William Bradford Howard, the author of the award-winning 1980 biography of Truman Capote, for all of his wealth and power, remains unable to marry the woman who, the last time he was photographed, was a fair-haired and seemingly sweet New York magazine journalist. That’s because Truman Capote, by all accounts a deeply depressed, cynical, and doomed alcoholic, said that there was no way that he would ever marry her.
And with good reason: Capote had used his financial and social heft to manipulate, court, bed, and then destroy many, many women. And his career as an accomplished and beloved writer and social creature was inextricably intertwined with the lives of the women in his life. Like Swans, he was a gentleman, a cruel and melancholy lover, and ultimately, an immortal mistress.
In Edward Jay Epstein’s 1969 bestseller, Swans of Gilded Lane, Mr. Capote is listed as “notorious.” “The source of his opulence,” wrote Epstein, “was the quantity of women he lavished upon his friends and associates.” But this vanity and charisma were not enough for Mr. Capote. Instead, Epstein wrote, “Mr. Capote had turned his obsession with himself into a profound fixation on the women he loved and betrayed.”
Most of his subjects had fallen beneath his spells of isolation, and, according to Suzanna Blair, author of Swans and Swans of Gilded Lane, who spent over a year researching this book, “It was only in early 1947 that Truman fully recognized that the playing field he’d always had was slipping away beneath him.”
Shortly after the publication of On the Road, Capote fell hard for the well-connected Gloria Stein, whose father had been a top New York banker. As they strolled along the leafy Upper East Side, they were always spotted by his celebrity friends, and repeatedly by the New York society photographer Robert Hanson.
On July 22, 1947, Capote, 53, the widower of first wife Gertrude and the father of his three young children, was walking with Ms. Stein, 24, a writer and editor at New York magazine, down Central Park West toward her apartment on East 62nd Street. Ms. Stein, who studied in graduate school with Truman’s younger sister Ruth, had moved to New York to escape the monotony of her marriage to Eli Stein and the difficult financial conditions of their marriage.
Soon after Mr. Capote spotted his newest conquest, Alexandra Quinn was summoned to the home. And Capote, then tired of Mr. Capote’s insinuations about Ms. Stein’s famous father, told Ms. Quinn to exit the stairwell and wait upstairs. Ms. Quinn was in shock, but stood her ground: Her father, Eli, was the wealthiest man in America. The world’s most admired head of an investment bank. The social kingmaker for top Democratic politicians.
“Capote thought it more important to stay with a woman who was damaged than he did to identify with a man who was the strongest man in the world,” Ms. Blair, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The New York Diaries, said in a phone interview this week.
But, as she and others contend, the social career of Eli Stein, president of the First National Bank of New York, could never justify Ms. Stein’s malcontent.
So, the soon-to-be Camelot-like Capote commanded Ms. Quinn into a back bedroom, alone, at 10:30 pm, where they made out, according to Ms. Blair, for almost an hour. One of those intimate moments, according to Ms. Blair, was captured on a film of the moment Mr. Capote took film cameras out of his pocket to shoot pictures of his passionately made out, drunk, lovemaking scene.
“It was the last time Gloria Stein would be photographed in her fashions, her makeup, and her hair, and the last time Eli Stein would meet Ms. Stein in public,” said Ms. Blair.
Mr. Capote stalked Ms. Stein until the following July. On July 13, 1947, at 11:55 PM, Mr. Capote swept Ms. Stein into a rented apartment on East 73rd Street. The apartment, which was being renovated, was located next door to a house where the children of the financially well-to-do Mercedes family were also living. Shortly after midnight, Mr. Capote hid in a bedroom closet with the phones and dialed his former babysitter, F