“La Côte Basque” by Truman Capote

“La Côte Basque”
from Answered Prayers
by
Truman Capote

Is it enough to change the names of your characters when you write a story based on real people? I suppose it doesn’t matter much if your characters are cast in a good light. But what if the story is full of scandals very close to the truth? I guess writers must pay the price. And that’s what happened in 1975 when “La Côte Basque” was published in Esquire.

Capote had been a favorite among the upper class society ladies until this point, but they immediately dropped him when they read about themselves in his story. Capote had been their confidante for years and had gathered plenty of material. One of the women reportedly received an early copy and, when she read what he said about her, ended her life with a cyanide pill.

The story is about a gossipy conversation between the fictional Lady Ina Coolbirth (Slim Keith) and her lunch companion, Jonesy. They are seated to be seen at La Côte Basque, a restaurant on East 55th Street in New York. As various social legends arrive, Lady Ina makes catty remarks and shares sordid details about the people who move in her circles. One of the stories closely resembles the facts and the cover-up of the William Woodward murder case in which Ann Woodward shot her husband. Capote’s story culminates when Lady Ina tells Jonesy about the night Sidney Dillon (really CBS founder Bill Paley), a notorious womanizer, slept with the governor’s wife. Paley’s wife, Babe, was dying of cancer when the story was published. Horrified to read the details in print, she never spoke to Capote again.

I had not heard of this short story, which is part of Capote’s unfinished novel, Answered Prayers, until I read The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin. Now that I know the back story, I have to agree, it’s pretty harsh. Capote is a talented writer and an interesting figure, but “La Côte Basque” seems like malicious payback for not being one of upper class.

For more about Capote and “La Côte Basque,” check out this November 2012 article in Vanity Fair and click here for a mini biography of Capote.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

 

11 thoughts on ““La Côte Basque” by Truman Capote

  1. This sounds like it might have been the inspiration behind Robert Galbraith’s (AKA JK Rowling) third book in her new detective series (which I love). Had a premise of something like this.

    I think it was a rather cruel move on Capote’s part, especially considering the one woman committed suicide. 🙁

  2. This is so fascinating. It seems to me Capote was operating under a cloud of yearning, resentment, manipulation, and a perverse kind of naivete — fueled with his razor-edged brilliance — when he wrote this. I wonder what he imagined the fallout would be?

  3. I wonder why he thought this was okay. He must not have cared the slightest if they knew he was writing about them. Has anyone ever written a film or play about the women’s reactions to reading his novels about them? That would be interesting.

Tell me what you're thinking!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s