Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Ball of the Century

After finishing The Swans of Fifth Avenue yesterday, my mind is swimming with the crazy tales of Truman Capote's colorful life.  This novel tells the story of Truman's life filling in holes with "fictionalized" detail.  After googling lots of topics, I think most of it is accurate, just explained in a very detailed way.  Truman came from humble beginnings down South, arriving in New York as a writer and at the age of 23 wrote Other Places, Other Rooms.  Several books later, when he achieved critical acclaim for writing Breakfast at Tiffany's, he started gathering what we would call today his "squad" only he called them his Swans.  They included the fanciest socialites in Manhattan.  C.Z. Guest, Slim Keith, Gloria Guiness, Marella Agnelli, Lee Radziwill and his most treasured friend of all, Babe Paley.

They loved their Truman and invited him all over the world with them.  Sailing on their yachts, flying on their private planes, weekends at their homes in the Hamptons and Jamaica and intimate lunches and dinners.  He gossiped with them and absorbed all sorts of details of their lives, taking mental notes of it all.  Once he wrote the famous In Cold Blood, his fame skyrocketed, the literary world made him their darling and he achieved sudden wealth.  He was so excited about this development and the riches that accompanied this success, he purchased his first apartment in the very fashionable UN Building and had it decorated by Evie Backer.  He then had the idea to host a fabulous black tie ball. Knowing that it would be vain to be the focus, he decided to have this party in honor of Katherine Graham, newly widowed and a Washington A-Lister.  She gladly accepted the honor and the planning began.

For over three months, he worked on the guest list, growing to over 450 people. Truman hand picked all the people he thought worthy of being included.  When the invitations went out, they caused such an uproar throughout the city, people who did not receive them started telling anyone who would listen that of course they were invited but were going to be out of town.  He loved causing such a stir and for weeks ate up all the drama.  At one point, he had to take his phone off the hook and have all calls run through Babe.  He got spiteful and actually published the final guest list just to set everyone's records straight. Finally, November came to an end and it was time for the Ball.

The decor at the Plaza was to be simple.  The attire was black and white, so the tables had red cloths on them and long white tapers.  Anyone who was important was there, wearing a mask as instructed.  Kenneth the salon was booked all day with all the ladies getting ready.  Lots of friends hosted pre-ball dinners, the most exclusive of course was at Babe and Bill Paley's apartment.  The Ball was fantastic and everyone had a grand time.  The only hitch was earlier than expected, an irritated Frank Sinatra decided to grab some people to go to his favorite bar.  Truman begged him not to go knowing that as soon as he left, others would follow but to no avail.  And that is exactly what happened.  The party was over but would never be forgotten.

Eunice and Sergeant Shriver

Lee Radziwill and Truman

Penelope Tree caused quite a commotion with her outfit.

Rose Kennedy

Lee Radziwill dancing with Truman

There have been many books written about it..

A young and beautiful Candice Bergen

Frank Sinatra and wife Mia Farrow

Taluluah Bankhead

Audrey Hepburn

The honoree Katharine Graham and the host.

Truman lived off the infamy of his famous Black and White Ball for years.  He received a large advance from his publisher to write his next novel, a series of short stories.  In an effort to stave off the demand, he gave a few stories to Esquire magazine to prove he was actually working.  They were very well received and he decided to write the story that he had been formulating for years, a Roman A Clef called Le Cote Basque after the famous restaurant where he and his swans dined.  He basically outed several of his beloved friends through thinly veiled stories about them and their marriages, thinking they wouldn't know he was talking about them.  He was very wrong and when the story hit Esquire, the phones started buzzing.  Very quickly all the doors that were so open to him for many years shut in his face.  All his beloved swans disowned him and it all came as a great shock.  He really thought they shouldn't be surprised since they unloaded all their secrets to a writer!  Only one stood by him, C. Z Guest, who had never confided in him and appreciated his friendship on a more simple level.  

Wishing I could have been there,
xoxo, kp

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