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Review | Truman Capote’s other true-crime story


In at this time’s world of fractionated media, the superstar standing as soon as loved by Truman Capote, Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer could also be unattainable to duplicate. Not solely did these three authors write brilliantly, in addition they selected topics that have been certain to promote books: the bloodbath of a decent middle-class household in rural Kansas (Capote’s “In Chilly Blood”), the lewd exploits of a fictional trans girl (Vidal’s “Myra Breckenridge”), the 1967 antiwar march on the Pentagon (Mailer’s “Armies of the Night time”). From the Fifties to the ’80s, hardly every week appeared to go by with out a talk-show look wherein one in all them displayed his wit or voiced his tackle up to date affairs. And their conduct made them infamous, as when Capote threw himself a lavish masquerade occasion, the Black and White Ball, or when Mailer virtually killed his spouse by stabbing her with a penknife.

We’re still talking about Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball 50 years later. Here’s why.

Now comes Roseanne Montillo to argue in her new guide, “Deliberate Cruelty,” that Capote was a near-killer of kinds, too. Montillo, a analysis librarian and creator of a number of works of nonfiction, makes her case plainly however persuasively.

After the vital and standard success of “In Cold Blood,” Capote resumed work on “Answered Prayers,” a novel for which he had grand ambitions: It ought to do to the denizens of New York cafe society what Marcel Proust had achieved to French aristocrats in his multivolume “In Search of Lost Time” — expose their well-heeled shallowness.

“Answered Prayers” was to middle on an precise occasion, the 1955 killing of Billy Woodward by his spouse, Ann, of their home at Oyster Bay Cove, N.Y., on Lengthy Island. Billy was the inheritor to a New York banking fortune; Ann got here from Kansas, the place she’d grown up poor and uncared for by an absent father and feckless mom. On the energy of a great face and determine, the younger girl moved to New York to pursue a modeling profession and have become the mistress of Billy’s father, who on tiring of her organized for her to fulfill Billy.

Their marriage was a triumph for Ann, who had wished to be a socialite when she grew up. However she and Billy drank closely and fought noisily, generally in public. There have been separations and speak of divorce. And there was a prowler.

On the final evening of Billy’s life, the couple attended a celebration the place a recurring subject of dialog was a collection of native break-ins. Ann specifically appeared rattled by the incidents. Again house afterward, husband and spouse repaired to their separate bedrooms, and Ann took her ordinary beneficiant serving to of sleeping drugs. A noise woke her up in the course of the evening. Grabbing a shotgun she’d been protecting helpful, she bought up and opened her bed room door. “There, on the far finish of the darkened hallway,” Montillo writes, “she made out the silhouette of a person. She didn’t say a phrase, barely inhaled as she slowly introduced the gun to eye stage, aimed, and shot twice, hitting her mark, the determine crashing to the ground.” It turned out to be Billy.

Capote had little doubt that Ann — “Mrs. Bang Bang,” he as soon as known as her to her face — had offed her husband with malice aforethought, however in Montillo’s telling the proof is lower than clear-cut. A grand jury thought so, too, and native prosecutors declined to place her on trial.

Capote wished the murder to exemplify the rotten core of excessive society, however Montillo introduces one other, extra private motive for his fascination. Like Ann Woodward, Truman Capote got here from a damaged house and had lengthy coveted a spot on the higher crust, which he attained the precise approach, by deploying his wit and allure to make mates of the ladies he known as his “swans” — trophy wives with additional polish, resembling Babe Paley, Slim Keith, Princess Lee Radziwill and Marella Agnelli.

“Answered Prayers” was a lot anticipated — Capote made certain of that by bragging about its scope and insider’s perspective — however years glided by and nothing got here forth. Then within the mid-Seventies he printed three chapters in magazines, notably “La Cote Basque, 1965” wherein a thinly disguised Slim Keith tells Capote’s model of the Woodward story over lunch on the swanky restaurant.

“La Cote Basque” reads as if written by a misogynistic frat boy slightly than the delicate Truman Capote, however what galled Keith and her mates most was his use of sordid anecdotes that they had informed him in strict confidence. Regardless of his protests {that a} author might hardly be anticipated to disregard such nice materials, virtually to a swan they dumped him — remedy that Capote by no means bought over. As for Ann Woodward, after getting an advance take a look at “La Cote Basque,” she took a deadly overdose of sleeping drugs, thus making Capote, as Montillo sees it, an confederate in her dying.

Capote printed no extra excerpts from his would-be magnum opus. Certainly, he could have written no extra of it — an occasion of a lot hustle however no guide. (In 1987 Random Home printed the three tales underneath the title “Answered Prayers: the Unfinished Novel”; it runs to 180 pages.) Capote’s ultimate years have been replete with drug use, alcoholism, and poor well being. On Aug. 25, 1984, he died at age 59.

It goes with out saying that “Deliberate Cruelty” is awash in salacious materials, however Montillo handles it with narrative talent — and deliberate equity.

Dennis Drabelle is a former contributing editor of Guide World.

Truman Capote, the Millionaire’s Spouse, and the Homicide of the Century

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