"This whole thing is a literary Watergate and Gore vidal is Richard Nixon. The Princess Lee Radziwill is Deep Throat in more ways than one."
- Truman Capote
Truman Capote is hurt.
He is hurt because he has been betrayed. Betrayed by his best, closest, dearest and most loyal friend of 20 years, Lee Radziwill.
You see, Truman Capote and Gore Vidal, two of America's most illustrious writers, have been engaged in a fierce and vicious lawsuit for the past four years. Gore ("Kalki") Vidal sued Truman ("In Cold Blood") Capote for $1 million when Capote told Playgirl magazine that Vidal had been thrown out of the White House after behaving very badly one night at a party Jack and Jackie Kennedy gave for Lee and Stash Radziwill.
Truman Capote contends that Lee Radziwill told him the story.
He also says that Radziwill promised to sign a deposition for him saying so. But then she backed off. And then she signed a deposition for Gore Vidal whom she reportedly detests and has recently called the "most sinister man I know."
But it gets worse.
According to Capote, she then told a New York columnist who asked her to explain the about-face, "Well, you know what they are. They're just a couple of fags and this is just a fight between two fags. I think it's disgusting that we have to be dragged into it."
"There she goes using the Royal We, again," says Capote. "Next she'll start talking in the third person . . . "The Princess feels, The Princess declines . . .'"
It's the fag thing that really got to capote.
"If the lovely, divine and sensitive Princess Radziwill has such a low opinion of homosexuals," hisses Capote, "then why did she have me for a confidant for the last 20 years . . . ?
"I would say," says Capote, "that from 70 to 80 percent of Lee's friends and Jackie's friends are homosexual." He grins mischievously. "When Nureyev hears that, I dare say he'll not be amused."
As anyone can see, Capote, 54, has not been terribly happy about what he considers treachery in the first degree by his former best friend.
And he is not a man to be trifled with.
Several years ago Capote created a scandal with the appearance in Esquire magazine of the first two segments of his work in progress, "Answered Prayers." In it he had gleaned from the lives of most of the rich and the beautiful people he had been living, playing and gossiping with for years
Many of his closest friends, including Babe Paley, the late wife of CBS head William S. Paley, disowned him, so outraged were they by what they believed to be a betrayal of their confidences.
But Capote had told what he knew. And he knew a lot. It was also difficult for his friends, or former friends as many soon became, to try to deny much of what Capote wrote in "Answered Prayers." His success with "In Cold Blood," a journalistic novel about the murder of a Midwest family, had been crafted and pieced together, often from his extraordinary memory rather than explicit notes.
At any rate, Capote had the wherewithal for effective and exacting retribution. He chose to take it on Princess Radziwill, 46.
He called up the Stanley Siegel show on WCBS in New York, a live talk show, and arranged to go on yesterday morning at 9 for one hour of revenge.
"Well, of course," he said beforehand, "what I'm going to say isn't very gentlemanly. But she's described me as a fag. Fags are supposed to be bitchy. So let's go."
What Capote had in mind to yesterday was to trash his former confidant. To tell all the dirt she had been laying on him for the last 20 years.
"I'm going to do the most devastating job," he warned. "She's going to pay for it aujourd'hui. I don't even have to get warmed up. I'm pretty warm now."
"This morning," says Capote, "I woke up remembering something stash Radziwill had said to me after I had helped Lee establish her own identity when she first came to New York.
"I got her 'Laura' (the role in the television play).
"I got her a big advance on that book she did with Jackie.
"I helped her get started in decorating."
"I did all this for the dear Principessa Radziwilla. Stash said to me, 'Goodness Truman, if you'd do all this for a friend, what would you do for an enemey?'"
Capote smiles. "All I can say is I wish he were alive today . . . I think she very well might be in a highly disturbed state after this show . . . I think The Princess Lee Radziwill, . . . better have an ambulance ready after the show . . .
What Capote had in mind was to tell all about the most intimate aspects of Lee Radziwill's life, both gossip about her life and gossip she had told him, particularly and most deliciously about the Kennedys and her relationship with her sister Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
He had intended to do it in a set piece, a stylized monologue featuring himself as a "Southern Fag" telling all. He had planned it for weeks, going over and over it in his mind, almost memorizing it.
He had stayed in the night before, preparing himself as if for a performance, saying, "I want to get myself quiet, calm."
It was to be theater.
