answered Prayers, and it was explosive.

The real La Côte Basque was a restaurant where all the wealthiest socialites of the era used to hang out. There was an unspoken agreement that gossip relayed in there never left. That was, until Capote came along!

The Swans

And the Swans were the stars of La Côte Basque. These women were Barbara “Babe” Paley, C.Z. Guest, Ann Woodward, Nancy “Slim” Keith, Joanne Carson, Gloria Vanderbilt, and Lee Radziwill, the sister of Jackie Kennedy.

All of them had their own troubles. For example, in 1955 Woodward had shot her husband, having apparently mistaken him for a burglar; the ensuing furor had completely ruined her life.

Accident or murder?

The story was a complex one. Ann insisted that it had just been a terrible accident and her story was eventually accepted, a grand jury subsequently ruling the incident an accident. A man even came forward after the fact and claimed he’d been attempting to break into the house that fateful night.

Even the victim’s mother, the wealthy Elsie Woodward, seemingly took Ann’s side. She’d told reporters at the time, "I know Ann loved Billy very much and the shooting could be nothing but an accident.”

Babe Paley

Capote had apparently never liked Woodward, but he did like Paley. She was the wife of CBS founder Bill S. Paley and an effortlessly cool woman, an influencer before influencers even existed.

The writer told his biographer Gerald Clarke that Paley had been “one of the two or three great obsessions of my life” and added, “She was the only person in my whole life that I liked everything about.”