Yesterday morning when the limousine arrived, Capote descended in his blue linen pants, his plaid jacket, sweater vest, tie and straw hat looking better than he has looked in at least five years.
He has been off drugs and booze for a year now, has taken to swimming a mile every day at the gym, to dieting. He is calmer than before, more mellow. He seemed, for all his anger at Radziwill, rather serene. His sense of humor about the whole event was in high gear.
He tested out a few good lines on the way to the studio, giggling with delight, then repeating them over again, savoring the best of them. It was going to be a memorable show.
"A cassette of this show," he declared with glee, "is going to be one of the great comic classics of all times."
In fact, the first part of the show was brilliant. It was a superb performance, a takeoff of what he calls "The Southern Fag." It has a cadence, a rhythm to it.
And he was just getting warmed up when Stanley Siegel, his eyes on sticks, got cold feet and began to interrupt.
Capote was devastated at first. He told Siegel he had destroyed the mood. Siegel apologized and tried to let Capote get back into his bit again. But he looked like a football player who had accidentally walked into a gay bar. The show more or less fizzled out. Capote, a perfectionist, knew it. He was depressed. Stanley Siegel was also depressed.
"Lee had said I was a fag," said Capote, "so I turned myself into this Southern fag. It was a set piece. Stanley didn't understand it. He didn't understand I was supposed to be this half drunk, crazy queen he'd met in a bar."
Capote still had all this dirt to get out of his system. It still wasn't too late. He was led out of the bowels of the CBS building and into the bright sun where the limo was waiting to take him back to the U.N. Plaza. In the limousine he began to unwind. Soon he was giggling as before.
Lee and Jackie
Once inside his apartment, a unique, very personal, exquisitely appointed four rooms with a view of the East River, he relaxed totally. Over iced tea he told all.
Oh, but you don't want to hear any of this, do you?
Well, let's just touch lightly on some of the Jackie-Lee stuff.
"I don't think Jackie has the vaguest idea," he says matter-of-factly, "the extent of Lee's obsession with Jackie."
For one thing, says Capote, "Jackie has no taste. Lee used to say that she (Lee) was the one who was good looking, who had the taste, who was chic, who could run a home, who was clever, who read books, but it was always Jackie who got all the publicity. And of course, there was some truth to that.
"I think," he says, "in some strange way, Jackie is as resentful of Lee as Lee is of Jackie. I think Lee as a child got away with murder. Her mother was much tougher on Jackie."
As recently as a few years ago, says Capote, "Jackie's mother slapped her across the face."
Now Capote is really getting warmed up.
"Once," he continues, "Lee called me in a rage. She said Jackie had just told her that everything Lee had in the world she owed to Jackie. I didn't say it to her at the time but I think therehs a lot of truth to that. Stash Radziwill would never have married Lee if Jack hadn't become president. He even said that to somebody else. He (Stash) was very bitter against Lee."
Then back to the central dirt.
About Onassis. "Lee really thought she had Onassis nailed down.
"Lee pretended to have great contempt for Onassis and the marriage. She wasn't in love with him. But she liked all those tankers. I'm not sure that Lee's ever been in love with anybody . . . Of course, Lee had a crush on Jack. Why wouldn't she? He was just her tasse de the.:
"Lee," says Capote, "was always saying, 'Why do they always write about the Kennedys? They're so dull.'" As for the Kennedy women, she would say sweetly, "They have such lovely skin. Skin by T. Anthony." (T. Anthony is a semi-chic leather store on Madison Avenue.)
Lee was involved, Capote says, "with some old fellow in England who was going to be prime minister. They were always having lunch. Jackie kept urging her to marry him. Then, when he didn't get to be P.M. they dropped him."
And of course, there was the time she supposedly developed a crush on Nureyev. "Lee describes his intense animal passion," says Capote. She went to the south of France to decorate his house, he says, and was only slightly taken aback when she found nude pictures of men in the guest room.
As for Newton Cope, the man Lee Radziwill recently broke her wedding date with, cShe was just holding him in reserve."
It was, according to Capote, her breakup with society photographer Peter Beard that "really shook her to the rafters. That was the beginning of this period of hers of feeling totally undone."
Still, says Capote, "Men to both Lee and Jackie are to be totally controlled, nothing but foot slaves . . . Lee and Jackie have incredible contempt for everything and everybody. They really do think in the royal 'we.'"
And neither of them will ever suffer for money, according to Capote. "Stash gave Lee a lot of money. And she owned a very valuable piece of land in Greece. I think she got it from Onassis. And she owns a lot of real estate in Long Island. Real commercial stuff. She's the most extravagant girl I have ever met. No more than Jackie, though. They have the sense of the right to luxury."
Though Truman Capote loves to gossip, though he is having a good time at all of this, though he still maintains his sense of humor, he does say, "This is all very funny and amusing, but not if you're in the middle of it."
He is not hysterical but he is a man scorned, a friend who feels betrayed. And his instincts are to strike back.
Once he has done so, once he is finished with the bitchy lines and the vituperative lines, once he has, for all good purposes, done in his former best friend, there is finally a sense of sadness about it all - a sense of loss.
And Truman Capote is not afraid to admit it. Or to admit that he feels he has gotten rid of most of the "trash in his life, "and I don't mean just people. I've gotten rid of a lot of emotional garbage." Today, he says, he feels "at the top of my powers, totally in command of myself and my life."
This whole experience with Radziwill has made him think a lot recently about friendship and what it means.
"Her conniving against me with Gore when I was the single most loyal friend she ever had, it's very hurtful to put it mildly," he says quietly.
"In all truth, I've never known her to be loyal to anyone or to say a generous thing about anyone that was not qualified.
"I don't know why I expected to be exempt. But I didn't expect a double-cross on this level. I was surprised but it was due to my own stupidity. I should have known better. Jackie's no different."
Capote says that in the beginning of his friendship with Lee Radziwill, he and Jackie were friends, too.
"Jackie and I were friendly. But Lee did a good job turning Jackie against me. She wanted to have me all to hereself. Personally I do think Jackie had something to do with this whole deposition thing."
Capote says that when he heard that Radziwill had given a deposition to Vidal's lawyer saying she never told Capote the story that Vidal got thrown out of the White House, "She just said I was a liar, that's all. I called her to get an explanation. I talked to her secretary. She never called back."
Capote says that he was Radziwill's No. 1 confidant until he went through "that long period when I was in and out of the hospital, I wasn't communicating with anybody. But of all my friends she never wrote me once to say she hoped I was getting well, or wished me luck with my problems, So far as I know there has never been any reason for this unbelievable conduct."
His explanation for why he allowed himself to be so close to someone he felt was so disloyal is simple.
"Love is blind," he says with a shrug. "I've been in love with people before who were just ghastly. I was in love with her like I would have been in love with anybody. I've been in love with a couple of girls along the way. And she was in love with me. Ofr her own purposes, as it turned out."
He jumps up from the round Port-hault-skirted table in the red dining room ang goes off for a moment, returning to produce an elegant black, gold-lined cigarette box. "A little Johnny Schlumberger number," he says with pride as he opens the box Inside is this inscription:
"To my Answered Prayer, with love. Lee. July 1967."
"Mine, says Capote quietly," is not the rancour of a rejected lover. You wouldn't just give this box to anybody. I wouldn't exactly say we had an affair. It was never romantic love. But it was a very emotional friendship, not a love affair as we know it, an intense emotional relationship."
His voice rises now. "Why she would make a fool out of herself over [this], it's such a trite, trivial, idiotic, small thing, but . . ."
There are those Capote detractors who believe that his book, "Answered Prayers" was in fact a betrayal of all of his friends, that he is getting from Radziwill no better than he deserves.
"I didn't betray anybody," insists Capote.A writer only has material. You have to write about what you know. That's all there is. That's not a betrayal. A betrayal is Lee Radziwill. For her to turn around in my worst moment - when I'm really ill - to give a deposition . . . it sounds so absurd, so incredible. Lee has always used people. I think when I was so ill a lot of people thought I was going to die, I wasn't going to pull out. So Lee Thought, 'I don't have to worry about him. I do have to worry about Gore. I don't want to be on his hit list."
Capote thinks about this for a moment, then nods his head as though he has decided that this latest speculation is right. Then his small face breaks into a wide grin. And in his high-pitched delicate voice, beginning to lilt just a touch into a Southern accent, he says with glee, "Unfortunately for Princess Radziwill, this fag happens to be alive and well and in New York City."
Princess Radziwill had not seen the show yesterday and declined comment. CAPTION: Picture 1, Truman Capote, by Donal F. Holway; Picture 2, Lee Radziwill, by UPI; Picture 3, Truman Capote and Lee Radziwill before the split; Picture 4, Truman Capote with Stanley Siegel on the set, by Donal F. Holway for The Washington Post